Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Joey Marks, Mullarganís manager
A Daily News man
Muviro, chief of the Waziri
EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS'
Tarzan and the Champion
David A. Adams
Copyright © 2001
David Bruce Bozarth
"Tarzan and the Champion," is a short story written in July of 1939. It was accepted by Blue Book magazine for a mere $250 after being rejected by Liberty, Collierís, and The Saturday Evening Post. It first appeared in April 1940 complete in one issue. It became the second story in the hardback Tarzan and the Castaways published by Canaveral in 1965.
In a nutshell: The heavyweight champion of the boxing world, a stupid mug (who was actually Joe Louis at the time) goes to Africa, shoots up a herd of zebra and elephants with a machine gun, gets punched-out by Tarzan, then captured with Tarzan by cannibals, and is finally rescued when Tarzan kills a lion in the middle of the village. The whole story is presented as a kind of "tongue-in-cheek" joke that really never comes off as being all that funny. One serious moment in this little piece of fluff is Tarzanís lecture about suffering animals. The story is about as simple as my one sentence summary, but it is pure Burroughs from first to last. Rather than a short story, one might think of this piece as a vignette about Tarzanís place in American life at the end of the 1930ís. As such, it is a rich period piece — like a 15-minute radio play.
Managing Editor comment:
"Mere $250 payment" indicates the latter aspect of ERB's writing career. Tarzan and the Champion is a short story which could not possibly command the same dollars as the novel length Tarzans, even if Tarzan had remained popular. The Technical writers, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, were gaining ascendancy in 1939 while Burroughs desperately cranked out Tarzan stories to keep the pot boiling — ie. to make income at a time he desperately needed it. Sadly, ERB in 1939 was "on the out", considered clichè by publishers who were not as eager to receive the next ERB story or willing to "pay the original fame freight" for stories submitted. (See Tangor's ERBmania! graph of ERB income by decade, pulp publications.)
Too many Hollywood versions of the ape-man had diminished the true Tarzan character by 1939, though ERB humorously injected the mainstream popular viewpoint in "Champion," including monosyllabic speech by the ape-man. The reality suggests ERB's output no longer commanded the high dollar market and reader tastes had changed. The world was on the cusp of uncertainty: World War II "quietly" began as Nazi incursions in Europe, and relations between the US and Japan cooled in the months before 1941. ERB eventually shelved Tarzan and embarked on a series of stories that embraced the changing times. Venus, Poloda, and — near war's end, Tarzan and the "Foreign Legion".
"One-Punch" Mullargan wins the heavy-weight boxing championship in Madison Square Garden. He is a notorious dirty fighter whose one punch was a lethal right to the button. After defending his title six more times, he decides to take a hunting vacation in Africa.
Tarzan and Nkima meet hunter Meltonís truck out on the savanna and question the man. He tells Tarzan that he is guiding Mullargan and Marks on a safari but they have gone off on their own. Tarzan orders them out of his country. "I am Tarzan."
After nightfall Melton catches up with his lost party and gives them Tarzanís message. Mullargan bullies his native bearers, and Melton has to pull his gun on him. Mullargan thinks lions coughing around the campfire are pigs grunting.
The Babangos eat people because they prefer human flesh to any other food. Recently, the Babangoes have moved into Tarzanís country, so he is investigating along with Muviro and the Waziri.
Tarzan watches in anger as Mullargan shoot zebra and elephants with a machine-gun from a moving car. Tarzan says, "You kill?" pointing to a dead elephant. Mullargan replies, "Yes -- so what?" Tarzan says, "Tarzan kill," and lays out the heavy-weight champion with his open palm on the side of the head.
As they are fighting, 100 Babango cannibals arrive and capture the three men. Nkima flees. At the native camp, they are tied to a small tree. They hear the groans of people being "tenderized" in a river with broken arms and legs. Tarzan gives the men a lecture beginning, "You are animals. You suffer no more than other animal, when you are hurt." Mullargan listens, then replies that he wishes he hadnít shot those animals.
Nkima is on a mission to the Waziri. Melton sees the carnage of the shooting and the native tracks, but decides all he can do is report them missing. Tarzan unties everyone, and they run for the forest. Mullargan has to fight his way through the natives, but is knocked out trying to rescue Marks. Tarzan gets into a tree and observes his heroism. He feels no responsibility for these men, but he considers aiding them to confound and annoy the Babangos.
Nkima finds the Waziri, and Melton meets up with them on the plain. They go to the rescue. Just as the cannibals are about to break their bones, Mullargan tears free and knocks out the witch-doctor. A lioness comes into the camp and attacks Mullargan, but Tarzan kills it with his hunting-knife and gives the victory cry of the bull ape. All the cannibals run off into the forest, so they head for home. The next day the Waziri prepare to drive the Babangos from the country. Tarzan tells the men, "Get out of Africa, and never come back." Marks wants Tarzan to become a boxer in New York. He tells Mullargan that Tarzan would take the championship away from him in one round. "Who? Dat bum?" replies "One-punch."