Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Dreamer's Dreamer

We live in a world populated with many dreamers of the day. Often they are also lovers of Science Fiction and Fantasy books and movies.  These dreamers often turn to works from the giants in the fields.  There are certainly no shortages of books and films but I have never met anyone that loved the genres that didn’t tell me of fantastic tales from their own imaginations. These musings equal or at times surpass the works of the masters of the form.  We will never know anything greater than the productions of our own minds, our own “Dream Time.” We imagine the elements of our lives in a heighten fashion and are inspired by the films, writings, and illustrations of others but the longings for the musings of our minds to be executed in some more concrete way are the best. This so that others can join us in our dreaming. There is one great writer that simply put the stories he imagined before falling to sleep at night to page and we have been truly enriched by his doing so. Edgar Rice Burroughs was first a dreamer and than an architect of dreams for himself and the world. He has captivated generations of his readers and those that would create movies, television, animation, music and on and on into every form of creative expression. He has added much to the vast world of the fantastic.
Burroughs was well aware of his prodigious gifts and he was not embarrassed to express what he knew to be a truth:
"...if people were paid for writing rot such as I read in some of those magazines, that I could write stories just as rotten. As a matter of fact, although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines."
Edgar Rice Burroughs
He would go on to write his incredible ideas first as serials in pulp magazines and later as novels. “Tarzan of the Apes” would be his first novel published 100 years ago in 1912 and the same year “A Princess of Mars” which featured the seemingly immortal John Carter or Captain Jack Carter as he was known to his friends as a serial the same year. John Carter would go into a death like state of suspended animation and his spirit was teleported to an identical ageless body on the planet Mars where he was heralded as a warlord.

Opening to “A Princess of Mars”
I am a very old man; how old I do not know. Possibly I am a hundred, possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men, nor do I remember any childhood. So far as I can recollect I have always been a man, a man of about thirty. I appear today as I did forty years and more ago, and yet I feel that I cannot go on living forever; that someday I shall die the real death from which there is no resurrection. I do not know why I should fear death, I who have died twice and am still alive; but yet I have the same horror of it as you who have never died, and it is because of this terror of death, I believe, that I am so convinced of my mortality.
Edgar Rice Burroughs

John Carter would encounter legions of both heroic and villainous men and humanoids, beautiful women and hoards of terrible, mythic beasts. All this on a planet with gravity and an atmosphere that allowed him super human strength and agility.  He was far superior to the much larger and multi-armed men of Mars. He also possessed the temperament and chivalry of a Virginia Gentleman and this too guided him through his adventures in a much more barbaric and dangerous society.  In all of fiction there is none greater and no more fully developed or imagined character. Later this year Disney will release their film tribute as the self titled “John Carter.” The trailers that have been released seemed to have captured the spirit and look of the amazing tales. I can’t think of a better anniversary tribute to the author and his many fans.

Within the span of his abundantly successful writing career Edgar Rice Burroughs would write short stories and novels of Science Fiction, Fantasy, Westerns, and Mysteries. He would even (at an age when most would be retiring) become a war correspondent during the Second World War. Great writer, great man, the greatest of dreamers and through his writings; not unlike his character, John Carter, very much the immortal. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Edgar Rice Burroughs: THE TARZAN COVERS

I don’t know of any kid that grew up in the Nineteen Sixties that didn’t attempt at least once to imitate the “Tarzan Yell.” We were thrilled by the series of movies starring Johnny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan and the yell was a distinctive and fundamental element of Tarzan’s mystique and allure. Not only were kids amazed by it but everyone (including the adults) loved to hear Carol Burnett’s rendition of Tarzan’s victory cry from the Weissmuller films. She was fond of doing it on her variety show when asked by any audience member. There were many screen versions of Tarzan; he has been portrayed by many actors but Weissmuller’s is the definitive his version will always be “The” Tarzan for film lovers.
My introduction to Tarzan was through film. The films were by no means faithful adaptations. It was later that I would read the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs and learn the true depth of the character and establish a respect for the writings of Burroughs that the movies had only hinted at. Tarzan was British, though raised by apes in the jungle. He was later to become educated and always possessed and exhibited a respect for the tribesmen of Africa that was absent from the movies. Tarzan was conceived as a character of mythological proportions that inhabited a world more of the imagined and fantasy than the real world. That I believe is part of his universal and enduring appeal. It has been said that truth is stranger than fiction but I know of no truth that is more compelling than the fictions of Burroughs, especially his most famous; Tarzan.

There are few if any more recognizable characters than Tarzan. Mickey Mouse, Sherlock Holmes, Wonder Woman…perhaps   but they are all in an equal stratosphere of fame and familiarity. Tarzan is truly among the world’s best and lives in that realm of the immortals of literary fiction. It is this product of the mind and imagination of Burroughs that has sparked legions of fans and other artists. The influenced of the Tarzan books live on. The covers of many of the books are as exciting and intriguing as you will find among any illustrations. Never judge a book by it’s cover? I ask but it is a fact of the literary field that certain cover artist’s works do increase sales. Boris Vallejo and Neal Adams are two artists in this select club. They are among the very best practioners to have the honor of interpreting the Burroughs vision of the Jungle Lord and are featured here for the pure pleasure of viewing their works.

In the spirit of adventure and tales of the heroic there are none greater than Adams and Vallejo and Edgar Rice Burroughs is the King of his realm of the literary.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Exclusively Our Own

Norman Rockwell-"Freedom of Worship"

Exclusively our own:
The way we walk, talk, the  clothes we wear, the books we read and those we don’t all define and tell others who we are. Our jobs, professions and vocations are perhaps even greater markers of ourselves. The greatest of defining elements in our lives is probably our commitment to a faith/religion or the non-practice or participation in any recognizable or organized religion. We are what we believe. It is also a great thing that we can believe in any way we choose, any faith. We can also not believe in anything if that is what we choose. Free will is a wonderful thing. Our personal life’s journeys can unfold and take us to whatever place we choose or whatever destination is revealed to us.
The world’s three great religions all have a common beginning; Abraham. In that we are all brothers but like all brothers we do disagree. We have little spats that grow sometimes into major out of control disputes. We have to learn to think that maybe the other guy does have a point and he is also committed to his beliefs. Many times he is more dedicated to his faith than we to our own but let’s work it out and at least respect each other. God; almighty is so vast, so massive, so beyond even our comprehension that we dare to limit him with our pettiness in an attempt at knowing the unknowable. We then try to force the other guy into following us. I have no doubt that we can know some part of the divine and that part is unique to us as individuals while at the same time it is collective (we sometimes agree). There is one God. The God that created the universe and has given us the greatest gift; the gift of life and the capacity to appreciate it’s richness and beauty along with the many difficulties. Life is the great challenge and the great joy. We pray to him and call to him with different names and he answers in turn.
Norman Rockwell-"The Four Freedoms"
“The Four Freedoms” were a series of paintings done by Norman Rockwell in 1941. They were taken from FDR’s State of the Union Address to congress. The freedoms that Roosevelt spoke of were considered by him to be essential human rights. Freedom of speech and expression, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear were the freedoms addressed by Roosevelt. It is without question that Rockwell’s interpretations will be considered dated. A contemporary artist would express these sentiments very differently from Rockwell. The irony is that there is probably no contemporary artist that would desire to execute such a series today. This in spite of the current “Occupy Movements” and in light of the worldwide protesters seeking these very freedoms.
We continually seek and in doing so continually find. Let us both seek and find that part of the eternal that we can embrace and know in our lives through faith.