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Tarzan 2.0? Andy Briggs on reviving literature’s first eco-warrior

17 September 2012 Charlie Kenber

...“every generation has its own Tarzan, mine was Ron Ely”... Following his participation in the recent Chiswick Book Festival, author and screenwriter Andy Briggs talks to Charlie Kenber about his latest projects...

In October it will be the centenary of a world-changing literary figure’s creation: Tarzan. The focus of countless films (it has been adapted for cinema more times than any other novel bar Dracula), Tarzan is one of those timeless characters who everyone knows; however no new book has been published since Edgar Burroughs’ last in 1965. Until now. Andy Briggs, known on the Young Adult circuit for his Hero.com/Villain.net series has this year released the second book in his ongoing Tarzan revival, which brings the character into the 21st century.

So where did the inspiration behind this revival come from? Andy tells us that it was whilst working for the Sci-Fi Channel that the idea first presented itself, on a list of possible revivals, “There was an opportunity to bring [Tarzan] back for a new generation.” The sheer quantity of Tarzan-related literature and filmic offerings is staggering, but the passing of time allows Andy to bring his own take to the character, and to find new relevance. He says, “I realised it is more relevant now than it ever has been. Quite accidentally he was the world’s first eco-warrior: 100 years ago you and I could go off to Africa, bag an elephant and no one would bat an eyelid, but Tarzan protected the endangered rainforest. Now we realise he was on to something. He stands up there with the panda as a conservational icon.” Indeed this level of inspiration has spread to those in the real world, Andy says, from zoologist Dian Fossey to UN Peace Ambassador Jane Goodall.

So whilst this level of inspiration has stayed impressively consistent or even grown since Tarzan’s invention, the dangers he opposes have certainly changed, and Andy has adjusted accordingly in his writings. “When you think back to old Tarzan movies of tribesmen with bones through their noses...all those guys have gone, they’re now replaced with poachers, and illegal loggers. Loggers actively go out and execute people, they are that bad”, he emphasises. The danger of course is in making such messages too prominent, turning off the reader – especially in Young Adult fiction. Therefore in his first Tarzan book, Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy, environmental messages were just a backdrop: “I didn’t want to throw the environmental message down the readers’ throat. First and foremost people need to be entertained. I wanted to write a rip-roaring adventure and subtly put it [the message] in there.”

Andy has written across numerous mediums throughout his career, starting off in television, and it is interesting that he has gravitated towards Young Adult fiction. “It was never deliberate, just probably my mindset”, he tells us. In some ways it happened thanks to his last series of novels, Hero.com/Villain.net, in which the characters discover they can download superpowers from the internet, to be used for good or evil. “I never intended them to be Young Adult books, they just found their way there. I wrote it for me; I think there’s an underlying theme of wish fulfilment.” These books are unique in their handling in that although the two strands (Hero and Villain) tell entirely separate stories, they are interactive. “When one of the villains destroys a power station and the lights go out, they have to go out in the other book as well, but you don’t know why if you haven’t read both.”

One of the main challenges faced by a Young Adult writer is the intense demand for work. Series tend to run to substantial lengths, and each book is expected to be released in relatively quick succession, otherwise the readership loses interest. “I wrote the first four books for Hero.com/Villain.net in one year. It was quite a challenge.” This level of prolificacy demands a new writing methodology, inspired by Andy’s screenwriting past: “I research my books. For Tarzan, I went to Africa: I went to the rainforest, I spoke to researchers. Then I lock myself away for a couple of weeks without emails, without a phone and just write the thing.” Additionally, with eighty-nine films and twenty-six original books in the Tarzan back catalogue, there is plenty of source material available if needed, although for the time being he has been creating brand new stories.

Next year, Andy has a feature film coming out, entitled Legendary. As a writer who has worked across numerous mediums, he can reflect insightfully on film-writing. “With film you’ve got so many constraints or ‘opportunities’” he says, chuckling. “You have notes from all these people...a lot of the time it changes dramatically. We went through possibly fifteen drafts before going back to the earlier ones and starting to rewrite those again.” Novel-writing can be much calmer it seems: “It’s just me and an editor. We can happily argue over a nice lunch... it’s a friendlier way to write. With film you can be there shouting and screaming because that’s all they understand. You have to shout and bang your fists on the table.”

So what can we look forward to over the next year or so? His third Tarzan book will be coming out in the New Year. Entitled Tarzan: The Savage Land it deals with the problem of coltan demand: it’s a resource “needed by our culture, but we’re destroying everything for it.” In addition an animated feature film will be coming to the big screen – it’s nothing to do with Andy, but he selflessly mentions it anyway, “I like any forms of Tarzan getting out there, I’m such a fan. It’s a big 3D movie.” Also towards the end of the year Legendary should be hitting cinemas, whilst Andy has a number of other features in development. As if all of that isn’t enough, Andy has also started writing his first adult novel, promising to be action-packed.

So with plenty to look forward to, and Andy continuing to produce work at a quite astonishing rate, make sure to catch it before he manages to write more!

Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy and Tarzan: The Jungle Warrior are available in bookshops across the UK and online. Tarzan: The Savage Land is set to be released in February 2013.

Image credit: Patrick Trollope, vamphire.com

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