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)