JOE R. LANSDALE: The “Champion Mojo Storyteller” as a Literary Heir to EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS

Joe Lansdale, Guest of Honor at the 2017 ECOF (an annual gathering of Edgar Rice Burroughs fans), has written over forty novels and countless short stories, most often set in the piney woods of contemporary East Texas. His reputation does not come from creating exotic new worlds, imagining science of the future, or regularly setting chaste but profound romances with desirable heroines at the center of his tales. So why would I say that he is an ERB literary heir?

Disclaimer

From April through July, I was immersed in Joe Lansdale’s writing and read thirty-six of his books – novels, novellas, and short-story collections. It seemed close to an addiction, even more intense than my continuing affair with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels. So I may not be a cool and judicious analyst of this matter.

My Experience

Like one of his evil, sadistic, East Texas sumbitches, Joe’s work sort of crept up on me from behind. Next thing I knew I was seeing stars. It began on April 4, which I know because that’s the date I downloaded his Leather Maiden and started reading. I blame my casual book club.

In “A Reader’s Journey: How I Became the World’s Oldest Living Edgar Rice Burroughs Newbie” (ERB-APA #122), I detailed how my serious book club had led me so far down a rabbit hole that as a grandfather (!) I ended up discovering Burroughs’ tales of Barsoom and beyond for the first time, which in turn has led me here.

When my casual book club assigned Leather Maiden for this past April, it didn’t sound interesting to me. I’m not a crime/mystery/noir fan, not even close. Strike one. Plus our club’s book-selection motto militated against it: Res concupiscime, brevissime tamen, which we’ve been led to believe is Latin for “We prefer prurience but require brevity.” Despite the book’s suggestive title, I could tell right off that it was very far from an erotic thriller. At over 300 pages, it was also a tad long for our tastes. Strike two.

But wait. The author, I had subsequently learned, would be coming to our ECOF in June. I read it anyway.

I could not have anticipated my response. I loved the book. I’d heard about the “Hap and Leonard” television series from friends who are serious James Purefoy fans, and so my next move was to read Savage Season, the first book in Lansdale’s series of “country noir” novels, novellas, and stories about blue-collar besties, Hap Collins (white, progressive, sensitive, idealistic, heterosexual, Vietnam-War resister) and Leonard Pine (black, conservative, jaded, homosexual, Vietnam-War hero). You don’t want to get on the bad side of either one, much less both, although it’s pretty much the same thing.

Joe Lansdale - 'Hap and Leonard' TV - Season 1 Promo 1 dailygrindhouse
See the Sundance TV series, “Hap and Leonard”

Along with the Hap and Leonard books, I picked up other novels. I bought Edge of Dark Water and A Fine Dark Line at the ECOF and later The Bottoms and The Thicket. There were many more, including Cold in July, which was adapted for a great film starring Michael C. Hall, Sam Shepard, and Don Johnson.  I kept thinking each time that “now I’ve finally read his best book” – until I read the next one. A new Hap and Leonard novel is due next year: Jackrabbit Smile.

Cold in July (Joe Lansdale) XL scan

To summarize, Joe’s books have mesmerized me, excited and charmed me, and given me as much unexpected pleasure as any writer since Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The Finest Art

Joe Lansdale was an extremely popular choice for the 2017 ECOF. He was with us the entire time, enthusiastically engaged with everyone, and brought the weekend event to a thrilling crescendo Saturday night with a rousing display of the talent and verve that have earned him the honorific, “Champion Mojo Storyteller.”

That’s the essence of my case, though not all of it. Burroughs, of course, has long worn well the monikers “Master of Adventure” and “Master Storyteller” – and with good reason. Both authors’ works easily justify their renown. And these are no mean titles.

We often take stories for granted these days. They bombard us continuously. Entertainment and news media feed on them. Politicians, CEOs, religious leaders, charities, etc. must have them. Unedited, unpaid writers can and do post endless stories on the Internet. Millions upon millions of people try to get our attention with stories. Imagine how much talent and work it must require to stand so high above the crowd.

Stories are key to understanding ourselves and others and our interactions. Storytelling was our earliest art, and when it is done well it can reach our primal core.

A great story well told may be the finest art.

Who Is Joe Lansdale?

He is a native of East Texas who can fairly be described as a white, progressive, heterosexual man well into middle age who resisted the Vietnam war. If that sounds a lot like Hap Collins, then you’ve been paying attention. You can add atheist to the list, which, like the other descriptors, often shows up in his writing.

His father, Alceebe (“Bud”), was an illiterate auto mechanic who used racist language but who regularly helped out his black neighbors. Even in his sixties, he beat up a much younger man for trying to take advantage of a black woman. Bud Lansdale was a strong, physical man who engendered in Joe a lifelong interest in the martial arts. Joe has taught martial arts, invented his own recognized discipline (Shen Chuan), and is in the International Martial Arts Hall of Fame.

His mother, O’Reta, had an eleventh-grade education and shared with young Joe her love of books. He was known as a precocious and voracious reader, who trained in the martial arts as a youth in part because his reputation made him the occasional target of bullies. That training has served him well throughout his life, notably including in his writing. If you want to see just how fast and dangerous a guy past sixty can be, check out the first video in the links at the end of this post.

Lansdale likes to point out that, among the many jobs from his early days, which included working in rose fields and an aluminum-chair plant, he was a janitor at the university where he is now the writer-in-residence: Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

Lansdale Does Burroughs

Lansdale has repeatedly emphasized the effect Burroughs had on his decision to pursue writing as a career. This is an example of the form in which he often puts it: “Burroughs really set my youthful imagination on fire. I wanted to be a writer early on, but when I read him at eleven years old, I had to be.”

The East Texan has paid tribute to Burroughs in many ways. Most prominent is his completion of an untitled Tarzan novel the master had left unfinished in his safe. The “typescript of eighty-three pages” was “scarcely more than an outline,” observed Burroughs scholar George T. McWhorter in his Preface to the resulting book, Tarzan: The Lost Adventure (1995). Lansdale is the only author ever to share writing credit for a Burroughs novel.

ERB - Tarzan, The Lost Adventure (Dark Horse, 1995 - Dean Williams cover art) fiveprime

Joe has written two excellent, Burroughs-based short stories which are included in collections: “The Metal Men of Mars,” a John Carter story that appears in Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom (2012), and his crossover tale, “Tarzan and the Land That Time Forgot,” for Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs (2013).

In 2013, he also published a laugh-out-loud spoof of the Tarzan novels titled The Ape-Man’s Brother, a putative tell-all exposé of The Big Guy’s previously unreported life away from home. Early in the story the ape-narrator notes that “Much has been written about The Big Guy, and I want to say right here and now, the one who wrote the most about him, claimed he was my man’s main biographer, had no business telling the story in the first place.”

