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Tarzan and the Imposter
It's my birthday and I want to write about Edgar Rice Burroughs and Tarzan -- again. I wrote about the subject one or two months ago, but I want to revisit it because I recently stopped reading a dreadful book called Tarzan: The Lost Adventure. This is a big deal for me because I always try to finish reading books, no matter how bad. This story was reportedly co-written by Burroughs and some guy named Joe Lansdale, but ERB's contribution was so heavily rewritten by Lansdale that it was unrecognizable.
The novel was built out of an 83-page manuscript left unfinished at the time of Burroughs's death in 1950, locked in a safe and discovered with a whole pile of unpublished ERB manuscripts in 1963. Fans have been waiting to see it ever since. Instead of printing it as is, warts and all, as a final Tarzan story from the Master of Adventure, the Burroughs estate, for some reason, chose Lansdale to complete it. Lansdale has apparently never read any of the 25 previous Tarzan books, for if he had, it would be impossible for him to have depicted a Tarzan like the one in this tedious tale. ERB's Tarzan was a stoic individual who rarely smiled (he often had the ghost of a smile), spoke English (and a dozen other languages) perfectly, took no delight in killing, rarely sought revenge (rare cases: the murder of his ape foster mother, Kala, in Tarzan of the Apes, and the supposed death of Jane in Tarzan the Untamed). What can you make of a Tarzan who is constantly grinning, says he will take pleasure in the death of another, promises to revenge himself against someone, and speaks Englsh in a stilted, awkward fashion?
The book also has none of the gripping pace of a true Burroughs novel, which at its best. will sweep you along at a rapid clip. When re-reading the 25 Tarzan books recently, I often missed my stop on the subway because I was so engrossed in the story. Lansdale's plodding style -- and unpleasant use of graphic violence -- is a turnoff, and I often found myself not wanting to continue with the book, more a chore than a delight to read. Supposedly, there is a privately printed version of the unfinished novel floating around out there; I'd love to see it. From what I can tell -- looking at an online summary of the story -- Lansdale made a lot of unnecessary changes in the plot and style, making it more Lansdale than Burroughs. If he had really been serious about this, the author would have taken a leaf from the late Fritz Leiber's book. When he was commissioned to write a Tarzan sequel in 1965, he imitated ERB's style as closely as he could, even referring to past adventures (citing them in footnotes), and making Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (long out of print) one of the best Tarzan pastiches around.
On a related note: if you're a collector of ERB items, you'll want to check out three websites: Facsimile Dustjackets, Recoverings, and erbgraphics. All of them offer something special – and I was totally unaware of that something until about a year ago: facsimiles of original Burroughs dustjackets. Either as art pieces or covers for your faded hardcover editions of ERB's works, they are well worth
purchasing. Recoverings and erbgraphics offer facsimiles and also "variant editions," which are dustjackets that use contemporary art to improve on the originals (Recoverings' DJs for John Carter of Mars and Savage Pellucidar are vast improvements over the poorly designedl Canaveral Press versions of 1963). erbgraphics has the best prices and has also presented some excellent variant editions (and with every three DJs you buy, you get a bonus surprise DJ for free).
Over the last year, I've acquired a number of ERB DJs, primarily from Mark Terry at Facsimile, and I had the pleasure of meeting Mark during my current trip to San Francisco. He does wonderful work -- he painstakingly restores the dustjackets so they look as good as new -- and he has thousands of covers he has created in the last 16 years (naturally not all being Burroughs). It's an esoteric item to collect, but most of the DJs are eye-poppingly great. You could become addicted to them. They're that good.
October 23, 2013