Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Adventure of the Peerless Peer

And speaking of Sherlock Holmes, I finally got a nice copy of one of the stranger Holmes pastiches, Phillip Jose Farmer's The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, a short novel which teams the world's greatest detective with Lord Greystoke, aka Tarzan of the apes. I'd been wanting to read this one for years, and I'd sort of read it before, but as Watson would say, I'm getting ahead of myself.
Though considered part of the Wold Newton canon, The Adventure of the Peerless Peer is a bit more tongue in cheek than most of Farmer's other Tarzan related novels. Set during World War I, the basic plot gimmick is a designer bacilli that can be chemically programmed to devour a specific foodstuff. This is kind of goofy. However, since the formula for this ravenous germ has fallen into the hands of Von Bork, the German spy who is the bad guy in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 'final' Sherlock Holmes tale, His Last Bow, it's up to the aged Holmes and Watson to take up the chase.
Dispatched by Holmes' older brother Mycroft to Africa, Holmes and Watson share a series of sometimes comic adventures as they are exposed to two unstable American pilots (who will be immediately recognizable to fans of the pulps), engage in a running battle atop and within a Zeppelin, and are finally forced to leap from the damaged Zeppelin into the African jungles, where they are taken prisoner by the Germans.
They manage to escape their captors but are menaced by hista the snake, only to be saved by the timely arrival of Lord Greystoke. The rest of the book involves a lost city, a beautiful priestess, human sacrifice, and the other things one expects from a Tarzan book. There's also quite a bit of humor at the expense of Edgar Rice Burroughs' coincidence laden plots and Tarzan's tendency to lose his memory at the drop of a hat but it's good natured ribbing and show's Farmer's love for the source material.
One thing I did note when reading Peer was that Tarzan, when viewed from an outside perspective, is kind of scary. In Burroughs' novels, the ape man is shown mostly from the inside. His actions may be cruel or violent, but since we are privy to his thoughts, we know why he does what he does. Viewed from Watson's point of view, Greystoke is a man who eats raw meat, communicates with animals, and seems more than willing to kill anyone who gets in his way or simply annoys him. An interesting take on the character.
I mentioned above that I had sort of read the book before. See, Peerless Peer wasn't authorized by the Edgar Rice Burroughs Estate, and when it was reprinted later in the anthology The Misadventures of Sherlock Holmes, Philip Jose Farmer rewrote the novel as The Adventure of the Three Madmen, replacing Tarzan with Rudyard Kipling's jungle boy Mowgli. I'd read that one about a decade ago. Both versions are worth reading, since the Mowgli version has some different and additional material, but I much prefer the Tarzan version. But you'd expect that from me, wouldn't you?


Win Scott Eckert said...


You are absolutely right about the prior history of PEERLESS PEER and the rewrite. However, earlier this year, PEERLESS PEER was reprinted, in the original version with Tarzan, in the Philip Jose Farmer collection VENUS ON THE HALF SHELL AND OTHERS, (Subterranean Press). And this time around, the republication of the original version with Lord Greystoke was expressly authorized by ERB Inc. :-)



Charles R. Rutledge said...

Ah, very cool, Win. I'm glad that ERB Inc. authorized Peerless Peer after all this time and also glad that it's been reprinted. (Though I see Venus has already sold out.)Thanks for the info.