Over forty years ago, Philip Jose Farmer published a pair of officially sanctioned books recounting the history of ancient Opar, the lost civilization familiar to readers of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels. Opar was the first of the author’s lost cities that survived undiscovered in the African jungle until the noble apeman came along. Burroughs’ lost civilizations, like his alien worlds, were fantastic places of adventure that allowed the author to sharpen his satiric blade and skewer organized religion and politics alike.
Farmer, in notable contrast, was interested in using Burroughs’ concepts as a springboard for more realistic and decidedly more adult adventures. Farmer’s histories are peopled with conquerors and king-makers who are not just noble savages, but also savage rapists and murderers. His Opar novels opened Tarzan fans’ eyes to the antediluvian kingdom of Khokarsa. While the sword & sorcery boom of the 1960s and 1970s flooded bookshelves with immoral and amoral barbarians, Farmer set his work apart by treating the material as realistically as possible. His characters die tragically and sometimes prematurely. Sexual intercourse leads to unplanned pregnancies that alter people’s lives as it changes the course of a kingdom’s destiny.
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Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan has proven an unstoppable force. While misguided movies, TV series, and musicals do their best to rob the ape man of his savage nature and integrity in the name of mass marketing and political correctness, Burroughs’ original Jungle Lord perseveres. Conventional wisdom may suggest time has passed him by, but it’s the vitality of the original that keeps readers coming back for more. Happily, talents like Joe R. Lansdale, Philip Jose Farmer, and most recently Will Murray have been willing to give fans further adventures of the real Tarzan.
Turn back the clock four decades and you’ll find Philip Jose Farmer’s seminal fictional biography, Tarzan Alive (1972) had much to answer for in terms of launching the Wold Newton movement in popular fiction as well as boosting Burroughs’ cachet. While the book may be relatively obscure today, the ripples it created are still felt on the beaches of pulp fiction. For his part, Farmer launched a series of officially sanctioned books recounting the history of ancient Opar. Longtime readers of Burroughs’ work will know that Opar was the first of the author’s lost cities (an outpost of forgotten Atlantis) that survived undiscovered in Tarzan’s African jungle.
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