Tarzan among the first mass marketed figures, says Canadian academic

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Washington, July 4 (ANI): As soon as a Disney blockbuster is out these days, its characters seem to be everywhere - in comics, toys, books and video games. But this marketing strategy is now new. Tarzan's creator Edgar Rice Burroughs was instrumental in helping invent the media blitz.

"He was a very canny marketer and publicist. Tarzan was one of the first - if not the first - mass marketed figures," said Associate Professor of English Jason Haslam at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Burroughs was fantasy fiction's original multi-media impresario and his shrewdness kept Tarzan at the heart of popular culture for nearly a century.

The volume of Tarzan tales is mind-bogglingly large, even by today's standards. He first appeared in a magazine in 1912. That was republished as a novel, Tarzan of the Apes, in 1914. Four years later, the first Tarzan movie grossed 1 million dollars. Burroughs swiftly incorporated himself into ERB, Inc. to control the brand. He even named his California ranch Tarzana. A Sunday comic strip appeared in 1929 (drawn by Halifax native Hal Foster), followed by a radio serial in 1932. Burroughs cranked out 25 more Tarzan novels in his lifetime and by the end of the '60s, almost 50 Tarzan movies had been made.

Dr. Haslam recently edited an Oxford University Press edition of Burroughs' 1914 novel, Tarzan of the Apes. What interested him is how Tarzan became such a massive pop icon yet could still divorce himself from his original context.

Dr. Haslam said: "It's a fascinating moment where a character like this can be made into a Disney film and somehow try to escape its own racist background.

"The novel is simply racist. There are no ifs, ands or buts about it."

If you revisit Tarzan of the Apes, what strikes you first is its brutal stereotypes of Africans and a plot fuelled by sensational African explorers' tales and absurd racial theories.

Dr. Haslam asked himself many times during the project why he would want to edit such a problematic novel.

When asked whether he would be perpetuating its problems, or redressing them with a critical edition, he replied: "I don't know if I walked that line or not but I read it as a child myself, and I wanted to at least give kids like me the ability to go back and see through the introduction or through the notes, that there are these issues and they can think about them rather than just ignore them."

Dr. Haslam's edition differs from previous editions in important ways. The book has an introduction that frankly discusses racism in the novel. His edition includes a selected critical bibliography, a chronology of Burroughs' life and - most importantly - an introduction he wrote that explores the history, social tensions, and problems with the novel. (ANI)

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