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Dumbing down pulp heroes

The stereotypes:

Frankenstein's monster is a shambling moron; Conan is a mighty-thewed violent barbarian in a loincloth; and Tarzan is an ape-man whose great intellectual accomplishment is "Me Tarzan, you Jane."

The realities:

The Creature is a brilliant and eloquent autodidact; I'm told Conan is a mighty-thewed barbarian who wears as much armor as he can get, is fairly smart and cunning, and becomes something of an intellectual as King of Aquilonia in his later life; and Tarzan teaches himself to read and write English solely from books (bootstrapping from children's primers and an illustrated dictionary) despite having no human spoken language at the time, his first one of which will be French, learned as an adult. He also becomes an intellectual omnivore when finally dragged off to civilization.

On the flip side, I'm not sure people remember Sherlock Holmes's physical side: he was quite athletic and a master of I think jiu-jitsu.

Seems as if up into the early 1900s heroes (or even interesting villains) were accepted or even expected to be well-rounded if not superhuman in both brains and brawn, but after that separation occurred, with rare exceptions like Khan Noonian Singh -- but his very well-roundedness is a threat, that of "eugenics". Or Batman, but he both has old roots and isn't that strong in a superhero context. Or Adrian Veidt, but he's a deliberate throwback.

If you're wondering what brought this on, the answer is that I followed A Princess of Mars with Tarzan of the Apes by the same author.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/400653.html#comments


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 24th, 2014 08:52 pm (UTC)
The recent Guy Richie-Robert Downey films have reintroduced the athletic Holmes at the same time that the Bryan Singer-Hugh Laurie series introduce a lame Holmes, though House is shown to be rather athletic in inclination during times he is not hampered by the chronic pain.
Jul. 26th, 2014 04:25 pm (UTC)
Sherlock Holmes was stated to be a master of "baritsu", which was, most likely, a (possibly intentional) misspelling of bartitsu. Bartitsu was developed in the late 19th century by an Englishman by the name of Barton-Wright, and it includes techniques from specific lineages of jiu-jitsu and judo, and also some Western arts and disciplines, including boxing, savate, a particular canne de combat style of Swiss origin, Schwingen, and, according to bartitsu's founder, some stiletto techniques he learned from recognized masters.

The club where it was taught closed in 1902, after only about five years of operations, but the instructors Barton-Wright had hired (including the jiu-jitsuka and judoka instructors and the Swiss man who'd developed the canne de combat system) went on to start their own (separate) schools in London instead. Bartitsu was more or less dead up until 2001, when someone discovered Barton-Wright's published articles in some archives and reprinted them; it's now got a growing following, as I understand it, thanks in no small part to the Sherlock Holmes connection.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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