Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Tarzan 101 | An Introduction



Last year was the 100th anniversary of the publication of the first Tarzan story and, frankly, I was disappointed by the lack of celebration overall. Especially by me, but I'll be happy to point my finger elsewhere as a distraction. Couldn't we at least have gotten a new Tarzan movie?

I'm mostly kidding. There was the Lord of the Louisiana Jungle documentary as well as a new series of novels to re-introduce the character to modern, young readers, so it's not like everyone was ignoring the event. But I wanted more and should have done more. Tarzan didn't get the celebration he deserves.

That is, until Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration came out. It's a massive, coffee table sized book that covers the entire history of the character, from his creation by Edgar Rice Burroughs to modern Internet fandom, with all the books, movies, and TV shows in between. And when I say it's coffee table sized, I mean that it's the size of a friggin coffee table. This thing is seriously huge. I'll try to show the perspective better in future posts.

Because, oh yes, there will be future posts.

The only negative thing I can think of to say about the book is that it was released in time for Christmas. That's understandable, but I would have loved to have had it earlier to enjoy all year long. Also, I got it about the time I was waist-deep in Scrooge and couldn't do it justice right then. I really, really wanted to, but I was swamped. So I started thinking about other ways to talk about the book.

Finally, it hit me that 2013 is the 101st anniversary of the first Tarzan story (in the October 1912 issue of The All-Story magazine, as Griffin's book taught me). What better year to do a series of Tarzan 101 posts about the history of the character? Each week for the rest of the year (Best Laid Plans caveats apply), I'm going to try to talk briefly about what I learned from Griffin that week. I won't spoil large sections of his book, but it'll be a way to give Tarzan the year-long celebration I wanted for him, even if it's after his centennial.

The Centennial Celebration starts with a couple of chapters on Burroughs himself: his early life and his writing career before Tarzan. There's not much to his pre-Tarzan career, just A Princess of Mars and an unpublished, medieval adventure. I love this quote that Burroughs gave an interviewer in 1929 about why he started writing. He was flipping through a pulp magazine to check the placement of some ads for the company he was unhappily running at the time and decided, "If people were paid for writing such rot as I read, I could write stories just as rotten."

Turns out, no, he couldn't.
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