Thursday, July 16, 2015

Dinosaurs, Monkey Men and Super Science

Read/Watch 'em In Order #56

We still have one Captain Future novel in queue as part of the In Order series (as well as two more  Perry Mason movies). Normally, I finish a prose or film series in its entirety before moving on. Of course, in Captain Future's case, I was just covering the first five novels in a much longer series, but the general idea still holds.

So I am now risking anarchy, chaos and the downfall of society by discussing a book out of order. As of the day I'm writing this (about two months before it will post), I have not yet read the fifth Captain Future novel. I have, though, read the first of the three Jongor novels by Robert Moore Williams and abruptly realized they'd be a great addition to the In Order series. Thus, we will look at Jongor of Lost Land, then return to Captain Future one last time, then cover the remaining two Jongor novellettes.

Once again, I realize something like this could bring on the Apocalypse, but I'm willing to take that chance.

Jongor of Lost Land (published in the October 1940 issue of Fantastic Adventures) was one of the many, many, many Tarzan knock-offs that were produced during the 1930s and 1940s, when the Lord of the Jungle was at the peak of his popularity. But being a Tarzan knock-off isn't necessarily a bad thing, as long as your Jungle Lord has exciting adventures and is given some notable distinction from the original.

Jongor succeeds in this. He gets his start as a toddler named John Gordon, who pronounces his name Jongor and is awarded this as a nickname by his parents. Getting a Jungle Lord-sounding name is fortuitous when a plane crash strands he and his parents in a remote area of Australia, cut off from the rest of the continent by a range of mountains surrounded by near-impassable deserts.

His parents actually live until he's twelve-years-old, at which point they are eaten by pterodactyls. But Jongor learns to run fast and shoot arrows very quickly and very accurately, so he survives until adulthood.

It's at this point that society girl Ann Hunter enters the valley, looking for her lost twin brother. With Ann is Varsey, a craven coward who is along because he's the last one to see the brother alive, but who will obviously back-stab his own mother to save himself. Less easily understood is the fearless guide Hafner, who seems completely reliable but might just have an agenda of their own.

The trio arrives at the edge of the Lost Land when a disembodied voice urges their native bearers to murder them. Jongor arrives to save them from this and soon after from some hungry pterodactyls. He's not able to do anything, though, when Monkey People fly over in an airship and capture the three outsiders.

The Monkey People are known as the Muros, survivors of a pre-human civilization. They live in an ancient, crumbling city, but have preserved a few bits of their former super-science, such as the airship, a devise that transmits a disembodied voice and a weapon known as the "shaking death" that generates small but powerful tornadoes. Jongor has obtained a bit of their ancient technology for himself--a crystal that allows him to telepathically control dinosaurs.

The Muros want to sacrifice Ann to their sun god, but she gets a chance to make a break for it, then gets rescued again by Jongor. There's a pretty cool fight scene in which the main villain is killed--except it turns out he isn't the main villain after all. Ann and Jongor find Ann's brother, but can not yet escape from the Lost Land. First, they must take action not only to save themselves, but save all of civilization. Fortunately, Jongor comes up with a plan that includes using a dinosaur stampede to attack the ancient city.

No story that includes a dinosaur stampede is all bad. In addition to this, the action scenes are well-written and exciting. And Jongor's origin and personality do differentiate him from Tarzan sufficiently to make him likable in his own right.

What drops Jongor down below the works of writers like Burroughs and Kline is Williams' lack of detail. He just doesn't bother describing things. For instance, Jongor spends some of the story riding a dinosaur, but the creature is only vaguely described. I got the impression that is was a triceratops or another species of ceratopsian. But you can see in the images above what J. Allen St. John came up with for the cover and what the interior artist came up with for his version. Any of these images could fit Williams' sketchy description.

This lack of detail hurts the most when he introduces the Muros. When Burroughs tosses us into a lost civilization, he always gives us enough detail and coherent internal logic to make us believe it really exists. Moore, though, tells us almost nothing about the Muros other than they perform human sacrifice. There's just not enough detail to flesh them out to believable proportions.

That's a big flaw, but Jongor is helped along by its short length--its faults would have been much more in-your-face over the course of a full-length novel. It's a fun read, despite its shortcomings. So we'll be returning to the Lost Land for the two sequels. Like I said, any story that includes a dinosaur stampede is worth a visit.

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