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Nkima Speaks

The OF's of ERB
Who We Are

David A. Adams

Editorial Aside: "OF" is an acronym for Old Fart, a term of endearment used by the members of ERBList to indicate subscribers who are 50 or older. "OB" is explained as the more gentle "Old Burroughs" rather than the more gritty "Old Bastard" which was the orginal intent. Whippersnappers are readers of Burroughs less than 50 years of age. First Fandom readers are those who are 70ish-80ish and more years of age. "YW" and "FF".

The OFs of today are what makes ERBList, ERBCOF-L and alt.fantasy.er-burroughs work.

"I still live!"

We all know who the OFs on the ERBlist are. Some are more curmudgeonly than others, but all aspire to the rank. There are those who post nearly every day and then again there are those who occasionally poke their mangy snouts out of the cave on rare occasion.

The great thing about OFs is that they are not hermits who gather and horde their treasures in complete isolation. Even though they may have rooms, nay, whole barns full of ERB stuff piled from floor to ceiling in a mad collector’s mania, they smile at us from the shadows. I see them by the dim firelight caressing priceless tomes. Their stacks include multiple copies of The Return of Tarzan in dust jackets. They have uncovered the knife of Tarzan’s father that gleams in the flickering lick. They measure the dimensions of Cheeta’s skull and the bones of the Gryf.

The OFs we know share freely and openly with newer fans. They are generous and patient, helpful and loving. They are really Silverbacks pretending to be OFs with only an occasional growl escaping from their wizened beards.

I stumble into the moonlight to sing the praise of OFs who helped me build my modest collection over the years. Once I thought a few musty Tarzan books were but the remnants of my old childhood until the bright enthusiasm of some of them led me to see the beginnings of a new life.

How old are those children we once were! How odd that we can still walk in their worn tennis shoes today. At age 60 I am as much a boy as I was at 12. This morning as snow falls on this same old planet I open one of the books of Edgar Rice Burroughs with the same anticipation of adventure I knew so long ago. Tarzan is the missing-link of my childhood that is always found again.

I recall a time in my young life when I was depressed late one night until the thought occurred to me -- “there is always Tarzan” -- and that thought lifted me more than religious abstractions. Tarzan was a presence to me, more than a vague ideal. He was a secret, silent companion that came from the depths of an old yearning for something vast, something basically human beyond my family, my home, my country.

I sometimes wonder why the image of Tarzan does not grab youth in the same way today. I am a great fan of Harry Potter, but I love him for his school relationships, for his experiences in the classroom I can easily relate to -- but Tarzan was a fundamental force of nature that seems to be missing in the souls of children today.

When I grew up on the prairies of North Dakota in the 1940’s books were my only windows upon the world. Radio was a great magic, but it could not be held and wrapped in the warm blanket of a quiet room like my beloved books.

Tarzan was lore more than mere reading. His life was as real to me as the air I breathed. I walked barefoot across his savannas. I entered Opar with a spear in my hand. My false world melted away before the pacing of lions across the page.

OFs are strange beasts. They glance across the landscape of what is there with eyes that squint into a world filled with impossibilities that rise as clearly as the dawn. They take the hands of the ape-children of Olduvai like brothers and sisters remembered from but a single day before. The scars blazing across their foreheads were placed there by an ape rather than by an evil wizard. They place their knuckles upon the ground of a solid earth.

What OF did not live in trees during the long childhood? Unlike Harry Potter, we did not need a broomstick to fly. Our arms took up through the branches of every distant forest. Even the most fastidious among us ate his meat raw.

The untamed seems so dangerous to us today, the primitive merely unwashed and disease-ridden. Real life has made us citizens of a unfamiliar place.

To those of us who grew up with Tarzan, it seems odd to be living in a post-Tarzanic world. I am writing this postscript on December 7, 2001, 60 years after Pearl Harbor. I was not yet 5 months old when Burroughs watched the attack that led him into a new phase of his life, indeed into a new world, yet I grew up seeing my own family members going off to war. It all seems so distant, yet so eerily familiar today. How many of those young men must have read Tarzan of the Apes. It seems old fashioned to think of them painting the name of Tarzan on a bomb or the side of a plane about to go into battle.

Yet, the dream must hold. Our roots are in it. Tarzan’s Edenic jungle is an OF’s home. We creep slowly across the polished floors, holding a slightly shaky cup of coffee in the morning and look out the window of a different world than the one seen by the daily press. We glance up into the trees and see a creature moving there. He is the shadow of what we know. Tarzan still lives.

11/28/01

12-7-01