Charles Saunders, Conan, Tarzan and Vultures, Oh My

From time to time frequent TGR contributor Charles Saunders jumps in his wayback machine and brings back some gems from the heyday of the Howard Boom. One of these gems is his classic article “A Mouthful of Feathers” that appeared in The Chronicler of Cross Plains #1 in 1978. The article compares the similarities and differences between two giants of adventure fiction — Conan and Tarzan, particularly in a similar scene that appears in “A Witch Shall Be Born” and Tarzan the Untamed. Since Howard did read Burroughs, it is possible that he was inspired by the vulture scene in Untamed when he was writing “Witch.” However, while a copy of Tarzan the Untamed does not appear on Rusty Burke’s “The Robert E. Howard Bookshelf” list, he could have checked it out from the library or borrowed a copy from a friend.

Here are the classic scenes comparing the two heroes taking that un-tasty bite out of the vultures menacing them:

Conan:

In his dulled ears sounded the louder beat of wings. Lifting his head he watched with the burning glare of a wolf the shadows wheeling above him. He knew that his shouts would frighten them away no longer. Conan drew his head back as far as he could, waiting with terrible patience. The vulture swept in with a swift roar of wings. Its beak flashed down, ripping the skin on Conan’s chin as he jerked his head aside; then, before the bird could flash away; Conan’s head lunged forward on his mighty neck muscles, and his teeth, snapping like those of a lion, locked on the bare, wattled neck.

Instantly the vulture exploded into squawking, flapping hysteria. its thrashing limbs blinded the man, and its talons ripped his chest. But grimly he held on, the muscles starting in lumps on his jaws. And the scavenger’s neck bones crunched between those powerful teeth. With a spasmodic flutter the bird hung limp. Conan let go, spat blood from his mouth. The other vultures, terrified by the fate of their companion, were in full flight to a distant tree, where they perched like black demons in conclave.

Tarzan:

Ska, filled with suspicions, circled warily. Twice he almost alighted upon the great naked breast only to wheel suddenly away; but the third time his talons touched the brown skin. It was as though the contact closed an electrical circuit that instantaneously vitalized the quite clod that had lain motionless for so long. A brown hand swept downward from the brown forehead and before Ska could raise a wing in flight he was in the clutches of his intended victim.

Ska fought, but he was no match even for a dying Tarzan, and a moment later the ape-man’s teeth closed on the carrion-eater. The flesh was coarse and tough and gave off an unpleasant odor and a worse taste; but it was food and the blood was drink and Tarzan was only an ape at heart and a dying ape into the bargain … dying of hunger and thirst.

Exciting, but appetite suppressing stuff. If you have the stomach for more, mosey on over to Charles’s website and read the entire post and while you are there, check out Charles’ take on a Conan vs. Tarzan match-up in “Fantasy Superfight: Conan vs. Tarzan.”