TARZAN CHESS SET

John "Bridge" Martin

From a post at erb-list:


You remind me that, a few years ago, I was seeing ads for various theme chess sets, all very expensive. There was a Civil War set (oops! Forbidden topic!), a Looney Tunes set, a Simpsons set, and I think a Star Trek set. That gave me an idea for an article I wrote for ERBapa 25, Spring 1990.

I illustrated the article with a photo I took of a four-inch Dakin Tarzan and various animal figurines, sitting on a chess board.

The article, slightly edited and updated:


We know from "The Chessmen of Mars" that Edgar Rice Burroughs played this challenging, sometimes aggravating, game. And we know from the story in that book of the wonderful version of that game, the Barsoomian gameof Jetan, sometimes used with live players who battled to the death just for possession of a square.

Well, if we enjoy playing Martian chess, what about regular chess with a Tarzan Chess Set?

It seems "they" have a chess set for just about eveything else. A few years ago you could hardly open a Sunday newspaper magazine without seeing an ad for the Civil War Chess Set or the Frederick Remington Chess Set. I used to see Renaissance Chess sets in the stores. Our local radio station even had a humor tape it played occasionally which offered, with tongue in cheek, the "Dead Rock Stars Chess Set," featuring such figurines as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and, yes, even Paul McCartney!

What if ERB Inc. licensed someone to market a Tarzan Chess Set? Which of the Tarzan series characters would be used for each of the pieces? It's always fun to speculate, so that's what I started doing. They may never make a real Tarzan Chess Set, but with a little bit of imagination, one could probably make one out of items found around the common household. Well, around the common ERB fan's household, anyway.

Here's my idea of what such a Tarzan Chess Set would be like:

THE KING:

The choice for the king in the chess set is both logical and frustrating. There is only one King of the Jungle, and that's Tarzan. But, he must be so limited! The king in chess can move just one space at a time in any direction. He must be protected at all times by the other pieces, as his checkmate means his side loses the game.

Is this what we expect of our Tarzan? To move one cautious step at a time while depending on Jane, the Waziri, and others to keep him out of trouble? Of course not. Yet, this is the dilemma we face for it is not appropriate for Tarzan to be anything less than king, either.

I resolved the dilemma this way: Tarzan, of course, is the king piece. But the real king, the real controller of the game, is the player himself. He is the king behind the king. Thus, he controls not only the king piece, but all his other pieces as well. This is more like Tarzan. I can live with that. When I play Tarzan Chess, I'm Tarzan!

Now, if Tarzan is the king piece on, say, the white side, then who is the black king? In chess, that's no problem; he's just another king, an enemy. But we can't have two Tarzans, can we? And if there were, they wouldn't fight each other, would they?

Come to think of it, ERB did create some situations like that. We have Esteban Miranda, the Tarzan imitator who appeared in "Tarzan and the Golden Lion" and "Tarzan and the Ant Men." Of course, he was a poor imitation, wasn't he? Factory-made arrows, of all things! He's not really a worthy foe for Tarzan, but I think he's the best we can do. Anyway, in chess, white is considered the more powerful color since white always moves first and, among expert players, that is often the only advantage they need to go on and win. So, Tarzan can be the king of the white side and Miranda, because he is at a disadvantage anyway, can be king of the villains.

THE QUEEN:

There is only one logical choice for the white queen, and a worthy one she is. Who else but Jane of the Jungle? Jane, the city-bred girl who eventually turned into a real tiger in the African jungle. She could make her own weapons, hold her own against enemies, take to the trees and hunt game like Tarzan, and still look beautiful. The queen, in chess, is the most powerful piece. She can move any number of squares in any direction she wants. This is Jane at her best.

But who will the black queen be? Flora Hawkes and Nemone come to mind as some female "villains" that Tarzan has faced. Or, at least, they were villains at times. No woman really stays mad at Tarzan all the time, does she?

But I have to nominate La of Opar, the High Priestess of the Flaming God, as my choice for the black queen. True, she really loved Tarzan, too, but that only makes her a more worthy opponent of the white queen, Jane, her rival in love. And hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Remember this scene from chapter XIII of "Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar"?"

"Your answer!" insisted La. "What is your answer to the love of La of Opar?"

...As La looked wide-eyed into Tarzan's face, there to read her fate for happiness or heartbreak, she saw an expression of concern shadow his features. Now, for the first time, she guessed the meaning of Tarzan's shrill scream -- he had summoned Tantor, the elephant, to his rescue! La's brows contracted in a savage scowl. "You refuse La!" she cried. "Then die!"