The Ape-Man's Brother (Joe Lansdale - Ken Laager cover) revolutionsf

Not only has he worked with Burroughs characters directly, but he has mentioned them and the author himself throughout his other novels and stories. He surely must be unique in the extent to which he has sprinkled ERB tags throughout his fiction, and you will see in a later section numerous examples of those references.

How Lansdale Is Like Burroughs – and Unlike Him

Just to summarize the evidence of the storytelling genius of these two writers, they are addictive. It’s basically magic, but here are some of their shared attributes. First, both develop protagonists the reader cares about. Second, their stories generally have a lot of heart. You’ll often find yourself getting a tear-jerking lump in your throat. Third, just when you think you can relax a bit in their stories, turns out you can’t. They keep the narrative drive up in the higher gears. Fourth, you can usually count on a satisfactory conclusion; i.e. the bad guys get it in the end, big time. Fifth, regular readers are rewarded with recurring characters, even in unrelated stories. Sixth, they excel at exciting and credible fight scenes from their own life experiences. Seventh, they are both comfortable writing in multiple genres, including westerns, fantasy – and even zombies. Finally, both share a negative view of organized religion. As a popular writer in the early 20th century, Burroughs was well advised to keep his skeptical attitude toward religion to himself, although he provided many subtle and some not-so-subtle suggestions about it in his stories. There is less pressure for circumspection in this century.

Their differences are fewer but obvious. Here’s a big one: most of the Lansdale novels I’ve read involve intricate plotting (he would argue it’s not always premeditated) which builds to logical conclusions with substantial character development/revelation in the process. Burroughs’ novels, by contrast, are often episodic adventures of relatively one-dimensional characters who simply overcome one intriguing obstacle after another. Second, Lansdale is far darker and more graphic with violence than Burroughs, which is a reflection of contemporary standards. Burroughs, born and raised in Victorian times, would surely pale at Lansdale’s vocabulary. Third, Lansdale has published many more short stories in more widely diverse genres than Burroughs, who primarily wrote novels from the beginning. Genre segmentation, too, was largely a post-ERB development. Lansdale’s novels also reflect a broad, genre range – and he is notable for the regularity of his genre mash-ups.

Perhaps the most striking and, for ERB, unfortunate difference between the two is that Lansdale during his lifetime has been honored by his peers almost more times than you can count, another reflection of changing times. The same writers who grew up on Burroughs and his colleagues, who owe them much, today take care to recognize the best of their own. Fan conventions even invite them as guests of honor. How lucky I am that our 2017 ECOF secured Joe R. Lansdale as Guest of Honor!

Recommended Reading

If you’re game to read some of Joe’s best work, I’d suggest you start by dipping into the Hap and Leonard series, which begins with Savage Season. The books are probably best read in chronological order because, like a multi-year television drama series, the characters evolve and their circumstances change.

Hap and Leonard, Blood and Lemonade (Joe Lansdale) tachyonpublications

To ease into Lansdale, Hap and Leonard: Blood and Lemonade is a tamer starting point. It’s a series of short stories of their youth, a kind of Jungle-Tales-of-Tarzan intro to the more intense novels in the series. Another low-impact entry (re: violence, not emotional power) is Fender Lizards, a young-adult novel which is also a great story for adults.

Other favorites of mine include The Bottoms, A Fine Dark Line, Cold in July, Edge of Dark Water, Lost Echoes, Leather Maiden (which turned me on to Lansdale), Sunset and Sawdust, and Paradise Sky. That last one is a western based on Deadwood Dick, a legend of the pulps. Joe has called it his favorite. As an ERB fan, you will also want to read Tarzan: The Lost Adventure if you haven’t already. The fact is, though, irrespective of these selections, I’ve liked all his books that I’ve read.

If you enjoy Joe’s books even half as much as I, you’ll thank me. Take the plunge!

 

SELECTED QUOTES/REFERENCES FROM JOE R. LANSDALE RE: EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS

Essays and Interviews

Then came the building of that local library, and I read dog stories that told me dogs were noble and true and loyal and fine, and I believed it. I read adventure stories, and mystery stories, and horror stories, and finally, Edgar Rice Burroughs. The world cracked open then, and showed me dimensions that were sideways, threw me on a tilt-a-whirl full of magic that made all the magic that came before as small and dim as a birthday cake candle. It’s hard to beat a world where all the women are beautiful and go naked, and men carry swords, monsters are slain, and it’s all a simple morality tale. For boys, swords, naked women, and simple views are way cool. And did I mention naked women? (“Introduction,” Crucified Dreams)

Burroughs really set my youthful imagination on fire. I wanted to be a writer early on, but when I read him at eleven years old, I had to be. (Writer’s Bone interview, “Imagination on Fire: 10 Questions with Author Joe R. Lansdale,” August 16, 2016)

Long before I went to first grade, I was reading. By the time I was nine or ten, I was reading The Iliad and all those sorts of things. By the time I was eleven – and I had always wanted to be a writer, and I had written stories and poems by the time I was nine – but by the time I was eleven I read Edgar Rice Burroughs. I read A Princess of Mars, and I was doomed then. I had wanted to be it, and now I had to be it. To this day he’s my sentimental favorite author. Certainly he’s dated, there’s a lot of things you can say, that it doesn’t hold up in some ways. In other ways there’s a magic that Burroughs has that’s lasted with me forever….

In the story, John Carter stretches out his arms to Mars and wants to be pulled across to Mars – and he is, or at least his astral body, which becomes a firm body. And I went out into the yard and did that. Carl Sagan did it. Lots of people who read those books did that. And at the time I didn’t think it worked. Now I look back, and I think it did work. Because I was pulled across the universe, and I have had the most marvelous life, and I got to do exactly what I wanted to do. I’ve made a good living out of it, I’ve had a good career. I never expected to have this much success. I just wanted to tell stories. (Video interview with Del Howison at the 2012 World Horror Convention)

We are trapped in the drive-in.

Time goes by, no one knows how much. It’s like the Edgar Rice Burroughs stories of Pellucidar. Without the sun or moon to judge by, time does not exist. (“Hell Through a Windshield”)

Mom introduced me to Tarzan movies on television, perhaps to get me out of her hair. Every Saturday morning there was Jungle Theater with Tarzan, Jungle Jim, Bomba the Jungle Boy, that sort of thing, and every Saturday morning I was glued to the tube. I looked forward to it all week. Later, I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author of the Tarzan books, and my life was absolutely turned around. I had always wanted to be a writer, but when I started reading Burroughs, I knew I had to be.

