Readers have asked me, but the answer is still no: I can’t tackle the entire Tarzan series the way I did Edgar Rice Burroughs’s other book series, Mars, Venus, and Pellucidar. There are twenty-four Tarzan books, not counting the juveniles, and I’d burn out long before the end if I tried to read them in sequence over a compressed time period.
But since I’m always glad to pick up a Tarzan volume here and there among my other Burroughs readings, I’ll negotiate. I’ll do an occasional Tarzan book “swing-by” to give spotlight time to ERB’s biggest contribution to popular culture. No particular order, just whatever Tarzan adventure grabs me at the moment.
So I’ll start with … let’s see … Book #12, Tarzan and the Lost Empire. Wherein the Lord of the Jungle finds yet another civilization lost in time in the heart of Africa: a remnant of the Roman Empire still living the ancient ways. Tarzan also gets a little monkey sidekick.
Tarzan and the Lost Empire falls into a period of the Tarzan novels that I think of as the “Filmation Era” because of how much the 1970s Filmation animated series Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle reflects it. After the tenth book, Tarzan and the Ant Men, Tarzan was distanced from the Greystoke legacy and his former supporting cast, and now has the companionship of both Nkima the monkey and Jad-bal-ja the golden lion. Jane vanished except for a single reappearance in Tarzan’s Quest (1936). The plots became standalone and repeated certain formulas, such as Tarzan discovering lost civilizations or facing a Tarzan imposter.
The writing quality of these books was still high in the late ‘20s and early ‘30s, and Burroughs hadn’t lost his skill at executing pulse-racing action set-pieces. But the plotting was often perfunctory as ERB became a bit fatigued with having to go back to the Tarzan well again and again. The story ideas and the prose popped, but the plots often meandered with overstuffed casts and too much incident that doesn’t go anywhere. Tarzan and the Lost Empire falls prey to these faults. But it also contains one of the most interesting hidden civilizations of the series and a setting that energized Burroughs.
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Those who know me well are aware that I’m not a morning person (to put it mildly). Accordingly, they’d be shocked to learn that not only did I get up on Saturday, November 25th morning at 5:00 a.m., I did so voluntarily and eagerly! As collectors will attest, however, no price – even missing hours of delightful sleep! – is too great to pay in the pursuit of one of your collecting grails. Of course, it’s much more gratifying when the pursuit pays off. Unfortunately for me, it did not. Even so, I’m glad I got up to give it a shot.
About a week ago, I learned that an auction house in England would be auctioning off a copy of the October 1912 issue of The All-Story, which features Edgar Rice Burroughs’ complete novel, Tarzan of the Apes. All other things being equal in terms of condition, that issue is the most valuable of all the pulp magazines (the nicest copy I’m aware of having sold at auction, in fine condition, sold over a decade ago for nearly $60,000). This auction house clearly had no idea of its value, as their pre-sale estimate was between 20 and 40 pounds! A decent copy of this pulp has been my number one pulp grail for decades, and I hoped that this one would slip through the collecting cracks on its way to me. The auction house only had one photo of it online, and I couldn’t obtain any other photos of it, so condition was a bit of a guess, which complicated bidding. The front cover had some overall wear, but generally looked decent, but I had no clue on the condition of the spine, back cover or paper. See the photo above.
What made this particularly interesting was that it was the British edition of The All-Story, rather than the American edition. For a period of time in the teens (and I think going back a little earlier than that), The All-Story was also published in Britain, with the same cover date as the American edition. The covers noted that the price was Six Pence, rather than Ten Cents, and I believe the ads were different, but the fiction content was the same. I assume that the British edition was published at least a few days later than the American edition (the October 1912 American edition actually went on sale on September 10, 1912), but I don’t know how much of a delay there was. My guess is that it was later than the American edition, so technically this was not the first printing of the story, unlike the American.
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You’ll believe a Stegosaurus can fly!
In the time I’ve written about Edgar Rice Burroughs for Black Gate, only once have I examined one of his Tarzan books. That was eight years ago. This lack of Tarzan representation isn’t because I dislike the character. A number of the early Tarzan adventures rate among my favorite Burroughs novels, and I’ll defend Tarzan of the Apes as one of the twentieth century’s Great Books. But since there’s more information available about Tarzan than any other Burroughs series, my literary adventuring was more interesting when it stayed in hinterlands of ERBiana.
