Tantor Trumpets - by Ken Webber
ERB-APA #70, Summer 2001
Copyright © 2001
LA, BURROUGHS' TRAGIC PRIESTESS
One of the most memorable characters created by Edgar Rice Burroughs was certainly that of La, Queen of Opar and High Priestess of the Flaming God. She has captured the imagination of everyone who has ever discovered her in the Tarzan novels that he wrote. La is a regal, yet tragic figure portrayed in four of the novels: The Return of Tarzan, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, Tarzan and the Golden Lion, and finally Tarzan the Invincible. A haunting picture can be drawn from what ERB told us about her. But it is equally interesting to realize the things he did not tell us about her, but left for our imagination to develop. A good writer respects his reader's intelligence by letting them fill in many details with their imagination. ERB was gifted in letting our imaginations soar. I went through the novels with notepad and pencil in hand and a long list of questions. I found that I added more questions to my list than I found in answers. It is difficult to do a definitive study of La, so I approach her very subjectively and welcome your musings in addition to my own thoughts. I will share what I could find and what surmises I felt were possible from ERB's writings. Along the way, I'll toss out some of my questions. At best I'll stimulate you to see some new facets about La. Next I will try to catalogue the other appearances of La beyond the written canon. Along the way, I'll include a good number of illustrations to try and capture this illusive queen of our ERB fantasies.
When we first meet La in Return of Tarzan, we are told that from a dark passageway beyond the altar upon which Tarzan is bound came a woman. It is the high priestess, thought Tarzan. And it was La. "He noted she was a young woman with a rather intelligent and shapely face. Her ornaments were similar to those worn by her votaries, but much more elaborate, many being set with diamonds and other jewels. Her bare arms and legs were almost concealed by the massive, bejeweled ornaments that covered them, while her single leopard-skin was supported by a close-fitting girdle of golden rings set in strange designs with innumerable small diamonds. In her girdle she carried a long, jeweled knife, and in her hand a slender wand in lieu of a bludgeon." Her voice was soft and musical in the sing song death ritual. Later the contrast that defines La first appears as she speaks in the guttural language of the great apes. She will always be a lady of such contrasts and outward and inner conflicts.
After Tarzan escapes the altar he saves the priestess from the attack of a crazed Oparian priest, who had moments before almost sacrificed him to her pagan god. Once she knows she is safe with him, she notes that he is as handsome and noble as her forebears must have been. Later in the Chamber of the Dead where she has hidden him from her enraged subjects, La tells him of Opar's strange origin and explains who she is.Opar is a remnant outpost of lost Atlantis and she is the high priestess and queen descended from a 10,000 year lineage of Oparian royalty. Then she confesses that she executes her religious duties, but that she doesn't believe its religious creed. Her intelligence, honesty and strong personality are starting to show through already. It was her unspoken intention, we learn later, to keep this wonderful white stranger and convince his followers that he was the sun god's messenger to Earth and was to stay on in Opar as her mate. But to her dismay, he disappeared into thin air from the dungeon only to return suddenly weeks later and rescue Jane from her sacrificial blade and then threatens La with death if she dared interfere. The last we see of La in our first encounter in this book, she is in shock, her eyes filling with tears in misery as she sinks to the cold floor, rejected and heartbroken.
The La that we first meet is the beautiful high priestess of a bloody cult of a lost, isolated, decadent and dying culture. Life is cheap to her, and she routinely takes it as a part of her religious duties. To do so is the basis of her authority and power. But with even these negatives, ERB draws us to her and asks us to sympathize with her for the cruel life that fate has given her. She is cruel yet kind, cunning yet innocent, hopeless but hopeful. She recognizes that Tarzan is the possibility of a better life than she ever felt she could attain and possibly even a genuine chance at real love. It is a moment's decision that will mark her life.
