Philip José Farmer’s Pulp Trinity


By Dennis E. Power


Philip José Farmer’s fascination with the characters of Tarzan and Doc Savage are well known. He had after all written biographies of both characters and fulfilled his life long dream of writing both an authorized Doc Savage novel, Escape from Loki, and an authorized Tarzan novel, Dark Heart of Time. Additionally Tarzan and Doc Savage turned up in many of Farmer’s works, although often in disguise. What does not get as much attention however is Farmer’s fascination with another pulp figure, The Shadow, who also appeared in various guises in some of his works.


I believe that Farmer’s first Tarzan pastiche was also his first attempt at a “fictional author” piece. Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod was the story of Tarzan as it had been written by William S. Burroughs rather than Edgar Rice Burroughs.


The most obvious example is his pastiche, A Feast Unknown in which he fulfilled a fan’s dream of not only having Tarzan and Doc Savage meet but fight. Of course the novel was much more than just an extended piece of fan fiction. He used these two archetypes of pulp fiction to examine the connection between sex and violence, not simply because they were pulp conventions because of their pervasiveness


Farmer followed A Feast Unknown with Lord of the Trees and The Mad Goblin. These were separate adventures of Lord Grandrith, (Farmer’s Tarzan based character) and Doc Caliban, (Farmer’s Doc Savage based character). However these were more along the lines of pure pastiche and while entertaining did not have the visceral impact of A Feast Unknown. 


While A Feast Unknown dealt in part with the reality of the Tarzan character, demonstrating in a few effective passages how literally inhuman and “uncivilized” a man raised by apes in primitive Africa would be, that was not the main focus of the novel. It was however the focus of Lord Tyger which was published in 1970 the same year as Lord of the Tree/Mad Goblin. The novel is the story of Ras Tyger a boy raised by apes in primitive Africa and is told from his point of view although not in first person form. Farmer effectively demonstrates both the emotional and mental processes of a true feral man as Ras Tyger grows to manhood. While Lord Tyger is a tribute to the Tarzan epic of Edgar Rice Burroughs it also dissects Burroughs version of the Tarzan mythos for its plausibility. As is often the case when a myth is so closely examined, it falls apart. In Lord Tyger Philip José Farmer proves that Tarzan as written by Edgar Rice Burroughs could not have existed, and if the correct conditions to raise a feral child were created, the child would not be Tarzan. Ras Tyger has many of the same attributes as Tarzan, but he was not Tarzan.


Having proven that Tarzan could not have existed did not deter Philip José Farmer from writing Tarzan Alive, his biography of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan. Tarzan Alive has been called a hoax biography of Tarzan, since it posited that Tarzan was a living person. Inspired by other fictional biographies such as W.S Baring-Gould’s Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street or C. Northcote Parkinson’s The Life and Times of Horatio Hornblower, Farmer wanted to do something along the same lines for Tarzan. He wanted to create a biography that would be realistic enough to convey plausibility. This meant arguing that Burroughs’ Tarzan biographies were not literal truth but exaggerated fiction based on true events. In Lord Tyger Farmer demonstrated why it would be nearly impossible for a feral child like Tarzan to exist. In Tarzan Alive Farmer used the same sort of logic but with the intent to make Burroughs as true as possible yet still seem plausible enough to be believable. Tarzan Alive would also be a vehicle by which he could disseminate the concept of an extended family consisting primarily of fictitious characters.


Concurrent with Tarzan Alive came another novel, Time's Last Gift, which had a Tarzan like character in it. In this novel a group of scientists travel to 12,000 B.C. in the first time travel expedition.  The team’s medical doctor was named John Gribardsun. It is gradually revealed in the book that this man was Tarzan. When the H. G. Wells returned to the future, Gribardsun, who was immortal, stayed behind to experience the past. Some fans believe that the initials of Times Last Gift, TLG, actually refer to Tarzan, Lord Greystoke. Time’s Last Gift may have been written as a stand alone piece written around the same time as Tarzan Alive. The dates of Gribardsun’s birth and his back-story are different enough from those in of Tarzan in Tarzan Alive so that they may have been meant to two entirely separate works. Or it may have been that Farmer was just being canny enough to make the characters dissimilar enough to avoid of the ire of the Jungle Lord for having revealed his most deeply held secret.


