Crom Your Enthusiasm (18)

By: Diana Leto
August 20, 2015

lion

One of 25 installments in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite fantasy novels from the Thirties (1934–43). Enjoy!

TARZAN AND THE LION MAN | EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS | serialized 1933–35

When Edgar Rice Burroughs was frustrated with the folks at MGM, who in 1932 had cast Johnny Weissmuller as the grunting lead of Tarzan the Ape Man, he put pen to paper and created Tarzan and the Lion Man, a delightful modern-day tragicomedy of arrogance and privilege.

The seventeenth Tarzan novel is over 80 years old, now, but its self-reflexive quality suggests that it might almost have been written yesterday. A Hollywood production company sets out to create a Tarzan-type movie like no other — and foolheartedly launches a production team on a safari deep into the jungles of Africa. Here’s the pitch: “You see, this fellow’s born in the Jungle and brought up by a lioness. He pals around with the lions all his life — doesn’t know any other friends. The lion is king of beasts; when the boy grows up he’s king of the lions; so he bosses the whole menagerie. See? Big shot of the jungle.”

The B.O. Studio’s half-cocked venture provokes the story’s narrator to comment, “We are all either the victims or the beneficiaries of heredity and environment.” In Burroughs’s story, of course, the victims of heredity and environment are not the native Africans, but the privileged Hollywood-types who recklessly blaze their way through the jungle. As they find themselves at the mercy of an unfamiliar environment, the movie’s cast and crew are quickly stripped of the illusion of confidence and importance that make them so powerful in their own milieu. If the novel’s dialogue sometimes sounds like an old Bogart movie, that’s at least partly because it’s poking fun at Hollywood clichés of the time, when Bogart was just getting his start; and it uncannily predicts — by two decades — the production of Bogart and Hepburn’s The African Queen, which John Huston’s Hollywood team filmed in the African jungle.

The gritty African adventure and the author’s sly sarcasm make this a fun story, but Burroughs’s characters — a whimsical study of opposites — make it truly satisfying. Stanley Obrosky, the lead actor, is a doppelgänger for Tarzan but possesses the bravery of a mouse. Naomi Madison, the fragile starlet in the film, meanwhile, has a stunt double, Rhonda, who can “act circles around her” and is tough as nails. Tarzan himself, meanwhile, ends up taking a screen-test for a role in a jungle movie — but it’s determined that he is just not the type. In this novel, as in real life, the true heroes rarely get credit or recognition. Being heroes, however, they don’t really care.

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CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): Erik Davis on Jack Williamson’s DARKER THAN YOU THINK | Sara Ryan on T.H. White’s THE SWORD IN THE STONE | Mark Kingwell on C.S. Lewis’s OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | David Smay on Fritz Leiber’s THIEVES’ HOUSE | Natalie Zutter on Robert E. Howard’s QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | James Parker on J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT | Adrienne Crew on Dion Fortune’s THE SEA PRIESTESS | Gabriel Boyer on Clark Ashton Smith’s ZOTHIQUE stories | John Hilgart on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD | Barbara Bogaev on William Sloane’s TO WALK THE NIGHT | Rob Wringham on Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN | Dan Fox on Hergé’s THE SEVEN CRYSTAL BALLS | Flourish Klink on C.S. Lewis’s PERELANDRA | Tor Aarestad on L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s THE ROARING TRUMPET | Anthony Miller on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH | Suzanne Fischer on E.R. Eddison’s MISTRESS OF MISTRESSES | Molly Sauter on Herbert Read’s THE GREEN CHILD | Diana Leto on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s TARZAN AND THE LION MAN | Joshua Glenn on Robert E. Howard’s THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON | Andrew Hultkrans on H.P. Lovecraft’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS | Lynn Peril on Fritz Leiber’s CONJURE WIFE | Gordon Dahlquist on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME | Adam McGovern on C.L. Moore’s JIREL OF JOIRY stories | Tom Nealon on Fritz Leiber’s TWO SOUGHT ADVENTURE | John Holbo on Robert E. Howard’s CONAN MYTHOS.

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KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | GILL SANS | AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | SHE’S NOT THERE | FAUX DEVANAGARI | FUTURA | JENSON’S ROMAN | SAVANNAH SIGN | TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | KUMON WORKSHEET | ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | DIPLOMA REGULAR | SCREAM QUEEN | CHICAGO | CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | SHATTER | COMIC SANS | WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | GOTHAM.

HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | “That’s the Joint” | “Freedom” | “Rapture” | “The New Rap Language” | “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | “Making Cash Money” | “The Message” | “Pak Jam” | “Buffalo Gals” | “Ya Mama” | “No Sell Out” | “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | “Rockit” | “The Coldest Rap” | “The Dream Team is in the House” | The Lockers.

KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| The joke is on Kirk | Kirk vs. Decker | Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Captain Camelot | Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | Federation exceptionalism | Wizard fight | A million things you can’t have | Debating in a vacuum | Klingon diplomacy | “We… the PEOPLE” | Brinksmanship on the brink | Captain Smirk | Sisko meets Kirk | Noninterference policy | Kirk’s countdown | Kirk’s ghost | Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | How Spock wins

KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | KAMANDI | MACHINE MAN | SANDMAN | THE X-MEN | THE FANTASTIC FOUR | TALES TO ASTONISH | YOUNG LOVE | STRANGE TALES | MISTER MIRACLE | BLACK PANTHER | THOR | JIMMY OLSEN | DEVIL DINOSAUR | THE AVENGERS | TALES OF SUSPENSE | THE NEW GODS | REAL CLUE | THE FOREVER PEOPLE | JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

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What do you think?

  1. Nice archaeology of meta-pop’s pissed-off roots…Hemingway famously said throw your book over the California border, catch the money they throw back and run the opposite way…but it looks like ERB came back to throw the book at them again!

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