Wrestling With Literature
By: James Hold
A prehistoric caveman is discovered in a block of ice and, after thawing, finds success as a professional wrestler. Disappointed with the decadence of the modern world, he shuts himself in a freezer, leaving behind a note requesting they not thaw him out again until a more respectable time.
Whoa, what's this? The plot for the next Duane Johnson movie? A proposed story treatment for the Big Show? No, it's "The Resurrection of Jimber-Jaw," a 1936 short story by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs was a huge wrestling fan and often wrote about attending arena matches in his non-fiction articles. There's even a chapter in Tarzan of the Apes, titled "Man's Reason," in which the young Tarzan, fighting the great ape Terkoz, stumbles upon the application of the full-nelson and uses it to make Terkoz submit. (So much for all those critics who thought Ken Patera and Chris Masters had weak finishers!)
For some reason, writers today have backed away from using wrestling moves in their stories. I suspect it's laziness on their part that they stick with describing the hero's rock-hard fists and a solid right to the jaw. How boring! Especially when a few simple (and legitimate) grappling holds could add an element of variety to a fight scene.
Things weren't always this way. Back in ancient times, wrestling was a respected part of a hero's repertoire. The Greek hero Theseus is credited as the founder of Pankrateon, the ancient grappling sport from which modern-day Pancrase evolved. Theseus used his wrestling skills to defeat the Minotaur. Hercules too, in the course of his Twelve Labors, was involved in many wrestling matches. The First Century poet Statius, describing Herc's fight with Antaios, tells how he lifted Antaios off the ground and then "…suddenly he set him back down and landed him on his side, and following the prostrate man encircled his neck with his right arm and his groin with his feet." [Statius, Thebaid IV]. All of which sounds very much like an Angle slam followed by a rear naked choke. Admittedly, the idea of Kurt Angle as a Greek scholar is a bit out there, although one can imagine Chris Masters reading Tarzan.
Arguably the most famous wrestling match of early times involved Jacob's struggle with an angel. As told in Genesis, chapter 32, Jacob, whose Hebrew name actually meant "heel," wrestled the angel all night (talk about your iron-man matches!), at last catching him in a hold that the angel could not break, although the angel did manage to injure Jacob by striking his hip joint with his free hand. (The Bible never says exactly what that unbreakable hold was, but given the angel had only one free hand with which to mount an offense, I'd go with Sgt. Slaughter's Cobra Clutch.) That match resulted in Jacob's face turn as he changed his name to Israel, "for I have struggled [wrestled] with God and seen him face to face."
Wow! And to think there are still people out there who say it all goes back to the days of Gorgeous George.
So, what happened? Why did modern writers abandon wrestling? Or if not abandon, tone it down considerably.
Was it the stigma of wrestling being "fake" as opposed to boxing being "pure"? Or was it just easier to write about a straight right jab as opposed to describing the application and effects of an overhand wristlock?
During the pulp era of the 1930's there were magazines specializing in fight stories. These did feature an occasional wrestling story, usually presented humorously with the protagonists as dumb oafs. However, the majority of fight stories concerned themselves with boxing.
Not that they were all bad. The Sailor Steve stories of Robert E. Howard were wonderfully entertaining and funny; with much of the action taking place either prior to or immediately following his protagonist's bouts. Did Vince McMahon read Robert E. Howard to get the idea of skits between matches? Probably not, since it is an established fact that McMahon (with a little help from Hulk Hogan) created everything that has anything to do with the modern day product.
So what is a poor reader to do who wants to read action stories but is tired of the same old boring fisticuffs?
Well... With all due modesty may I suggest my own Out of Texas book series about a cat-turned-human who finds employment as a professional wrestler? It's a mixture of action, science fiction, humor, parody and more all set against the backdrop of a struggling professional wrestling promotion. The entire series, now in its sixth installment, is available in Amazon Kindle format, by clicking this link, for the very reasonable price of 99 cents each. Check one out and see what you think.
When not contributing to When It Was Cool, James Hold sits around the house listening to psychedelic-garage-surf music while watching Japanese monster movies. His articles have appeared in many top magazines, "a" and "the" being the most popular.