We’ve often been told that adventure fiction is dead or not worthy of note other than a quick escape from reality. Apparently authors and film makers have not been made aware of this impending collapse of their world. In fact, they have been told for decades that there is no place for their fiction. Even over a century ago, when Edgar Rice Burroughs came on the scene, author Brian Stableford wrote in an introduction to a recent edition of Tarzan that, “…critics thought the Romantic tradition might be outdated and ripe for replacement.” What they called the “Romantic tradition” was embodied in the high adventures of H. Rider Haggard or Jules Verne. Burroughs added to the mix John Carter of Mars and Lord Greystroke — otherwise known as Tarzan. Stableford continues:
Burroughs demonstrated…that there is something in the Romantic tradition that offers a deep and fundamental appeal to the human imagination…[and] Tarzan does so by appealing to the frustrations of conformity that we all feel in living in a complex society…[but] Tarzan does not merely live an ideal existence in his symbolic jungle, but he also carries the skills learned there into his social intercourse with the damaged products of civilization.
Literary-level thought in Tarzan among the unrelenting action? Perhaps many have had their perception colored by the many bad films that stray from the source material. Even Burroughs considered the movie versions in his day “travesties.” A new film this summer may remedy that and provide a needed respite from superhero overload.
Ironically, Tarzan was one of the first modern superheros that inspired much of what followed. And he taught us a thing or two about society along the way.