Monday, April 30, 2018

Review: Tarzan and the Lion Man

Tarzan and the Lion Man
This book is half and half for me. I absolutely loved the skewering of Hollywood and its denizens. Since I've hated almost every Tarzan movie ever made I can sympathize with Edgar Rice Burroughs and his frustration with their ham-fisted treatment of his most famous character. Strangely, he especially hated the way they portrayed Jane as a brunette when she was supposed to be a blonde. I would have thought he would be a lot more upset with the casting of short, stumpy, homely Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan. He looks like he should have been playing Gunner from Tarzan Triumphant rather than Tarzan. Better yet, he could have played one of the apes. Ugh.

Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan
Anyway, ERB was so annoyed with the bad casting and writing for the movies that he took on Hollywood in this book, sending a movie team to the jungle to film on location instead of on a back lot somewhere. Instead of an ape man, this movie features a lion man, a Tarzan clone who was raised by the king of beasts instead of apes. Of course everything goes wrong. I loved all of that, although it's darker than I remember from when I read this back in the 70s. I must have been a bloodthirsty teen because I never minded all of the killing back then.

The book takes a bizarre turn when the movie people get mixed up with a tribe of uplifted gorillas who have been genetically modified and given Renaissance names and identities. King Henry VIII is especially silly with his many wives, all named for the real Henry's serial harem. Of course the science is nonsense, but it's ERB, that's going to be a given. I had a bigger problem with the girls who are practically twins and yet another actor who looks so much like Tarzan that his friends mistake Tarzan for him. Seriously, does everyone but Tarzan need glasses in these books? I could have done without that bit of nonsense, it didn't add anything to the book and wasn't necessary for the plot. I think ERB was just having fun with it.

I barely remember the action with the gorillas, there was a bunch of running around getting captured and escaping and getting rescued by Tarzan, it wasn't very memorable. It might have been more interesting if I hadn't already read much the same stuff in the last few books.

It really gets funny and over-the-top silly when John Clayton makes his way to Hollywood to see how it works for himself. He auditions for the role of Tarzan and is rejected for not being the right type. You could see ERB's eyes twinkling when he wrote that part.

For the Hollywood stuff it's a solid 4 to 5 stars but the gorillas drag it down. I'll give it a respectable 3 1/2 stars rounded up, as always, for the Tarzan factor. I wouldn't start your Tarzan journey here, but it's worth a read.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Review: Tarzan and the City of Gold

Tarzan and the City of Gold
This is one of the rarer later books where Tarzan has a more central role. It takes place in another lost civilization and starts when Tarzan rescues a strange white man and wanders in the jungle with him long enough to learn his language before returning him to his hidden valley. The valley is home to two cities, one centered on ivory and the other on gold. No mention is made of the fact that his new buddy's home town trades in the tusks of Tantor, I guess Edgar Rice Burroughs didn't want us to think about the source of ivory too much. Anyway, they get to the valley and get separated by a flooded river when Tarzan is swept away to the rival city of gold.

There he is taken prisoner and forced to fight in gladiatorial combat before he comes to the attention of the mad Queen Nemone who, of course, falls in love with the ape man. Hijinks ensue as Tarzan seems to fall a little in love with this crazy bitch who kills or maims any woman who dares be beautiful. I checked and this was written only a couple of years before ERB's divorce and I have to wonder if the dying of his marriage played into the absence of Jane in any of the later Tarzan books. I read a theory that he meant to leave her dead when the Germans crucified her in one of the middle books, can't remember which one it was off the top of my head. By the time the last part of that book came out (it was published in serial form as many of these were originally) he recanted and said that her maid had been burned and left to convince Tarzan that Jane was dead. I am not sure of ERB's intentions or reasons, the same source that I referenced above said that he did it because he was so disgusted by the portrayal of her in the movies that he decided to bump her off in the books. I don't quite get that, but ERB was a weird guy. Whatever the reason, there is very little of Jane in the later books and I think they suffer for it. Tarzan is at his best when he is torn between his role as an English Lord and his love of the jungle.

That being said, I hated seeing him being gooey eyed over this crazy bitch and thought it was the weakest part of the book. It's never going to be one of my favorites anyway, especially with the deus ex machina ending. It has its ups - more Tarzan - and its downs, the completely unnecessary relationship between the Lord of the Jungle and the crazy queen.