If La couldn't have Tarzan, then nobody would. Luckily for La, Tarzan stuck around to help her out in a couple more books. But for the purposes of the Tarzan Chess Set, we'll let her stay on the dark side.

THE BISHOPS:

Each chess side has two bishops. Both move only diagonally, any number of spaces they can. One bishop spends the entire game only on the black squares, the other travels only on the lighter-colored spaces. The bishop is a powerful piece, but his confinement to either black or white (or red, if that's the way your chess board is) squares limits him somewhat. So, for the jungle character to represent the bishop, I choose Tantor the elephant. He is big, strong and powerful. He he has limited intelligence. He can rescue a tied-up captive, but he can't undo the knots. Tantor is also the choice for the black side, representing the bull elephant in his madness brought on by the mating season. In this condition, he is no friend of Tarzan.

The two elephants on Tarzan's side both will have a monkey riding on their broad shoulders. One of the monkey's name is Nkima and the other is known only as Manu, which is the name by which we knew Nkima before his name was revealed. The black elephants do not have monkeys because they plucked them off with their trunks and trampled them to death!

THE KNIGHTS:

"In days of olde, when knights were...gold," as in The Golden Lion, that is. Yes, Jad-Bal-Ja, Tarzan's ever faithful ferocious feline, gets the nod for the role of knight in this chess game. The knight in chess is a crafty piece. He moves one space straight and one space diagonally; you could call it an "L" shape. He is great for sneaking up on your opponent unawares. And it is not difficult to be surprised by the enemy's knight, either. Doesn't that sound like the tactics of a lion?

Jad-Bal-Ja is one of the lions on Tarzan's side. the other lion represents the two lions Tarzan had a truce with in "Tarzan the Untamed." One was called Numa of the Pit and the other one didn't have a name, that I recall. The lions on the black side represent all of the unfriendly lions that Tarzan encountered during his career. One can be called Belthar, Nemone's lion, probably the most awesome enemy lion Tarzan ever faced. Other lions merely wanted to eat Tarzan, but Nemone told the ape-man that Belthar just plain didn't like him!! The other black lion can represent all those other lions.

THE ROOKS:

The rook, or castle, as the less-enlightened refer to it, is considered the most powerful piece next to the queen. It cannot move diagonally, as the queen can, but can move as many spaces as it wants, north, east, south or west and, unlike the bishop, has the capability of maneuvering to any of the board's 64 squares. It also has a function in a move called "castling," in which extra protection is given to the king.

The rooks on Tarzan's side must be his Waziri, the faithful tribe members who followed Tarzan throughout his adventures. How often did we read of 50 ebon warriors with their white head plumes waving as they ran single-file through the jungle in response to a need of Tarzan? No Greystoke estate, nor Tarzan Chess Set, can be complete without them.

The rooks on the black side must be villains, and we have many to choose from. Two of the nastiest and most well-known are Nikolas Rokoff, who relentlessly hounded Tarzan and Jane through "The Return of Tarzan" and "The Beasts of Tarzan," and his partner in crime, Alexander (Alexis) Paulvitch, who stuck around to make trouble in "The Son of Tarzan." Blacker villains than these are hard to find and they get the nod as the rooks to oppose Tarzan.

THE PAWNS:

Pawns in a chess game are important, but expendable. Pawns are valuable in planning strategy; an enemy makes a mistake if he doesn't take them into consideration in planning his attack. but they can certainly be sacrificed far more easily than any of the other pieces. Tarzan's pawns are the great apes. He loved the hairy people he grew up with but it is true that, intentionally or not, they were often but pawns in the Tarzan adventures. The black guys? Their pawns can be the half-human half-ape wild men of Opar, the pawns of La.

I first thought about this a few years ago, but still have not collected all of the pieces I need to make the 16 pieces for each side of the chess board. Tarzans are fairly easy to come by, as are female figurines, and so are mangani, lions, elephants and native figures. But men of Opar seem to be in short supply. Well, all it takes is a little imagination for one determined to build such a set, and then it's: 1. e4 ...

Do you agree with my choices for which characters should represent which chess pieces? Or, do you think other characters should be represented instead of, or in addition to, those mentioned? Would you find a place in your chess set for Paul D'Arnot? For Korak and Meriem? Terkoz? Would Nkima rate his own piece instead of sharing one with Tantor?

Whatever you decide...yes...you, too, can own and operate your own Tarzan Chess Set.