Our next encounter with La is in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. This book plays a pivotal role in La's life. Tarzan has gone to Opar to raid the treasure vaults, gets struck on the head during an earthquake and suffers amnesia. The blow causes him to revert to a beast-like state and in this condition he rescues Albert Werper from the sacrificial altar from under La's very hands. Now let's focus on La. When she first sees Tarzan, she forgets about the interrupted sacrifice. She is ecstatic that he has come back to her after five years. She excitedly tells him that she had ignored the mandates of her religion, taken no mate, but was waiting, always waiting for her Tarzan, the only mate in the world for her. But Tarzan is not interested in her professions, even when she begs, "Do not leave me!" she cried. "Stay and you shall be High Priest. La loves you. All Opar shall be yours. Slaves shall wait upon you. Stay, Tarzan of the Apes, and let love reward you." When Tarzan simply responds that he does not desire her, La springs to her feet screaming in rage, "Stay, you shall! La will have you-if she cannot have you alive, she will have you dead." And she orders the Guardian priests to surround and kill them. It is not Tarzan with his best manners. Tarzan grabs La roughly and after wrestling the sacrificial knife from La's grasp to use as a second weapon as the two men fight their way out of Opar. Now for the first time in her life La leaves the grounds of Opar with a band of her gnarled beast-men pursuing the two interlopers. She is in a white-hot rage, her heart full of hate for the man who has stolen the sacred knife and spurned her. The knife is hers, handed down from priestess to priestess for untold ages, a symbol of her religious office and regal authority. But primarily, how dare he spurn her!
La knew she was beautiful, by any standards, ancient or modern, a creature of perfection. She could not understand why this god-like man, who could possibly be the personal harbinger of the prophetic return of the golden race that first established Opar, has twice repulsed her. But more than that wild hope, his coming "had aroused the hot fires of love. For generations love had been subjugated by duty, custom and religious zeal. She had grown to young womanhood as a cold heartless creature, daughter of a thousand other cold heartless, beautiful women who had never known love. So when love came to her it liberated all the pent up passions of a thousand generations, transforming La into a pulsing, throbbing volcano of desire, and with desire thwarted this great force of love and gentleness and sacrifice was transmuted by its own fires into one of hatred and revenge."
Here was a beautiful woman solely bred to be repressed so that she could suppress herself and be bound to her duty for her subjects' sake. Tarzan arrived on the scene and a spark was lit inside of her. For the ensuing years that small flame of hope nurtured her sanity. Her severe developmental and emotional repression was thawing. This second encounter was a tragic one for her. The apeman unknowingly broke the dam that pent up a sea of her emotions and turned it into a flood of rage. This was not just a young woman's infatuation but actually a transference of multi-generational intensity. Such overwhelming emotions could escalate this situation into a fatal attraction as she seeks to right the wrongs done unto her and wreck vengeance upon Tarzan!
Fate rewards her and Tarzan is captured by her brutal host and bound, helpless and in her power. La has them build a shelter and deposit Tarzan within it. She will torment him through the night and offer his heart to the flaming god and then torch his lifeless body on a crudely constructed altar of firewood. In the shelter La paces and reviews the many wrongs that he has done to her. But it is herself that she tortures; her heart raging a battle of hurt, duty, hopelessness and love. And then in the hottest scene that Burroughs ever penned, we read, " She ran her hands in mute caress over his naked flesh; she covered his forehead his eyes, his lips with hot kisses; she covered him with her body as though to protect him from the hideous fate she had ordained for him, and in trembling, piteous tones she begged him for his love. For hours the frenzy of her passion possessed the burning handmaiden of the Flaming God, until at last sleep overpowered her and she lapsed into unconsciousness beside the man she had sworn to torture and slay. And Tarzan, untroubled by thoughts of the future, slept peacefully in La's embrace." This was a powerful moment in both of their lives. It transforms their relationship. The sincere innocence of her heart's outpouring earns Tarzan's respect and he determines to protect this woman. He sees a decency and nobility of character that deserves his admiration and support. It is not so stated in the text but we can see the seeds of this evening bear fruit in their relationship in the years that follow.
As a youngster I rushed right past this scene to see if my hero escapes her knife again. As an adult I've had to stop and give my imagination full rein as to the unspoken details of this episode! With this one scene this seductress will burn in our hearts with the other great women in the legends and myths of our collective history!
