East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Tarzan as superhero?

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0514_tarzanThere’s a new Tarzan movie doing the rounds – I haven’t seen it yet because here in the sticks where I live it will be distributed at some later date, but I plan on seeing it.

Now, one thing that’s leaving me a little bit peeved is, there’s a lot of people out there that go on about Tarzan being a superhero… he is a superhero, he should be treated as a superhero, the franchise should go the whole superhero way…

I am always wary when a movie critic tries to tell me a movie sucks based on the fact that

they should have made it differently

I love science fiction and what-ifs, but if the movie sucks, please tell me why it sucks, not how it would have sucked less in your opinion had you been the director.
And you see, I’m not so sure about this whole superhero business.

Granted, Tarzan is a larger-than-life character.
And he’s certainly endowed with some apparently superhuman traits.
But so is Mowgli.
So are Conan and Solomon Kane.
So is D’Artagnan (c’mon – have you seen that kid handle a sword?)
So is Sherlock Holmes.
So is Indiana Jones.
So is each and every one of the Magnificent Seven, except maybe Harry Luck.

Indeed, P.J. Farmer, with his famous Wold Newton hypothesis, made the lot of them mutants – so get out of the way, Dr. X, take some time off, Reed Richards, these guys are the original article.


Only they aren’t – much as I love P.J. Farmer’s stories.
They are heroes.
Maybe pulp heroes – but super-heroism is something different, it engenders different stories, told in a different way. It carries a different set of meanings. There are clichés to be used, expectations to be met (and this might be part of the whole problem), a certain tempo and cadence, like a piece of music.

What bothers me is that by claiming Tarzan is a superhero, and repeating he should be given the superhero treatment, these critics on one hand show that they lack the fluency in a certain kind of genre – pulp hero fiction – and have to turn to its closest analogy. And secondly, they propose to force-fit certain characters into story structures that are not their own.
A story structure that is likely a wider audience will “get” – but fulfilling the wrong expectations of the punters might as well completely rob the characters of their souls.

Me, I’d rather have a public sophisticated and diverse enough to be able to appreciate different kind of characters and different forms of storytelling, than a single solid mass of viewers that can only understand one format, so that any story, no matter what, must be cookie-cut into that format.
But that’s just me, I guess.

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

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