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Entries in Edgar Rice Burroughs (15)

Wednesday
Oct222014

The Great Tarzan Adventure #9: Tarzan and the Golden Lion

With Tarzan and the Golden Lion, Burroughs has taken his most famous creation about as far from his original conception as he could probably get it.  (So far, anyway.)  Whereas Tarzan of the Apes was a kind of Victorian romance a la Kipling, this ninth volume has our hero rushing head-long into unabashed Howard-esque pulp.  Not only does he take us back to the lost kingdom of Opar, but he also plunges us into another, even more fascinating one.    There’s an okay deception plot that involves a Tarzan look-a-like, and lots-o-stereotyped characters (some uncomfortably so).  And there’s a trained lion – hence the title.  Burroughs is definitely plaed on his strengths here – his rich imagination.  While not without flaws, this book is definitely one worth reading. 

Okay, here’s what a liked (along with some SPOILERS):

The Valley of the Diamond:  This was incredible.  I adored the lost world in the last book: the mysterious land, the swamps, the city.  But there was something about this one that really spoke to me.  I think it was the description of the city itself which reminded me of passages from the early John Carter books.  Africa is presented as a fantastic realm, and it works perfectly within the pulp genre. 

Here’s a sample:                                                                                                                     

The building within the enclosure was of great size, its different parts appearing to have been constructed at various periods, and each with utter disregard to uniformity, resulting in a conglomeration of connecting buildings and towers, no two of which were alike, though the whole presented a rather pleasing, if somewhat bizarre appearance. The building stood upon an artificial elevation about ten feet high, surrounded by a retaining wall of granite, a wide staircase leading to the ground level below. About the building were shrubbery and trees, some of the latter appearing to be of great antiquity, while one enormous tower was almost entirely covered by ivy. By far the most remarkable feature of the building, however, lay in its rich and barbaric ornamentation. Set into the polished granite of which it was composed was an intricate mosaic of gold and diamonds; glittering stones in countless thousands scintillated from facades, minarets, domes, and towers.                     

                                                                                                                   

I also stumbled upon a map on the net that shows the locations of many of the lost civilizations Tarzan encounters, which only adds to the fantasy elements to these tales – just like every other modern fantasy book you open.  This one has art by Clifford Bird, and it is marvelous.

A Race of Intelligent Gorillas: The lost civilization in the last book was great with its monkey-men and all, but this time out, we have city of intelligent gorillas who use humans as slaves.  I couldn’t help but wonder what role, if any, that these chapters played in the origins of Grodd and the city of super-intelligent apes in DC comics.  These weren’t like Grodd but it was a nice planet-of-the-apish reversal and seemed very appropriate for the Lord of the Jungle to encounter.

Jad-bal-ja, the Golden Lion:  Finally!  Tarzan’s cruelty streak is gone.  And for once, instead of killing a pride of lions, he nurtures and trains one.  The lion made a magnificent faithful companion, and I do hope to see more of him in later volumes. 

And my didn’t likes:

The Stereotypes:  The Europeans were about as stereotypical as you could get.  They actually resembled bad caricatures more so than characters in a way.  I found this quite uncomfortable at times, while I suppose they were supposed to be funny, I found them embarrassing.

But they were as uncomfortable as what’s next.

Racism:  It raised its vile head again.  Mostly in the language and actions of the Europeans.  I suppose some will claim it was the time in which the story took place or even the times in which Burroughs wrote.  Does that make it right either way?  That’s a tough call, because while I will go on record as saying The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the greatest American novels written, the exaggerated characterization and the language in this book made me cringe at times.  But that’s a whole other debate.

Tarzan and the Golden Lion was by far my favorite so far, despite its flaws.  Here Tarzan has reached the epitome, if not surpassed, Burroughs’s other pulp creations.  Tarzan is John Carter of Africa ; he is David Innes. Burroughs has dropped many of the “savage” characteristics that he introduced in the first volume.  As the stories became more pulp, however, they do seem more out of place.  The Lord of the Jungle emerges in these middle volumes, one that is more like a sword-sorcery hero.  His nobility and code of honor distinguish him within Burroughs’s jungle world, which has become just as fantastical and mysterious as Howard’s Hyperborea or even Burrough’s own Barsoom or Pellucidar.  This is the Tarzan that most media seems to have been based upon, and I’m good with that.  I like this Tarzan best.

