Clayton comparison

William Cecil Clayton in the first two of ERB’s Tarzan novels is Tarzan’s first cousin and primary rival both for the family inheritance and for Jane’s affections. As such, he plays a very important role in the story. ERB introduces Clayton with an odd mix of dramatic irony: readers are told exactly who he is and how he’s related to Tarzan, but none of the characters in the story have the slightest inkling. At the end of the first novel, a revelation and confirmation of that relationship to Tarzan himself is a key plot development. When some of my students have read that, they’ve become quite angry that Tarzan doesn’t simply reveal what he has just learned and end all the drama. Without drama, where would the story be? They usually aren’t satisfied by the response.

In Chapter 1 of Tarzan of the Apes, ERB tells us that “there were mothers and brothers and sisters, and aunts and cousins to express various opinions.” These would be relatives of Tarzan’s parents before they departed from England to sail to Africa. One of those brothers would be John Clayton’s unnamed younger brother, who (about the same time as Tarzan was born) became the father of William Cecil Clayton. Clayton shows up on the west coast of Africa in the group with Jane and her father and, through most of the book, is a somewhat hapless but mostly sympathetic character. In Chapter 12 of Return of Tarzan, however, we learn that Clayton does not share the gallant chivalry of his cousin. For those who have not read either of these first two of ERB’s Tarzan novels, I will not give away the details; suffice it to say that, while remaining somewhat hapless, Clayton redeems himself. On the other hand, he never was a worthy rival for Tarzan or a worthy suitor for Jane.

The various movie adaptations of the Tarzan story have not figured so far into these comparisons, but the Disney animated movie bears mention in relation to Clayton. Many things are changed from ERB’s version (for instance, the cabin is a treehouse, the great apes are gorillas, and there are no Africans in Africa), but the personality and movements of Tarzan seem to capture the sheer joy of the young Tarzan’s personality and movement through the trees. Not so with Clayton. Rather than a hapless weakling, Clayton is portrayed as an arrogant, square-jawed white hunter. White hunters appear in other Tarzan movies, and this is obviously a recognizable stereotype, but it is a major change for the character of Clayton. It has been quite some time since I watched this movie, but I don’t recall that Clayton and Tarzan are said to be relatives at all, let alone the first cousins of ERB’s narrative.

Robin Maxwell in Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan has followed the Disney screen writers more closely than she followed ERB for the character of Clayton. In her book, the character is Ral Conrath, an American from an unnamed small town in South Dakota. He first appears as an object for Jane’s libido and a gentleman treasure hunter and adventurer who claims to have been on certain anthropological digs which interest Jane and her father. Conrath convinces Professor Porter to go on the expedition to west Africa and soon shows himself to be the cad and much worse which the reader may have suspected all along though Jane did not. In a major change from ERB’s development of the story, he becomes the primary villain.

With my treatment of Clayton in The Diary of Miss Jane Porter (available at erblist.com), I made a major mistake. In this, I believe that I was following P. J. Farmer’s lead in Tarzan Alive, but it remains my mistake whatever its source might have been. Rather than the title in contention being Lord Greystoke as ERB named it, I gave it as the Duke of Greystoke. By the time my novel first became available to the public, I was aware that a duke is the highest rank of British nobility below the royalty, while ‘lord’ usually refers to the lowest rank, who are just above knights such as Sir Sean Connery or anyone else with that honorific. Along with the elevation in rank, I gave Clayton and the Greystoke holdings a great deal of money; for instance, the ship on which the story opens is owned by the family and is bound for the family’s mining operations in South Africa. In this version of the tale, Clayton meets a similar end to the one in ERB’s version, though without the taint of unchivalry.

One of the major changes in Diana’s Diary (for sale at smashwords.com) is with this character. First off, he is named William Godsey, Lord Maythorne, for a variety of reasons which I might go into later. He is not the cousin of Tarzan (renamed Ngozi), but his uncle, younger brother of Ngozi’s father, Eugene. Though this puts him at more than twice Jane’s age, he is still interested in making her something of a trophy bride. He has long lived in the shadow of his elder brother (who has been absent from England for more than twenty years) and has deep-seated psychological insecurities resulting from that. He and Eugene were with their parents on a tour of mission sites in British East Africa when Eugene was first lost. Their mother, who is still alive but does not appear in the novel, maintains hope that Eugene is still alive and was the driving force behind the family establishing an estate near the jungle in the far western reaches of British East Africa; from this estate, she has launched various journeys to find her lost son, and the safari which William leads visited the estate before venturing into the jungle. Though he is the leader of the safari, William is somewhat indecisive and is more nearly suited for British high society than for African exploration.

