The Dream Vaults of Opar


Warm Memories

   Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes is, without a doubt, the most elaborate coming-attractions preview I've ever seen. I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to view the complete film when it premieres, a year or two from now, on network television. Hopefully it will be shown then in something closer to its original four-hour length. At that time I may be able to make some evaluation of Hugh Hudson's contribution to the Tarzan legend.*
   The version currently being shown, however, has obviously been butchered by Warner's editing. Whole segments of the movie are missing, most notably the ivory poacher's village ("the edge of civilization") segment and the segment in which Silverbeard (Tarzan's ape "father") is brought back to civilization by the remnants of the scientific expedition.
   Even so, it seems safe to say that Hudson has wandered too far from Burroughs' Tarzan. For reasons of his own he has seen fit to place the Greystoke estate in Scotland (is it because Hudson detests the English?) and to push back the date of Tarzan's birth by an inexplicable three years. The worst problem, however, is that he has attempted to strip from the film the most basic ingredients of Burroughs' novels--action and heroism. With a budget of thirty-odd million dollars, they could not believably depict Tarzan killing a panther. Even the battle against Kerchak had to culminate off stage--under water. And, of course, the second half of the film could have been vastly better had some action and suspense been included.
   Misguided seems the most appropriate word to express what has been done in this film. Tarzan of the Apes is not the Wild Child of Avignon. The same man-mind that brought him to the lordship of the Apes--and how hollowly this is depicted in the movie!--allows him to quickly master the situations encountered in civilization. He is a larger-than-life character, and any attempt to mitigate this simply misses the point.
   I've always been fascinated with Tarzan in civilization, wishing that Burroughs had shown us more of the ape-man's life in England. The early chapters of The Return of Tarzan are among my favorites, and I had (foolishly) hoped that this material might be incorporated into Greystoke. I waited in vain.
   Tarzan of the Apes was last adapted to the cinema in 1918. The world had to wait sixty-six years for this second adaption. I suppose Hollywood may try again around the year 2050. Somehow I think they'll muff it then, too.

   The initial mailing of ERB-APA stirred my own warm memories. It seems that we all have the same basic story to tell, with only the details changed. (A cynic might find that very appropriate, since Burroughs was accused of doing the same thing in his novels.) My own version begins with an ill wind that brought me good and changed the course of my life. Around June 28, 1957, hurricane Audrey came in from the Gulf of Mexico, crossing Louisiana. I was nine years old at the time. I suppose the New Orleans area didn't receive the brunt of the storm; the only damage my family suffered was confined to a dilapidated shed that ran across the back of our yard. I remember it as quite a mysterious place; run down and in need of paint. It was the nearest thing in my childhood world to a haunted house. I had been repeatedly warned to stay out of it because there were rats there--which may or may not have been true--and that admonition only added to the innate interest of the building, though I don't think I ever worked up the courage to venture inside by myself.
   Audrey damaged the roof, and as a result my grandmother decided to have the shed torn down. She sent word to her children to come and take away anything they had left stored inside. When my Uncle Paul arrived, I was allowed to follow him inside, among the dust and cobwebs. He had come for his old books. There was a long, lidded metal bin (in which chicken feed had once been kept?), and inside it he had stored away his childhood books before departing for The War. He lifted back the heavy lid, and within must have been three or four hundred volumes--Don Sturdy, Tom Swift, Gulliver's Travels, Poe, Robin Hood. They were thick with dust, but I think I overcame my squeamishness and helped him sort through them. And then, as Don Sturdy and Tom Swift were lifted away, a bright red volume caught my eye--Tarzan of the Apes.
   Had I ever seen a Tarzan movie? I don't think so. Yet so thoroughly had the ape-man penetrated our culture that I knew the name immediately. I picked up the volume and began looking at it. Did I ask to borrow it or did my uncle offer to loan it to me? I don't remember. But when we were done, that battered Grosset & Dunlap remained with me. I began reading it almost immediately. I remember that it took me three days to get through the volume--three days of doing very little else. I finished it while sitting at a table on the back porch of my grandmother's side of the house in which we lived, and when I closed the covers I started to cry--not because I found the ending sad, but because I wanted the story to go on and on.
   It was also at that moment that my search began. I wanted to read the other books advertised in the rear of that first volume. The next five years, until the beginning of the "Burroughs Boom" in 1962 with Dover's Three Martian Novels, loom in my memory as at least as long in duration as the twenty-two years since. I sought out the eight G&D titles still in print, located Son of Tarzan in an out-of-the-way bookshop in an especially rundown section of the French Quarter ("My God, child, you'll get us killed wandering around here," my mother protested; I had called every used book store in the phone directory, and we were trying to find the only one that had any Burroughs), then a tattered Chessmen of Mars--my first Mars book, and what a curious thing it was, without knowing anything of John Carter. It was my local library that made me a book collector; they could not (or pretended not to be able to) provide any of the Burroughs titles I so yearned for; there was an obvious implication that Burroughs' works, like comic books, were not good enough to be in the library. I had to seek them out in used book shops, or through the mail.
   Do you remember those days? Two different booksellers told me that not only was most of Burroughs' work out-of-print, but that it would probably never be reprinted. It was only a year or so afterward that the first Dover volume appeared, unleashing the deluge of the '60s.
   My fanaticism for Burroughs had led me to many other writers; unable to find the books I hungered for, I sampled as many others as I could, in hope that they might satisfy me. At this time I visited one or more newsstands each week, looking at all the new titles. I'll never forget the day I found The Moon Maid and At the Earth's Core, with their lush Frazetta and Krenkel covers, staring back at me. Off and on for two or three years I had checked Books in Print for Burroughs titles; there was never anything listed but the abbreviated G&D list. I was stunned, disbelieving. I don't think I even sorted through the available copies to pick the most perfect ones. I carried them to the counter, paid for them, then started home, reading as I walked. I boarded the streetcar that would take me to the Canal Street Ferry, sat down and continued to read. I was half way to the lake before I realized I was traveling in the wrong direction.
   It was too good to be true. I had had to hunt for years to uncover perhaps a half-dozen titles; now they were coming out at a rate of two each month. And there were other Burroughs volumes from Dover, and the Canaveral Press editions as well. Articles about their phenomenal popularity appeared in Life and Time.
   It's a nice feeling to be proven right, to know just how mistaken booksellers and librarians can be.

