The jungles of the world are places of adventure. Whether in Equatorial Africa, the Amazon basin, Borneo or the Philippines, anywhere there is jungle, there is danger from hostile tribes, man-eating predators, quicksand and disease. The jungle is no place for the faint of heart.
Some of the greatest characters live in the jungle. Mowgli is master of the Indian rain forest. Tarzan rules the apes in Edgar Rice Burroughs fantastic jungle. Characters like “Jungle Jim” and “Bomba the Jungle Boy” gain an air of the mysterious by having that word in their names. Jungle.
The concept of the ‘jungle lord’ haunts me. I know from factual accounts that the ‘noble savage’ is about as romantic an idea as there is. Actual wolf-boys have existed–inspiring Kipling to write The Jungle Books–but none of these poor unfortunates was a Mowgli or a Tarzan.
The Jungle Lord is a cultural construct, like the Western gun-fighter, the Northern Mountie, the Noir private detective or the African adventurer. All these motifs have factual counterparts, but it is in fiction that they take on another life, an iconic life, becoming part of the collective culture.
All these motifs explode during the Great Depression, then World War II and finally into the Cold War period. They are Pulp icons. Kipling creates the idea in 1894–Edgar Rice Burroughs expands and popularizes it in 1914–and by the 1960s the wave begins to subside and the Jungle Lord becomes a figure of parody and ridicule. The ideas that made the Jungle Lord (and all these other motifs) pure gold in the 1930-50s has become familiar, a part of our language. Not just stories in old Pulps, the Jungle Lord can be found in comics, films, radio and eventually television, popular songs and in cartoons.
The hard times of the Dirty Thirties called for robust heroes with simple challenges. The social unrest of the 1960s cast the false idols down and raised up new ones in JFK, Martin Luther King, Timothy Leary and Rock & Roll. No loin-clouted swingers need apply. (Strangely, James Bond, a fellow cut from the Pulp hero cloth, also becomes big, giving hero worshippers something to cling to. As would Tolkien`s hobbits.) The decades following the 1960s saw a minor resurgence, an evolution (pun intended) of the ape-man, as new comics and pastiches, movies and television tried to re-sculpt the Jungle Lord into a super-hero for the coming millennia. He’s still the Jungle Lord of old but with a new sensibility. And just a little nostalgia, as the Baby-Boomers, the Bronze Agers, look back more kindly at the leopard loin-cloth, the pet monkey, the jungle tree house with a sigh. Oh, what times we had in the jungle. What times we shall have again…
The stories in this blog are endowed with the same wonderful magic. Some of the authors will be well-known to jungle fans: Rudyard Kipling, H. Rider Haggard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, names that conjure fantastic images of heroes. Others may be new to you, coming from the pages of the Pulps, a publishing realm that embraced the jungle, as it did the hostile alien planet, the wild west, the dark and dirty streets and anywhere else that is home to violent action and its offspring: bravery.
It won’t surprise long-time fans of the Pulps and earlier writing that racism can be found here too. Many adventure writers did not see the local inhabitants as anything more than a danger to derive thrills from. Consequently Africans, Asians and others are treated in a way that is not acceptable today. Rather than edit away our past, I am sure readers are sophisticated enough to realize these out-dated modes of thinking are not being condoned here. Prepare yourself. Take plenty of quinine pills, a machete, a pith helmet or two. The mighty jungle awaits…