After all this, a question remains: Why is this story worth telling again? My response (admittedly as one who has told the story again… twice) is that all stories are essentially retellings of stories that have been told before. Without retellings, we would not have Tarzan, Mowgli, Robinson Crusoe, Romulus and Remus; Hamlet and The Lion King; The War of the Worlds and Independence Day. Each of the retellings, actually every story, must be judged on its own merits. Many fans of ERB’s stories won’t like or appreciate any other treatments of similar stories. Many who do not like ERB’s stories may well find in other versions something that they do like and appreciate. Give them a try.

Esmeralda comparison

One of the most troubling characters ERB created in Tarzan of the Apes is Esmeralda, Jane Porter’s nanny and maid. Although Jane is a young adult at the time she appears in the story (therefore no longer having any need of a nanny) and ERB tells his readers that Esmeralda serves no function on the expedition, she is present when Professor Porter and his group are stranded on the coast of Africa. ERB has his defenders, but to me, Esmeralda is pure racism in the vein of Amos and Andy or Topsy in Gone with the Wind; her only apparent purpose is slapstick comedy. What else could be intended for a fat, ignorant character given to gross malapropism who does little but try to jam her whole person into a tiny cupboard before fainting? Granted, there are real people who fit that description, but that alone is not sufficient justification for including them in a story. Robin Maxwell in her novel avoids the entire issue by completely leaving out the character and giving no names or individual characterization to any of the servant characters.

In my novel The Diary of Miss Jane Porter (available at erblist.com/fanfiction), I attempted not only to salvage the character of Jane, but also that of Esmeralda. I have long been aware that it is the secretaries (and similarly ranked and under-valued persons) who actually run the world. In this reinterpretation of the story, it is Esmeralda who keeps the party alive while they are stranded on the west coast of Africa, just as she has been the one who kept things going for Professor Porter and his daughter when they were at home in Baltimore. She is the one who has the practical knowledge and skills to maintain daily life and functions. In this telling, she is also Jane’s confidante and chaperone. Because I set out to tell a tale that would fit with ERB’s tale, Esmeralda is the one who comes up with a fantastical lie to cover Jane’s absence when rescuers arrive. One aspect of this character that troubled me deeply as I was working on it was her language; to the best of my ability, I gave her the speech patterns of an ignorant daughter of plantation slaves, ignorant but intelligent. One of the early readers of this version was a dear friend and colleague of mine who happens to be African American; she was initially troubled by the words coming out of Esmeralda’s mouth, but then she realized that Esmeralda sounded just like her (my friend’s) daughter talking with her own friends. My hope is that any readers of this novel will realize that ability to read and/or to speak Standard English is not the same as intelligence, ability, and basic human worth.

By the time Diana’s Diary (for sale for Kindle at www.amazon.com and for a wide variety of e-readers at www.smashwords.com) was in the works, I had furthered my interest in the academic study of linguistics and had become aware that all of us use various registers and styles of language. This insight helped tremendously in my recharacterization of the Esmeralda, now named Euphrasie Majors. Euphrasie speaks not only the English dialect of plantation slaves from the American South, but also Standard American English along with French, which she reads as well. As a servant in the household of a professor, she would likely first be able to imitate the speech patterns of her employer and later – if she did not come to the job with the ability – to use those patterns to express her own thoughts. Euphrasie is aware that her use of language carries social messages, so she chooses among the styles she commands for the one most appropriate to her purposes. She retains some of the attitudes and beliefs of my characterization of Esmeralda in The Diary of Miss Jane Porter (such as that a proper young woman should keep her feet firmly on the ground and even more that a proper young woman should most definitely not scamper about naked), but she also exhibits fierce loyalty to the professor and his daughter, independence of mind, and creativity of thought and action. If she is to be seen as the one who has been a major influence on Jane/Diana throughout her life and if Jane/Diana is to be a strong character, then Esmeralda/Euphrasie must be a strong character as well.