Again, I owe it all to Mom. (“O’Reta, Snapshot Memories,” Mad Dog Summer)

 

Fiction

Jesse and I liked to play Tarzan, and we took turns at it until we finally both decided to be Tarzan, and ended up being Tarzan twins. It was a great mythology we created, and we ran the woods and climbed trees, and on Saturday we watched Jungle Theater at my house, which showed, if we were lucky, Tarzan or Jungle Jim movies, and if not so lucky, Bomba movies. (Hap Collins, “The Boy Who Became Invisible”)

“Let me tell you about nudity for health, Zorro. Tried it when I was twelve. Stripped off and played Tarzan. Climbed up in a tree and got a sunburn, damn near fried my pecker off, turned my ass the color of a Washington apple.” (Jim Bob Luke, Captains Outrageous)

I thought a little more about what Marvin had shown us, and then I thought about [my girlfriend] Brett, but that made me miss her. So I thought about something that soothed me as a kid. I was a man in a rocket ship, traveling through space, on my way to a brave new world. I was in a container with a mild unseen, odorless gas that was putting me in suspended animation. I would awake just before arrival and guide the ship in. It would be a world full of beautiful plants and weird animals, but there I would be strong. Like John Carter of Mars my Earth muscles would give me incredible strength and abilities on a world where there was lesser gravity. I would end up with a sword and I would kill monsters and get the girl in the end, and she would look like Brett. (Hap Collins, Devil Red)

Devil Red, Hap and Leonard #8 (Joe Lansdale)

Not that I’m bitter about it or anything. Him banging my ex-wife and being built like Tarzan and not losing any of his hair at the age of forty didn’t bother me a bit. (“The Events Concerning a Nude Fold-Out Found in a Harlequin Romance”)

May Bloom, the town librarian, who had grown so foul in her old age. No longer willing to help the boys find new versions of King Arthur or order the rest of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars series….

And Harold thought of…how Mrs. Bloom had introduced him to Edgar Rice Burroughs. (“The Fat Man”)

My thought was, if Richard were in a plane that crashed in the jungle, he would survive and become somebody like Tarzan. (A Fine Dark Line)

It was the edge of a metal box sticking out of the ground. I was immediately excited, thought perhaps I had discover some kind of pirate treasure chest, the edge of a flying device from Mars, or perhaps, as in one of the books I was reading that summer, At the Earth’s Core, by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the tip of a metal mole machine burrowing up from the surface. (A Fine Dark Line)

A Fine Dark Line (Joe Lansdale) hachette

She had also seen all the Tarzan movies from the balcony of the Palace Theater, where all the coloreds watched. (A Fine Dark Line)

Next day I spent in a lawn chair pulled up nest to the projection booth, reading in its shade a book by Edgar Rice Burroughs called Tarzan the Terrible….

“How’s that book? That the one where Tarzan finds them dinosaurs, people that’s got tails?” (A Fine Dark Line)

There was a great light from the fire, but as the wind whipped it, it grew greater and flicked and flowed like levitating lava, rose up high against the sky. There were shadows and shapes of people dancing around the fire. I was reminded of the old Tarzan books—where they had dum-dums, which was a kind of wild party of apes with Tarzan himself, dancing and whirling, working themselves into a frenzy. (Hap Collins, Honky Tonk Samurai)

Then me and Jimmy slipped off and went to our old room. He looked at the planes hanging from the ceiling. “I used to lie on the top bunk and look at those planes, pretend I was in them, and that I was flying away,” he said.

“Where were you going?”

“Everywhere. Anywhere. Sometimes I was flying through a hole in the South Pole, going to the center of the earth where there was a world full of dinosaurs and cavemen and beautiful women who couldn’t live without my intense manly loving.”

At the Earth’s Core.”

“We read the same books.”

“And played the same games,” I said.

“You played Tarzan,” Jimmy said. “Remember that? I had to be the monkey, and you were Tarzan. I don’t know how you worked that out, but that was the way it was. You remember.”

“I do,” I said. “I climbed up in that elm where Jazzy stays, in my underwear, and got the sunburn from hell.”

“You kept giving the cry of the bull ape, demanding all apes come to your aid. But none of them would.”

“The bastards.” (Leather Maiden)

Leather Maiden (Joe R. Lansdale)

His mother one day, sitting by his bed, talking into his good left ear, said, “There are new shows, you know? These were old when your daddy and I married, baby. These are the dinosaurs of television.”

“I like them,” Harry said. “I like Tarzan.”

“There were lots of Tarzans. Not just this one. Some of them were even in color.”

“I like this one.”

“All right,” his mother said, standing, moving toward the door. “I’ll make you something to eat.”

When she was gone, Harry turned his attention back to Johnny Weissmuller swinging through the trees on a vine. He thought he saw a kind of bar that Tarzan was hanging onto, and he wondered about that. Did they have that in the jungle? Vines with bars to hang onto? (Lost Echoes)

A chicken snake, big enough to play a starring role in a Tarzan movie, slithered quickly across the floor and disappeared into a gap in the wood. (Hap Collins, Mucho Mojo)

At one time there was a great oak tree behind the house where Leonard was living then, and the oak was deep in the woods, and it was one of the last of the great oaks. It stood tall and thick and ancient. It had great limbs you could crawl up on and stretch out on and sleep without real fear of falling off.

We called it the Robin Hood tree, like the great tree where Robin and his merry band of men gathered to talk and feast. I also thought of it as the Tarzan tree, imagined how you could build a treehouse on its massive limbs and have plenty of room to live with a lithe, blonde Jane and do more than call elephants and swing on vines. (Hap Collins, “The Oak and the Pond”)

We called it the Robin Hood tree, like the humongous tree where Robin and his merry band gathered to talk and feast. I also called it the Tarzan tree, imagined how you could build a tree house on its wide limbs and have plenty of room to live with a lithe, blond Jane and do more than call elephants and swing on vines. I guess Leonard might have dreamed of having Tarzan as his mate, though no doubt, he would have made Tarzan his bitch. (Hap Collins, Rusty Puppy)

All I remembered was that it was not on the river proper, but off of it, and deep down in the bottoms at a place that looked like something out of a Tarzan movie. (Hap Collins, Savage Season)

Lee, dreaming he was Tarzan asleep in a tree with Jane in his arms, awoke to the sound of a moan. (Sunset and Sawdust)

“In that one story I read, a man goes to Mars by just holding out his arms and wishing he were there. He went, and he saw a strange world with strange beings and monsters. I really enjoyed that story, and standing here one night, with Mars, not the moon, in my scope, I considered doing the same. Then it occurred to me, what if it worked and I went? It would be worse than here, with all those monsters he wrote about, and me out there on Mars, and it being dry and no trees. I liked reading it, but I decided I would not like living it after all, having enough problems without compounding them with Martians.” (Shorty, The Thicket)

The Thicket (Joe R. Lansdale) amazon

Not long after Shorty died I got to considering on the adventure we had together….

I looked for a long time at the stars, thinking about Shorty and him telling me about reading a book about a man who spread his arms and went to Mars, or at least some part of him did. I thought it might be nice if that happened to Shorty. Then I realized he didn’t want that anymore. He was happy. (The Thicket)

We were sharing some old books written by Michael Moorcock under the name Edward P. Bradbury. They were pastiches of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and they were fast and fun and pretty mindless. (Hap Collins, The Two-Bear Mambo)

The Two-Bear Mambo (Joe R. Lansdale)

Below is a list, not in alphabetical order, of references that were used in reconstructing the events of this true adventure….

