Friday, November 30, 2007

The Other Jungle Lord

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If that's the case then Edgar Rice Burroughs should feel very very flattered indeed, for he is one of the most imitated writers of all time. His best know creation, Tarzan of the Apes, has spawned any number of second string jungle lords, from Kwa to Kazar, and from Jann to Kioga. We won't even get into Sheena and the other female versions.
Few of these knockoffs had long lives, most appearing in only one or two stories in the heyday of the pulps.(Though Kazar got a second chance in a slightly altered form in Marvel Comics) The one exception to the rule was the star of the Fiction House pulp magazine Jungle stories, Ki-Gor the Jungle Lord. Ki-Gor appeared in no less than 59 stories over the run of Jungle Stories, an especially impressive number when you consider that Edgar Rice Burroughs only wrote 24 Tarzan books. The Ki-Gor stories are shorter, usually running about 50-60 thousand words, but still. it's an impressive record given the lack of success for the other Tarzan wannabes.
In his book, The Great Pulp Heroes, Don Hutchinson proposes a likely theory for Ki-Gor's success. Where most of the other jungle lords were only similar to Tarzan, Ki-Gor, for all intents and purposes, WAS Tarzan. There were surface differences of course. Ki-Gor was blond where Tarzan's hair was black. Ki-gor's wife was a redhead named Helene instead of a blonde named Jane. But the basic concept, a white man raised in the jungle who becomes the lord of that jungle and has adventures in lost cities and such, was essentially the same. Readers of the pulps in those days couldn't get enough of Tarzan, and Ki-Gor was a good substitute.
One of the other differences was that Ki-Gor's adventures were more action oriented, being closer in spirit to another pulp hero. Doc Savage. He even had his own version of the bickering Savage aides, Monk and Ham in Tembu George, a gigantic Masai warrior, and N'geeso, the pigmy. These two were savage fighters and always seemed to be on the verge of killing each other, though in truth, either would have died to save the other man.
Adventure House, a pulp reprint publisher, is currently reprinting the Ki-Gor adventures in their magazine High Adventure. I picked up the latest issue this week, and while I was home sick yesterday, I read The Silver Witch, one of the two Ki-Gor stories in that issue. In this one, Ki-Gor discovers yet another lost city and must battle the mutant minions of the beautiful but evil Silver Queen, She really is silver too, having been mutated by the weird elements bubbling up from the soil in her lost realm. Very fun with lots of action.
Ki-Gor has started appearing in some new adventures too, from the folks at Wildcat books. Wildcat specializes in pulp style adventures and has recently been bringing back some old pulp characters who have fallen into public domain. Copyrights were never renewed on the Ki-Gor adventures and the character himself was never trademarked, so anyone can write new Ki-Gor adventures, unlike Tarzan who is still a trademarked character of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. You can write Ki-Gor. I can write Ki-Gor. All God's children can write Ki-Gor. And actually, I might get around to using the character at some point, though I have invented my own jungle lord recently.
Anyway, I can definitely recommend Ki-Gor to those who enjoy a fast paced jungle adventure. It ain't Tarzan, but it's probably the next best thing.

No comments: