Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, Edgar Rice Burroughs

Tarzan and the Jewels of OparImage via WikipediaTarzan and the Jewels of Opar is the fifth of twenty-five volumes that Burroughs wrote. It is available freely at

Initially, I found it laborious to trench through the text. This is for the simple reason that Burroughs' portrayals of the villains are simply dull and lifeless. They are such bad people. Tarzan and his kin are of course wholly good. And, when Tarzan's actions might be interpreted as bad, Burroughs makes sure that we understand it is because of his primitive instincts.

It might behoove me to point out that there is a subtle tone of racism to the text. However, while at one moment I might be convinced that he is degrading black people, in the next he will place the white man and his civilization on a rung directly below it. The savage black man is only eclipsed by he who was raised by a particularly advanced primate that can be described as a gorilla sized bonobos, Tarzan himself.

Tarzan goes on a raiding mission to despoil a hidden people, the people of Opar, of much gold and some gems. In his efforts, he manages to suffer amnesia after being hit by a falling rock caused by an earthquake. Meanwhile, his home is obliterated, his wife stolen, and Tarzan is presumed dead. As his memory is gone, he reverts back to his primitive self.

James H. Pierce and Joan Burroughs Pierce star...Image via WikipediaTwo evil Arab groups of men vie to take possession of both Tarzan's wife and the treasure he himself had stolen from Opar. Between the fighting of the Arabs, the mischief of one European who had caused much of the calamity for Tarzan and Jane, Werper, Jane and Tarzan's wife jump between the Arabs. The Arabs are very much portrayed in a negative light. However, considering that most Caucasians are also portrayed in a negative light, perhaps it is not necessarily a racist portrayal. That is to say, everyone who goes to Africa from the west does so to loot the continent.

Needless to say, in the end, Werper dies mysteriously at the end, while the two Arab leaders and their followers are largely killed and destroyed. The gold and jewels are all returned back into the possession of Tarzan. 
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Friday, April 15, 2011

Bram Stoker, The Lair of the White Worm

Cover of "The Lair of the White Worm"Cover of The Lair of the White Worm
Bram Stoker is a name that, surely, many people recognize well. He is, after all, the creator of the super villain, Dracula. This review, however, is of his tale, The Lair of the White Worm. I recognized the title from a horror film directed by Ken Russell that I watched more than ten years ago. I vaguely remember it being a very slow and almost dull movie up until the finale. That said, I remember taking pleasure in having watched it. Thus armed with vague memories of a good film, when I found a number of Stoker's books on display at, I felt drawn to the title. I feel compelled to watch the film again to see how closely it remembered the book.

This book follows the same genre as Dracula. That is, it is a horror. In fact, it is really two horrors, a lesser and a greater, which intertwine with the hero.

The Lair of the White Worm (album)Image via WikipediaThe story starts with the protagonist: one Adam Salton from Australia. He is invited to stay with his uncle in England who is without wife or child. Thus, Adam is to become his heir and close family. The conflict begins not too long after the arrival of a wealthy land owner, Edgar Caswell, arrives. 

For some inexplicable reason, both Caswell and Salton fall for a couple of farm girls. For a long time I am convinced that they are after the same girl, but after awhile, it turns out they were after different girls. Meanwhile, Lady Arabella has her sights on Caswell; less from chemistry or love at first sight than him having a great deal of wealth and her being on the verge of bankrupt, and seeing an opportunity to once again be supported by a wealthy husband.

Bram Stoker (1847-1912)Image via WikipediaIt's a malange a quatre, really. Caswell tries to win his girl through the use of the semi-magical semi-scientific art of mesmerism. She resists successfully, but is ultimately destroyed by his power. Lady Arabella, along with her enormous pet worm, are destroyed by Salton, and Mimi and Adam Salton get married and live happily ever after.

There is one thing to make note of if you're considering reading this book: there is one black character in this story: Oolanga. Often he is referred to as a nigger. I asked myself the question, at first, of whether it was a natural use (commonly used, but without hatred), but he is often derided as being an inferior amongst inferiors. I get the definite sense that Stoker did not like black people. It is not overly thick with racist tone, however, and its effect is limited and not terribly severe. However, one ought to be aware that this type of language exists in the book. Many people would object.

That said, I'd say read the book. It was ultimately a great weird tale.

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Friday, April 1, 2011

Bread Overhead, Fritz Leiber

Fritz Leiber 1969-07 The Magazine of Fantasy a...Image by California Cthulhu (Will Hart) via FlickrI had learned about Fritz Leiber from a Wikipedia article on weird tales. It was explained that he was a great contributor to the magazine. So, in the midst of a few authors listed that I did find in both the article and on It is a short piece of fiction worth a few hours reading.

I am really glad I found his name and this was the first story of his that I read. Really, it's a brilliant story.

As far as I can tell, most of the characters are robotic. It is about a bread company that, in order to make its bread lighter, decides to imbue the bread with hydrogen gas. As a result, even as the robotic army that distributes the loaves to the public try to load the trucks, the bread floats away into the sky.

There is so much satire in this story it's really hard to know where to begin or end. There are bits and pieces all over the place. Just as an example, the bread factory itself is something of an oddball out of a nightmare: A mechanical centipede that eats wheat off the field, then treats, sorts, and bakes bread.

However, as was already explained, as the centipede tries to stack the loaves of bread, they rather float away into the sky. The mechanical stevedores do not notice that they are no longer stacking air rather than bread into their vehicles. It isn't discovered until a meeting that all the bread had floated away.

Over time, the public and the government get angry. But, as the bread crosses the Atlantic and then settles over the Ukraine, where the starving people grab the loaves, it loses its proponents and becomes a sensation.

The story is funny, nightmarish, weird, and science fiction all rolled into one. Quite a feat. Well worth the read. I look forward to reading more of his work, courtesy of
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