In 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs debuted his most famous creation in his second-ever novel, Tarzan of the Apes, and changed not only his life, but popular culture, forever after. For decades, the Lord of the Jungle dominated the fictional landscape, in every medium imaginable. A hundred years later, times might have changed and audiences become more cynical, yet Tarzan's legacy, his hold on the public's imagination, though somewhat dimmed from its once-majestic peak, still echoes on. Adaptations still keep coming, including an animated Disney TV series, a stage production and a theatrical animated film, all in the past 12 years.
A century is a long time for a fictional character to still hold currency, and dedicated Burroughs scholar Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration commemorates this impressive span in style.
I usually don't go in for coffee table books. Always heavy on beautiful imagery but light on actual content, the typical coffee table book is fun for a quick perusal but rarely commands repeated attention...something you pick up once or twice and then rarely look at again. Happily, Griffin's terrific compendium is a notable exception. In short, it is - like its subject - magnificent.
Published by Titan Books, Tarzan: The Centennial Collection is huge (13 x 10 inches) and beautifully designed, with thick, glossy pages chock full of stunning images, but Griffin hasn't scrimped on the text side of the equation, either. This a fabulous, juicy tome that not only is a feast for the eye and a salve for the soul of adventure fiction junkies everywhere, but works as a splendid overview of Burroughs' most famous character.
More than half of the book's 320 pages are dedicated to what started the phenomenon in the first place - Burroughs' novels: several pages for each Tarzan title, including a non-spoilery plot synopsis, plus several paragraphs providing background details about their writing, including notes on the author's research methods, word count (most of the novels seem to average 75,000 to 80,000 words), payment for each story, the sometimes quite involved back-and-forth negotiations on their publication, etc. Coverage of each novel is of course accompanied by numerous (and wonderful) cover paintings, from the original hardback dust jackets by J. Allen St. John to 1960s Gold Key comic art by George Wilson. The real highlights are the plethora of cover plates from the various Ace, Dell and Ballantine paperback runs from the 60s and 70s, especially focusing on the work of Robert Abbott, Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo, often gifted with a whole page each, the better to study their artistry in greater depth.
Griffin also peppers the book with sidebar articles (equally lavishly illustrated) on all manner of Tarzan-related goodies, from entries on Jane, the various beasts of Tazan (Tantor the Elephant, Numa the Lion, Nkima vs. Cheeta, etc.), Korak (Tarzan's son), Pellucidar, feral children, lost worlds, implacable foes, femmes fatales, an "ape language" glossary, and on and on. Later chapters of the book delve into Tarzan's forays into the world of comics (both newspaper strips and comic books), radio, film, television, stage, memorabilia and the like. Every possible facet is covered in brief, with myriad nuggets of information that many fans might not be aware of. (For example, did you know that actor Rod Taylor of The Time Machine fame starred in over 800 15-minute Tarzan serials for Australian radio in the late 50s? I sure as heck didn't!) There are also a couple of fascinating biographical chapters (again, accompanied by rare and enlightening photographs) discussing Burroughs youthful military service and later life as a world famous, elder statesman writer hanging out at his Tarzana ranch (and, of course, Tarzana itself gets its own chapter).
Author Griffin definitely knows his stuff, and really, for a One Stop Shopping trip to the savage, mythical lands of the Lord of the Apes, you could hardly do better. I've found myself breaking the coffee table book curse and returning to the book every day over the past several weeks since I first got my hot little hands on it, pouring over the incredible artwork, gleaning new-to-me details from the text - basically, savoring each individual section like a delicious ice cream cone.
And best of all, the book has inspired me to start working my way through those original Tarzan novels, many of which I've never got around to reading before. Indispensable for fans of Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs, pulp adventure fiction, and wonderful cover art in general, and worth much more than what it's currently going for on Amazon (can you tell I like this thing?), Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration comes highly, highly recommended.
My Grade: A+
Above, typically evocative cover art by Boris Vallejo, for TARZAN AND THE FORBIDDEN CITY (left) and TARZAN, LORD OF THE JUNGLE.
Welcome to the Armchair...
Look out the window. It’s a dark, cold, rainy day. Too nasty to go outside.
Better stay inside, read a good book.
There’s a bookcase over to your left. Run your fingers over the spines. Books of all shapes, sizes and genres; hardbacks, paperbacks. Take your time browsing through the titles. No rush. Find something that feels just right.
Now turn around. Over in the corner is a beat-up, black leather armchair. The leather is faded and cracked in places, the cushions battered. This chair has seen better days. But boy, does it look inviting...
Next to the chair is a standing lamp and a small table. Plenty of room for a nice cup of tea, a plate of cookies, whatever’s your poison.
So switch on the light, settle down with your book, open to page one, put your feet up, and let the author whisk you away to another world.
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