Building on the concepts that he created in Tarzan Alive, Philip José Farmer’s next use of Tarzan was in another fictional author story. The Adventure of the Peerless Peer, wherein Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson met Tarzan. Although this was not an official Tarzan novel, Farmer had gotten permission from the Burroughs estate to use the name of Greystoke. When this permission was withdrawn later he rewrote the story as The Adventure of the Three Madmen and substituted Mowgli for Tarzan.


Also appearing in that 1974 was Hadon of Opar, the first of Philip José  Farmer projected series of Opar books. He planned to tell the history of Opar, the ruined city which plays so prominent a role in Burroughs’ Tarzan novels. Farmer additionally and unofficially planned to also tell the story of the lost African cities from H. Rider Haggard’s Quatermain and She series by creating writing the history of Khokarsa, a lost civilization that existed in Neolithic Africa. Tarzan also makes an appearance in Hadon of Opar, although entirely in the background. He is known as a god to the Khokarsans named Sahhindar. As explained in a previous article, Sahhindar is derived from Zantar, which was Burroughs first version of the Tarzan name. In the chronological appendix to Hadon of Opar specifically stated that the Tarzan like character from Time’s Last Gift was indeed Tarzan which is how Tarzan got to be in Hadon’s epoch. There was one further novel in the Opar series Flight to Opar before a variety of factors led to the series being discontinued.


Farmer wrote one more piece centering on Tarzan that came out in 1974 called Extracts from the Memoirs of "Lord Greystoke" This piece seems to have been an update of information previously discussed in Tarzan Alive but modified to coincide with “new information” posed by Time’s Last Gift and the Hadon series.


This was Tarzan’s last appearance in Farmer’s work until The Dark Heart of Time, which was an actual authorized Tarzan novel.


Philip José Farmer’s second favorite pulp character was Doc Savage. He appeared as Doc Caliban in Farmer’s A Feast Unknown and The Mad Goblin. However Farmer did not use Doc Savage to the same extent as he did Tarzan. Most of Doc’s appearances in Farmer’s work were limited to cameo roles rather than as central characters.


In 1973 Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life was published; this was Farmer’s biography of Doc Savage. While Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life continued with the conceits that Farmer had begun in Tarzan Alive, that Doc was a true living person and was part of a larger family tree of supposedly fictional people, the book was not as detailed in its approach. Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life seems a bit cursory when compared to Tarzan Alive but the fault lies more with the source material than with Philip José  Farmer. The Tarzan saga consists of 26 volumes; Doc Savage’s consists of 181. If Farmer had truly attempted a definitive biography based on all 181 sagas, it would have taken his entire life.


Doc Savage made a cameo in his short story After King Kong Fell which was also published in 1973.


His next appearance in a published work was a parody cameo in “Great Heart Silver in Showdown at Shootout” in Weird Heroes Volume 1. 1975. Doc Savage with his two aides Monk and Ham as very old men were among those who participated in the pulp/adventure hero armageddon that took place in Shootout. Every conceivable character from the pulps and adventure fiction under parodied names fought a giant showdown that left them all dead.


An allusion to Doc Savage was made in Farmer’s translation of J. H. Rosny’s Ironcastle when it was mentioned that Clark Savage senior had designed some guns for Ironcastle.


Doc Savage appeared in two more of Farmer’s published works in disguise. In The Savage Shadow Doc and his cohorts appear as the alcoholic inmates of a sanitarium; what we would call a rehab clinic today. Author Kenneth Robeson is the main character of the story. The story is one of Farmer’s fictional author series, this one purportedly written by Maxwell Grant, the writer of The Shadow series. The story is meant to be Grant’s joking version of how Robeson came up with the idea for Doc Savage and his fabulous five. Other stories were planned by which Robeson and Grant would use version of each others characters in a variety of ways. However this was the only one published.


A disguised version of Doc Savage appeared in Philip José Farmer’s A Barnstormer in Oz in which one of the diminutive inhabitants of Oz named Sharts the Shirtless was a physical look a like of Doc Savage. The same size as Dorothy’s son Hank Stover, Sharts was a physical giant compared to the rest of Oz. Like Doc, Sharts was also a genius although he did not possess Doc Savage’s sense of morality. Sharts earned his name because he could not wear the clothing that would fit most inhabitants of Oz. It was also a tribute to the Bama covers of the Bantam Doc Savage series wherein Doc Savage was shown with a ripped shirt. Sharts’ constant companion was Blogo the Rare Beast, an apish humanoid that seemed to be this Oz’ version of Monk Mayfair.


