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Master of the Absurd
"Me Tarzan, You Jane," was a rallying cry of which Edgar Rice Burroughs never approved. Although it netted him millions of dollars as the creator of a Jungle Lord who appeared in comics, movies, radio programs, and books, the Chicago-born ex-pencil-sharpener salesman always felt that his creation was misrepresented by Johnny Weismuller and friends.
He was right, too. The nearly hundred-year-old fascination that' the world has had with Tarzan (who first appeared in a 1912 pulp magazine) is based not so much on the apeman's primitive, back-to-nature quality (although that has something to do with it) as on the unusual combination of savagery and civilization that is Tarzan. As Lord Greystoke, the apeman is erudite, well-mannered, and well-read, the master of many languages, including apetalk. As Tarzan, however, he is a wild and deadly adversary, just as much at home fighting lions as other men would be fighting their wives.
Burroughs wisely combines this unusual character with fast"moving, unbelievably fun plots that relied a great deal on coincidence, romance, and nasty baddies. The reader had little time to think about flaws because everything moved so effortlessly. E.R.B. was rightly called the Master of Adventure, but he could have been called the Master of the Absurd as well.
Burroughs was born on September 1, 1875 – so today is his birthday – and I can trace my own fascination with him to 1967, when my father, attempting to cure my obsession with TV's Daniel Boone, started a new one to take its place. Burroughs wrote 25 Tarzan books, and countless other sci-fi and fantasy works (pretty much everything E.R.B. wrote was a fantasy, including such "realistic" novels as The Girl from Hollywood), and I even created a bizarre homage to him with The Edgar Rice Burroughs Discussion Hour. Burroughs's books are terrific page-turners, boyhood daydreams of the best sort, where the bad guys can be bested by a true blue hero and true love can succeed despite the odds. As Burroughs's John Carter of Mars often said, "While there is life, there is hope!" Happy birthday, Masterful One.
September 1, 2010