Fred Patten Reviews Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration. The Stories – The Movies – The Art.
Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration. The Stories – The Movies – The Art.
Author: Scott Tracy Griffin. Introduction by Ron Ely.
Publisher: Titan Books
Tarzan of the Apes, the first Tarzan novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, was published in October 1912. Titan Books has won the authorization and full cooperation of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. to publish this only official commemorative visual history of Tarzan.
This is an extremely imposing tome. It is a tall, thick 10.2 x 13.1 inches, weighing 5 pounds; 320 pages in full color (except for the numerous period photographs, which are in black & white). It is written by Scott Tracy Griffin, a leading expert and consultant on documentaries about Tarzan and Burroughs for almost twenty years. The introduction is by Ron Ely, who portrayed the ape man in 57 one-hour NBC TV episodes from 1966 to 1968.
Aside from short biographical chapters on Burroughs’ early years (pages 10-18) and his later years (pages 312-315), the book concentrates mostly on his 24 Tarzan novels and other books (pages 20-183), the Tarzan motion pictures (pages 224-265), Tarzan in other entertainment media (television and radio series, and the stage), and dramatizations for children. Shorter chapters of a few pages each cover Tarzana (from its origin as Burroughs’ large farm/ranch in the 1920s to its status as a residential suburb (population 26,000+) of Los Angeles today) and the ERB, Inc. office built in 1927 by Burroughs where he worked; Tarzan collectibles for children such as lunchboxes; authorized Tarzan books by other authors; foreign editions; authorized Tarzan fanzines and fan publications; and the major fan club, the Burroughs Bibliophiles, and its annual “Dum-Dum” conventions.
The meat of the book is in its coverage of Burroughs’ books and the Tarzan motion pictures. A Titan Books press release describes this as “…a visual treasure trove of classic comic strip, cover art, movie stills, and rare ephemera”. The movie stills are in the forty pages on the Tarzan movies; the rest is in the 160 pages devoted to the 24 Tarzan novels and Burroughs’ other books. This is a treasure trove of graphics. The coverage of each book includes (besides a detailed plot synopsis, a summary of its public response, and trivia related to it) a complete publication history, original dust jackets, magazine covers, newspaper comic strip and comic book adaptations, and ephemera related to it. Burroughs and his heirs were collectors, and these are not pictures of the used copies that often appear in books about decades-old popular literature. Each image is from a mint-condition copy, a publisher’s proof, or the original artwork. Each image including the comic book covers is identified as to its artist. In the sections on motion pictures (including the Disney 1999 animated version), TV series, the stage musical, fan publications, foreign editions, collectibles, etc., ERB and his corporate heirs also built up a huge collection of publicity stills and other graphics, that are featured here. Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration is current up to Jane, the Woman Who Loved Tarzan by Robin Maxwell (Tor Books), published on September 18, 2012.
The biographical sections on Edgar Rice Burroughs include what is probably the most complete collection of Burroughs’ personal photographs ever published. In addition to straightforward biographical data, there are many anecdotes of Burroughs’ sense of humor. The story of how his original pseudonym, “Normal Bean” (meaning a normal human), was changed by a typesetter into “Norman Bean”, is well-known, but this book documents many others. For example, Burroughs was often asked how “Tarzan” should be pronounced. His replies were seldom serious; one answer was that “the ‘o’ is silent, as in ‘mice’”.
This is an authorized history, so it does not mention the many unauthorized Tarzan novels, written mostly since the 1960s after the first Tarzan novels’ copyrights expired. The Tarzan name is still trademarked, and ERB, Inc. has suppressed those in the U.S. individually in a series of lawsuits. This is a minor omission since most of the unauthorized stories were dreadful. ERB, Inc. has carefully used its authority to make sure that the authorized novels, mostly by such professional science-fiction authors as Fritz Leiber, Philip Jose Farmer, and R. A. Salvatore, and British TV and comic book author Andy Briggs, have been of high quality.
There is no index, although the clear arrangement of the contents makes most information easy to find. While most of Burroughs’ non-Tarzan novels such as The Mad King and The Oakdale Affair are minor enough that this book will satisfy most readers’ search for information about them, readers will have to search for complete information about Burroughs’ other science-fiction tales – the John Carter of Mars novels, the Pellucidar novels, the Carson Napier of Venus novels, The Moon Maid and The Moon Men – elsewhere.
Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration will sate the most obsessed fans’ desire for information about Edgar Rice Burroughs the author; about his Tarzan books and their adaptations in motion pictures, comic strips, and comic books; and about Tarzan and his supporting characters – Jane, his son Korak, Cheetah, and Tantor the elephant. It is a bargain at the price.
Disclosure: A free copy of this book was furnished by the publisher for review, but providing a copy did not guarantee a review. This information is provided per the regulations of the Federal Trade Commission.