Thursday, March 5, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 55 (Edgar Rice Burroughs)

Tarzan of the Apes
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Burroughs, Edgar Rice
Tarzan of the Apes

I bought this book at Talking Leaves for a course in graduate school on film and literature. It was a very large class that also included undergraduates, and the lectures were so banal they actually caused physical suffering in the bodies of the listeners.

The class was structured thusly: read the book, listen to the lecture, watch the movie. Films were chosen as representatives of particular genres: the gangster film, film noir, horror, western, etc., and I think each book or film was chosen as either the founding book or film within that genre or as the exception that proves the rule pertaining to the genre.

What made the lectures particularly painful was the professor's insistence on rigidly defining each genre, then showing how each film fit perfectly into its genre, or how it broke the mold by upsetting our generic expectations. Three made the class bearable: the films, the books, and the fact that Taylor Brady suffered with me. I seem to have a vague recollection that he may have dropped the class part way through, but I could be wrong on that one.

My favorite films from class were "The Gunfighter," starring Gregory Peck, and Jacques Torneur's The Cat People, starring Simone Simon. I remember reading and discussing Tarzan, but I don't remember seeing one of the Tarzan films. It's possible we only read the book and didn't see the film.

And then the bastard had the nerve to give me an A-, my only non-A in graduate school before I became a gradeless PhD student!

Anyhow, Tarzan of the Apes begins:

I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other. I may credit the seductive influence of an old vintage upon the narrator for the beginning of it, and my own skeptical incredulity during the days that followed for the balance of the strange tale.

When my convivial host discovered that he had told me so much, and that I was prone to doubtfulness, his foolish pride assumed the task the old vintage had commenced, and so he unearthed written evidence in the form of musty manuscript, and dry official records of the British Colonial Office to support many of the salient features of his remarkable narrative.

I do not say the story is true, for I did not witness the happenings which it portrays, but the fact that in the telling of it to you I have taken fictitious names for the principal characters quite sufficiently evidences the sincerity of my own belief that it MAY be true.

The yellow, mildewed pages of the diary of a man long dead, and the records of the Colonial Office dovetail perfectly with the narrative of my convivial host, and so I give you the story as I painstakingly pieced it out from these several various agencies.

If you do not find it credible you will at least be as one with me in acknowledging that it is unique, remarkable, and interesting.

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