Prolific adventure writer Will Murray is a pulp savant. There are few other current pulp scholars who can match his knowledge of the wide range of pulps. Will has written uncountable introductions to pulp related anthologies, collections, and reprints. He has single handedly resurrected the career of one of pulps greatest heroes in his series, The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage from Altus Press.
Currently, he is poised for the release of his latest pulptastic adventure, The Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan: Return to Pal-ul-don, an authorized sequel to one of Burroughs’ most celebrated Tarzan novels, Tarzan the Terrible.
Return to Pal-ul-don finds the African continent engulfed by World War II. To combat the spreading Nazi menace, Tarzan abandons his role as Lord of the Jungle to reclaim his persona as John Clayton, Lord Greystoke. Flying a P40 Tomahawk warplane, Clayton is sent on his first mission: to rescue the missing British Military Intelligence officer code-named Ilex. But the daring task plunges him into his savage past after he’s forced down in a lost land that seems hauntingly familiar. When Tarzan of the Apes returns to the prehistoric realm called Pal-ul-don, he must revert to his most savage persona, that of Tarzan-jad-guru—Tarzan the Terrible!
With the exciting news of a new Tarzan adventure, I was grateful to Will for taking the time for a quick interview.
What was your initial feeling after being asked to resurrect Tarzan, one of the most memorable characters of all time?
It was a mixture of excitement and pure panic. I recognized that this was a wonderful opportunity to explore a classic character I loved and had never before committed to paper. But I had a number of Doc Savage novels to write at the same time. Could I find time to write Tarzan? Fortunately, Jim Sullos, President of ERB Inc., gave me two years to turn in the manuscript. It took a year to produce, all the while writing Doc in between chapters.
Did your extensive work with Doc Savage prepare you for the process of writing Tarzan’s new adventures?
I’m sure it did, since Doc Savage creator Lester Dent was strongly influenced by Tarzan. Having written over 15 Doc novels, I’d learned the value of hewing to the original author’s tone, stylistics and vocabulary – in this case those of Edgar Rice Burroughs. But it was more important to dive into my collection of Tarzan novels and read the one I had agreed to sequel, along with others, to reacquaint myself with the series, which I first read back in the 1970s.
How did you develop the plot for Tarzan: Return to Pal-ul-don?
The idea for this project came from a Tarzan fan named Gary Buckingham, who suggested Tarzan should return to the lost land of Pal-ul-don, the fantastic setting of Tarzan the Terrible. About 20 years ago, Del Rey Books invited me to write a Tarzan novel for a revival series that never got off the ground. So I dug deep into my electronic files and uncovered three premises I had pitched back in 1996. One of them, Grotto of Spiders, seemed to fit Gary’s premise. I generated a short pitch, which was approved. Beyond that, I did not plot the book so much as I discovered and explored the storyline as I went along. This is a quest. All I needed was to establish a concrete goal for Tarzan to pursue and find compelling challenges for him to overcome along the way. I seldom plot or outline my novels in detail. It interferes with the improvisational aspect of my creativity. Especially, when I’m channeling a deceased author.
What were the most important elements of the Tarzan series you wanted to highlight?
I wanted to recapture the essence of the authentic Tarzan, but also to avoid telling just another routine Tarzan adventure. In revisiting the original novels, I was reminded that Tarzan had served in the Royal Air Force during World War II. I decided it would be great to start off with John Clayton finishing up his flight training and being assigned a secret mission that would lead him into this adventure. The contrast between Flying Officer Clayton and Tarzan of the Apes excited me, and also created character tension. Clayton is on a military assignment. Shucking off his uniform and going full feral is something he’s determined to avoid. But the author had other plans...
To what do you attribute Tarzan’s lasting appeal, while his many imitators – Ka-Zar the Great, Ki-Gor of Africa, Polaris of the Snows, and many others – have disappeared into obscurity?
Tarzan is immortal because Tarzan is a true original. The other characters you cite, regardless of their merits, were all distilled from the vision Edgar Rice Burroughs created over a century ago. Tarzan survives due to the power of Burroughs’ storytelling, as well as the Herculean efforts of Edgar Rice Burroughs Inc. to perpetuate his works and memory.
How are characters like Doc Savage and Tarzan still relevant today?
Heroes never go out of style, even if their haircuts do. Like Sherlock Holmes, Doc Savage and Tarzan still fascinate in the 21st Century. Once upon a time, they were mere examples of then-contemporary fiction, but all have become frozen in their original time periods, and that seems to be where most readers prefer them. In that, they are no different than Robin Hood or Nero Wolfe, or any number of now-classic characters who seem more of their time, and more interesting in their time, than otherwise.
What other pulp characters would you like to see brought back for new adventures?
Shortly, Altus Press will release Doc Savage #200, The Sinister Shadow, in which Doc is challenged by The Shadow. I would like to write a standalone Shadow novel someday. Conan the Barbarian also fascinates me, but I’m not sure anybody short of Robert E. Howard can do him justice. But I’d like to try. John Carter of Mars is another favorite. As is a more obscure character, Street & Smith’s Bill Barnes, an aviation hero in the style of Doc Savage.
Are there more Wild Adventures of Doc Savage and Tarzan to come?
After Doc Savage #200, we will release The Secret of Satan’s Spine, a Doc Savage novel set in the Caribbean during World War II. We are already in talks to do a second Tarzan, which right now I will call, “Tarzan versus X.” I can’t say who X is. This is another dream project which, if it comes to fruition, will astound fans of popular culture.
Hopefully, your reading appetite is whetted for a new Tarzan novel as well as the further Wild Adventure of Doc Savage … Check ‘em out!