Nonfiction:

AT THE EARTH’S CORE, (First published as “The Inner World”) Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1913; 1922 as the novel.

TARZAN AT THE EARTH’S CORE, Edgar Rice Burroughs, 1930. (Burroughs’ acquaintances David Innes and Abner Perry, like Verne’s explorers, only succeeded in exploring the level above hell, and thought it was the core. Several massive pockets, or worlds, as well as natural “suns” exist throughout the Earth. But the true core, is hell. Burroughs also wrote other books about the center of the Earth, and though certain truths are hidden within, they are generally fiction based on the early adventures of Abner Perry and David Innes best described in the volume below.)

THE TRUTH ABOUT THE CENTER OF THE WORLD, Abner Perry, 1918, SUBTERRANEAN PRESS. [A tedious but informative work said to have been submitted via Gridley Wave from the center of the Earth (see above), outlining their adventures in a land called Pellucidar.] (“Way Down There,” Mad Dog Summer)

Mad Dog Summer (Joe Lansdale)

 

ADDITIONAL QUOTES FROM JOE R. LANSDALE

Essays and Interviews

Natural storytelling is not the same as plot. People think plot is storytelling. Plot is a clockwork mechanism that can be very effective and I can read that sort of thing. But as a write, I don’t mind taking trails off to talk about characters that you may want to know more about, or even peripheral characters that may have an impact on the story. (Video interview at the World Horror Convention, 2012)

The bottom line is this, telling stories, writing stories, is about telling convincing lies. [Author’s Note, “The Shadows, Kith and Kin” (The Shadows, Kith and Kin)]

Dave Davies: Parts of Hap’s biography square pretty well with yours.

Joe Lansdale: Yeah, they do, a whole lot. (“Fresh Air,” NPR, February 24, 2016)

I lived a very happy life. I never felt poor. Our family euphemism was that we were broke, which I think psychologically gave you a different feeling. (“Fresh Air,” NPR, February 24, 2016)

I’m not opposed to religion if you keep it out of my life. (“The Quietus,” March 13, 2016)

 

Fiction

Now at this time, Dad was pushing sixty, and that was back when sixty was old. He had gained a lot of weight and was tired looking, but back in his younger days he had been a boxer and a carnival wrestler. He had a kind of strength, especially when he was younger, that was almost startling. It wasn’t built-up gym stuff, it was working-man muscle, compacted and flexed and stretched by hard work from the time he was a child. He didn’t look like much, but neither does a stick of dynamite. (Hap Collins, “Apollo Red”)

“Daddy, the one that did that to that colored woman?”

“Miss Sykes, son. She had a name. We know it now.”

“Yes, sir. One did that . . . He still around?”

Daddy had the bologna in his hand, and was cutting it with the pocketknife.

“I don’t know, son . . . I doubt it.”

It was then, for the first time, I thought my Daddy might have lied to me. (The Bottoms)

“Well, hell, let’s go see her. She might be up better for conversation than these men folks. They can’t stand to be disagreed with. There ain’t a thing they don’t know. They ain’t even half the cussers they think they are neither. (The Bottoms)

The Bottoms (Joe R. Lansdale) scan

The LaBorde Daily…is as close to being a real newspaper as a water hose is to being a snake. (Cold in July)

“Don’t you just love women? They can squeeze a dollar bill till it farts—no offense ma’am.” (Jim Bob Luke, Cold in July)

Goober’s chili was supposed to be as distinctive as a chicken with dentures. (“Death by Chili”)

The whole area wasn’t exactly what you’d call a great place to hang out….It was the kind of place where the mice belonged to gangs. (Hap Collins, Devil Red)

Everyone in the room was so quiet we could hear their IQs drop. Of course, they didn’t have far to fall. (Hap Collins, Devil Red)

Edge of Dark Water (Joe R. Lansdale) libros.am

He was dead and dried up, like a salesman’s heart. (Edge of Dark Water)

She looked tough as a free steak. (Fender Lizards)

One night in late October, on my birthday, we invited Leonard and John over. (Hap Collins, Honky Tonk Samurai; Lansdale’s birthday is Oct. 28.)

I…took the photo of Donny and looked it over. He looked like the usual, pimple-faced, sassy ass kid. It was a full body shot, and it reminded me of the photos I’d seen of Billy the Kid, only without the cowboy hat, the rifle, and the six-gun on his hip. But it had the same attitude about it. The rifle and six-gun had been replaced by sagging pants and tennis shoes that looked too big for his feet. The laces were untied. That’s showing them. (Hap Collins, Hyenas)

“Look here, kid. Get a shower, and let’s see we can do something about those pimples. You just aren’t washing your face good. And I got some stuff you can put on them. Even a natural beauty, a goddamn goddess like me, gets a bump.” (Brett Sawyer, Hyenas)

The house was as empty as a politician’s promise. (Lost Echoes)

“You got the car. You got your license. It’s Friday night. What you ought to do is go out. What you gonna sit here for?”

“Just thinking.”

“About girls?”

“Not really.”

“I suggest you do. Girls are pretty nice things to think about. You ain’t got the fanciest ride in the world there, but you can go on dates, you know. You got to ask a girl, though. I always found out, you didn’t ask them, they didn’t show up.” (Lost Echoes)

Lost Echoes (Joe R. Lansdale)

“She’s a goddamn babe. I seen her wear a pair of pants tighter to her skin than a tattoo.” (Lost Echoes)

There’s no one more obnoxious and self-righteous than the self-made man. And no one more admirable. (Hap Collins, Mucho Mojo)

Some nights after we’d done our chores we’d sit in the main room and he’d read aloud for an hour or two from one of his books. In spite of myself I was learning a thing or two about all manner of subjects, some of which I thought might be helpful in life. Others I couldn’t imagine being of use under any circumstance, but another thing I learned from Mr. Loving was that knowledge was a pleasure for its own sake and didn’t need to have no day-to-day purpose. (Paradise Sky)

He was the kind of man that would try and give you goat shit and tell you it was raisins. (Paradise Sky)

Paradise Sky (Joe R. Lansdale) kazibookreview

She grabbed my head and pulled my face to hers and kissed me. It was for me the finest moment in my life. That kiss was like fire. It lit my lips. It lit my head. It lit my heart. It lit my soul. I was ablaze with passion.

