Thursday, July 7, 2011

Review of Three Madmen & more

Earlier this week, I read and reviewed Titan Books' reissue of Philip Jose Farmer's short novel THE PEERLESS PEER, in which Sherlock Holmes and John Watson encounter John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, a.k.a. Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.  That led me to reading a small group of related stories written by diverse authors over a long span of time.  Starting with:

89. His Last Bow by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, from the Sherlock Holmes collection His Last Bow.  I've been trying to read the Holmes stories in order, so who knows when I would have actually hit this story in the proper sequence (2013, anyone?) but the lead protagonist of Farmer's novel is the bad-guy from this story in which Holmes "finally" "officially" retires. The story is notable as one of the few that Watson does not narrate. I actually found that this built the tension surrounding WW1 German super-spy Von Bork -- which of the people surrounding the spy is actually Holmes, that master of disguise? Is it the Ambassador? The housekeeper? The informant?  I felt like Doyle really kept me guessing and Holmes revealing himself was the high point of the story. Von Bork is no Moriarty in the minds of Holmes fans, but he's still portrayed as an effective foil for Holmes. I'd like to see a real matching of wits between them.

90. The Adventure of the Three Madmen by Philip Jose Farmer, from The Grand Adventure.  When Farmer initially wrote The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, it was a limited edition hardcover, and the Burroughs estate approved of the use of Tarzan. But when Dell released a mass market paperback version a short time later, the Burroughs estate rescinded their approval and told Farmer the story could not be reprinted until the Tarzan copyright expired in 1999... which also precluded Farmer including the story in his "best of" anthology The Grand Adventure in 1984. Rather than write a brand-new novella, Farmer simply reworked "Peer" into "Madmen," replacing Tarzan with another "jungle lord" -- Mowgli, now all grown up and a member of the British peerage himself.  The rework works surprisingly well. Most of the text is the same down to key bits of dialogue, but there are differences (Tarzan arrow-skewers a cobra about to attack Holmes; Mowgli talks the snake into  leaving Holmes alone, to name one example). Regardless of which Jungle Lord features, the story still moves along at that brisk pulp-adventure pace Farmer loves. One thing I did notice here even more so than in the Tarzan version: Holmes' behavior is quite erractic, and his transition from "I believe the man is a fraud" to "I believe he is entitled to his title" is a bit too abrupt. Those tend to be my only complaints in this fun story.

91. Jungle Brothers, or Secrets of the Jungle Lords
by Dennis E. Power, from Myths for the Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold-Newton Universe.  Reading "Peer" and "Madmen" back to back reminded me of this excellent essay reconciling the two versions and giving valid logic for how both could have happened simultaneously.  Power picks out the hints in both manuscripts and puts the pieces together: Watson, at the behest of Tarzan and Mowgli, wrote two versions of the story in order to muddy the waters for anyone trying to track down or connect them. I'm actually a bit surprised, knowing that Titan Books will soon be issuing new Holmes novels under the previously reprint-only "Further Adventures" banner, that they didn't ask Power and Win Scott Eckert to combine the narratives as Power suggests in this essay.  I also like Power's closing thoughts about the existence of a "southeast Asian Wold-Newton family" resulting from a different meteor strike.

92. After Kong Fell by Philip Jose Farmer, from The Grand Adventure.  While I was rereading "Three Madmen," I thought it was high time to reread Farmer's neat little tale about a grandfather reminiscing about the primal experience of his childhood: seeing Kong escape from the theater, rampage across Manhattan, and eventually fall from the Empire State Building. In typical Farmer/Wold-Newton fashion, there are cameos by The Shadow and the ESB's most famous resident, Doc Savage.  This is a wistful, nostalgic tale built out of watching reruns of the original  King Kong movie on local NY television in the 70s and 80s (back when Channels 5, 9 & 11 were WNEW, WWOR and WPIX and unaffiliated with any major national network. Yes, kids, this was before FOX and The CW!)

Bonus Content! Here's a photo of these interconnected books:

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