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.

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)