Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Tarzan 101 | The Son of Tarzan

Celebrating Tarzan's 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

Burroughs was pretty much done with Tarzan in 1914. He was feuding with his editor at All-Story over reprint rights and didn't have a lot of motivation to continue the series. But when a new editor took over the magazine and promised to work with Burroughs on his complaints, Burroughs agreed. He even accepted the new editor's idea of making the next story about Tarzan's son, Jack, running away from London to Africa with an ape. It would be the last time Burroughs set part of a Tarzan story in England.

Jack ends up stranded in the wild with his ape pal and has to adapt. He becomes known to the jungle animals as Korak the Killer and eventually meets his own "Jane," a girl named Meriem whom he rescues from slavery. Burroughs ties the story into the previous Tarzan novels in a couple of ways outside of just Tarzan (Nikolas Rokoff's henchman plays a vital role in getting Jack to Africa, and Jack's ape friend turns out to be a character from earlier books), but it's a serious departure from what's come before. A lot of time passes in order for Jack to become Korak, which would put Tarzan past adventuring age if the subsequent novels took place after Son of Tarzan. Burroughs wrote himself into a corner with this one. Of course, he figured out how to write his way out again, but that's tomorrow's post.

Korak went on to have a healthy career of his own thanks to comics. Gold Key started a Korak, Son of Tarzan series in 1964 that lasted 45 issues until 1972 when DC got the license and continued it for another 14 issues (keeping the numbering from the Gold Key series).

Interestingly, the Korak comics mess with the novels' continuity by having the main character not be Tarzan and Jane's biological son, but Boy from the Johnny Weissmuller movies. To no one's surprise, Boy reaches an ages that he doesn't like his nickname anymore, so he insists on being called Korak instead.

That ties into the first of Griffin's extra chapters relating to Son of Tarzan: a discussion of Boy and other children in the Tarzan movies. Among other things, Griffin points out that Boy had to be an adopted son because Tarzan and Jane were never married in the Weismuller films. I've often admired that they weren't married even though Jane's explicitly identified as Tarzan's "mate" in the second film. One of the major themes in those movies is Jane's rejection of civilization for a more primitive, natural way of doing things and an official wedding would have contradicted that. I'm okay with an adopted son if that's the cost.

After the chapter on Korak and Boy, Griffin has another on feral children in general, from mythological characters like Enkidu from Gilgamesh to historical cases like the eighteenth century Wild Peter. My favorite bit in this part is Burroughs' admission that Tarzan's instinctive nobility is as much a fantasy as the talking apes. Burroughs makes a big deal in the Tarzan books about Tarzan's heritage kicking in and taking over, separating him from the savage nature of his surroundings. But Griffin quotes a couple of interviews in which Burroughs acknowledges that a real-life Tarzan would "develop into a cunning, cowardly beast" and that "the resultant adult would be a most disagreeable person to have about the house." He adds, "I decided not to be honest, but to draw a character people could admire."

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