Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Feud That Never Was [Guest Post]

By GW Thomas

I was enjoying Bob Powell's Complete Cave Girl (Dark Horse) and something in the editorials got me thinking. Why didn't Edgar Rice Burroughs sue when Sheena, Queen of the Jungle appeared for the first time in the US in 1938? For that matter, why didn't he sue any of the many jungle king and queens over the years.

Edgar Rice Burroughs created Tarzan in 1912. ERB had the jungle king business all to himself until 1926 when "Roy Rockwood" wrote the juvenile novel, Bomba the Jungle Boy. Did Burroughs sue? Nope. 1927, Otis Adelbert Kline writes the first Pulp Tarzan clone, Call of the Savage (aka Jan of the Jungle) and Tam, Son of the Tiger in 1931. That year we also got CT Stoneman's Kaspa the Lion Man. 1932: Kwa. The flood gates are creaking opening. 1934: Sorak. 1935: Hawk of the Wilderness. 1936: Ka-Zar... and finally Sheena. And then things really explode. Everybody had to have a jungle king or queen.

And Burroughs, who was a shrewd business man, does nothing. Why? Could it have something to do with the fact that British reviewers had accused him of ripping off Rudyard Kipling (along with HR Haggard and HG Wells) in 1914? Kipling himself wrote later in Something of Myself (1937):

"And, if it be in your power, bear serenely with imitators. My Jungle Books begat Zoos of them. But the genius of all the genii was one who wrote a series called Tarzan of the Apes. I read it, but regret I never saw it on the films, where it rages most successfully. He had 'jazzed' the motif of the Jungle Books and, I imagine, had thoroughly enjoyed himself. He was reported to have said that he wanted to find out how bad a book he could write and 'get away with,' which is a legitimate ambition."

A mixed review at best. But Kipling never sued. He chose to "bear serenely with imitators" (if such a poke in the eye can be called serene). Burroughs own reply to the reviewers' accusations noted that these authors had been part of his youth and he thanked them, but he also noted that the "noble savage" idea is older than Mowgli, dating back to Romulus and Remus. Kipling said nothing for twenty-three years and ERB got on with writing more Tarzan novels. When his turn came to be imitated, he seems to have taken a page from Kipling's book.

There was a rumor circulating in later years that Edgar Rice Burroughs had not taken it all lying down. In fans circles, there was talk of the Burroughs-Kline feud. Otis Adelbert Kline certainly was one of the first and most Burroughs-like of the imitators. He published in the same Pulps as did ERB. If anyone would have been a likely target for a lawsuit it was this former associate editor of Weird Tales.

The story goes something like this. Kline was always careful to set his pseudo-Burroughs in different places than old ERB. So Jan of the Jungle lives in India, not Africa. The Planet of Peril was Venus, not Mars, as Ed had staked that territory out in his Barsoom novels. But in 1932 Burroughs started a new series, this one about a flyer named Carson Napier, for Argosy. The planet was Amtor or Venus, encroaching on Kline's franchise. In January 1933, Kline retaliates in the same magazine with The Swordsmen of Mars and later The Outlaws of Mars. What would ERB do next?

Nothing. Irwin Porges, who had the enormous task of reading decades of correspondence to write Burroughs' biography, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan (1975), never found any trace of a feud. Burroughs had not written so much as a note about Kline. Kline had not flooded him with hot missives. The battle of the Jungle writers was a mere fancy of the fans. Burroughs, in his best Kipling manner, had simply ignored his imitator.

The fact that Burroughs had not pursued litigation left, right, and center may be one of the reasons why we had the Jungle Craze of the 1940s. One successful court case, let's say against Wil Eisner and his Sheena creation and the slough of jungle print-wearing beauty queens and muscle men would have stopped dead in their tracks.

But that is alternative history. It never happened that way. Johnny Weissmuller was movie magic. Sheena was a big hit in the comics and the Jungle Lord and Lady moved into the public domain of tropes. The elements of the Tarzan adventure had solidified over those twenty-five years, to the point where Mickey Mouse and Daffy Duck were doing jungle yells in the cartoons. And Ed just laughed along and wrote another book.

Whether he "serenely bore" it, or his lawyers told him it wasn't worth the bother, doesn't matter. Being such an entrepreneur, he might have even thought it was good (and free) advertising. He had given the world a new icon, a new way of seeing something old. In our world of today, when companies actually own the very language we speak, this generosity is surprising. And both Ed and Rudyard have survived the One Hundred Year Test, and we will go on enjoying their gifts for decades to come.

GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.

1 comment:

Derek Ash said...

"In our world of today, when companies actually own the very language we speak.." This sentence chilled me to my bones.

Awesome article overall!


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