Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tarzan 101 | Tarzan for Children

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

Burroughs was concerned that Tarzan's popularity among kids would cause the ape man to be seen as a children's character, but that didn't prevent the author from serving his younger audience in some significant ways.

To start with he wrote a Tarzan story directed primarily at children. It was a publisher's idea, as was the notion of having Tarzan meet a couple of young twins: a boy and a girl. Burroughs went with the concept, but - uncomfortable with presenting a young girl in skimpy jungle clothing - changed the lead characters to two boys. The result was The Tarzan Twins, the book that Burroughs wrote after Tarzan and the Ant Men and later regretted dumbing down for kids. The story was pretty limited in its scope and the two boys spend most of it trapped in a village of cannibals before they escape and run into Tarzan at the end.

The Tarzan Twins didn't sell a lot, but Burroughs wrote a sequel anyway, Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins with Jad-bal-ja, the Golden Lion. This one was a little more expansive and also got a girl into the plot. Picking up where the first book left off, the boys are quickly separated from Tarzan and run into some priests of Opar who've captured the daughter of a missionary, intending her for human sacrifice. Tarzan and the girl's father eventually meet up and plan a rescue, while the children are also working hard to survive and hopefully to escape. The two stories were combined in 1963 as Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins with illustrations by Roy G. Krenkle (including my favorite ever drawing of Queen La, below). The missionary character would go on to show up in Tarzan and the Lost Empire, asking Tarzan to help find another of his children.

The Tarzan Twins weren't the only effort to make Tarzan accessible to children. There have been many children's editions of the regular novels, as well as pop-up books, Endless Quest books (a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure knock-off that began as a Dungeons and Dragons series, but eventually included characters like Tarzan and Conan), and - most recently - Andy Brigg's series for YA readers. In addition to books, Burroughs served kids not only by licensing all kinds of Tarzan toys and games, but also by starting a fan club for children that he hoped would become as big as the Boy Scouts of America.

Burroughs' Tarzan Clans of America was probably the most organized attempt at a Tarzan fan club, but it wasn't the first. In a chapter called "The Tarzan Clubs," Griffin goes through the history of organized Tarzan fandom, starting with the grassroots efforts of boys like Herman Newman (The Tribe of Tarzan) and Isaac Boorstyn (The Edgar Rice Burroughs Club). Both kids corresponded with Burroughs and got not only his endorsement, but also ideas from the author about activities and rewards for club members. It was Burroughs' hope that the clubs could go international, with each local tribe choosing its own totem.

Signal Oil was the first to launch a fancy, corporate club with membership cards, buttons, and prizes. The company also sponsored the 1932 Tarzan radio show, but had to discontinue the club when it got bigger than they could afford to manage. Burroughs was inspired by its success though and started his Tarzan Clans with an Official Guide that taught groups how to structure themselves, organize meetings, play official games, sing official songs, and make Tarzan-inspired weaponry. He hoped that MGM would sponsor the club as part of the publicity for Tarzan Finds a Son, but no dice. When WWII broke out and the U.S. focused its attention overseas, the Tarzan Clans of America fell by the wayside.

Tarzan stories, on the other hand, continued to inspire children for decades.

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