Monday, October 24, 2011

Bomba the Jungle Boy and the Pizza of Death

Bomba the Jungle Boy, a character invented by the Stratemeyer Syndicate (not a crime family) and published under the pseudonym Roy Rockwood (not a gay porno actor), was a direct imitation of Tarzan (of the Apes). Bomba, a white orphan who grows up under the minimal care of a naturalist named Cody Casson (not Wild Bill) in the jungles of South America feels more kinship with his animal friends than his dark-skinned compadres/enemies and longs to discover the story of his English parents. He meets with many adventures along the way with extreme bravery, dressed in his puma  skin tunic and armed with a razor-sharp knife. Eventually he runs out of dangerous situations in the New World so he ends up getting up to much derring-do in Africa instead.

 Bomba doesn’t so much ante-date Tarzan as he pre-dates Elmo (of the urban jungle) in his actions and speech. “Me Tarzan, you Jane” establishes Lord Greystoke’s pidgin English, but at least he speaks in first-person, therefore demonstrating his awareness of personhood. Bomba, by contrast, generally speaks in third-person: “Bomba is glad,” except for when he feels compelled to demonstrate his origins, when his facility with the language improves spectacularly. There is little charm in the appalling racism, but much in the vocabulary of 1929: they are all going “yonder” and “athwart” and express “jubilation.”

Any recreation of Bomba for contemporary readers would do away with the Imperialist liberties, but what would they do with the plot? In the Swamp of Death, Bomba helps some white men find a red flower whose resin is distilled into a clear liquid (heroin!) — an invaluable medicine which helps Casson regain his shattered mind (in order to recall for Bomba his parent’s story). Casson’s injury was caused by shrapnel from an old rifle he was using to kill an anaconda. Any allusion, veiled or otherwise, to WWI is left unmentioned, though it would be clear to Bomba’s readers in 1929.

 A Tarzan-inspired TV series Zim Bomba features a very fit and articulate American man playing the role of Bomba and in no way replicates the books, in which Bomba is a shy English boy who does not speak like a cowboy gangster. As an act of cinematographic homage, Bomba is played by Johnny Sheffield, immediately recognizable as “Boy” from the original Tarzan films.

The Swamp of Death itself refers to a quicksand bog our intrepid hero finds himself embroiled in. It is a mire of unspeakable gloopiness which sucks you in and smothers you to death. As in all epic journeys, it represents an impossible obstacle only a true hero can traverse. Much like this deep pan pizza.

Fabulous Fry Pan Favorites, Patricia Phillips, National Presto Industries, Inc., 1984

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