Few people, if any at all, who read a Tarzan novel or a retelling with Jane as the focal character will choose to do so because of an important though secondary character like Esmeralda/ Euphrasie. However, secondary characters do contribute to the overall impression left by a novel. This character is tremendously important to my conception of this novel, and I hope that my readers will find her a satisfactory and believable character in her own right.

The professor comparison

Readers of the Tarzan stories have a variety of reactions to the characters. Though many diehard fans will deny the claim, critics from several perspectives find instances of caricature and prejudice, often especially in terms of race. For me, one painful caricature has to do with Jane’s father, Professor Archimedes Q. Porter. Let me lay my cards on the table: I am an academic, having taught at the college level for most of two decades. ERB’s portrayal of Professor Porter goes far beyond the fairly common academic focus on minutiae and lack of common sense; ERB’s professor borders on dementia. The character is rounded out only slightly by concern for his daughter when he realizes she has been abducted and probably will not return. His assistant, Samuel T. Philander, is only slightly better.

Professor Porter is much changed in Robin Maxwell’s Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan, though Mr. Philander does not appear. Professor Porter is an American teaching at Cambridge, he is much taken with fast driving, and he has some sort of problem with his heart. (The heart problem provides a major plot development which is never resolved.) Unlike in ERB, his wife is still alive and very much involved in the development of the story; she appears to be part of the British aristocracy, though to the best of my recollection she does not have a title. Mrs. Eddlington-Porter and her daughter both refer to the Professor as ‘Archie.’ He is thoroughly committed to finding Darwin’s Missing Link (nevermind that Darwin never posited such a link) and is convinced that fossil evidence will be found in West Africa. Oddly, he largely disappears from Maxwell’s novel something over halfway through, although her Jane occasionally claims to be concerned that her father has supposedly died. In ERB’s Tarzan of the Apes and in the two novels below, he remains present and active throughout the narrative.

In The Diary of Miss Jane Porter (available at erblist.com/fanfiction), Professor Porter is little changed from ERB’s portrait, except for the dementia. ERB does not specify the Professor’s age, but I put it at seventy, fifty years older than his daughter. The good professor remains rather more deeply absorbed in his academic pursuits than in the world around him. Rather than being on a treasure hunt, he has come to Africa to study the native religions, a purpose more in keeping with the life of an academic. On a side note, I have long wondered why ERB or anyone else would imagine that the academic life would put any put anyone in the upper economic classes. Notable exceptions do, of course, present themselves, but most of the academics I have known are middle class, and their children tend to be bookish nerds rather than wealthy ingenues. My attempt was to make both Professor Porter and his assistant Mr. Philander into believable academics, who are funny at times but are quite willing and able to contribute their talents to the good of the group.

Diana’s Diary (for sale  at www.amazon.com) presents a much changed portrait of the father of the central character. The names are changed, as ERB informs us that he did, so here we meet Professor Marcus Aurelius Howard on a safari with (among others) his daughter Diana and his colleague Professor Edmund Pitt. In this work, I have placed Professor Howard’s age at near fifty. Thus, though he is not by any means athletic, he is in what could be reasonably understood as his prime years. He is a scholar of languages and linguistics and is actually in Africa for the second time, having been recruited for this safari because of having been on another safari to the same area some twenty years before. The previous expedition had been led by the late Professor Jayne Diana Custer, Diana’s mother, who died soon after she and Professor Howard returned to America, leaving him to raise Diana. Though he can become pedantic, he is quite talented in understanding languages and often provides the communicative link between others in the story. Professor Pitt, who has been promoted from being Professor Porter’s assistant in ERB’s version and my earlier one, is more of the pompously arrogant academic, but when the need arises late in the story, he transcends himself to do more than anyone would have expected of him.

It’s unlikely that many readers of ERB are bothered by his portrayal of Professor Porter, but these novels offer three more modern treatments of the character. Each of them is interesting for the fresh ways that readers will be led to consider the characters and the story. In Diana’s Diary, you will meet an academic who is quite talented and knowledgeable in his field of study, quite dedicated to his daughter’s well-being, and quite ready and willing to exercise his subtle humor.

