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Quite Quotable

There was the class of superstitious people; they are not content simply to ignore what is true, they also believe what is not true.

Jules Verne, From the Earth to the Moon


Quite Quotable

We each have a moral obligation to conserve and preserve beauty in this world; there is none to waste.

Robert A. Heinlein, Friday


Quite Quotable

Beauty is a luster which love bestows to guile the eye.  Therefore it may be said that only when the brain is without love will the eye look and see no beauty.

Jack Vance, The Dying Earth



Burroughs covers most of the "pulp" bases with this one. Welcome to installment number two of THE GREAT TARZAN ADVENTURE!  This time out, we’ll be examining the good, the bad, and the ugly of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s second Tarzan novel, The Return of Tarzan.  This book marks a significant turn already for the series.  Whereas, Tarzan of the Apes read like a Victorian adventure novel despite its pulp accoutrements, Return strives to be nothing more than it is: a globetrotting story that would give Indiana Jones a run for his money.  Does that make for bad reading?  I suppose it really depends on the reader; it definitely doesn’t for me.  The spoilers are about to be let slipped.  So, if you haven’t read it yet, you’ve been warned.

The Return of Tarzan picks up pretty much where the first ended.  Our protagonist is trying to find his way in the civilized world.  He’s taken up with D’Arnot, his closest “civilized” companion from the first book, who is trying to divert Tarzan’s mood after having sacrificed his love for Jane to ensure she and her father have a happy, comfortable life.  I don’t know that Edgar Rice Burroughs set out to write a novel in the traditional sense with the first book, but here, he plays strictly to his strengths.  There’s social and political intrigue, there are exotic locales and the discovery of a lost world – it’s like all the best ingredients of pulp fiction.  On the other hand, the limitations of pulp are more clearly seen in this volume – there’s limited character development and a less developed plot.     

Before I began reading, I read the back cover where we are told: “After a brief and harrowing period among men, he turned back to the African jungle  . . . It was there he first hear of Opar, the city of gold, left over from fabled Atlantis.”  I was excited, because who does lost city adventures better than Burroughs?  It was only by the time I got to chapter nineteen of a twenty-six chapter book, however, that I was finally getting ready to see Opar.  Now, what was left off the back cover was the story of a Russian agent blackmailing people for information and how Tarzan gets on his bad side.  This story would see Tarzan from the streets of Paris to the deserts of North Africa to the deck of a steamer.  And the best part is that Tarzan himself becomes a secret agent!  Foiled by Tarzan in Paris, the Russian swears revenge that sees him moving and counter-moving against the Lord of the Jungle on two continents.  When Tarzan is tossed off the steamer by the enemy agent and left for dead, the narrative finally returns to the African jungle and to the lost city of Opar.

Now, to say I was disappointed by the late appearance of Opar would be deceiving.  I definitely wanted Tarzan to get there, but all along the way I kept just thinking, “No way – no way!”  If anything bothered me about the book, it was the crazy coincidences that pushed the plot along.  For example, Jane just so happens to take a cruise to postpone her marriage, and when the ship sinks, she ends up on the African coast, in Tarzan’s family’s old cabin no less.  And it just so happened that Tarzan, once dumped overboard, finds himself back at his old haunt as well.  There was more, but those were the icing on the cake.  Yes, it’s incredulous at times, but the thrills and the sense of wonder overshadows its limitations.  The fast and furious pace, plus the vivid scenery and action make it an easy, worthwhile read.

I think it’s justified, too, to say that Burroughs relies on stereotyping in this novel.  The Russians are the conniving villains; Jane is the damsel in distress; the Waiziri are the Noble Savages. Concerning the portrayal of the Arab tribes: the good guys look good, the bad guys look bad.  He utilizes this trope regardless of race. About the only character who shows any sort of growth is our protagonist.  During his initial encounter with the Waiziri, Tarzan is ready to kill one of the tribesman just as he killed in the previous novel, but this time, he waits.  He realizes he is not a savage beast but a man, and that man realizes the Waiziri are men, too. 

On a final note, I would like to pose this question: do you think that the fantasy trope of the primitive men with supermodel women emerges from this book?  The men of Opar are a step or two above the apes, yet the women are slower to devolve.  This image became ingrained in the minds of readers, especially when Frank Frazetta got a hold of it.  That would be an interesting topic to pursue.  Any takers? 

Anyway, that’s all for now.  THE GREAT TARZAN ADVENTURE! will return next month (that will be in late April) with a look at The Beasts of Tarzan.  If you’re just now finding us, look that one up and start there.  Would love to have company along for the ride.  As always, Nerdbloggers would love to hear what you folks have to say.  Feel free post to your heart’s content: agree, disagree, compare/contrast, discuss future reads, or anything.  



Quite Quotable

Science explains the world, but only Art can reconcile us to it.

Stanislaw Lem, "King Globares and the Sages."