I’m going to take November off for NaNoWriMo.  I’ll be picking up volume 10, Tarzan and the Ant Men, toward the later part of the month probably, so I’ll be posting in mid to late December.  Feel free to leave comments or throw a topic in to discuss.  I do believe there’s lots here –good, bad, and ugly – worthy of it.

See you soon!

Sunday
Sep282014

The Great Tarzan Adventure #8: Tarzan the Terrible

Let me say up front that Tarzan the Terrible has earned top ranking as my favorite of the series.  Yep, one finally beat out Beasts.  It has everything I love going for it: a lost world yarn, an undiscovered civilization, and dinosaurs!  This book reads like Burroughs’ imagination unleashed.  (Perhaps that would have been a better name for it!)  While he is referred to as “the Terrible” throughout the book, to me, this is the first time he has truly acted like a Lord of the Jungle.  Tarzan has dropped his cruel streak finally, and we see him acting out of love and fear for Jane, who was abducted in the previous volume.  But we also get to see Tarzan fighting for a sense of what’s right.    

Oh, and then there was another thing I loved about this book, but first I have to say –  *SPOLERS!*

Here’s what I liked:

 

  • Pal-ul-don: I really enjoyed this lost world.  Burroughs described it superbly, with its vast swamped-surrounded jungle, cliff dweller lodgings, and the fabulous walled city.  This is the lost world tale I’ve been waiting for.  Everything is eerily familiar yet strangely different.  I hope to see more of it in future volumes. 
  • The Waz-don and the Ho-don: Theses tribes are the perfect inhabitants for a lost world.  I was very surprised, too, when this “sub-human” folk with their monkey-tails, hands and feet turned out to be quite the opposite.  I don’t know that there’s anything beyond one being white and hairless and the other covered with black fur. I’m sure someone has read something into it.  (And the fact that the whites lived in the city while the blacks lived in the cliff-dwellings.)    I simply enjoyed the experience.  Both were equally intelligent and both had their good and bad traits.  Only in appearance did they differ from the “outside” world.  And tech level, of course.
  • Dinosaurs: Okay, so this was a big selling point for me from the cover.  I wanted a lost valley with dinosaurs.  Well, they were there – things called Gryfs.  These were actually omnivorous triceratops, which was okay, but then there were some kind of giant ape-men who could control them with sticks.  Sort of took the thunder out of them, but they were cool nonetheless.
  • Korak: The Killer returns!  I was so glad to see him again.  Even though he did not officially appear until the end of the book, we have glimpses of a mysterious tracker throughout the story.  I knew it was Korak all along, but it was thrilling to be verified.  Maybe we’ll get to see more of him in the next book (see last paragraph below).

Were there things I didn’t like?  Sure.  The story definitely moved at the pace of plot convenience at times.  Jane was lost, not only in Africa, but in a lost world in Africa.  She’s found in less than two hundred fifty pages.  Not complaining too much since any writer today probably would have done it in three 1000 page volumes at the least.  When Tarzan finds her, takes her away, she’s captured again pretty easily.  Tarzan always meets who he needs to or who can best help him, too.  Again, a minor complaint compared to the sense of wonder Burroughs creates.    

Yep, I really, really liked this one.  Terrible actually read like a fantasy novel.  It was filled with vivid scenes and images, and we have a hero that acts truly heroic.  While the conflict is pretty black and white, it does not diminish the story one bit.  If anything, it highlights the archetypal nature of Tarzan.

Next up is volume 9, Tarzan and the Golden Lion.  I glimpsed over Wikipedia, which stated that this one caps off the story that began in Untamed.  Maybe I just became so enthralled with the thrill ride, but I felt this one ended quite nicely.  Anyway, hope to see you there!