In the morning as Tarzan is bound upon the crude altar, La begs for Tarzan to love her and she will save him. The apeman again repulses her. After so exposing her heart in the last hours she is consumed by shame and orders the priests to come prepare him on the altar. But still as she prepares to sacrifice him, she is again begging for his love. Fire and ice, flesh and blood, love and hate are the emotions that run rampant within her. Tarzan is stoically silent! Tarzan in his animal state and does not remember Jane. What force guards his heart, or even his sense of self-preservation? Again ERB poses tough, questions and then the story gathers speed again and we are off in adventure, with the answers hardly important enough to slow the reader down. The scene climaxes as an elephant in the madness of must invades the scene and the tables again are turned as Tarzan rescues La. La is carried through the trees to safety by her forest god, and ERB tells us in summary that La, her long lashes wet with tears is " a strange anomaly- a creature of circumstances torn by conflicting emotions. Now the cruel and bloodthirsty creature of a heartless god and again a melting woman filled with compassion and tenderness. Sometimes the incarnation of jealousy and revenge and sometimes a sobbing maiden, generous and forgiving: at once a virgin and a wanton; but always- a woman. Such was La."
Tarzan returns La to her band of beastmen and explains, cajoles and threatens them until they agree to take La safely back to Opar and her throne. He warns them that he will visit Opar unannounced to confirm they are obeying him. As La leaves with them, she tells Tarzan she will be waiting and longing for him to come again. His response is a noncommittal, "Who knows?" La has not won his heart, but has his respect and the boon of his protection. With that consolation she sadly returns to Opar, bowed in grief as an old woman. Her heart is openly broken. She returns without her sacred knife. Her unquestionable authority over her priests has now been broken. Her love for Tarzan and inability to sacrifice this chosen victim of the Flaming God is seen as a sign of weakness. The once fearsome hold she had upon them is no more. She will afterwards only retain her throne with Tarzan's threat of enforcement upon her rebellious followers. It has been a catastrophic chain of events. Will such a change of dynamics crush her?
It is long six years before we next we meet her in Tarzan and the Golden Lion . In the meantime La has obeyed the mandates of Opar's law that has compelled her to mate within a certain number of years after her consecration. La had consoled herself by thinking Tarzan had not returned because he was dead. She is now battling palace intrigue to keep her position over her subjects. Tarzan falls into Cadj's hands and becomes a pawn in his plot to overthrow La who has not consummated their union or share her rule with him. After outsmarting her treasonous opponents, she releases Tarzan who has been held in the dungeons at the hands of Cadj. Tarzan and La leave Opar to explore the land south beyond Opar. La tells Tarzan that she had explored some in the direction they are taking. That is a change since the last time we saw La she was venturing out of the walls of Opar for the first time. Now she is curious and exploring beyond the boundaries on her own. They find a black tribe enslaved by a genus of Gorillas ruling from their Palace of Diamonds. They lead the natives in revolt against the Gorilla hordes and restore the natives to power. Upon returning to Opar to regain La's throne, Tarzan establishes a royal bodyguard of conquered Gorillas to protect her. After a night celebrating a grand victory feast in the great banquet hall of the Palace of Opar, Tarzan is gone again. La's rule in Opar is now assured as a result of the deeper bond has developed between them.
It is notable that we will never see La in the temple sacrificing victims ever again. (The conspirators had possessed a new sacrificial blade.) La is excited to see her jungle god again and professes her love but in a marked degree of maturity accepts his polite refusal of her heart. She only asks that her help her escape Opar to a new and unknown future for her as a self exiled queen. There has been some major emotional growth on her part. She was indeed made of stern stuff. Her encounter with the apeman has initiated her journey toward a healthier and more balanced woman. She had already had her doubts about her religion and her cultural indoctrination. Tarzan opened up the world of other possibilities and we can see the fruits of her quest for self-assertion that has taken place in the years since they last met. On his part, Tarzan does not love her but he does feel a strong affection and responsibility for her. She recognizes the security and acceptance that he gives her. These are wonderful gifts to a woman in her emotionally impoverished environment. What they both share now is a deep friendship. Both have many common bonds. They are orphans in the storm, raised in a bestial environment, both of highborn blood by birth, both intelligent and yet even adept in the language of the primates. Both are cultural misfits with strong adaptive survival skills. They are now comfortable and even compatible in each other's presence.
