"There are times in life when the most comfortable thing is to do nothing at all. Things happen to you and you just let them happen."
~ James Hilton, Lost Horizon
I know we're never supposed to judge a book by its cover, but who doesn't really? If you don't know the author or what the book's already about, it's the first thing you see, right? It's what makes you pick it up to read the back of it. Just to prove the point, haven't you seen an edition of your favorite book or bought a book based on an author or recommendation and thought to yourself "what a crappy cover !" Covers are important, and a good cover means sales. I've purchased many a book based on the cover, for better and for worse. More importantly, I've been introduced to some of my all-time favorite authors solely based on the covers of three artists: Frank Frazetta, Michael Whelan, and Darrell K. Sweet. There was a time when nearly every cover in the SF & F section of a bookstore had a cover by one of these three gentlemen. They didn't make me want to buy these books; they made me have to buy them.
Frazetta introduced me to Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. No painter, to me, has caputured the savagery and sensuality of barbaric worlds the way Frazetta did with the covers for Ace’s editions of Howard’s Conan stories and Burroughs Pellucidar series. When I picked up my first Burroughs at the Magic Mart way back – it was At the Earth’s Core – I couldn’t get over everything that was going on in that cover. Dian the Beautiful grabs your eye first; she’s the brightest object on the cover, which is mostly browns and muted colors. Then, suddenly you realize there’s some kind of dinosaur thing rising up right in front of you. It’s amazing. And once I finished with Hyperborea and Pellucidar, I met King Kull, Solomon Kane, and John Carter. And these are books I revisit time and again.
Whelan is responsible for my first crush on a fictional character. Her name was Friday, and she was created by the late, great Robert Heinlein. Her eyes were what caught me as I was walking by the books in a department store. When I ours locked, she just drew me inside the world that Whelan had created on the cover. No much to go on. She dominated the scene, but there was a port – like an eye – looking over the Earth. I had to find out who she was and what was going on. After Friday, it was more Heinlein with The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, Starship Troopers, and oodles of others. Later, I discovered Lessa riding Ramoth on the Whelan's cover of Dragonflight. The colors mesmerized me. I bought it, then every Pern book by Anne McCaffrey I could find. Those books have remained a favorite, and tThis past year I began rereading the series. Whelan not only breathes life into characters but can also make the alien appear real. Ace reissued all of H. Beam Piper’s works in the eighties, all with Whelan covers. I picked up Little Fuzzy first, then Federation, then all of them. This list here would be way too long, but other authors I picked up because of Whelan include Michael Moorcock, C.J. Cherryh, and Larry Niven.
Darrell K. Sweet
Sweet holds a special place in my heart. The first copies of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings I read bore his covers. His work on Paul O. Williams’s Peblar Cycle held me spellbound the first time I saw them – they’re just these huge mysterious scenes. Seeing the cover to The Sword of Forbearance gave me chills. I guess the biggies he introduced me to, though, would be the world of Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever and Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni series. This is another long list which includes the likes of Piers Anthony , Terry Brooks, and Lawrence Watt-Evans. Sweet’s covers told stories to me, just enough of a story that I had to buy the book to see what happened around the snap-shot of a tale on the front. His covers were always so grand and majestic.
I must mention two more artists simply because the did get me to buy particular books solely by the art of the cover.
This gementleman is responsible for me buying what turned out to be two favorite books: Robert Silverberg’s Lord Valentine’s Castle and Startid Rising by David Brin. Haven’t read much more than the series tied to these titles, but I was not disappointed. I frequently recommend these books.
Doc Savage. ‘Nuff said.
A lot of the art I see today is nice and all, but it’s just not as disntinctive as the artist who truly compelled me to buy certain books. The art doesn’t move me the way Frazetta or Whelan or Sweet did – or continue to do. These artists made the books practically leap off the shelves into my hands, they brought the books to life in a way the blurb on the back covers never could, and when I began reading the fantastic stories, their images shaped how I saw those characters and those worlds.
So, how about you guys? Who put books into your hands or introduced you to your favorite author? Feel free to add a picture of that special cover to share with the rest of us.
"Mark his perfect self-contentment, and hence learn this lesson, that to be self-contented is to be vile and ignorant, and that to aspire is better than to be blindly and impotently happy."
~ Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: a Romance of Many Dimensions
Having been an Edgar Rice Burroughs fan for over thirty years, I came to the startling realization last year that I hadn’t read any of his Tarzan adventures. I began as a sophomore with Pellucidar, hopped over the John Carter, skipped to Caspak, skimmed around Venus, went to the moon, picked around various other titles here and there, then reread portions of Pellucidar and Mars, but nary a single Tarzan in all those years. Okay, wait, I read Tarzan at the Earth’s Core as part of the Pellucidar series, but I didn’t consider it a Tarzan read at the time. I guess I never really considered Tarzan sci-fi-y enough or not fantasy-y enough, even though I knew he discovered lost cities (and went to the center of the Earth). Hmph, go figure.
Maybe it’s just that I got my Tarzan fix through different media. I grew up with Jonny Weissmuller and Maureen O’Sullivan first on Dialing for Dollars (anybody remember that afternoon quiz show/daily genre movie show?) and now on DVD. I watched every movie adaption that came out from the seventies up through Disney – except for Bo Derek’s. I read the comic books from Gold Key, Marvel and DC and watched the Filmation series every Saturday, even when they crunched him up with the Lone Ranger. I honestly don’t know why I never read the actual novels. Which brings me to the task at hand: THE GREAT TARZAN ADVENTURE!
I am publicly declaring that it is my intent, my mission, my moral obligation as a Burroughs fan, to read the Tarzan stories from beginning to end. I will start at Tarzan of the Apes and end twenty-four books later with Tarzan and the Castaways. I will not include the kiddy Tarzan Twin stories as they are not considered part of the official Tarzan series according to . . . well, most everybody. I will be reading the Ballantine editions from seventies (the really cool black covered ones with the great Neal Adams and Boris Vallejo artwork). I also bought The Complete Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs for my kindle, so I will have Tarzan with me wherever I go.
It’s my intention to read one per month. I’ve already read the first two, so I will post my first review toward the middle of February. I think it would be great to have as many readers participate as possible – that’s why I’m going to wait a bit before I start posting my reviews – and ideally we can get lots of discussions going to examine the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of the Tarzan stories.
So, join me on Nerdbloggers as I plunge into the exciting journey I like to call THE GREAT TARZAN ADVENTURE!