Saturday, 10 March 2012

Me Blogger, You Reader

I recently read Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs, mainly as a result of hearing an radio documentary about the character who is apparently a century old this year. It turned out to one of those books that is startlingly unlike what you are expecting. Previous examples I have come across are You Only Live Twice, the James Bond novel, which is breathtakingly unlike the film, and The Day of the Triffids which we read at school. I still remember my fellow pupils saying with increasing desperation, ‘But when are we going to get to the bit in the lighthouse?’*

*This makes sense if you’re of the age to have seen the 1962 film version which starred Howard Keel for some reason.

Well, Tarzan of the Apes is a bit like that. There’s none of that ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane’ stuff. Tarzan is highly fluent in first Apeish and then, somewhat unexpectedly, in French. English is his third language, as far as I can make out, and he speaks that with remarkable ease.

Weirdly enough, Tarzan in the first instance can speak Apeish but read English, having found books for his education in his parents’ hut. In one of the more disconcerting sequences of the novel, he takes a few years to teach himself to read, with the skeletons of his parents lying by him. He does not know that they are his parents, but it still makes for an odd, yet touching, image. Oh, and if you think it is unlikely that a teenager could teach himself to read from first principles with only the aid of a primer, at least it is more probable than Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein where the creature learns to read by peering through the hole in the wall of a peasant’s cottage, this view luckily allowing him to look over a child’s shoulder as she looks at her school books. Honest.

I have a soft spot for Edgar Rice Burroughs and first read him as a child, specifically At the Earth’s Core which was a highly entertaining film at a time when decent children's films were few and far between. England, in those distant days, laboured under the dread hand of an organisation called the Children's Film Foundation which made, God help us, highly worthy films which occasionally starred Keith Chegwin. I say no more.

Anyway, onto this bleak cinematic landscape, At the Earth’s Core burst with a glorious pre-Star Wars exuberance. With truly appalling special effects (only its predecessor, The Land That Time Forgot had worse, again ask any UK subject in their ‘40s about the pterodactyl in that film, I dare you) and a cast that included Peter Cushing, Caroline Munro and the thrice bless├ęd Doug McClure, it was a joy, an action filled adventure about two Edwardian adventurers who gain egress to an underground world by virtue of brilliantly designed mechanical ‘mole’.

Or so I remember. In a move I may well come to regret, I have ordered At the Earth’s Core from lovefilm and I suspect that it may not quite live up to my memories. But just as Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner was compelled to shoot the albatross, I am similarly bound to do this.

Mind you, I might appreciate Ms Munro a bit more on this viewing.

Wish me luck.

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