Monday, June 11, 2007

Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks

Edgar Rice Burroughs The Lad and the Lion paperbackWhile on vacation, I hit a used book-store that I hadn’t seen in the area before, and at the store were quite a few Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks for a buck each. Several of them were his more obscure (ie non-series books) that I had never gotten around to buying or reading. So I picked them up and bought them, anxiously awaiting enough time to delve into them.

The first up was THE LAD AND THE LION. And before I get any further, it further underscores something that reading many of the pulp reprints that are prevalent nowadays have made me aware of. My growing disenchantment of comics these days has almost everything to do with the nature of what passes for superhero comics at the companies. I still get that same feeling reading a “new” pulp or hero like THE LAD AND THE LION that I did when I was younger, maybe even better as my tastes have sophisticated enough to actually accept the outrageousness of an ERB novel or a Shadow, Spider, or G-8 novel instead of turning my nose up at them. I enjoy stories with larger than life heroes and vile villains, bizarre worlds, princesses of lost worlds, etc.

THE LAD AND THE LION actually prompted me to do some research on the novel as it’s a bit of an oddity. At first, it is what it seems, a Tarzan riff. A young prince is smuggled out of the country as it falls to revolutionaries and then during a terrific storm, he loses his memory and is presumed dead. Shortly after coming to, he is “rescued” by a sadistic epileptic mute on a drifting derelict and his only friend, a caged lion cub. Eventually boy and lion find themselves in Africa, hunting the jungles and deserts and various villains and beautiful women. There are inevitable similarities in the relationship between this boy and lion and the later pulp Ka-zar, reinforced by the paperback cover making him a long-haired blond. Other covers suggest the lad to have dark hair, the text says nothing one way or another.

But what makes this book interesting is that it is actually two parallel stories. There’s the traditional story of the jungle hero. And then there’s the story that’s more like something out of Dumas, where Burroughs tells the history of the kingdom after the revolution. The lad’s uncle is put on the thrown who then does not live up to his agreements with the revolutionaries for a constitution. And we see his son, the prince growing up spoiled, corrupt, and desirous of power as the lad grows up more noble though uncivilized. And the leaders of the revolution continue to plot. You have people whose motivations are unclear, simple folk caught up in big events beyond their control as they all strive to impart their will on the direction of the kingdom, all heading towards bad endings. Even the people you want to root for. And as you progress through the novel, one cannot help but wonder how this is going to dovetail with the story of the real prince, amnesiac and having adventures in Africa with a lion as a brother.

So, I did a little research. I discovered some interesting tidbits. When this was written (after BEASTS OF TARZAN), it was much thinner, only half a book, the adventure story of the lad and the lion. As this novel was the first of ERB’s to be filmed, even before Tarzan, it may have been written as an eye towards being a screenplay. Reports are conflicting on how accurate the film hewed to the story, and it’s apparently lost. It was only later when the story was being collected and released in book form that Ed Burroughs went back and wrote the other half. I think it was the freedom of having already written the romantic heroic adventure half, he was able to write something a little bit different, with more shades of gray and a bit of cynicism about the nature of governments, of power, of leaders that claim to be serving the greater good and just how free and ineffectual individuals can be against that kind of corruption. And, in the end, almost every decision is based on people having more personal agendas for their action, even those that you would say are good people.

So, it’s a schizophrenic small novel, in a way it’s like reading a very thin Dumas novel, with political intrigue, action and daring heroes and villains. H. G. Wells apparently used this novel to denounce Burroughs as being insane according to one online source. It’s also striking in that the book contains a true inter-racial relationship, touching on the differences in class and religion as our hero falls for and pursues the daughter of an Arabian sheik. But, despite this review, don’t think this book is a “deep” read. Instead, it’s just deep enough, full of those touches that gives the world that the lad operates in a context, making it three-dimensional and real enough for the book. And wishing that Burroughs had revisited this particular jungle-lord and his brother, the lion.

Edgar Rice Burroughts The Eternal Savage