Korak, Son of Tarzan
David "Nkima" Adams
Copyright © 2003
Yes, Tarzan and Jane did have a son, but he was not "Boy" as most people might think from watching the old Tarzan movies. Tarzanís son was given the name, Jack, the sobriquet of John, ERBís avowed favorite name. Tarzanís real name was John Clayton, as was his father Jack Clayton was introduced to the world in ERBís Son of Tarzan, the book with the most information about this character, although he figures prominently (and rather mysteriously) in several other novels as well There has been a long controversy among ERB aficionados about Jack Claytonís birth date since he is mentioned in a later novel (Tarzan the Terrible) as being much older than a strict chronology would allow. However, this essay will leave this hard nut for other teeth to crack.
ERB set himself an interesting task in creating a son for his famous ape-man. He was aware that comparisons with Tarzan would be made by his readers, so in a way he was recreating his most successful character with that stronger one looking over his shoulder. It was inevitable that the Son of Tarzan should resemble his father. In fact, many have claimed that ERB did only create one leading character type -- the physically powerful, silent, noble savage who stood alone against an unfriendly world. Indeed, Tarzanís son turned out to be such a man, and no one was surprised.
The Son of Tarzan is a bildungsroman that follows all the conventions of a tale of education. It was written in 1915 and was closely followed in 1916 by a series of short stories (Jungle Tales of Tarzan) that expand on these themes of youth and growing up into manhood.
Tarzan of the Apes was largely a self-educated man, who even taught himself how to read in the first story of the eponymous hero. In contrast, Tarzanís son was raised in civilization and returned to the wild as a very young child at the age of ten. [ I have always believed that ERB was using the model of Jack Londonís two famous dog stories. In The Call of the Wild, the tame dog, Buck, was raised in civilization and later heard the wild call, whereas his White Fang was a wild wolf-dog who later became a member of polite society. In this respect, Tarzan was the White Fang and his son would be the equivalent of Buck. ERB approached his characters in the opposite order, having written his wild creature story first.]
The Son of Tarzan is one of ERBís most successfully written novels. Much more than a simple rewrite of his Tarzan, he took Londonís well-publicized trick to heart and wrote a challenging tale of a civilized lad raised by an ape called Akut -- one of Tarzanís old friends. There is more than a little of this tale based upon Lamarckís theories about inherited characteristics, yet overall it is convincing and every bit as interesting as his first Tarzan story.
Jack Clayton takes to the jungle as one might expect of the son of Tarzan, and he becomes a strong character in his own right -- a far cry from the misguided handling of the clone-like "Boy" presented in the movies. Jack plunges into a series of adventures that bring him to his new name, "Korak the Killer," given to him by Akut after he kills a man. The apes seem rather appalled that this small thing should turn out to be such a daring and deadly beast. Korak does not give the famous "cry of the bull ape" after his kills, and this silence gives him a darker cast than even his flamboyant father had in the wild. Burroughs later used Korak as a silent, relentless form who traveled through an entire novel to rescue his father and mother. He is truly Tarzanís shadow.
Yet, despite this ominous beginning, Korak does return to civilization and marries his true love, Meriem, whom he met in The Son of Tarzan, and they have a son called Jackie, who appears briefly in Tarzan and the Golden Lion. Like many of his strong characters, ERB did not find a role for him in any of the later Tarzan novels. Burroughs was such a prolific creator of new characters and new worlds that he did not have to fall back on old ones even when they were as good as Korak.
The assumption of the Korak comic books is that Korak had a life of his own in the jungle beyond what ERB told us. However, unfortunately, the Korak of the Komix is based more upon a a rather helpful "guard of the jungle" kind of Tarzan rather than the strong, silent killer ERB invented. Of course, there were comic codes of behavior to consider in this portrayal, so it was not all due to a flagrant betrayal of ERBís intent. The comic stories reflect the political situation in America at the time the particular issues were written and are very interesting social commentaries for this reason, even if they are not dyed-in-the-fur Korak.
October 3, 2003