Saturday, March 17, 2018
In 1963 I was stationed in France, with the 202nd MP Company, and working patrol for a black NCO named Foster (I think that was his name). When I stopped by the station, I found Sergeant Foster reading a Tarzan paperback by Edgar Rice Burroughs. This was during my hardboiled period, when I was reading Mickey Spillane and Shell Scott. I remembered the old Tarzan movies with Johnny Weismuller, and asked Foster if the stories weren't a little racially demeaning, and he told me they weren't. After we discussed the Burroughs' Tarzan for a while, he convinced me to read one of the stories. That was my introduction to jungle adventures, and I have been a fan ever since.
I haunted the Stars & Stripes bookstore on base, until the lady that ran the establishment got to know me like a son. Whenever I would walk into the store, she would grab me by the arm and say, "Look what just came in!" And take me to a paperback with a jungle scene or dinosaur on the cover. This was how I discovered Doc Savage in 1964, when she led me to The Thousand-Headed Man, which had Doc fighting with a giant snake while a witch doctor looked on. So by then I was hooked on Edgar Rice Burroughs and Kenneth Robeson. I probably shouldn't tell this story, but in 1964, during the Cypress Crisis, I was among a group of Army soldiers sent to an Air Base in Turkey, in case we had to deploy to Cypress. Well, being Army on an Air Force base wasn't conducive to good treatment. We were stuck away from the more civilized air force personnel, and didn't get much sent our way. Being Army, we quickly learned our way around, and one of the first places I discovered was where the special services stored books that was to be distributed to the Air Force personnel. A few nightly raids, and our Army unit had reading material. Of course, I had first choice of any Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks! Or anything with a jungle scene or dinosaur on the cover.
Tarzan, of course, was the inspiration for many imitations in the pulps. I think that over the years I have found any and everything that remotely resembles the original Jungle Lord. One of those imitators appeared in JUNGLE STORIES, a FICTION HOUSE PUBLICATION, beginning with the Winter 1939 issue, and running until Spring 1954, and 59 issues (although some titles were repeats). The hero was Ki-Gor, a bronzed-skin muscular giant, wearing a loincloth with a knife in a sheath at his side, and bow and quiver of arrows over his broad shoulders. Standing six foot tall, he has blue eyes, and shoulder-length hair bleached white by the sun. Unfortunately, the novels were very uneven. His blue eyes would often turn gray, and his white hair would become yellow.
However, it was the stories that counted. Fantastic jungle stories of lost lands, lost civilizations, prehistoric monsters, giant snakes, elephants running amok, and talking gorillas. Everything a good jungle adventure should be. Ki-Gor was in reality the surviving son of a missionary named Robert Kilgour, who lived among the beast of the jungle after his father was killed. He eventually met - and married - Helene Vaughn. She is quite competent, but is constantly getting in trouble. Two other aides are in all the stories. Timbu George, who was once George Spelvin, an American Pullman porter and ship's cook, and eventually became a Masai chief; And little N'Geeso, chief of the Kamazila pygmy tribe.
As most pulp fiction of the period, the Ki-Gor stories were formula at best, but highly imaginative, and were probably the most successful and popular of the Tarzan imitators. The titles alone were enough to whet the appetite of young readers perusing the newsstands: The Empire of Doom, The Cannibal Horde, Caravan of Terror, Where Man-Beasts Prowl. And those are the milder titles! The action within the pages of JUNGLE STORIES brought us the adventure we craved. Ki-Gor, the White Jungle Lord deserves his niche on the shelf beside Tarzan The Ape Man. The jungle belonged to them!
I can just imagine that old lady from the Stars & Stripes grabbing my arm once more, and saying, "Look what just came in!"