Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Book Review: Tarzan The Centennial Celebration

It took a little longer to finish going through this but trust me. It's worth the time.

Since his first appearance 100 years in the All-Story magazine, Tarzan has become a household name, starring in countless movies, comics and novels. Its that diverse line-up that writer and Burroughs expert Scott Tracy Griffin charts in his new book, a lavishly illustrated and heavy (and I do mean heavy) exploration of the Ape-Man's journey from the mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs to pop culture icon.

The book is split into several sections, the first charting Burroughs' life and careers up until the publication of Under the Moons of Mars and then Tarzan of the Apes. After that the book devotes a lengthy section to breaking down each novel-all 24 of them-providing brief synopses and background information on each book, all supported by nice reproductions of original cover art and comic book adaptations. Afterwards, there's chapters on Tarzan's comic appearances, the radio and television shows and a long section on Tarzan's movie career, from the silents up to Disney's 1999 animated film. The last few chapters take a look at Tarzan's international appeal, various official print sequels (including recent novels like The Greystoke Legacy and Jane) and the formation of fan clubs and the Internet as a resource.

Writing with a nice, vibrant style, Griffin provides enough details on Tarzan to make any fan go gaga. There's break downs of the original magazine and book publications of each book and individual sections on such characters like Jane, the comparisons and contrasts between Korak and Boy and Cheeta and Nkima. There's also articles on Tarzan's foes, his tendency to lose his memory (which came from an actual incident Burroughs himself suffered from) and a section on the Pellucidar books tied into Tarzan At the Earth's Core. It's all given a good pace by Griffin without piling on too much information. There's also a nice intro by TV Tarzan Ron Ely and a good chapter looking at Burroughs' non Tarzan work that helps put Tarzan into perspective.

The book's major appeal though is the artwork that graces it. From cover art for the early pulps to the paperback covers of Frazetta, Neal Adams and others, the book is one of the most colorful I've seen in a long time. There's also a nice selection of comic book and strip art, images and behind the scenes pics from the various movie and TV shows, along with photos of Burroughs and his family and the author at work and at home in Tarzana.

There's a few quibbles to be addressed. First those looking for an in-depth critical assessment of the books or the movies will need to look elsewhere. As the subtitle states, this is a celebration so there isn't much criticism of the novels or the films (yes even the Bo Derek film escapes unscathed). There's also not much discussion of unauthorized Tarzan projects, with only a brief mention made of foreign film productions made in the chapter on Tarzan's international appeal.

Even with that this is still a magnificent book and a definite tribute to the character and his creator. For fans of Tarzan and Burroughs and those looking for a nice coffee table book with some actual meat to it, Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration is a must have. Just make sure to have a big enough table to place it on. Rating: **** out of 4.

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