by Jimmm Kelly
reviewing the green mansions
GREEN MANSIONS [A Romance of the Tropical Forest]–the novel by W.H. Hudson. Published in 1904.
The original GREEN MANSIONS is not the story of Rima, but of her lover and faithful admirer, Abel. The novel is told (except for the epilogue) by Abel in the first person. We cannot see the world but through his eyes. His insight, as well as his ignorance, informs what we experience through the course of the novel. While there are moments of high adventure, most of the novel is composed of these two elements: observation and reflection. While not didactic, there is a philosphy at work throughout the narrative.
Abel is a flawed human being, but he is trying as best he can to be a better person. Rima effects the greatest change in his character, but even her influence is not enough to guide him toward a higher state of being. He must experience hardship and loss for these changes to be etched in his soul. And even after he has gone through many tragedies, he is still an unfinished work. Rima remains above him in this regard–just as the other characters are beneath. At least, from Abel’s perspective this is how it appears. He has some racist attitudes toward the native people he encounters–which would not have been unusual for their time–but it’s impossible to know if the author shares in the same prejudices as his narrator.
Born in Argentina, in 1841, William Henry Hudson studied the native flora and fauna of South America and published a paper on the ornithology for the PROCEEDINGS OF THE ROYAL ZOOLOGICAL SOCIETY. His close observations of nature are ever present in GREEN MANSIONS. By his mid-thirties, Hudson had relocated from South America to a life in England, where his writings would eventually contribute to the back-to-nature movement of the early 2oth century. There’s a memorial to W. H. Hudson in Hyde Park, with a sculpture of Rima by Jacob Epstein.
Abel is a 23 year old Hispanic, fleeing Caracas, Venezuela, after a revolution has put his side out of power (and deprived him of his property). His flight takes him into the untamed land of Guayana where he encounters a tribe of natives led by their chief, Runi. The natives stay away from a specific forest, which they believe to be protected by the Daughter of the Didi. The Didi in South American legend is like a Yeti or a Sasquatch, but in the novel the Didi seems to be more like a female deity to Runi’s tribe. They believe that the Didi mated with a man and Rima was the result. Abel, however, does not believe in such superstitions and braves the forest where he encounters Rima.
Rima is described in conflicting terms. Not white not brown not dark hair not light hair, multi coloured, nebulous. When she is in the wild, she wears a gown spun from a spider’s web, and she communicates through a bird-like language. Yet she lives, some of the time, in a hut with Nuflo, who is called her grandfather. Nuflo seems to be half European and half African. When with her grandfather, Rima appears more human, wearing a cotton dress and speaking in Spanish.
Rima is presented as a survivor of a lost race of human beings, different from any of us today. Better than the Europeans or the indigenous people, she is small of stature, but endowed with physical strength, speed, agility and stamina. Only seventeen (or so), Rima has lived most of her life only with old Nuflo. Her encounters with Abel awaken new emotions in her that both disturb and delight her.
While her people may have pre-existed other humans, Rima is also presented as the ultimate destiny of humanity. The novel promotes her vegetarianism and harmony with the natural world as an aspirational goal for all to achieve in the distant future. However, there is a deep pessimism and even fatalism that threads through the whole novel. Time and again, human beings fail to do what is good and right and every other character is deeply flawed, drawn to commit desperate actions for base reasons.
It’s a question whether Hudson truly believes that humanity will come out of its darkness into the light.
CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED 90 [HRN 89]–1st printing
December ’51 (Gilberton Company, Inc.)
—GREEN MANSIONS by W. H. Hudson
(script: George Lipscomb; art: Alex A. Blum)
cover painting: Alex A. Blum
As an adaptation of the novel, The CLASSICS ILLUSTRATED version of GREEN MANSIONS is the most faithful of all the adaptations. However, the all-ages comic holds back on some of the more challenging details, while page limits restrict the amount that the story can be fleshed out. As such, though the reader gets the gist of the story, the totality of the novel’s message is not delivered. As with the other adaptations, the story stops short before describing Abel’s return to civilization.
The comic book is written at a grade school reader level, although it does have some scenes of violence. The art lacks some authenticity. The “Indians” are like all other native people you would see in funny books back then. The portrayal of Rima is too civilized. And Nuflo’s so-called hut looks more like an English cottage.
The comic book includes a one page text on William Henry Hudson which serves as a good overview of his life and work.
GREEN MANSIONS (’59)–the movie directed by Mel Ferrer. Starring Audrey Hepburn and Anthony Perkins, with Lee J. Cobb, Henry Silva, Sessue Hayakawa.