I don't know if I've mentioned it, but I started a Tarzan fan fiction recently and part of my goal is to bring Jane more to the forefront and let her be as strong in her own way as her mate. Yes, I know that's a cliche for modern writers to want to give classic heroines more scope and strength, but I would argue that Jane was already one of the stronger characters in the books. She came from a sheltered world and suffered huge traumas, not the least of which was losing her son once as an infant and then for years as Jack went away to become Korak the Killer. Then she also lived on her own in the jungle and had to learn to survive on her own. She went from being a delicate flower to a tough broad and I want to celebrate that in my version of the story. It's about time she comes out of the background, or like in this story, out of obscurity, and take her place at her man's side. I hope I can pull it off.

As for this book, I'd give it 3 1/2 stars, with a little padding for nostalgia - with all its faults it's still Tarzan.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Review: Tarzan Triumphant

Tarzan Triumphant
Of all of the later Tarzan books, this is my favorite. I remembered Gunner and his machine gun long after the rest of the details were lost in the fog of time. This is one of the rare Tarzan books that is genuinely funny. Gunner and his "kid" are such a wonderful couple and I thought it was clever of Edgar Rice Burroughs to bring in someone less than perfect for Jezebel. As worried as ERB was about genetics, he would never have matched up an upstanding, pinnacle of nobility with someone with such a horribly flawed genetic heritage.

And that brings up a controversial point. I love Edgar Rice Burroughs' stories and his imagination was literally boundless, but he also had some pretty weird hangups about genes and even advocated some awful policies based on eugenics. I'm glad that I was able to love Tarzan and his world decades before I knew the more unsavory parts of his creator's beliefs. I've already touched on the racism and sexism in his books - truly awful - but the genetic stuff is just as bad if not worse.

What do you do when something you love is created by a flawed human being? Can you separate the art from the artist? I can, mostly because I was lucky enough to encounter Tarzan without that baggage and I was savvy enough to reject the racism and sexism even as a young teenager. But, learning these things about ERB later did taint some of his writing for me. It's a little like the Cosby Show, can you watch it and enjoy the stories on the screen without thinking about the unforgivable behavior being perpetrated off-screen? I think it's something you can only resolve for yourself - for me, I can still love Tarzan but I can't imagine listening to Noah or watching Fat Albert ever again. Some things are just too much to forgive.

All of that being said, and I know I've strayed far from the point - I love this book and I had a lot of fun revisiting it. My biggest complaint, and it's common for the later books, is Tarzan is less of a character and more of a force of nature. I miss the days when he was caught between two worlds - that's the Tarzan I want to spend time with - not just the superman/demigod swinging through the jungle, saving stupid white people.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Review: Tarzan of the Apes

I have taken a long break from blogging and I think it's time to start it back up again. Over the last two years a lot of things have happened, but the biggest was the loss of my father January 6 of this year. You can see his memorial site here: http://donshiles.com/ His death was long and difficult for all of us and I'm just now beginning to accept that he's really never coming back.

I have been extremely active on Goodreads since the last time I blogged and I decided I want to start sharing some of my reviews with you here. I hope to do other blog posts and I promise to catch you up on the other things that have been happening lately soon, but for now, let me start with my favorite book of all time, Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Cover on the copy of Tarzan of the Apes that I read.
I remember the day in the early to mid 70s that Lois Lew handed me her copy of this book and told me to read it. I devoured it and then read the 20+ other books in the series and then started all over again and read them all twice, and then read the first 5 or 6 about five times more. When I finished that, I started reading everything else written by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I was so captured by his style and stories that it was months before I could force myself to read anything else.

I have returned to them again and again and when I sold off and donated almost my entire library before moving across the country 13 years ago Edgar Rice Burroughs was one of only two authors to survive intact. (Georgette Heyer and Anne McCaffrey were the other two.) They now sit proudly in my library, filling half of one shelf running the length of the room.

Nevertheless, it had been decades since I had read any ERB book, including Tarzan, so a few years ago I came back to them. I was happy to find that my love of Tarzan had not diminished but I had a hard time feeling the rhythm of the writing. This time around, it all came back to me and I realized I was in for a long, uninterrupted love fest with my favorite superhero of all time, Tarzan of the Apes. I'll see you on the other side.