Will Murray is no stranger to the pulp genre or related sub-genres. He has written novels for characters such as Doc Savage, Tarzan, the Shadow, Sherlock Holmes, the Avenger, the Phantom, the Green Hornet, Mack Bolan and the Destroyer as well as tie-in fiction for Planet of the Apes, Honey West, Re-animator and Mars Attacks! He has also written stories about the Cthulhu Mythos and a variety of Marvel Comics characters. He has also written non-fiction about the pulps and related topics.
We recently spoke with him about his new book pitting Tarzan against King Kong.
You previously wrote a book in which Doc Savage meets King Kong. How will this book differ?
Doc Savage: Skull Island could not be any more different than King Kong vs. Tarzan. The first novel is set immediately after World War I. A young Doc Savage joins his father in quest of their missing grandfather, Stormalong Savage. Their search takes them to the Indian Ocean and Skull Island, where they encounter Kong and become embroiled in a struggle over control of Skull Island. Although this takes place before the 1933 story, and Kong is not yet called King Kong, he’s definitely the ruler of Skull Island.
On the other hand, King Kong vs. Tarzan is neither a prequel or sequel, but when I call an interquel. It takes place between the time Kong is knocked out by gas bombs and his debut on Broadway, leading up to his tragic finale. It’s a King Kong story first and foremost, with the familiar cast of characters who are beloved by millions. I’m referring to filmmaker Carl Denham, Captain Englehorn, First Mate Jack Driscoll, and the lovely Ann Darrow. Tarzan serves as the heroic catalyst, not the primary protagonist.
How does Kong wind up in Africa? Or is it Tarzan that winds up on Skull Island?
King Kong vs. Tarzan tells the previously untold saga of how the beast-god of Skull Island is conveyed from his home to his tragic fate. It’s about the struggle to keep him alive during the time he’s kept chained in the holder of a cargo steamer which has the misfortune to encounter trouble off the African coast. Kong escapes, then makes his way to land. That sets the stage for us fateful encounter with Tarzan of the Apes.
I considered writing a Tarzan on Skull Island novel, but it just didn’t feel right to me. There’ve been plenty of Tarzan and King Kong stories where they battled dinosaurs to the death. I wanted to do something different. Here, King Kong becomes a stranger in a strange land, a wounded and hunted tragic figure. As he struggles for survival on the Dark Continent, he becomes a menace that Tarzan has to vanquish somehow. So his role is very different from what we are used to.
Of course, there’s also the problem that the crew of the cargo freighter have. They need to recapture Kong and get him back to New York City. Although we know how that story turned out, it is the conflicts between Tarzan, the crew, and Kong himself that provide for a dramatic and exciting story.
I notice that you have written several new novels about Doc Savage. Do you plan on continuing with Tarzan as well?
I don’t have a second Tarzan novel planned. The Edgar Rice Burroughs people have asked me to write another one. Of course, I’d be thrilled to continue the Adventures of Tarzan. But I want to come up with the storyline that’s worthy of the character. One of the reasons I set Tarzan: Return to Pal-Ul-Don during World War II was so we could see Tarzan in the new role, that of a Royal Air Force fighter pilot. I like the idea of showing Tarzan’s wartime service. But putting him in the city might also be interesting. The jungle defines the character. But sometimes I wonder if the character could be more deeply explored by taking him out of the jungle. After all, how many lost cities and dinosaurs does the ape-man need to encounter?
Like Sherlock Holmes, Tarzan appears to enjoy periodic resurgences of public interest. What, in your opinion, is Tarzan's appeal?
Tarzan is an amazing character. He’s probably the first multimedia sensation of the 20th century. Not long after his creation, he found himself being adapted for movies, radio, books, and later, television.
I suppose the appeal is similar to that of Conan the Barbarian––primitive man at his most formidable. He’s opposite of most modern heroes. People love Sherlock Holmes for his intellectual prowess, James Bond for his cool, sophisticated cunning. Tarzan is the reverse. He’s a man of might and muscle. He lives by his wits and his physical strength. Whether you live in the city, or on a farm or a small town, you’re a prisoner of your environment. Tarzan is a master of his environment. That’s very appealing. In some respects, he may be the first proto-superhero, although it’s difficult to define the term prior to Superman. I guess you could Tarzan is a little bit like a super-Robin Hood, who was master of his home forest. Although Tarzan has often been imitated, he remains a unique figure in his originality and his intriguing split personality––noble man and savage half-ape.
Maybe Tarzan represents the ultimate in human evolution within a natural environment. But I would like to think he’s just cool....