May 18, 2022

Recently I was invited to review an advance reader’s copy of a new novel scheduled for release later this year. 

This isn’t the first time I’d been afforded this honor; one of my favorite perks that comes with being a newspaper columnist has been the number of books, fiction and non-fiction alike, that I’ve received over the years from both authors and publishers. 

In this particular instance, however, the invitation held special meaning for Yours Truly, and - being an unapologetic bookworm in general, and a lifelong fan of the title in particular - there was no way I was going to turn down the opportunity.

And therein lies a tale…

In December 1973, I was a 10-year-old spending my Christmas break from the third grade reading my father’s paperback collection of novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was a project that began earlier that summer when Dad let me read his Canaveral Press edition of The Land That Time Forgot; from there I started making my way through the series of novels featuring Burroughs’ best known character - John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, better known as Tarzan of the Apes - and by Christmas break I had reached Volume 17 in the series, entitled Tarzan and the Lion Man.

Originally serialized in Liberty magazine from November 1933 through January 1934, Tarzan and the Lion Man is a book that some fans consider to be one of the weaker entries in the series; even to my 10-year-old eyes it appeared that the author had lost some interest in writing about the character, and with it some of the inventiveness he had displayed earlier in the series. 

And yet Lion Man ended with one of my favorite scenes in the entire Tarzan saga: during a visit to Hollywood the real Tarzan auditions for a role in a Tarzan movie, only to be fired by the director (who doesn’t realize the would-be performer’s true identity) after Tarzan kills a lion during rehearsal. 

It’s a fun scene that pokes fun at Hollywood’s interpretation of the literary hero - particular the character as portrayed by Johnny Weissmuller, who was all the rage at the time - and this young reader found myself wondering what happened immediately following the unfortunate incident.

Nearly half a century later I finally know the rest of the story, courtesy of author Jeffrey J. Mariotte. His new novel, Tarzan and the Forest of Stone, is the latest in a series of new authorized tales set squarely within the official canon of Burroughs’ works. These books, released under the “Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe” banner, stand separately from a second series of novels - also authorized, but non-canonical - labeled “The Wild Adventures.” 

To put it in terms some comic book fans might better understand, “The Wild Adventures” are a little like Marvel’s What If? series: fun at times, but (to me, at least) terribly uneven in quality and not considered part of the “real story.” The “Burroughs Universe” entries, on the other hand, are specifically designed to fit squarely within the original novels’ timeline and - so far, anyway - are far more faithful to Burroughs’  original characters and concepts.

In Tarzan and the Forest of Stone, Mariotte proves himself to be every bit as worthy of following in Burroughs’ footsteps as such previous Greystoke scribes as Fritz Leiber, Philip José Farmer and Win Scott Eckert. Mariotte’s Tarzan is the Real Deal - the Lord of the Jungle as first imagined by his creator, as opposed to certain depictions by lesser writers who have attempted to recast the character as “Batman of the Apes.” (I’m still having a hard time getting over THAT one.)

Mariotte understands the real Tarzan - who and why he is the mythic figure so many readers fell in love with when the first adventure of the jungle hero was originally published in 1912 - and that understanding results in an authentically Burroughsian tale that is entirely faithful to the existing canon, while at the same time manages to lend a feeling of freshness that was lacking in a few of Burroughs’ later novels in the series. 

And lest anyone misunderstand, let me stress that this statement is NOT intended to be a criticism of Burroughs; as I’ve said more than once over the years, I find the worst of Burroughs to be infinitely better than the best of a number of other writers I could - but, for the moment at least, won’t - name. 

As previously noted, Mariotte’s tale picks up exactly where Tarzan and the Lion Man leaves off: with Lord Greystoke ending his brief Hollywood sojourn with a visit to Burroughs himself, who is presented as sharing his fantastic stories about the Jungle Lord with the blessing (and perhaps a certain degree of cooperation) of Tarzan himself. 

It’s a nifty little literary conceit, playing off a similar relationship between Sherlock Holmes and his “biographer” Dr. Watson, and is great fun for readers like myself who have followed the Burroughs canon for so many years.

The visit to Burroughs’ home also serves to introduce a pair of new characters - one of them a former military colleague of the author’s - who figure prominently in the unfolding adventure. They and Tarzan wind up as fellow passengers on a train headed east from California to Chicago that is deliberately derailed in Arizona by villains with designs on a Native American artifact of no little historical significance…

Mariotte - an accomplished western writer - places Tarzan in an authentic western-style story and setting without making that placement seem forced or phony. I have little doubt that Burroughs, whose prolific output included several western novels of his own, would have greatly approved. (So, I suspect, would Louis L'Amour.)  

There are also elements reminiscent of such various genre tales as Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Maltese Falcon, which add an extra layer of fun to the proceedings. 

As with past reviews I have written, I am hesitant to divulge more specific details about Tarzan and the Forest of Stone for fear of robbing readers of the joy to be found in reading the novel for themselves. Suffice it to say that, with Mariotte, the jungle lord is in extremely good hands and I, for one, look forward to the possibility of future Tarzan adventures by this talented author.