That first loving kiss, the one that comes out of you from the source of your personal river, and the one that comes from her that is the same, there’s never another moment like it; never another flame that burns so hot. It can never be that good again, ever. All manner of goodness can come after, but it’s different. And that’s a good thing, because if we burned that hot for too long, we’d be nothing but ash. (Paradise Sky)

I closed my eyes thinking to relax a moment, but I went out like a candle in a high wind. (Paradise Sky)

Rusty Puppy, Hap and Leonard #10 (Joe Lansdale)

It was all absolutely juvenile, but we had done it for years, and I think that ribbing each other over everything from sex to hair loss was our way of connecting; verbal comfort food. (Hap Collins, Rusty Puppy)

Over-confidence is the way to give your soul to the devil an inch at a time. (Hap Collins, Savage Season)

Talk about money is like talk about fish. Both grow in the telling. (Hap Collins, Savage Season)

She was on her back wearing only the top half of her dress, because the bottom half had been ripped away when Pete, during the process of beating her, had stepped on it, and the dress, rotten as politics, had torn and left her clothed only from waist to shoulders. (Sunset and Sawdust)

As the sun rose, pink and oozing through the woods like a leaky blood blister, Sunset discovered she too was bleeding. (Sunset and Sawdust)

Sunset and Sawdust (Joe Lansdale) vjbooks

The trees held the day’s heat like an armpit in a seersucker suit. (Sunset and Sawdust)

“See you around?”

Sunset thought a moment. She really wasn’t sure about anything, but she said, “Yeah. I’ll be around. See me again, hope I’ll look better than I look now. I’m not normally this ugly.”

“And I’m not normally this dirty. But I’m always this ugly.” (Sunset and Sawdust)

“Changeable weather teaches a man to be changeable hisself. You can’t learn character when everything is smooth.” (Sunset and Sawdust)

“I been conned by one man, maybe two now. I’m thinking, and I don’t want to be conned by my own father. I had one more worry and one less friend, I’d be Job.” (Sunset and Sawdust)

It was like I was too dry to cry. I wanted to but couldn’t. Lula was the same way. That’s how we Parkers were. We took what came the way it came. Least it was that way on the surface. You scratched us a little, though, you could find some jelly there pretty quick. We were the kind that found it hard to cry, but once we got started you best be ready for high water and the loading of animals two by two. (The Thicket)

I got off work and went home and showered the sweat off and read from a little book by an author who didn’t use quotation marks and was scared to death his work might be entertaining. (Hap Collins, Vanilla Ride)

Vanilla Ride, Hap and Leonard #7 (Joe Lansdale)

The moon was still up, a sliver scimitar in the sky. (Hap Collins, Vanilla Ride)

 

Suggested Resources

[Video: martial arts demonstration] The Funky Werepig Lansdale pt3: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVQbuFt5vNk&t=345s

[Video: interview] Joe Lansdale Interviewed at WHC 2012: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poCIRslL5H8

A Fresh Discovery, Three Decades in the Making: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/us/joe-r-lansdale-is-a-fresh-discovery-decades-in-the-making.html

Darkness on the Edge of Town: http://www.texasmonthly.com/the-culture/darkness-on-the-edge-of-town/

‘Hap and Leonard’ Creator Needed To ‘Burn Bridges’ To Make It as a Writer: http://www.npr.org/2016/02/24/467946095/hap-and-leonard-creator-needed-to-burn-bridges-to-make-it-as-a-writer

At the Drive-In: Joe R. Lansdale Interviewed: http://thequietus.com/articles/19876-joe-r-lansdale-author-interview-hap-and-leonard-cold-in-july

Imagination on Fire: 10 Questions with Author Joe R. Lansdale

 

THIS POST ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE PRINT PUBLICATION “ERB-APA” #134

 

 

Advertisements

MICHAEL CHABON Comments on His Experience as a Screenwriter for “JOHN CARTER”

Miscellaneous 398 Michael Chabon at DMA's Arts & Letters Live 2017-10-02 with Kevin Moriarity (DTC artistic director) credit Michael Merschel dallasnews
Kevin Moriarity (left) with Michael Chabon (Dallas Morning News)

Michael Chabon appeared at the Dallas Museum of Art on October 2, 2017 to discuss his latest novel, Moonglow, and answer a few audience questions. His interviewer was Kevin Moriarity, Artistic Director of the Dallas Theater Center. From a stack of about thirty, fan-scribbled index cards, Chabon picked four. I was pleasantly shocked that one of them was mine: “What was the best part of working on JOHN CARTER?”

This was a literary audience. Pulitzer-Prize-winner Chabon was in Dallas as part of the Museum’s annual “Arts & Letters Live” series. I had written “JOHN CARTER” in big letters on my index card but assumed he would gravitate to questions about his books. But what did I have to lose?

When he read my question aloud, he had a powerful and visceral reaction – as did I. Realizing what was happening, I fumbled for my phone and began recording almost immediately.

Chabon had thrown his head back and exclaimed in evident pleasure. Now he turned to the audience.

Michael Chabon: Who here tonight has seen JOHN CARTER? Okay, a few. Bless you! So, to your question, “What was the best part of working on JOHN CARTER?” Everything!

Edgar Rice Burroughs was the first author I had a crush on. I came across this old manila folder with some of my old writings, stuff I had written when I was twelve years old. On the outside, in magic marker, I had written “Mike ‘Burroughs’ Chabon.”

Screenwriter's Childhood Drawings - Chabon (ERBzine 'Barsoom Art Gallery I') ADJ(x2)
Mike “Burroughs” Chabon

He wrote the Tarzan and John Carter books. John Carter is a Virginia native who has been very magically transported to Mars. He wrote as many books about John Carter as he wrote about Tarzan [well, not quite], and in their day they were extremely successful and popular. They were very influential and the first, great, classic works of fantasy, adventure, science fiction. They were very influential on everything that came after, and they meant a lot to me. They got reprinted in the ’70s when I was a kid with stunning covers that made them very desirable and appetizing [elsewhere he has specified the Gino D’Achille covers], and I really loved those books.

I wrote a screenplay, an original screenplay, that was called “The Martian Agent.” I sold it in Hollywood to 20th Century Fox, and that was my version of John Carter. It’s set on Mars. It’s about the British Empire, having conquered Earth, embarking on the conquest of Mars in the 1880s with H.-G.-Wellsian kind of technology. It was steampunk before that term was being tossed around much. It got developed up to a point that it needed special-effects work. I thought it would happen, and it didn’t happen. The director [Jan de Bont] fell out of favor at Fox because he made this movie called “Speed 2.” He had had a huge success with “Speed” and then “Twister,” and then he made “Speed 2.” I don’t know how many of you saw that movie, but it was about this exciting, high-speed chase involving a cruise ship, which didn’t really go all that fast. Anyway, that all fell apart.

Then many years later, ten years later, a guy who had been one of the special-effects guys and production designer working on my project is now at Pixar. I ran into him at a party, and he said, “Hey, did you know that Andrew Stanton (the director of ‘Finding Nemo’ at that point) has got the rights for the John Carter books and is working on a live-action ‘John Carter of Mars’?” I said, “Oh my gosh, that’s so cool. I’m so glad someone like that is doing it.” Then the next day Andrew Stanton called me. It’s like Woody Allen says, “Ninety percent of success in life is showing up.” I don’t like parties, and especially this was a holiday party. I almost didn’t go, and if I hadn’t gone I wouldn’t have reconnected with this guy who put me in touch with Andrew Stanton who invited me to come on the project….