Lastly, she ventures out into the jungle at large in Tarzan the Invincible, which is as much a 'La' novel as a 'Tarzan' one. It is now approximately ten years after the events in Golden Lion . Tarzan has gone to Opar to warn La of invaders planning to loot the city. He expects to be hospitably welcomed by its inhabitants since he had left La in Opar solidly in place as its ruler. But her guardian gorillas have wandered back into the jungle and the old political warfare has surfaced again. Oahu, who was spared by La for her crimes in Golden Lion , has consorted with Dooth to seize power. La has been imprisoned in the lower pits. Tarzan is surprised and captured by the rebel faction and thrown in the dungeon. As he escapes, he finds La in an adjoining cell. She simply tells him, "I have been afraid, but I will not be afraid now." "..But I always feel safe when you are near."
Tarzan studies her and is struck again by the matchlessness of her deathless beauty that neither time, nor care, nor danger seemed capable of dimming. (And La is spending a season in a damp dungeon and had to look it somewhat!) Tarzan wonders if he can take her anywhere else in the world. Where could she harmonize? He realizes that she is too much a tigress to introduce to the salons of civilization. In another time she might have been a Cleopatra or a Sheba, but she can now only be La, a savage queen born to rule a savage race. After the great gulf that he himself had breached from the jungle to English aristocracy, it seems a surprising assessment!
When La breaks the silence, she tells him that she still loves him. Tarzan is troubled at that asks her not to speak of that. She mummers, " I like to speak of it. It gives me sorrow, but it is a sweet sorrow- the only sweetness that has come into my life." Tarzan responds that she has always possessed his heart up to the point of love, but no further, and that through no fault of hers or his. La laughs, "It is certainly through no fault of mine, Tarzan, but I know that such things are not ordered by ourselves. Love is a gift of the gods. Sometimes it is awarded as recompense, Sometimes as a punishment, perhaps, but I would not have it otherwise. I had nurtured it in my breast since first I met you: and without that love, however hopeless it may be, I should not care to live." It is a tender and defining moment as they both acknowledge how strong their feelings for each other are.
After an initial attempt to recapture her throne fails due to treachery, they flee into the jungle. When they finally stop to rest for the night in the treetops, La softly cries, telling Tarzan, "I am crying for joy, joy that perhaps I shall be alone with you now for a long time." But that is not to be, for when Tarzan goes searching for food, La awakens and thinks that he has left her. She decides to head into the world rather than the certain death that would await her in Opar. Perhaps there might be other people in this strange world as generous and chivalrous as Tarzan she reasons. Or if she found Tarzan's country she might see him occasionally and be happy. With such innocence and a small worldview she goes to meet the world at large. She and Tarzan are now separated. At one point Jad-bal-ja, recognizing her from years earlier when Tarzan had commanded him to protect her, saves her from a leopard. Then she walks into the Russian invaders base camp, and the party sees a beautiful woman stood there regarding them intently. She had halted at the edge of the camp-an almost naked woman whose gorgeous beauty was her first and most striking characteristic. Two golden discs covered her firm breasts, and a narrow stomacher of gold and precious stones encircled her hips, supporting in front and behind a broad strip of soft leather, studded with gold and jewels, which formed the pattern of a pedestal on the summit of which was seated a grotesque bird. Her feet were shod in sandals that were covered with mud, as were her shapely legs upward to above her knees. A mass of wavy hair, shot with golden bronze lights by the rays of the setting sun, half surrounded an oval face, and from beneath narrow pencilled brows fearless gray eyes regarded them. Zora smiles and quickly welcomes the strange girl and takes her to the safety of her tent, where she tries to learn her story as she orders a bath drawn for her. La's beauty and queenly bearing strike Zora. Zora and La share her tent and Zora begins to tutor La in English. They share numerous adventures including almost being sold into slavery. At one point an Arab profanes her by touching her shoulder and La quickly kills him with her dagger for the affront. Another Arab makes a pass and she slays him with his own dagger, and escapes into the jungle. She is rejoined by Jad-bal-ja who forms affection for her and they travel toward Opar together. They arrive just as Tarzan and the Waziri are preparing to lay siege to the city. Tarzan greets her and then they press to Opar to restore La upon her throne. Tarzan utters the last words about La that we will find in the canon, "La, the Immutable. Come, the Queen is returning to her throne." And thus La walks regally into her future, a mysterious queen.
