A View from My (Virtual) Pew

For some time now, we’ve been doing lots of online meeting and greeting. Recently, for instance, some of my siblings and cousins did an online video call with five states represented. This morning, my wife and I in Nebraska joined a worship service in Washington, D.C., and weren’t the ones from farthest away. All of this got me to thinking about my experiences over these past few weeks along with my experience of online events of various sorts over the past several years. So, here are some observations, offered from one perspective. You may not agree, but that’s okay. Share your perspective.
First, some general comments.
1) Practice with the technology before you go live. I’ve been the one with the technology that wasn’t behaving. How embarrassing! It’s also a waste of time for your audience.
2) Check your picture. Your face might not be in the screen, you might be a dark silhouette, or you might be so far away that you’re only a distant blur. As nice as it is to see our familiar worship spaces (if you’re broadcasting from or recording in a sanctuary), bring the camera in tighter for the speaking parts. Make sure that the lighting is good on anything you want to show, including faces and backgrounds. Some applications (for instance, Zoom) allow you to choose a background picture or video. That might be a way to have the worship space in view when you’re confined to home.
3) Check your sound. And find the mute button.
4) When you’re reading, the audience still wants to see your face and eyes. If you’re using a laptop web camera, hold the book or paper up beside the screen. If you’re reading from the screen, keep scrolling so what you’re reading is at the top of the screen (assuming your web camera is there). Your viewers might wonder if you memorized the whole thing because you seem to be looking at them the whole time.
5) If you have group reading parts, put them on-screen in large print. There are many ways to do this, but the point is to make them readable to somebody with worse eyesight than yours. As with printing on paper, be aware of white space. If you jam too many words on a screen or page, they will be much harder to read, and many people will give up.
Now some comments about specific platforms.
6) Zoom group calls can be really fun. When you have more than two on the call, yes, it can get chaotic. Being anywhere with more than two people can get chaotic. If you’re hosting Zoom calls where tasks need to be accomplished, find the Mute All button. If you’re on a Zoom call and no one can see you or hear when you try to talk, keep fiddling with the controls until you find how to turn on your camera and microphone. If you’re muted and have something to say, hold down the space bar to unmute while you’re talking. Oh, and the issue I learned the hard way: If you have two devices close together on the same call, mute the speakers on one while you’re talking.
7) Facebook Live can be easy to access, especially if you’re in a group (such as a church) that already has a Facebook presence. Remember the guidelines about no more than ten people and at least six feet between. For most pastors, being in front of the congregation is when you’re at your best. Unlike the Magic Mirror on Romper Room (some of you are way too young to get that cultural reference), you can’t look through Facebook Live to see who’s watching. Here’s a suggestion from this retired Speech teacher. Gather at least some of the other nine people around the camera (keeping six feet apart), and talk to them. You’ll naturally have a much more lively presentation than if you try to simply stare at the camera. Your online audience will have a better time of it, too.
8) YouTube seems to have some excellent benefits, too. One of them is editing. If you’re not doing a live broadcast, cut out the dead time and the mess-ups. You’ll have a more enjoyable product.
All in all, during this time of isolation and social distancing, many of us have amazing communication technologies at our fingertips. Give thanks for the blessings. Work with the limitations. Learn how to do better. Check in on neighbors, friends, and relatives who either don’t have the technology or don’t want to use it. Humans are a social species. That isn’t likely to change any time soon.


Anyone who was on the campus of Nebraska Wesleyan any time in the 1960’s, 1970’s, or 1980’s most likely remembers the dapper professor with the thick glasses and the jaunty cap who rode around on his beat-up black bicycle, though they might not know his name or ever have taken any courses from him.  On the other hand, since he succeeded in having Intro to Speech Communication become a requirement for all students, a surprising number of students were in his classes, whether or not they majored in Speech and Theater.  Dr. Philip Kaye came from Dakota Wesleyan in Mitchell, South Dakota, to Nebraska Wesleyan in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the summer of 1956.  He served as Chair of the Department of Speech and Theater Arts until his retirement in 1990.  His younger daughter was three when they came to Nebraska; his younger grandson was three when Dr. Kaye retired.  Throughout his life, his family, friends, children, and grandchildren have referred to him as PK, and he doesn’t recall who first gave him the nickname. 

As I spoke to PK in preparation for this essay, I was reminded of the first time we met more than twenty five years ago.  It was the evening before Thanksgiving, and I had become engaged to his daughter the previous weekend.  Needless to say, I was extremely nervous, especially when Nan said nothing to her parents about it all through supper.  After supper, we sat on couches in the living room of the parsonage – Nan has carried on the family tradition of being a minister – and after our announcement, PK got out a pad of paper and started asking questions about my family.  That did little to ease my nervousness, and it wasn’t until much later that I found out he simply didn’t trust his memory.  This time we were among the beautiful antiques in his living room in the retirement center across from Gateway Mall, and I was the one taking notes about his family.  I had told him I wanted to know more about his career, so neither of us was nervous.  (The apartment is on the fourth floor, and PK loves the opportunity to watch the sky like he did on the South Dakota plains long ago.  When they moved to the apartment, they had to get rid of many things, but they’ve kept a wealth of antiques to remind them of their various homes and their ancestry.) 