To answer this question, “what was the best part of working on JOHN CARTER” was the whole thing. These books were so crucial to me, and Andrew Stanton loved them. I had so much fun. We ended up closely collaborating on what became the script. I got to go to London when they were making it and visit the set.

Premiere 2012-02-22 164 Michael Chabon (Regal Cinema) zimbio
Michael Chabon at the Hollywood premiere of JOHN CARTER

Everything was great about it, right up until about three months before the movie came out. All of a sudden people just started whispering that it was going to be this colossal flop, that it was really bad, even though nobody had seen it yet. It just seemed like people were kind of gunning for it and maybe for Andrew Stanton because he was getting uppity: he was an animation director and now he was trying to do live action. I started to worry that maybe it wasn’t going to go so well when the studio decided to change the title from “John Carter of Mars” to just “John Carter,” which might be the least exciting movie title I’ve ever heard. Sounds like it’s a movie about an actuarial, right? And this was their reasoning. I love this. The marketing people said, “We’ve looked into it, done the research, and the last eleven movies that had the word ‘Mars’ in the title all flopped.” That was their reason, so “We’re just taking ‘Mars’ out. This is ‘John Carter.’”

For various reasons, the predictions were borne out. It’s now become a legendary flop. It’s right up there with, like, “Ishtar” and “Heaven’s Gate.”

Kevin Moriarity: It will be part of the history books.

Michael Chabon: Yes, exactly. It was so hard to do something that I thought was…I think it’s a good movie. I’d give it a solid B, B+ for the kind of movie that it is. It didn’t deserve the opprobrium it got when it came out. Then, of course, two years ago the movie “The Martian” comes out and was a huge blockbuster, and the whole logic of changing title is….

Kevin Moriarity: Now you can put “Mars” back in the movie title.

Michael Chabon: Yeah, I’m going to only do movies called “Mars.”

_________________________

Additional Michael Chabon Interviews and Reports re: JOHN CARTER

How did Wonder Boys’ novelist kill time in Texas? He dropped by Conan the Barbarian creator’s home (October 3, 2017): https://www.dallasnews.com/arts/books/2017/10/03/novelist-michael-chabon-drove-5-hours-honor-texas-legend

Michael Chabon’s 17-Year Quest To Write a Mars Adventure Movie (March 29, 2012)

Michael Chabon: The Complete Unedited Interview (March 29, 2012)

Michael Chabon Attacks Prejudice Against Science Fiction (March 7, 2012): https://www.wired.com/2012/03/michael-chabon-geeks-guide-galaxy/

The Michael Chabon Interview Conducted by Richard Lupoff (January, 2010), Transcribed by Bill Hillman: http://www.erbzine.com/mag30/3047.html

NOTE: This following two stories on Andrew Stanton are enlightening with respect to changes the creative team behind JOHN CARTER made to the source material, as well as some of the filmmakers’ other challenges and decisions.

Harry [Knowles] interviews Andrew Stanton about JOHN CARTER, GODS OF MARS & WARLORD OF MARS (February 14, 2012): http://www.aintitcool.com/node/53561

Second-Act Twist: Andrew Stanton, the director of “Finding Nemo” and “Wall-E,” faces the complications of live action (October 17, 2011): http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/10/17/second-act-twist

 

THIS POST ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN THE PRINT PUBLICATION “ERB-APA” #135

From an American on Australia Day, 2016: The Strange, Parallel Lives of Ned Kelly and Billy the Kid

It is hard to put your finger on exactly why the young man’s relatively brief outburst of violence, in an age and place already so violent, would result in the creation of so enduring a national icon. But we can look back now over more than of a century of countless histories, novels, films, plays, songs, poems, paintings, and even a ballet about him. On occasion, some of the country’s greatest artists have been attracted to his legend and added their gifts to the body of work.

Ned Kelly wanted poster strobertsict

He was born in the 1850s to a mother who had emigrated from Ireland— whom he would love dearly all his life—and to a father whom he lost well before the son had become a teenager. Growing up with a succession of men in the house, he moved from place to place as his family circumstances suffered one setback after another; but he nevertheless completed a grade-school education. He was often described as a polite youngster, was noted for his physical prowess and courage as well as for his intelligence, and indulged in reading for pleasure. Despite his Irish heritage, throughout his life he rarely touched alcohol. He did, however, appreciate women, and they reciprocated. Ultimately he turned to crime and got his start as a young apprentice to older men with experience.

At about age fifteen, he was charged with robbing a Chinaman, a “celestial” as they were then known, which landed him in jail for the very first time. In 1876 he began a horse-thieving career in earnest, which as much as single factor marks the beginning of his deadly serious trouble with the authorities. By 1878 he had killed three lawmen and become a notorious fugitive running from a murder charge. There is solid evidence—in the form of letters to the authorities in 1879—that he sought sincerely to explain himself, clear his name, and start over with a clean slate. But this was not to be.

Billy the Kid wanted poster zazzle CRP

As his reputation grew, he became popular with—and drew support from—his oppressed neighbors, who viewed him as a kind of advocate confronting the power of a corrupt establishment: the large landowners and their accomplices in the law-enforcement community. (Ironically, he had briefly been on their payroll.) The authorities became increasingly alarmed at his boldness and their own appearance of foolish impotence. They determined to bring his outrages to an end and put a high price on his head. In 1880, acting on a tip, they were finally able to surround and capture him after a spectacular gun battle. Still in his twenties, he was tried, convicted, sentenced to hang, and executed.

Of course, that was hardly the end. Today his name is so intimately bound up with that rowdy, rambunctious, and ultimately romantic period of the country’s development that you would have a hard time finding anyone there who’s never heard of him—or at least one of them. In the U.S., we know this young outlaw as Billy the Kid; in Australia, he is Ned Kelly. Their stories are uncannily similar. They lived at the same time, half way around the world from each other, and died a few months apart. And, according to definitive biographies, all of the foregoing statements—ages, dates, and other details—apply accurately and fully to both men.

Here is one qualifier and one bit of trivia. First, although Billy the Kid was in fact sentenced to hang, he subsequently escaped and was “executed” when sheriff Pat Garrett shot him on sight. Second, the letters he wrote were to General Lew Wallace, then governor of New Mexico, who in 1879 was consumed with the writing of his novel Ben-Hur and was routinely neglecting territorial business.


I am deeply indebted to Peter Carey for his extraordinary, Booker-Prize-winning novel, True History of the Kelly Gang, which I have read several times with great pleasure. His book propelled me into an engaging search for the authentic Ned Kelly, as well as for Billy the Kid along the way.

True History of the Kelly Gang eveningstarbooks CRP

Here is Kelly’s famous Jerilderie Letter, in which he tried rationally to lay out his case to the authorities: http://australiafirstparty.net/feb-10-jerilderie-letter/. It goes without saying that they were of no mind to listen to anything he had to say.

