Friday, July 29, 2011

The Big Book of Adventure Stories

Otto Penzler may be the greatest living anthologist. I’ve lost track of how many anthologies he’s had a hand in, but it’s a lot. For those that picked up The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps and The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories you already know his choices are exemplary. He has the knack of combining well known classics with lesser known gems punctuated by the unknown jewel. His choices for The Big Book of Adventure Stories are no exception. The 47 stories represented here encompass the best pulp writers of the last century and include such proven classics as the complete Tarzan the Terrible by Edgar Rice Burroughs – considered by many including myself as the greatest Tarzan novel – along with the first Cisco Kid story by O. Henry, a Zorro story by Johnston McCulley, the first Spider adventure by Grant Stockbridge (AKA Norvell Page), and a Hopalong Cassidy story by Clarence E. Mulford. Those are the better known highlights. Some lesser known gems include The Python Pit by George F. Worts, The Soul of a Turk by Achmed Abdullah, The Green Wildebeest by John Buchan and Black Cargo by Cornell Woolrich.

As I’ve stated in various public forums, no examination of that which we call Literature is complete without due credit given the pulp writers of the golden age. This anthology will go far in bringing attention to the great adventure writers of yesteryear.

The Big Book of Adventure Stories only fault lies in the author profiles that preface each story. These biographical prefaces are poorly written and contain numerous historical inaccuracies. They read like something a High School student mashed together after clipping facts from Wikipedia (AKA Wikicrapia, an overrated on-line encyclopedia). Many of these profiles are travesties masquerading as essays. I was horrified to read that Johnston McCulley’s first Zorro story “caught the attention of Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and Mary Pickford who made it into The Mark of Zorro (1920).” Obviously that would be Douglas Fairbanks SENIOR, and Mary Pickford’s involvement was nominal – her only connection being a founding member of United Artists Studios which released the film, and in being married to the elder Fairbanks. There’s no sense nitpicking the other mixed up facts because overall this is a fantastic collection of adventure stories well worth your time. Just ignore the lame author profiles and enjoy some great adventure stories.

NOTE: the superb cover is by Rafael DeSoto

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