However, it’s a thrill to have the ape-man swing in through the side door during one of my series retrospectives. Let’s welcome Tarzan onto the stage of Pellucidar. Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, Sagoths of all ages … it’s crossover time!
Our Saga: Beneath our feet lies a realm beyond the most vivid daydreams of the fantastic … Pellucidar. A subterranean world formed along the concave curve inside the earth’s crust, surrounding an eternally stationary sun that eliminates the concept of time. A land of savage humanoids, fierce beasts, and reptilian overlords, Pellucidar is the weird stage for adventurers from the topside layer — including a certain Lord Greystoke. The series consists of six novels, one which crosses over with the Tarzan series, plus a volume of linked novellas, published between 1914 and 1963.
Today’s Installment: Tarzan at the Earth’s Core (1929–30)
Previous Installments: At the Earth’s Core (1914), Pellucidar (1915), Tanar of Pellucidar (1929)
Although most of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novels occur in the same universe, linked through the author’s fictional surrogate version of himself, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core is the only point where a character from one series leaps to another as the protagonist. It’s the fourth Pellucidar novel and the thirteenth Tarzan novel — full crossover achieved for the first and last time in the ERB canon.
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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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Tarzan and the Great River (1967)
Directed by Robert Day. Produced by Sy Weintraub. Starring Mike Henry, Jan Murray, Rafer Johnson, Manuel Padilla Jr., Diana Millay.
Other Tarzan MOD DVD reviews: Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, Tarzan the Magnificent, Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (plus the Fritz Leiber novelization).
The second Tarzan movie starring former NFL linebacker Mike Henry as the Ape Man, Tarzan and the Great River (available through Warner Archive, WB’s manufacture-on-demand division) reached theaters a year after the previous installment, Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, but was shot directly after it on location in Brazil. Producer Sy Weintraub continued to emphasize a modern Tarzan with aspects of the globe-trotting James Bond films, but Tarzan and the Great River eases back on military machinery and super villains and instead targets a stripped-down jungle chase story that Edgar Rice Burroughs would have found familiar. This doesn’t end up making for a better film, unfortunately.
Tarzan and the Great River opens with its most overt gesture toward the espionage movies of the era: Tarzan receives a summons from across the globe, and dressed in a snappy suit arrives in Brazil at the behest of an old friend, a professor at a zoological garden. The professor needs Tarzan to investigate a growing Jaguar Cult in the Amazon that has started to enslave local tribes. But while Tarzan takes the time to meet some of his African animal friends who reside at the zoo, the professor ends up dead on the poisoned claws of one of the cult’s wicked jaguar cubs. Tarzan now has vengeance on his mind as he travels deep into the Amazon rainforest to locate the cult’s leader, the cruel Barcuna (Rafer Johnson), in the company of the chimp Cheetah and the lion Baron. (The same animal performers who played “Dinky” and “Major” in the previous film.)
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Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966)
By Fritz Leiber, from a Screenplay by Clair Huffaker
I have never watched a movie and then immediately felt an urge to “Read the Jove Paperback” (or whatever publisher released the tie-in). Movie novelizations are marketing after-thoughts and I think most readers pick them up as after-thoughts as well. A wanderer in a bookstore might spot a paperback copy of Blockbuster Film You Kinda Enjoyed and think to herself, “Hey, this might be a fun airplane read.”
But there aren’t as many bookstores to wander in these blighted times and with the gap narrowing between the time of a film’s release and its DVD/Blu-ray popping up in the impulse item rack of the supermarket, the niche genre of the novelization has entered a slow death cycle. Fewer big tent pole movies are getting the prose treatment.
I’ve read more than my sane share of novelizations, the majority from Alan Dean Foster because Alan Dean Foster rocks (he even responded to my review of his Clash of the Titans novelization). But with Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, I found myself for the first time in the peculiar reverse position of wanting to see a movie because of the novelization.
The reason: Fritz Leiber.
