David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2000
Those early moments and days of first discovering ERB's wondrous tales...
I like to tell and tell again of the "early moment" for my father who had not read a Burroughs novel until 1964. His only real comment, when he deigned to engage in "fan discussion" was "That's not Johnny Weismueller."
Dad had read TOA at the request of James and I because we were so enthusiastic about the character and because we had grown up watching Jungle Theater—or something similiarly titled—on Saturday/Sunday Morning/Afternoons television with dad. I know that he read more of the tales, as well as a number of the non-Tarzan tales, since I remember him reading in bed with one of our luridly covered paperbacks in his large hand. I will always consider him a silent ERB fan—one who enjoyed the books as entertainment but simply could not gather enough enthusiasim to gush idiotically for hours or days at a time over a fictional character/story.
I have no regrets that Claude and I never tore Tarzan, Carter, or any of the other ERB heroes apart in heated family discussion. We did talk of many things, and debate relative merits (such as Heinlein, Dante, Plato, or Louis L'Amour.) We did talk of what was right or wrong, what values would stand us in good stead, or sometimes what he did in the war (WWII). What we discussed I found in the books of ERB and others—finding a confirmation of what we learned from the old man at the dinner table, or while tearing down a lawnmower together, or fishing a river or lake.
Mom and dad gave us (four brothers and a sister) our love of books and a burning desire to read. They watched what we read and injected themselves only if the material was either too adult or perhaps complicated. When they were assured we were grounded in ordinary commonsense (they were already assured of our values since those were taught from the Terrible Twos on) the oversight was removed—and often they'd browse the elder Brothers Bozarth Library for interesting reading material, and some of it was damn interesting!
ERB has many meanings for me. I believe most of us can find some link back to our parents, either through enthusiasim for Burroughs by them reading the stories to us, or giving us the dime/quarter/buck to go buy a book and be tickled that we were READING.
Perhaps it might be a movie link to one of the many Tarzan flicks made over the last 80 years. Drive-in movies, TV, movie theaters, staring wide-eyed up at the silver screen, and mom and dad there, or dropping us off with our friends and picking us up later to go for hamburgers and patiently listen to the excited talk.
Perhaps it is a sly wink and a gentle wise crack: "That ain't Johnny Weismuller;" which has always seemed such a delicious reverse of ERB's own jovial comment "Is dat Johnny Weismueller?" as found in Tarzan and "the Foreign Legion". Or perhaps it is the memory of a son reading to a father hooked up to and so horribly burdened by various tubes and iv's and breathing machines as he lay upon his death bed; a son reading from a volume that embodied the literary loves of them both: westerns and ERB. I read The Bandit of Hell's Bend to my father when I visited him during his last days, and he hung in there for the whole thing.
Those first moments of discovering ERB are precious and bring us a lifetime of memories. "Precious" might also describe those last moments of revisiting ERB. Ed Burroughs, just before he died in 1950, re-read all of his published works and found joy and satisifaction in his accomplishments over a career that spanned nearly 4 decades (1912-1948).
That's about as maudlin as I will get today—but I remember the pleasure in dad's eyes, and know that I can never read The Bandit of Hell's Bend the same way again.