A box-office disappointment, Ferrer’s filmed version of GREEN MANSIONS has good intentions, but usually falls short of what it attempts. Some of the movie was filmed in Venezuela and the original intention was to use those locations for the bulk of the picture. However, this proved to be impractical, and so most of the movie had to be filmed on a sound stage in Hollywood. Anthony Perkins and Lee J. Cobb are the best cast actors, even though they don’t look South American. Perkins does what he can, but the script can’t decide who it wants Abel to be. Is he a cowboy-adventurer or a naive youth? A coward or a man’s man? A hero or an anti-hero?
As Audrey Hepburn was Mel Ferrer’s wife at the time, it’s questionable why she was cast as Rima. She does have that ethereal quality of the jungle goddess. But it’s hard to believe her as a wild child. Hepburn looks too civilized. And yet the movie even fails to show her off her in good fashion. She looks dowdy in her formless, cotton dress. And unlike other jungle girl stars, Hepburn doesn’t do a lot of jumping and running.
The structure of the plot has Rima arriving like a goddess when Abel first sees her, then acting like a helpless child for the better part of the movie, before returning to her goddess nature at the very end. Hepburn was thirty years old when they shot the movie–much older than seventeen (the age of Rima in the novel)–however, she could pass for a teenager. Anthony Perkins was twenty-seven, only four years older than Abel in the novel, and Perkins always played younger.
Sometimes the movie wants to be a western. This extends to the casting of the “Indians.” The two prominent native roles are played by Henry Silva as Kua Ko and Sessue Hayakawa as Runi. Henry Silva, a white man in “red face,” was born in Brooklyn, New York, and he towers above the rest of the people in his tribe. Sessue Hayakawa is Japanese.
Brazilian composer, Heitor Villa-Lobos had been commissioned to do a full score for the movie, but he was unhappy with the finished result and turned his score into a cantata, FOREST OF THE AMAZON (FLORESTA DO AMAZONAS). Ultimately, the score for the movie was completed by Bronsilau Kaper.
The movie features the “Song of Green Mansions” (music by Kaper, lyrics by Paul Francis Webster) sung by Perkins. While it feels like this was just jammed into the movie, in hopes that a song on the hit parade would attract movie goers, it does actually fit with Abel’s character from the novel, who does play the guitar and compose various songs.
RIMA, THE JUNGLE GIRL Nos. 1 (April-May ’74) – 7 (April-May ’75), published by DC (National Periodical Publications)
–issues 1 – 4 adapt GREEN MANSIONS
(layouts: Joe Kubert; script: Bob Kanigher; finished art: Nestor Redondo)
covers: Joe Kubert
The adaptation of GREEN MANSIONS in the first four issues of RIMA, THE JUNGLE GIRL is a sum total of 58 pages–more than the 44 pages in CLASSIC ILLUSTRATED 90–yet the CI version packs a lot more plot into its pages. DC’s RIMA effectively contracts the long novel into a short story. Beginning in media res, the comic book reorganizes the narrative so that each of the four chapters has its own point. The big old tree in the forest, seen several times in all four parts, works as a central motif throughout.
The ending is necessarily weak, because this adaptation can’t bring everything to a close. RIMA is supposed to be an ongoing title, so the two main characters must continue to live in the forest together. Of course, as the title only lasted seven issues, in hindsight it might have been better to spread the whole story over seven issues to achieve a satifying resolution in the final issue of the run.
The second issue also has a text page written by assistant editor, Allan Asherman: The Riddle of the Didi. Written as though the legend of Rima were real, the text helps support the main narrative in the stories.
There’s another text page by Asherman in the seventh issue–Jungle White Men: Fact or Fiction? This one is based in real world facts, on reports of a white-skinned tribe of natives in Brazil–presumably to back up the Rima legend. But Hudson’s version of Rima wasn’t meant to be a member of the European white race–she was totally apart from modern humanity–the surviving link to another race of beings.
For more on the comic book see
the blog: MORE R ‘n’ R IN EDEN
the checklist: 3 Faces of the Goddess
Rima, the Jungle Girl also appeared on a few episodes of the Saturday morning cartoon show: Hanna-Barbera’s THE ALL-NEW SUPER FRIENDS HOUR, in ’77 – ’78
. . . and in issue 4 of DC’s FIRST WAVE (November 2010); however, these versions of the character are removed in time and in purpose from the events in GREEN MANSIONS and don’t really qualify as adaptations of the novel.
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