The idea of one of the Grand Masters of speculative fiction, an icon of sword-and-sorcery, penning any genre film novelization is delicious. And penning a Tarzan novelization … that’s the colored sprinkles on top of the chocolate doughnut. Novelization or not, it’s a Fritz Leiber Tarzan book.
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The Warner Bros. Archive Collection has taken good care of Tarzan fans. This manufacture-on-demand division of Warner Home Video offers all the films from the lesser-known Tarzan actors who followed Johnny Weissmuller in swinging from the jungle ceiling: Lex Barker, Gordon Scott, Jock Mahoney, Mike Henry, and the two seasons of the Ron Ely television story. The best of the lot for a more casual viewer is Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959), but Tarzan the Magnificent from 1960 comes a close second to it. It’s not as lean and stripped-down as its predecessor, and director Robert Day lacks the same skill at pacing an action picture as John Guillermin, but the movie ranks among the top live-action Tarzan films ever made. And it’s just a darn good adventure film in general, with some surprising levels of violence and mature subtexts.
(Tarzan disambiguation notice: The movie has no connection to the Burroughs book of the same title published in 1939 that combines two separate novellas.)
Tarzan the Magnificent is the second movie of the series from producer Sy Weintraub, who created the “New Look” Tarzan that took the character back to his more adult and violent Edgar Rice Burroughs roots. Best of all, Tarzan got his full vocabulary returned to him, breaking over two decades of film tradition that ruled the Lord of the Jungle had to horribly misuse pronouns and exterminate helping verbs.
Weintraub’s “New Look” favored crime stories set in the African rainforest, which gave them a harsh and naturalistic feel. They also borrowed elements from the Western, and Tarzan the Magnificent is the most explicit example. The movie opens with a band of outlaws, an archetypal blood clan of murderous brothers under an obsessed patriarch, committing a hold-up in broad daylight. The criminals rob the pay office of a mining company in a small town, passing “Wanted” posters of themselves on the way in. Except for the African locals walking the dusty street, this might be any frontier town in a Western of the day. With veteran John Ford stock-company actor John Carradine in the role of the clan head, Abel Banton, it’s hardly much of a leap to see this taking place in a lawless American frontier town. Even the name “Banton” has a Western ring to it, echoing the Clantons from the story of the Gunfight at the OK Corral.
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Tarzan and the Valley of Gold wastes no time telling viewers of the mid-1960s that this was not going to be their grandfather’s Tarzan. Or their father’s either. With swinging ‘60s big band jazz backed with bongos playing over a Warholian montage of pop art colors projecting scenes from the movie, it’s impossible not to think JAMES BOND! JAMES BOND! from the moment the opening titles start.
No doubt that was producer Sy Weintraub’s intention with this 1966 outing for Tarzan, the first of a trio starring Mike Henry. The credits sequence is a dead-on imitation of the style of Maurice Binder for Dr. No. After the director’s credit fades, the film hops into a Goldfinger-inspired sweep over a tropical resort city, concluding on a helicopter taking off from a luxury yacht in the harbor. Then, in another scene swiped from Dr. No, assassins shoot a limo driver outside the airport, and an imposter chauffeur awaits the arrival of our handsome hero in his impeccable suit and tie. Cue city montage with more swingin’ Latin big band rhythms! Smash into an action scene where a sunglass-wearing sniper tries to pick off our sharply dressed hero in an empty bullring. The crafty Ape Man turns the tables on the gunman and kills him by dropping a giant Coke Bottle advertising prop onto him. Ah, good times.
Sy Weintraub shows with this opening that he has taken the “New Look” Tarzan he introduced in 1959 in Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure one step further to imitate the stratospheric popularity of spy cinema of the decade. Tarzan not only speaks in complete sentences, but he is comfortable donning civilization’s trappings to travel the world to bring savage ape justice to turtleneck-wearing supervillains who adore exploding watches.