   Yes, Paul (Spencer), those evocative titles certainly can prod one's curiosity. Unable to find other Burroughs books to read, I would sit dreamily, book in lap, looking at the ad in the back and spinning out stories to fit. Why was my Mad King a cave man, ruling his people with a knurled club? Perhaps the title came in too close proximity to The Cave Girl. The Monster Men sprang up as creatures similar to those in Wells' Island of Dr. Moreau (which was actually fairly accurate). Later I found a nearly complete list of Burroughs' books in Twentieth Century Authors, and that set off a whole new round of conjecture. There were Back to the Stone Age and Land of Terror, obviously similar to--perhaps even sequels to--The Land that Time Forgot.  Some titles gave little to work with; Pellucidar might have been a character's name, except that its sequel, Tanar of Pellucidar, made it clearly a place. At the Earth's Core was a good deal more promising; and it had a sequel, too, Tarzan at the Earth's Core. Perhaps it was a land of Mole People, like those in the Superman TV series. And then there was Jungle Girl! Burroughs' version never could (and never did) come close to the lush sensuality conjured up by that title. She had to be a female Tarzan, reared in the jungle, lolling on swaying boughs during all those humid afternoons, swinging gracefully through the trees, bathing in clear jungle streams, all in a state of nature, without even the hint of clothing to mar her lithe young body. (Yes, I was in my teens by then.)
   Your point is well taken, Rick (Norwood): Perhaps Tarzan is a theme looking for a genius. To anticipate you a bit, though, I don't think that any of the other incarnations come even close to Burroughs'. For all his faults, he did have touches of genius--storytelling genius; and this is something none of the rest can boast, with the possible exception of Foster, who never wrote Tarzan. (Your second Prince Valiant volume [Prince Valiant: An American Epic] is stunning, even better than the first. If you really manage to publish the complete Valiant, you'll have made an inestimable contribution not merely to collectors, but to posterity. I can't overstate the importance of this project and the quality of Foster's work. Anyone really interested in the brilliance that can be attained by the "comics" medium cannot ignore Prince Valiant.) The situation regarding Tarzan reminds me of those other two mythic figures, King Arthur and Robin Hood. The earliest sources on both do not do their subjects justice (at least from our perspective). Malory managed to forge the Arthurian materials into something approaching a unified whole. Later another man of genius, Tennison, turned to the same material and produced Idylls of the King for his age. Still later, in our own time, T. H. White used the Arthurian legend as the basis of The Sword in the Stone. Robin Hood, as far as I know, is still awaiting his first genuine genius. If Tarzan is as archetypal a figure as I believe him to be, then he will need to be reinterpreted for each successive age. He will have other geniuses (you see; despite my earlier qualification, I really believe Burroughs to have been of that caliber--a flawed genius, let's say . . . but aren't they all, really?), but these things take time. Centuries may have to pass before Burroughs' version can be supplanted by something more suitable to future generations.
   John and Mike (Guidry and Resnick)--you bring back such fond memories of those "early" days of Burroughs fandom (though they'd hardly be early to Vern Corriel, looking back to the forties). I still remember that first telephone conversation, John. How long did we talk? It was some kind of record--six hours? Eight? Everyone was doing Barsoomian maps back then. (Mike, how about running ERB-dumb through ERB-APA? I don't think I have a copy of it.) This is terrible, guys; all this reminiscing. It's making me feel old. (And India's 35! How can that be?)
   There isn't space left to comment on the fine contributions to the first mailing from each and every one of the members. The overall caliber of the writing is amazingly high. Joe Lukes amused me with his deadpan description of his collection--cancelled Munsey checks indeed! I was buying your story up to that point. (You don't really have them--do you?) And why does your '48 reprint copy of Lion Man have an advertisement for a 1936 movie? And Joan (Bledig), while I always appreciate it when you're your usual witty self, I do wish you'd not use thermal photocopies: your contributions will be unreadable in ten or fifteen years, faded and crumbling to dust. They're too good to meet such a fate. Tafadhali?
   Mary McGeehan's crisp writing and evident enthusiasm leave me marveling and wishing we could all emulate her. A full bibliography of secondary Burroughs sources is certainly a worthwhile goal; even more, though, I would like to see an anthology of such articles--an historical collection documenting the reaction of the printed media to Edgar Rice Burroughs and his creations. For instance, a collection of book reviews as published in the major newspapers and magazines of the era would be a very interesting compilation, and a valuable source for students of the future.
   John F. Roy, Alan Hanson, Bill Ross, Mike Conran, Dr. Johnson, James D. Anderson, Doug Wirth, Darrell Richardson, Jeremy Barry--I only wish I had space for everyone. All, without exception, fascinating reading. I can hardly wait to read this mailing.

   --June 2, 1984

* In fact, the network version added only about five minutes to the running time, and despite the subsequent release of several different versions of the film, nothing even remotely approaching a complete version has yet appeared. <Back>

Greystoke--The Legend of Tarzan,
Lord of the Apes (video) starring Christopher Lambert and Ralph Richardson
Prince Valiant reprints
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Copyright © 1999 Patrick H. Adkins. All rights reserved.