Ned Kelly quote, from his Jerilderie letter 1879-02-10 camfoc.tumblr

 

40 YEARS AGO: CELEBRATING THE EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS CENTENNIAL

The 40th anniversary of an historical celebration for ERB and Tarzan fans is upon us. On Thursday, August 28, 1975, four former Tarzan film actors got together in Los Angeles to help kick off the festivities surrounding the inaugural North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC). The event was the first “continental convention,” instituted as a gathering for those years in which Worldcon was to be held outside North America. The 1975 NASFiC convention officially honored the centennial of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ birth.

The Tarzan reunion was equally significant for Burroughs fans as the warm-up for the climax of their Labor Day weekend: the 1975 Dum-Dum, held on September 1. The Dum-Dum, which continues to this day, is an annual gathering of ERB fans and takes its name from the wild celebrations of the Mangani, the ape tribe in which the young Tarzan grew to adulthood.

ERB - Art - Tarzan at the Dum-Dum (Frazetta) 102 L ERBzine Frazetta Gallery

“Tarzan at the Dum-Dum” by Frank Frazetta

The New York Times covered the August 28 reunion of the four Tarzans: James Pierce, Johnny Weissmuller, Buster Crabbe, and Jock Mahoney. Reporter Robert Lindsey noted that the actors “did a jungle scream in unison for the press at a pre-luncheon cocktail party.” He also mentioned that another former, Denny Miller, had joined the other men in the evening. All five were guests of honor at the Dum-Dum the following Monday. Three actresses who had played Jane attended the weekend and were also Dum-Dum guests of honor: Louise Lorraine, Joyce Mackenzie, and Eve Brent.

The photo below was taken on September 1, 1975, the date of the Dum-Dum gathering and Edgar Rice Burroughs’ 100th birthday.

ERB - Film - 5 Tarzans Reunion - Weissmuller, Pierce, Miller, Mahoney, Crabbe (with caption) hollywoodgorillamen

Lindsey’s New York Times piece was titled “Wily Tarzan Lives On, Dollarwise” and used the reunion as a springboard to review the significant financial success of the Tarzan brand. His source was Robert H. Hodes, president of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., who had been hired in 1967 and was focused on growing the company’s revenues. One of his early efforts had been to get the Tarzan novels translated into French, which Lindsey noted had “touched off a cult-like interest in Mr. Burroughs abroad.” Hodes said that about 70% of the company’s income was from overseas and that “next to Coca-Cola, Tarzan is the best-known name in the world.”

Among the more intriguing schemes Lindsey reported was Hodes’ plan for “a Tarzan bikini bathing suit that will be introduced first in Europe by distributing hundreds of free samples – but only the bottom part.”

The Times article concluded with the following:

Tarzan’s popularity, Mr. Hodes hopes, will be enhanced even more by the publication, coinciding with the centennial of Mr. Burroughs’ birth, of a biography titled Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan. Published by the Brigham Young University Press, the book was written by Irwin Porges.

“All of this is going to snowball,” Mr. Hodes said. “I’m building snowballs.”

With David Yates’ new TARZAN film on the way, after 40 years those snowballs just keep coming.

Images: http://www.erbzine.com

What Are Christoph Waltz and Samuel L. Jackson Doing in David Yates’ New TARZAN Film?

INTRODUCTION

From what we know about director David Yates’ new Tarzan film (due in 2016), we have every right to expect that he and his team are making a determined effort to present the hero of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ imagination and novels in first-class style.

The film will also have a specific historical backdrop, one of the most horrific genocides in modern times.

The production team and director for Tarzan the Untamed, the film’s working title according to reports, are the same ones behind the highly successful, final four Harry Potter films. They likely hope and plan for this Tarzan film to be strong enough to launch another multi-picture franchise. We know they hired two screenwriters to deliver separate scripts, and they chose to use the Tarzan characterization from one and the plot line from the other. The plot synopsis Warner Bros. has released (http://screenrant.com/tarzan-2016-movie-synopsis-story/) suggests that Tarzan’s aristocratic, cultured heritage will be a strong element of the film. The cast is superb and even includes an actress in the role of Kala, the ape-man’s cherished, Mangani foster mother. All these elements bolster the Tarzan fan’s optimism about their final product.

Observers have naturally focused their attention on Alexander Skarsgård, the latest Tarzan, and Margot Robbie, who will play Jane Porter. Everyone knows those iconic characters.

But two other leading actors are set to play historical figures who are virtually unknown to the public. Two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz co-stars as Captain Leon Rom, and elegant badass Samuel L. Jackson plays George Washington Williams.

Who were Leon Rom and George Washington Williams?

THE ALEXANDER SKARSGÅRD BUZZ

Alexander Skarsgård can’t go anywhere these days without someone taking his picture. In March, our new Tarzan was spotted with Adam Hochschild’s 1998 book, King Leopold’s Ghost, which was of interest since it is a history of the colonial Congo – a Tarzan-era jungle.

Cast - Alexander Skarsgard 176 at Tender Greens (Beverly Hills), with 'King Leopold's Ghost' 2014-03-20 forum.purseblog CRP Alexander Skarsgård in March with Adam Hochschild’s book

As the casting firmed up and roles were attached to actors, the über-hot Christoph Waltz was signed and identified as playing Captain Leon Rom, which piqued further interest in the Hochschild volume. The Belgian scoundrel Rom figures prominently in its compelling narrative.

George Washington Williams is one of the good guys in Hochschild’s story. In San Diego this past summer, Jim Sullos, president of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., told an audience that Jackson’s film role is that of Tarzan’s “sidekick.”

KING LEOPOLD’S GHOST

The Hochschild book is an analysis of the almost unimaginable brutality of the colonial overlords in the Congo and the story of how, in the late nineteenth century, the world came to know the truth behind a fantasy carefully constructed for public consumption.

Despite its formal name, the Congo Free State was the personal property of Leopold II. The king regularly touted the humanitarian advances of his generous stewardship, which he portrayed as bringing the light of civilization to a benighted Congolese people. Not incidentally, he used some of the riches created by his Congo investment to bestow lavish public works on his home country, which further burnished the ruler’s reputation both at home and abroad.

Miscellaneous 139 King Leopold's Ghost libcom Adam Hochschild’s 1998 book, King Leopold’s Ghost

In fact, however, Leopold was operating his holding in the tawdry tradition of authoritarian despots. He had converted the country into one of the most extensive and cruel forced-labor camps in world history. He had stumbled on a largely unexplored land rich in rubber, an immensely profitable crop – if it could be produced cheaply enough.

Leon Rom was one of Leopold’s most heinous henchmen, although it is unlikely that the two ever crossed paths. But George Washington Williams certainly did meet Leopold, and he became the first observer to investigate and report publicly on the actual conditions in the Congo.