The temptation to go this direction must have been hard to resist: by the start of 1966, Bond-mania was approaching its delirious apex; Thunderball came out in December 1965 and was on its way to becoming one of the highest-grossing movies in history. Bandwagon films are often poor quality imitations, but Sy Weintraub already had a famous character available who could cut a dashing a dangerous figure to put at the center of his attempt to grab some Bond cash. It turned out well, better than you might initially think a “Tarzan goes ’60s spy” film would. Tarzan and the Valley of Gold, currently available as a manufacture-on-demand DVD from Warner Archive, lacks the excellent script, performances, and drama of Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure, but it delivers in the breezy fun department.
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Gods of Opar: Tales of Lost Khokarsa
Philip José Farmer & Christopher Paul Carey
Subterranean Press (576 pp, $65.00 Limited Edition Hardcover, $45.00 Trade Edition Hardcover)
Reviewed by Cynthia Ward
Once upon a time, in a lost civilization known as West Germany, the Kreuzberg Kaserne U.S. Army Base let fifth graders leave school grounds at lunchtime. Every week, I crossed the street to the little base bookstore. In the late winter of 1972, I bought the first DC Comics issue (#207) of “Tarzan of the Apes” because I wanted to learn how the heck a human being ended up living with apes. When the writer/artist, the late, much-lamented Joe Kubert, ended his adaptation with Edgar Rice Burroughs’s original cliffhanger, I read Burroughs’s sequel, The Return of Tarzan, to finish the origin story. Then I found myself devouring every other Burroughs book reprinted in the early 1970s.
I couldn’t have been the decade’s only new Burroughs fan, because by the mid-1970s, his estate had authorized two different Tarzan-related series by other authors: the Bunduki novels by J.T. Edson and the Ancient Opar novels by Philip José Farmer. Both series produced a novel or two and then, as far as I knew, ended. The tie-in titles went out of print, their copyright was probably owned or controlled by the Burroughs estate, and Philip José Farmer died in 2009. I figured none of these books would ever see another reprint.
I figured wrong, because Subterranean Press has just released Gods of Opar: Tales of Lost Khokarsa, which is an omnibus of the two Ancient Opar novels by Philip José Farmer – Hadon of Ancient Opar (1974) and Flight to Opar (1976) – together with a third, new novel in the series, The Song of Kwasin, by Philip José Farmer and Christopher Paul Carey (Black Gate recently ran essays from Carey about the history of his remarkable collaboration with Farmer, and his discussion of Farmer’s ambitious creation, the lost civilization of Khokarsa.)
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I would like to step forward at this moment to address the audience before the curtain rises on our feature book review presentation so that I may make a personal observation about Edgar Rice Burroughs. Specifically, I would like to explain why I’ve written so many posts about his work in the last few weeks.
Burroughs needs no excuse for discussion in a magazine dedicated to heroic fantasy and planetary romance. Adventure literature as we know it springs from the influence of Burroughs in the early twentieth century. Although pulp magazines existed before Burroughs published Under the Moons of Mars (later titled A Princess of Mars) and Tarzan of the Apes, this double-punch in 1912 changed the style of this publishing medium for the remainder of its lifetime, and the influence continued into the paperback revolution and on into our era. Burroughs looms as one of the Titans of genre literature. But the true question is: Why am I re-reading so much of his work right now, in concentrated doses that I usually reserve for no author?
One answer is that I enjoy writing about Burroughs almost as much as I enjoy reading him. For an author who supposedly crafted straightforward entertainment, Edgar Rice Burroughs’s novels contain a remarkable breadth of ideas for debate and consideration. But a deeper reason for such current copious reading of Burroughs is that his work always gives me a unique uplift. In times of uncertainty and concern, I find that no author can temporarily re-energize me than ERB. Even a violent and embittered book, such as the one I’m about to discuss, provides an energy boost like a literary vodka with Red Bull. Burroughs knows how to make life seem wild, colorful, and far removed from the petty concerns of the everyday. It isn’t strictly “escapism,” a word I dislike, but a form of romantic empowerment. Burroughs’s daydreams on paper enhance our yearning for that which is beyond what we have to struggle with in day-to-day life.
End of psychological exegesis. The curtain now rises on today’s Tuesday Topic: one of Burroughs’s most unusual books, one that few people have read because — let’s face facts — how many but the most dedicated fans manage to reach Book #22 in any long-running series?
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