Scheduled for official release in just a few short weeks, Tarzan and the Forest of Stone features cover art by fan favorite Douglas Klauba and a frontispiece by fellow artist Chris Gardner. As an added bonus, the book also features a sneak preview of the next “Edgar Rice Burroughs Universe” canonical novel: Christopher Paul Carey’s highly anticipated Victory Harben: Fires of Halos, the fourth and final volume in a Burroughsian super-arc published under the umbrella title Swords of Eternity

Having previously reviewed the first three titles in that series, I’ll admit I am anxiously awaiting the release of this concluding adventure with the same kind of anticipation I felt for such cinematic adventures as The Empire Strikes Back and The Wrath of Khan back in the day.

Hey, what can I say? Once a nerd, always a nerd. And proud of it...

(Copyright © 2022 by John A. Small)



April 28, 2022

Today's TV History lesson, prompted by a discussion I saw on a Facebook page this morning:

No, Mary Tyler Moore on The Dick Van Dyke Show was not the first woman to wear pants on TV. Yes, Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance both wore them on I Love Lucy. I'm pretty sure you can find some other examples of pre-Petrie panted pulchritude as well, if one wishes to take the time to investigate. Yet it was very much Mary's pants which DID become an issue with some sponsors and network execs.

The reason...

Continue reading...


April 15, 2022

..So I've been reading about this made-for-streaming series reportedly in the works that is a sequel to the George Lucas-Ron Howard film Willow, and I keep wondering if it will make references to the Lucas-Chris Claremont trilogy of follow-up novels. I personally liked those books a great deal, but I suspect they're now going to be shunted off into non-canon like the Star Wars Legends material.

In any event, an online conversation I started on the subject earlier today brought this response ...

Continue reading...


March 17, 2022

Today, March 17, is Saint Patrick's Day. Which means that it is once agan time for my annual holiday-themed public service announcement:

REAL Irish folks don’t care whether or not you wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day, and they don’t go around pinching those who don’t. So stop it!

I don’t have to wear green every year on March 17, or eat a bowl of corned beef and cabbage, to prove that I’m Irish. My maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Murphy; you just don’t get any more Irish...

Continue reading...


January 5, 2022

I’ve been taking part over the past day or so in some interesting discussions on a couple of different FB sites regarding the nature of the Batman character, initiated by an article in which Michael Keaton - in my mind still the BEST cinematic Batman, and that is not a subject which I care to debate - decided he did not want to return for a second sequel after the franchise was turned over to Joel Schumacher. At some point I decided perhaps I might distill my thoughts in those conversations...

Continue reading...


December 23, 2021

December 1995. 

I was not quite six months into my two-year sojourn as News Editor for the Durant (OK) Daily Democrat, commuting back and forth each day from our home near Tishomingo and wondering during the drive each direction what I was going to get my wife for Christmas. Seems I have that problem every year, but this particular year it seemed especially difficult to decide.

Hoping for some guidance, one evening at supper I threw caution to the wind and asked Melissa point-blank: “Is t...

Continue reading...


December 22, 2021

Well, it's that time of year again.

I refer, of course, to the perpetual hullabaloo that has been raging for a number of years now over the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays.” 

To the best of my memory (which I’ll be the first to admit is quite often questionable at best), the brouhaha began when some well-meaning Christians started voicing their displeasure over the use of “Happy Holidays” by retailers during the gift-buying season. 

Their argument, as I understand it, was that ...

Continue reading...


December 15, 2021
(Micky and Mike: The Final Concert)

Looking back on it now, a little over half a century after the fact, I suppose it does seem a little.. well, okay, silly.

But at the time it made perfect sense to a seven-year-old boy hoping to get even the quickest glimpse of one of my childhood heroes. Because that’s the way a seven-year-old boy’s mind works.

Or, at least, it was the way this seven-year-old boy’s mind worked. Given that I was rarely if ever accompanied by any of my buddies from the...

Continue reading...


November 11, 2021

Like a lot of other Americans, he gets a lump in his throat every year about this time.

Unlike most of them, however, pride has little to do with it.

He hadn't actually wanted to go into the military in the first place. He rebelled against it for a long time, mainly because it had been his parents' idea at a time when he - like all teenagers - spent most of his time thumbing his nose at his parents' ideas. 

It was his life, by golly, and he was going to live it his way... even if it meant ...

Continue reading...


November 11, 2021

It occurred to me today - as I listened to the one embarrassingly over-politicized moment in an otherwise moving and respectful Veterans Day ceremony here in my community - that the thing that makes America possibly the greatest nation on earth is not the things we have already accomplished. 

And it is certainly NOT the status quo. If the past few years have taught me anything, it is that Peter Tork of the Monkees hit the nail on the head when he questioned the validity of the old saying "my...

Continue reading...
blog comments powered by Disqus
blog comments powered by Disqus
blog comments powered by Disqus

About Me

John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.


blog comments powered by Disqus
blog comments powered by Disqus
blog comments powered by Disqus
blog comments powered by Disqus
blog comments powered by Disqus