A Meditation on Trees

The meditation below came up in my morning devotions today (19Nov12).  There’s not much to add, but it led me to consider that all of us and each of us are like these trees in our limitless interdependence, in our pure purpose unknown to those who try to bend us to their limited, independent purpose.

“The way we stand, you can see we have grown up this way together, out of the same soil, with the same rains, leaning in the same way toward the sun. See how we lean together in the same direction. How the dead limbs of one of us rest in the branches of another. How those branches have grown around the limbs. How the two are inseparable. And if you look you can see the different ways we have taken this place into us. Magnolia, loblolly bay, sweet gum, Southern bayberry, Pacific bayberry, wherever we grow there are many of us, Monterey pine, sugar pine, white-bark pine, four-leaf pine, single-leaf pine, bristle-cone pine, foxtail pine, Torrey pine, Western red pine, Jeffrey pine, bishop pine.

“And we are various, and amazing in our variety, and our differences multiply, so that edge after edge of the endlessness of possibility is exposed. You know we have grown this way for years. And to no purpose you can understand. Yet what you fail to know we know, and the knowing is in us, how we have grown this way, why these years were not one of them heedless, why we are shaped the way we are, not all straight to your purpose, but to ours. And how we are each purpose, how each cell, how light and soil are in us, how we are in the soil, how we are in the air, how we are both infinitesimal and great and how we are infinitely without any purpose you can see, in the way we stand, each alone, yet none of us separable, none of us beautiful when separate but all exquisite as we stand, each moment heeded in this cycle, no detail unlovely.”

Susan Griffin (reprinted in Earth Prayers from Around the World, edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon, 1991, page 55)

Jane comparison

Dr. Jane Goodall has famously said that she thought she would make a better Jane for Tarzan than would the character ERB created. Presumably, she was referring to Jane Porter as portrayed in the first two novels. My impression of that character has long been that she only screams and faints. There’s no accounting for taste, of course, but that just doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would interest a character like Tarzan.

For whatever else ERB intended for the character of Jane Porter, it’s clear that he was writing for an Edwardian audience who had grown up as he had in the Victorian period. Everyone has their biases, and those were ERB’s. Our biases are different, even if we happen to admire ERB and Edwardian or Victorian sensibilities. In Tarzan of the Apes, Jane is stranded for a full month on the edge of the African jungle, and so far as ERB reports it, her only dress remains immaculate. In Return of Tarzan, when she is stranded again just a few miles away from the same spot, the men with her are reduced to improvised garments made from rodent skins while her single change of clothes remains modest and clean. My copy of P.J. Farmer’s Tarzan Alive is not where I can lay my hands on it, but my memory is that he suggests that Jane and Esmeralda were bathing in a jungle stream when she was abducted by an ape. Unadorned physical attractiveness clearly is powerful, but without other character traits, it will not generally sustain interest.

ERB apparently became aware of the same issue. In his story of Jane in Pal-ul-don (whose title seems constantly to slip my mind. Is it Tarzan the Terrible?), she develops hunting and survival skills while stranded alone in a jungle or forest. By this time in the long saga, she and Tarzan have been married for many years, and she has observed his skills. Being an intelligent woman, she figures out how to do it herself. By the time of Tarzan’s Quest, she is not only a pilot, but she has developed considerable ability to hunt and, more interestingly, to move about in the branches of the trees while wearing leather boots. I don’t recall that ERB gives us any indication that she might have learned to move through the branches as Tarzan does using his hands and arms. Swinging on vines (or conveniently placed trapezes) is left for the Tarzan of the movies.

Robin Maxwell’s Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan is a much different character than ERB’s Jane, just as her Tarzan is much different than ERB’s Tarzan. Her Jane is British with an American father who has emigrated to England. Her Jane is a medical student taking classes from her father and helping him with his research. Her Jane also has serious psychological insecurities along with a very active libido. Though Maxwell’s Tarzan and Jane are together for a long time before engaging in sexual activity, the delay seems unrealistic and contrived, and the explanation of her temporary infertility seems pedantic and unsuited to a jungle romance. Actually, a great deal of the book seems similarly unsuited. Curiously, though there is discussion of movement through the branches, it is all on foot while Tarzan once or twice swings from tree to tree on a vine, and most of Tarzan and Jane’s travel through the jungle is on the ground or through the waters of a swamp.

