Wednesday, June 27, 2012
The Ape Man Of Mars!
When I first noticed the new collection of new short stories about John Carter of Mars titled Under the Moons of Mars edited by John Joseph Adams, I gave it a pass mostly because I am just up to my nose in stuff to read right now. But then a bit of research revealed what my careless scan at the bookstore had not found, the great Peter S. Beagle had contributed a story to the volume, and not only that, but the story featured a meeting of John Carter and Edgar Rice Burrough's other more famous creation Tarzan the Ape Man. The book instantly became a must have.
A new Peter Beagle story. A new Mars story by Beagle. A new Tarzan story by Beagle. Three good reasons to snatch up the book regardless of the quality of the remainder of it. It turns out the book also has some artwork by Mike Kaluta and Charles Vess, among many others, two more good reasons to give it a tumble.
It took a bit of looking, but I found a copy and snagged it. Yesterday I read the Beagle story to my great delight. Spoilers beyond this point.
Beagle has given us a story told from Tarzan's perspective. We find the Ape Man in the jungles of Africa pondering Mars and before you know it his astral self has migrated to the Red Planet. He adapts quickly to the gravity and takes in his new environment with the fatalistic aplomb so familiar from the ERB novels. He chooses not to eat the baby Tharks, but does use the incubators for warmth. He is soon enough discovered by John Carter and Dejah Thoris and the Tharks and he and Carter don't hit it off at all. Carter is furious with Tarzan's British heritage since Carter holds a grudge against Britain for failing to help during "The Great War of Northern Aggression". Nonetheless they give the naked Tarzan some duds and take him to Helium, where Tarzan despite being married finds himself very attracted to the lovely Dejah Thoris. She seems to find him something to marvel at too. But Tarzan is most surprised to find that he can communicate with a great White Ape of Mars, and assumes that the parallel biology of the species must have something to do with the Earth-Mars astral migration technique. Tarzan is furious that the White Apes are treated as vermin by Carter and the the rest of the Martians and this in addition to the other points of friction results in the Tarzan and Carter having a rough and tumble battle which is abruptly ended when Dejah hits Tarzan across the noggin with a pistol. He wakes up back on Earth, but never doubts the reality of his adventure.
End of spoilers.
Beagle packs a lot into a very short tale. His take on John Carter makes him seem more quixotic than I recollect from the ERB tales, but since this story is clearly from Tarzan's point of view, he seems to be given the benefit of a doubt when the two heroes clash. Carter as a Son of the South seems a bit too gung-ho about his allegiance, at least more than I remember.
The attraction between Tarzan and Dejah makes perfect sense, but I'm glad that Beagle had the two show some restraint here. Another writer might've shown less respect to their loyalty to their spouses.
What mostly struck me though was the equanimity Tarzan displays in the face of his arrival on Mars. He takes it all in and simply deals with the result. That's one of the absolute great things about Tarzan, his total acceptance of what life brings him. I only wish I could face life's trials with half the calm assurance the Ape Man brings to his toils and troubles. It's a quality to be much admired.
This is a dandy little tale, not a flawless gem by any means, but a gem nonetheless. I recommend getting hold of it if you can.