Why Doc Savage did not make more appearances in Farmer’s work I cannot say for certain. It may be that Farmer was saving Doc for some of his major works which unfortunately remained either unpublished or unfinished. He wrote Doc Savage and the Cult of the Blue God, a screenplay for the second Doc Savage film which never came to fruition since the first one had bombed. He also began Monster On Hold which was to be another Doc Caliban novel. Another Doc Savage inspired property which Farmer unfinished, but which was completed in collaboration with Win Scott Eckert was The Evil of Pemberley House and published in 2009. This novel is about Doc Savage’s daughter, or at least the one postulated in Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life.


The last member of Philip José Farmer’s pulp trinity was The Shadow. Like Doc Savage the Shadow’s appearances were for the most part actual cameos or disguised appearances. Farmer made the Shadow, or rather Kent Allard a member of the Wold Newton Family that included Tarzan and Doc Savage. However he at first claimed that the Shadow, The Spider and G-8 were all one person with a multiple personality disorder. Farmer altered that theory for Doc Savage His Apocalyptic Life so that these three individuals were brothers rather than the same man.


The first cameo appearance by the Shadow appears to have been in “After King Kong Fell”. Margo Lane and Kent Allard are among those who viewed the carcass of King Kong.


He makes a more substantial cameo in The Adventure of the Peerless Peer. As a WW I aviator he encountered and saved the lives of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. In the revised version of the novel, The Adventure of the Three Madmen, he is one of the madmen in question.


The Shadow makes a disguised appearance in “Greatheart Silver in Showdown at Shootout” as Phwombly an old detective who teaches Greatheart Silver. He is among those who travel to and perish at Shootout. The character of Phwombly also appears in The New York Review of Bird, a story written by Harlan Ellison which was in the same issue of Weird Heroes as “Greatheart Silver in Showdown at Shootout” This story bears mentioning because as Ellison explains in his after word to the story, Philip José Farmer had a lot of influence on story since Ellison based much of the back story on Farmer’s genealogies in Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. Ellison’s version of Phwombly however had different version of the relationship between Margo and Kent Allard.


Although The Savage Shadow does not have a cameo by The Shadow, it was certainly influenced by him. Although it is a story about Kenneth Robeson as written by Maxwell Grant there is also a reference to the Shadow series with the female lead Burke being related to the Shadow’s agent Clyde Burke.


The last actual appearance of the Shadow in Farmer’s works was in a cameo in “The Long Wet Dream of Rip Van Winkle”. Van Winkle wakes up in the 1930’s and encounters Margo Lane.


The Shadow’s influence on Philip José Farmer was also evident by Farmer’s story “Skinburn”.  This introduced the private detective Kent Lane. Kent Lane was the son of Kent Allard, the Shadow and Margo Lane. Farmer intended to write a novel about Kent Lane entitled, Why Everybody Hates Me.  This, and the unwritten biographies of Sir William Clayton, Allan Quatermain and Fu Manchu, are among those works his fans most regret never came to fruition.


The Pulp Trinity Chronology of appearances


1968 “The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod” 1968 (Tarzan)

1969 A Feast Unknown  (Doc Savage, Tarzan)

1970 Lord Tyger  (Tarzan)

1970 Lord of the Trees/Mad Goblin (Tarzan Doc Savage)

1972  Tarzan Alive (Tarzan, Doc Savage, Shadow)

1972 Times Last Gift (Tarzan )

1972 “Skinburn (Shadow)

1973 Doc Savage His Apocalyptic Life (Tarzan, Doc Savage, Shadow)

1973 “After King Kong Fell” (Doc Savage) Shadow and Margo Lane

1974Adventure of the Peerless Peer (Tarzan, Shadow)

1974 Hadon of Ancient Opar (Tarzan)

1974 “Extracts from the Memoirs of "Lord Greystoke"

1975 Greatheart Silver (Shadow) (Doc Savage sort of)

1975 Ironcastle (Doc Savage, Shadow)

1976 Flight to Opar (Tarzan)

1977 “Savage Shadow” (Doc Savage) (Shadow”

1981 “Long Wet Dream of Rip Van Winkle” (Shadow)

1982 A Barnstormer in Oz  (Doc Savage and Monk)

1984 “Adventure of the Three Madmen”   (Shadow)

1991 Escape From Loki (Doc Savage – Tarzan reference)

1999 Dark Heart of Time (Tarzan)