Tuesday
Aug262014

The Great Tarzan Adventure #7: Tarzan the Untamed

There’s a lot to be excited about in ERB’s seventh Tarzan adventure.  Tarzan the Untamed begins as a tale of revenge for the murder of his beloved Jane.  By the end of the story, Tarzan has not only fought the Germans in WWI but has also stumbled upon another lost city. No spoilers there; it’s all on the back cover blurb.  After the disappointment of the last book, I was definitely ready for a change, and this book seemed to offer it.  As you may know, I loved the revenge story of Beasts, and I love me a good lost civilization story.  And how can any story go wrong by throwing in some pulpy war action into the mix.  When all was said and done, I wasn’t thrilled out of my socks, but I was ready to leap into the next volume. 

Without further aideu, here’s what I liked and what I didn’t.  Spoilers beyond this point.

Here’s what I liked:    

The Revenge Story:  I don’t know what it is, but Burroughs does revenge yarns well, with Tarzan anyway.  I suppose it’s because Tarzan doesn’t allow himself to be restrained by “civilized” conceits.  He does what he sees as fitting and just, no matter how bloody the outcome may be.  I think it’s here where we see Tarzan at his most primal.  It’s frightening at times.  I like it.

WWI Story:  Didn’t expect this one, but it was really cool seeing Tarzan fighting the Germans during the Great War.  Of course, this was tied into the revenge tale, but it was very different to me.  I mean, here’s the Lord of the Jungles running through the trenches.  I don’t ever recall trenches in Africa, so this historical elelment is suspect.  I liked it nonetheless.

The Lost City of Xuja:  I really liked this lost world tale.  When Tarzan finds the skeletal remains of what appears to be a Conquistador, I got chills.  And then the city itself was bizzarre and eerie.  When the maniac inhabitants begin wailing for no reason at random times – wow.  Creepy.  Very pulpy, and very much in the vein of the sword and sorcery tradition.  The lions the inhabitant used were cool, too.  The birds . . . not so much.  

Here’ s what I didn’t like so much:      

Lady Spy:  She sort of tied both stories together, and she sort of gave us the “civilized” perspective of watching Tarzan during the course of the novel.  So, I see why she’s there.  I think it was the her-wanting-Tarzan-to-love-her thing.  I knew she wasn’t a German, despite what Tarzan thought.  I guess you could call this the Burroughsian mistaken identity/love/hate relationship that most of his heroes indure in their first books.  Maybe I like her more than I thought . . .

Tarzan’s cruelty: Animals are verocious.  They track, they hunt, they kill.  But they are not cruel.  We’ve seen this streak in previous novels, but now it’s getting old.  He traps a lion and starves it.  You may say, well, it was because he was going to feed a German to it  Well, I say, he trapped the lion well before he thought of feeding it a German. And yeah, he had the lion as a companion – briefly – but it was only after he had beaten into submission. In fact, his cruelty really makes me not like him as a character at times.

Two Tales:  The novel really felt like two different stories.  It was a war story AND a lost world story.  Yes, he pulled them together with Lady Spy, but I think the revenge story could have been played out more along the lines of Beasts.  At least the Xuja story was better, in my opinion, than the previous the Opar story.  In fact, he spent more time in Xuja than he did in Opar in the entire Jewels of Opar novel.    

So there you go.  I liked Tarzan the Untamed.  It had potential, but two-book feel kept it from top honors for me.  That place is still held by The Beasts of Tarzan.  I must say, just looking at the cover of the next entry, Tarzan the Terrible, I am quite pumped.  The end of Untamed, even with the unsurprising revelation that Jane was alive, made me want to jump into the next one, but even more enticing than that - there’s a DINOSAUR on the cover!  Tarzan meets dinosaurs – I’m all in for that one. 

Hope to see you there!

 

Friday
Jul252014

The Great (Missing) Tarzan Adventure #3: The Beasts of Tarzan 

 

I don't know what happened here, but this one did not or was not posted, which is a shame because this is still my favorite Tarzan book so far.   Anyway, here it is . . .

The Beasts of Tarzan is Edgar Rice Burroughs’s third Tarzan novel, and so far, probably my favorite.  The story picks up not long after the events of The Return of Tarzan.  This volume is much slimmer than the previous two, so I was initially worried I would be reading a throw away story.  Instead, I found the story to be much more focused (especially compared with Return), which made the scenes blur by most of the time.  The big surprise to me, however, was the emergence of Jane as a very strong, capable woman.