LEON ROM’S JOSEPH CONRAD CONNECTION

Leopold had secured international recognition for his Congo Free State in 1885, two years before John Boyd Dunlop successfully developed and demonstrated a practical pneumatic tire. The king was eager to make the most of his new property and set about to exploit its natural resources, notably rubber. He also fancied ivory – a lot.

Miscellaneous 149 Leon Rom reanneaa.blogspot Captain Leon Rom

Adventurers like Leon Rom flocked to the Congo to pursue their own fortunes, because his kind was needed to get the Belgian sovereign’s dirty work done. Men who got results enjoyed extensive personal freedom in how they achieved them.

In 1890, Joseph Conrad began three years of contracted service as a steamboat captain on the Congo River. Later, in Heart of Darkness (1899), he would describe what he had seen:

They grabbed what they could get for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind – as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.

I recently reread Heart of Darkness. (Did anyone get out of school without facing that assignment?) This time, however, the experience was even more chilling than before, because I’d read Hochschild’s book first. As a result, Conrad’s famous story reads more like history than the fantastical horror story it is often considered.

Behind the Scenes 106 C Virginia Waters, Berkshire, England @ taken 2014-08-27 dailymail CRP Behind the scenes: Christoph Waltz as Captain Leon Rom

Hochschild makes a strong case for his conclusion that Conrad certainly was familiar with Leon Rom and had most likely met him – and that his novella’s villain, Kurtz, had not sprung from Conrad’s imagination but was largely based on Rom. Like Kurtz, Rom became a storied, almost legendary station chief up the Congo River, deep in the jungle. Like Kurtz, Rom was both a writer and painter. And in a most macabre twist, like Kurtz, Rom decorated the grounds of his jungle home with the severed heads of Congolese.

GEORGE WASHINGTON WILLIAMS INVESTIGATES

George Washington Williams was born in Pennsylvania in 1849 and had fought as an underage recruit with the Union Army during the Civil War. Many years later, the lawyer, journalist, historian, and minister to Boston’s largest black congregation had become intrigued with reports of new opportunities opening up in the Congo. In 1889, Williams arranged a meeting with King Leopold to learn more about how black Americans who wished to relocate to the Congo might profitably assist in the king’s good works there. When Leopold learned the nature of his visitor’s interest, he did his best to dissuade Williams from embarking on a personal fact-finding mission to the colony. The more Leopold demurred, the more determined Williams was to go.

Miscellaneous 141 George Washington Williams negroartist George Washington Williams

What Williams found in the Congo appalled him, and in 1890 he published the first critical report on the new state: An Open Letter to His Serene Majesty, Leopold II, King of the Belgians and Sovereign of the Independent State of Congo, by Colonel the Honorable Geo. W. Williams, of the Unites States of America. Hochschild calls it “a milestone in the literature of human rights and investigative journalism.”

What did Williams find in the Congo? Most prominent wherever one looked was the king’s personal army, the Force Publique. Leopold had employed African mercenaries since 1879, and in 1888 he formalized the arrangement. Hochschild describes the Force Publique as “at once counterguerrilla troops, an army of occupation, and a corporate labor police force,” which “was divided mainly into small garrisons – typically, several dozen black soldiers under one or two white officers, on a riverbank.” By 1900 it had become “the most powerful army in central Africa.” (IMDb identifies numerous cast members in the forthcoming Tarzan film as officers or members of the Force Publique: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0918940/fullcredits?ref_=tt_cl_sm#cast.)

Cast - Richard 'Rick' Stanley on set, Force Publique officer @RichardEStanley Behind the scenes: Rick Stanley as an officer of the Force Publique

The Force Publique was not restrained in carrying out its mission to supply the king with rubber and ivory. Villagers were conscripted for the cause, and their women were held hostage (and routinely raped) until quotas were filled. Entire village populations – men, women, and children – were summarily executed for any failure. “Rubber means death” became an aphorism of the Congolese. To show their superiors that appropriate punishments had been meted out, it also became customary to collect as evidence the severed right hands of executed slackers.

The Force Publique also had the chicotte. Hochschild describes it as “a whip of raw, sun-dried hippopotamus hide, cut into a long sharp-edged corkscrew strip. The chicotte was usually applied to the victim’s bare buttocks. Its blows would leave permanent scars; more than twenty-five strokes could mean unconsciousness; and a hundred or more – not an uncommon punishment – was often fatal.”

By some estimates, the population of the Congo dropped from 20 million in 1880 to half that in 1920. Leopold’s reign of terror was ultimately laid bare to the world and has been called “one of the world’s great holocausts.”

An excellent BBC documentary of this extraordinary horror (White King, Red Rubber, Black Death) is available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMAegyRzYx8.

You can also watch Adam Hochschild’s 2014 lecture, “Object of Plunder: The Congo Through the Centuries,” here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLyZGTwmcRA

STORY LINE STRAIGHT OUT OF BURROUGHS’ ORIGINAL TARZAN OF THE APES

Alert reader Geoffrey A. Hamell has pointed out that this colonial brutality is precisely the circumstance which Edgar Rice Burroughs noted in the first chapter of his first Tarzan book, Tarzan of the Apes, as the impetus for Lord Greystoke’s original, ill-fated voyage to Africa. Here are the relevant paragraphs:

From the records of the Colonial Office and from the dead man’s diary we learn that a certain young English nobleman, whom we shall call John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, was commissioned to make a peculiarly delicate investigation of conditions in a British West Coast African Colony from whose simple native inhabitants another European power was known to be recruiting soldiers for its native army, which it used solely for the forcible collection of rubber and ivory from the savage tribes along the Congo and the Aruwimi. The natives of the British Colony complained that many of their young men were enticed away through the medium of fair and glowing promises, but that few if any ever returned to their families.

The Englishmen in Africa went even further, saying that these poor blacks were held in virtual slavery, since after their terms of enlistment expired their ignorance was imposed upon by their white officers, and they were told that they had yet several years to serve.

And so the Colonial Office appointed John Clayton to a new post in British West Africa, but his confidential instructions centered on a thorough investigation of the unfair treatment of black British subjects by the officers of a friendly European power. Why he was sent, is, however, of little moment to this story, for he never made an investigation, nor, in fact, did he ever reach his destination.

The filmmakers have done their homework. I’m very eager to see their final product.

JOSEPH CONRAD, WE WILL GIVE YOU THE FINAL WORD

“To tear treasure out of the bowels of the land was their desire, with no more moral purpose at the back of it than there is in burglars breaking into a safe.”

HEART OF DARKNESS

____________________________________________________________________________________

Movie Poster - Advance 116 Germany [Detail] @Moviejones 2016-07-27   Locations 105 - Kedleston Hall XL blog.alistairpooler CRP

Monitor the news and progress of David Yates’ Tarzan film with me on Twitter: The Legend of Tarzan (@Tarzan2016July)

and Like my Facebook page, The Legend of Tarzan: https://www.facebook.com/tarzantheuntamed/