The course of Evolution does not conform to the batrachian sluggishness of your intellect.
William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine
Jungle Tales of Tarzan is the other book I mentioned in review number four that I did not look forward to reading. I had read somewhere it was about Tarzan pre-Jane contact. Maybe I’m just not fond of prequels. (I know or can infer what happened before – so let’s move forward!) I’m at that point where I want to read some things similar to what I’d seen in the movies or comics. I want lost civilizations and strange goings-on. Well, Edgar Rice Burroughs saw fit to do otherwise, and I can’t say that I can complain too much. For those of you who want to read more about Tarzan’s adolescent years, this is definitely the book for you. I would say that it would help to have read book one, but this is a good hopping on point if your just getting here. And if this is your hopping on point, read no further – there be spoilers ahead!
Jungle Tales is actually a collection of twelve short stories that describe some important points in Tarzan’s maturation process. Among other things, he learns about love, loss, justice and revenge, but, most signigicantly, he learns that he is different from the apes – not just physically. I had initially expected the stories to focus on different points in his younger life, but they are really focused on a specific period, but it works because this appears to be a very formative period in his life. Some of the stories address questions I’m sure everyone has considered. For example, “Tarzan’s First Love” describes his love and battle for a female ape; “Tarzan and the Black Boy” describes a desperate attempt to alleviate the loneliness he experienced among the apes. Other stories involved disputes and jokes played on the local tribe. More memorable was “The End of Bukawai” where we see the true nature of man emerge in Tarzan in the form of revenge. Two other memorable stories were “The Nightmare” and “Tarzan Rescues the Moon.” The former details a nightmare, apparently his first, and how that leads Tarzan to distinguish himself from animals by power of imagination. “Tarzan Rescues the Moon” offers some further insight into how he has begun to view the world differently from the apes.
This collection was one of the biggest surprises for me so far in my Tarzan adventure and one of my biggest disappointments. I absolutely loved the short story format with Tarzan. He, like most pulp heroes, work best in this format because it’s more about what they do than who they are. I wondered more than once if The Jewels of Opar wouldn’t have benefited from cutting it down to a novella. Anyway, these are definitely heavy on action. Actually, most tell of one thing Tarzan decides to do and that’s about it. That’s not to say that there is no characterization. Overall, this book may provide the most when the stories are considered as a whole. We see him struggle with loneliness, especially once he loses the ape he loves to another, which leads to his kidnapping of a boy. We also see him begin to understand that he thinks differently from the apes, he can imagine, he understands the passage of time.
Of course, as I stated earlier, I would have liked to have read from different periods in Tarzan’s life. Right when I became excited about reading Tarzan in this form, the tales became less like stories and more like chapters. When I go back to reread Conan or Kane, I pick and choose stories or read them in whatever order strikes my fancy. That doesn’t mean you have to read these in any order, but they are definitely chronological in the book and, I would say, more enjoyable and easier to follow read when read in order. They are definitely connected by time and space, unlike a lot of pulp stories.
Now to the bad. Burroughs disappointed me majorly. I’ve read arguments about his racism, but I always read his work for his stories and imaginations. The racism, what l saw anyway, I attributed to the time in which he lived, like with Howard, Lovecraft, or even Kipling. Is that good or bad? Well, that’s a good debate, and one I’d like to participate in some time, but I digress . . . In Tarzan and the Black Boy, Burroughs presented me with a passage that really bothered, so much so, I had to put the book down and talk to chief Nerdblogger Dan.
Here’s the passage:
But Tibo, the little black boy, lacked the divine spark which had permitted Tarzan, the white boy, to benefit by his training in the ways of the fierce jungle. In imagination he was wanting, and imagination is but another name for super-intelligence.
Imagination it is which builds bridges, and cities, and empires. The beasts know it not, the blacks only a little, while to one in a hundred thousand of earth's dominant race it is given as a gift from heaven that man may not perish from the earth (Ballantine Books, 75).
When I read it, I wanted to think it was the narrator or speaker’s observations, but it’s difficult not to see Burroughs as narrator because of his many intrusions. I even wanted it to be Tarzan’s thoughts because he had a definite grudge against Mbonga’s tribe, and he tended to generalize, especially at this period in his life. But the observations seemed out of character for Tarzan. He was starting to construct thoughts but . . . I guess I’m just rationalizing. It’s there, it’s ugly. There’s really not much more to say. Your thoughts?
Jungle Tales was an odd read for me. I liked it more than I thought I would (but still not better than Beasts), but Burroughs let me down for the first time since I’ve been reading him from all the way back in high school. I sincerely hope that this experience will not taint the rest of this great adventure for me. I still read Howard and Lovecraft with no problems. Anyway, time to move forward with Tarzan the Untamed, which I’ll get to in September. Got to take a break to do some summer reading with my high school students. So if you’ve been thinking about joining, here’s you a wonderful chance to catch up. See you then!