Here’s the point you’ll want to stop if you haven’t read it yet . . .  Okay, like I stated earlier, the events pick up relatively close to the end of the second book and involves that wiley Russian duo of Rokoff and Paulvitch.  They have escaped from prison and, not content with being free, seek revenge against Tarzan for spoiling their ventures in Return.  You’d think they would know they had been bested by the better man, but this being pulp fiction, you can’t keep a good villain (or two) down.   

Rokoff and Paulvitch kidnap Tarzan’s son but end up with Jane as well.  This lures Tarzan into a trap.  Instead of killing him, however, they want to punish him.  They strand him on an island and tell him they are going to give his son to a tribe to be raised as a cannible and hint at the dire fate his wife will suffer.  Of course, Tarzan isn’t one to succumb to despair.  Thus begins a rescue mission, the likes of which I’d never read or seen before.  Tarzan puts together a ragtag band to rescue/avenge his wife and child.  This army consist of several apes, a panther, and a brave African warrior.  They escape the island and tear into the interior of Africa.  You can probably guess how it all ends, I pretty much had – there’s twenty-one more books, you know – but not how gruesome it would be, nor how Tarzan, and especially Jane, would behave during their adventures.

This novel was relentless, but I mean that in a good way.  By the second page, stuff started happening – that’s when Tarzan finds out about the abduction of his son.  By the second chapter, Tarzan is marooned.  And it just keeps building up.  It was like reading a Liam Neeson movie – one thing after another, but nothing stops our hero.  The only time the narrative drug for me was at the end when some pirates are introduced and we get their entire piratical career.  One of the bigger surprises this time were Jane’s scenes.  When the story cuts to her, the pace doesn’t slow down one bit.  She’s first attempts to save her son, then becomes a victim and finally escapes.  She is not a passive character at all. In fact, she was one of my favorite things about this book.  She truly broke the sterotype.  We see her as a beautiful woman, but also as a motherly one (even when it’s not with her child).  She is also very capable, being brave and strong, especially while standing up to Rokoff and facing the jungle wilderness.  She shows herself to be truly worthy of the title “lady of the jungle.”

The thing I liked most, though, was Tarzan’s ragtag band of soldiers.  One is a warrior from a African tribe.  The others are the titular beasts.  Akut, his ape brothers, and the panther Sheeta tear across the ocean and into the jungle with a ferocity that is startling at times.  These parts of the book were most like the scenes you get in the comics and the cartoon, with the beasts doing Tarzan’s bidding.  While they work for him, he is not their master.  There are times when he knows he has to let them fulfill their animalistic urges – escpecially during the heat of battle.  Tarzan cannot stop Sheeta from killing Rokoff.  (And the only reason he wanted Sheeta to back off was so he could do it himself!) 

Of course, I think it was this book that really made me see that Tarzan is very much the beast here, too.  There is one scene in particular near the end when Tarzan and his crew have fought the pirates.  Jane asks him to spare the pirate leader.  He doesn’t hesistate with his response.  He says “no” and kills the guy.  While the scene made perfect sense, I didn’t expect it.  Gave me chills reading it,  and I had to read it a second time just to make sure what happened actually happened.

Besides the pace, I guess it’s safe to say, the characterization made this book.  Jane and Tarzan really came into their own.  Their actions never felt contrived they way they did sometimes in the earlier books.  I was even fooled by Burroughs with a character.  He was the typical thug in appearance, and even though he helped Jane escape, you’re led to believe it’s for his own purposes.  It’s not.  Good play Burroughs.  Good play. 

Very good book.

This book, as of now, will be the measure by which I judge the other books.  It wasn’t the Victorian Romance of the first book; it wasn’t the globe-trotting thriller of the second.  It was an exciting revenge story that allowed the characters to reveal their true natures – for better and for worse.  I do expect to see the other Russian, Paulvitch back – mainly because I’ve already read the back cover blurb for The Son of Tarzan.  I cannot wait to see if the book holds up to this one.  Hope you will joing me for the next outing.  Look for it toward the end of May. 

 

 

Thursday
Jun192014

The Great Tarzan Adventure #6: Jungle Tales of Tarzan

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!