The Diary of Miss Jane Porter (available at erblist.com/fanfiction) began before I was aware of Jane Goodall’s interest in and influence by ERB’s Tarzan. However, I set out to create a character who would be a worthy mate for Tarzan, a strong (emotionally and psychologically), intelligent, resourceful, agile woman. In other words, she needed to be like many of the women I have known. She also needed to remain as much as possible a woman of the time in which ERB set the story. My literary device was an imagined diary which would give an insider’s view of the events while remaining close enough to ERB’s plot and setting that one could easily imagine the official, public version of the same events to be the one ERB tells. In terms of writing technicalities, Jane is the point-of-view character throughout the novel. The attire I gave Jane, and particularly the camisole and drawers, came from a reprint of a Sears & Roebuck catalog from the period. However, the garments do not remain in like-new, fresh-from-the-laundry condition, and Esmeralda expends considerable energy keeping everyone decently clothed. When Jane goes up into the trees, Tarzan at first carries her, but her independent streak leads her to try it on her own, mostly going by foot atop the branches but occasionally using hands and arms.

Though I was much happier with my portrayal of Jane Porter than ERB’s, I remained troubled by several aspects of the novel. Thus, I began a complete reworking which eventually grew into Diana’s Diary (for sale at www.amazon.com). For a variety of reasons not all having to do with legal considerations, the names have almost all been changed along with changes in plot, setting, characterization, and style; in other words, it is a different novel entirely. Diana Howard corresponds remotely to Jane Porter. She is a strong-willed, intelligent young woman who has always felt an affinity for trees and likes to read (or write in her diary) up in the branches of a tree, much like a young Jane Goodall. Rather than simply tagging along with her father on his journey to Africa (a treasure hunt in ERB and a search for the Missing Link in Maxwell), Diana is hired to go on the expedition as official chronicler. There will be more to say about the setting later, but for now suffice it to say that the expedition is deep in the Congo Free State in central Africa when the novel opens, and Diana is deeply regretting her promise to her father to refrain from climbing any trees. Soon after he frees her from the promise, she climbs and meets a wildman (who corresponds to Tarzan). Eventually, he teaches her how to travel through the branches, at first on foot and eventually fairly flying from branch to branch much as gibbons do. Though the man she meets has much to teach her (and she to teach him), both are well equipped for learning the lessons and neither starts from zero.

Speaking of movies, as I did above, leads us to one other character created by ERB, Balza, who appears in the seventeenth book of the Tarzan saga, Tarzan and the Lion Man. Balza makes only a short appearance near the end of the book. When she shows up, she is beautiful, naked, and blonde-haired, speaks the language of the great apes as well as English, and can move like and live with the great apes. As strange as that may seem, it does fit within the logic of that story. By the end of the book, she has been civilized by representatives of Hollywood, is clothed, and smokes cigarettes, a transformation as radical and much more sudden than Tarzan’s in Tarzan of the Apes. In my work with the character of Jane, I did not want to maintain ERB’s focus on blonde hair as a necessary sign of beauty, so in The Diary of Miss Jane Porter, the apes name her Kabeh for a pair of body parts which she possesses and they lack. Not much of an improvement. Early in the work on Diana’s Diary, the replacement for the apes name her Balza; in revision (and moving away from ERB’s invented ape language) the name was changed but would translate into English in much the same way. More importantly, ERB’s Balza before she is civilized is much like my Jane/Diana after she has become comfortable in the trees.

Where does this leave us? If you like ERB’s Tarzan (and perhaps his Jane), I urge you to read any of the three more modern approaches to the story. If you have developed your own understanding of Jane to the point where she is a suitable mate for Tarzan, you may not like any of these others. That’s not the point. The point is that each of them is interesting for the fresh ways that you will be led to consider the characters and the story. Of course, I feel that my latest version is the best of the three, but I urge you to read the novels before deciding they are unworthy.