PK was born just a few years after the First World War in Highmore on the plains of central South Dakota.  He grew up just a block down the street from the Methodist Church in a house that was built by his grandmother.  Church and family were extremely important during his formative years, often without much distinction between the two.  His father was church organist and choir director for a thousand years or maybe fifty, as PK puts it, and the entire family was active in the church.  PK’s grandfather had come to the Dakota territory as a circuit-riding preacher, had gone back to England to get married, and brought his bride back to Dakota to make their home.  They had six children and formed a family of preachers; PK grew up with cousins by the dozens all over the state, most involved in church music.  Now, as he squints to see the memories in his mind’s eye, he sees them all gathered together and all singing church music.  PK’s daughter Nan, my wife, has told many times about how he carried on the tradition by having the family harmonize to old hymns as they were driving back to South Dakota for holidays or down to Louisiana where his wife called home.  Sometimes after they ran through all the many hymns they knew, they switched to drinking songs, although they never mentioned that to PK’s mother who had been president of the local Women’s Christian Temperance Union. 

Before I met PK, I knew that he was an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church as well as being a teacher; recently, I heard him say that his call into the ministry was more of an unfolding process than a specific event, so I asked him to tell me more about that process.  His grandfather had died when PK was a boy, and he knew him only as any boy knows an old person, but the family involvement in church was more than he can imagine having any desire to resist.  PK found his friends in church, too.  His best friend as he was growing up was the pastor’s son; the pastor was also their Boy Scout leader, so they went together to both church and Scout camps.  When PK went to college at Dakota Wesleyan, that same pastor was Dean of the college, and PK became involved in several activities, including the YMCA, the Oxford Club, and the pre-ministerial group.  His major was Speech and Theater which he says was “all right for going into ministry.”  Others must have agreed.  After his senior year, PK was sent to be the pastor of the Methodist Church in Seneca, the next little town north of Highmore, where he was paid ten dollars a week.  With his background in Speech, he was able to give pretty good sermons, but he had no training for parish ministry.  He says now of the church leaders who sent him to Seneca, “you can’t fault people for being as practical as they need to be.”  The country was in the early years of the Second World War, and there was a shortage of ministers.  He did go on to seminary at Iliff School of Theology in Denver and then enlisted in the Navy and served as a chaplain, but he says that his Navy chaplaincy wasn’t particularly good, either, because he had so little parish experience.  While he was at Iliff, though, he met Hilda Zoe Bruning, and on the way to one of his Navy assignments, he passed through Lake Charles, Louisiana, and eloped with her.  This fall, they will celebrate their sixty-ninth wedding anniversary. 

Given all of his church involvement, his parish and chaplaincy work, and his seminary degree, I asked PK why he hadn’t continued on his career in the church rather than moving on to a career in academia.  That too was a process.  In high school and college, debate and speech competitions and theatrical productions had been his primary extra-curricular activities, but Debate in particular gave him the opportunity to meet and compete with stimulating people.  Debate helped him to get his ideas straight and present them in compelling fashion, but it was the other Debaters who had the greatest impact.  One of his Debate teammates in college was George McGovern, who later was on the History faculty at Dakota Wesleyan, who lived in an apartment across the hall when my wife was born, and who was the Democratic opponent to President Nixon’s re-election bid in 1972.  While PK was serving the church in Seneca, Northern State Teacher’s College in Aberdeen – now a university – contacted him to direct the fall play.  He had a great time, and it was quite a boost in prestige for a new college graduate to be directing college students not much younger than he was.  Although he did go on to seminary, other possibilities lay ahead of him.  After he finished his time with the Navy, he was hired to teach Speech and Theater at Dakota Wesleyan.  At that time, speech, theater, debate, and speech therapy were usually all part of one department, and he taught all of them, learning a great deal in the process.  Throughout his academic tenure, he served as interim or supply pastor in several churches.  He remains active in the church, recently serving as Chair of the Administrative Council in the church he and Zodie attended; they began attending there when my wife was the pastor, and their other daughter is past Chair of the Finance Committee. 

As PK looks back on his academic career, he feels that he has been quite fortunate.  He says, “When I got into teaching, the field was just beginning to change, enrich, and enlarge, so I had the opportunity to teach new things that I hadn’t necessarily taken courses in.”  As he taught, he studied and eventually came to know a fair amount about his subjects.  If it were possible, he would like to rewrite his Speech textbook… again.  He feels that he “could do it much richer now.”  I’m certain that it would continue to reflect his interests in General Semantics and in logic and structure as well as his insistence on the importance of paying attention to one’s audience.  He also finds the recent research into persuasion to be interesting and would look more into that.  Throughout his time at Nebraska Wesleyan, he was active in the state Speech organization and, in addition to serving as its president for a time, received from them an award for excellence in teaching.  More important than the professional recognition were the relationships he formed with students and their appreciation for his interest and enthusiasm for his subject and for his students. 

PK’s concern with academic rigor has carried on as a family tradition.  His wife has a bachelor’s degree.  Both of his daughters have master’s degrees, and both of his sons-in-law have Ph.D.’s.  All of his grandchildren have bachelor’s degrees; one has a master’s degree, and another is starting graduate school this fall.  His concern for the religious life has carried on as well.  He officiated at the weddings of both of his daughters and one of his grandsons, and he baptized all of his grandchildren and all but one of his great-grandchildren. 

Several years ago, PK gave up his bicycle riding out of concern over the possibility of a bone-breaking accident.  Similar forward thinking had led him over the years into handling his income in ways that have made his retirement more comfortable than some.  It also led him and Zodie to move into retirement housing before it was forced on them.  Retirement hasn’t been entirely a retreat, however.  On his eighty-fifth birthday, he stood on his head just to show his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren that he could still do it. 

[PK’s daughter and my sister-in-law, Margie O’Meara, says there are some minor factual errors in this. However, it is the way I received it from PK. She may be right. You’ve been warned.]

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.