But little does Tarzan know how unchanging La now will be. She has tasted the outer world, met new friends and foes, and learned a new language. In her life since meeting Tarzan, La's progress has almost paralleled Tarzan's own challenge of self-education. Learning can be a hunger to someone who has little else to succor them. In the unrecorded years since, has La investigated her own Atlantian and Oparian records, artifacts, history and culture? Will she find ways to practice the English she has picked up? Soon she must realize that the vast wealth of Opar is more than common ornamentation for Oparians. It also has great value in the outer world. The challenge seems to be in finding a liason to that world . I think she would be motivated to better herself and improve and protect her city. Besides Tarzan, Wayne Colt, Korak or others are possibilities. ERB does not follow her new development or her trials and victories as the ruler over her savage city, but we can be assured that she will prosper as a queen and as a woman with her newfound skill.
La is mentioned but does not appear in The Tarzan Twin s books. And lastly, Tarzan compares Nemone with La in Tarzan the Invincible . Upon his first meeting with the Queen of Cathne, Tarzan's "eyes were fixed upon Nemone. She fascinated him; but whether as a thing of beauty or as a thing of evil, he did not know. He only knew that few women, other than La, the high Priestess of the Flaming God, had ever so wholly aroused his interest and curiosity" It is quite a striking thing to realize that Tarzan is nearly seduced by this mad Queen Nemone and that Jane never once crosses his thoughts in this book, but La did! Tarzan acknowledges three common factors that both women stirred within him: arousal. interest and curiosity.
When Tarzan first encounters her, La was a young woman, possibly still a teenager, of stunning beauty who reigned over a dying civilization older than anything else was on the African continent. Up to that point in her life, she had never left the Oparian grounds or valley, and had never seen a white man before Tarzan arrived. This suggests that she perhaps had just ascended to the role of High Priestess. She never mentions her Mother (nor Father) except to say that her mother had preceded her as the High Priestess, which suggests that she was raised in seclusion away from any family setting and in a novice-like isolation groomed exclusively for the role she would inherit. Her only mention of having a child would be in order to have a daughter to succeed her. There is no hint of a maternal longing which to me implies that relationship would not be one she could look forward to enjoying. Having a daughter is just an expected duty to be performed as a queenly chore. No wonder she is such a lonely, unloved young lady trapped by royal tradition and duty.
There were privileges in being the Queen. La was bathed and pampered by attendants, much of her time was devoted to her toilet. She was scrupulously clean, her nails, teeth and hair well attended and her body massaged with aromatic unguents, as was the time honored custom for the priestesses of Opar. Her rare beauty was important to her position in the Oparian culture. She was probably dressed lightly in small skins and woven fabrics as would be fitting in the hot tropics. She was adorned with ornaments crafted from the abundance of gold and jewels mined from the hills of Africa since antiquity. Her delicate skin was white and creamy smooth. She had long lashes, gray eyes, and long wavy hair. Now what color was it? We are never told anything except that the light shining upon it brought out golden or bronzed highlights. This can happen with any darker hair color under certain light. St. John drew her as a dark-haired queen, so I assume that was because of ERB's input to his artist. But Monroe and Frazetta have depicted her as a blond. Frazetta drew her again as a brunette. Then she was a tight-curled redhead as envisioned by Boris in his ERB calendar, and in the Elmo Lincoln serial she was a statuesque blond. Disney's animators depict her as a platinum blond! Usually she has been depicted as a brunette. The other maidens of Opar had dark hair, so it seems logical that she did as well.
Most of Opera's women, including La, were slender, smooth-skinned and beautiful. ERB noted that she had an oval shaped face without any hint of a trace of Negroid about her appearance. What would be the facial and body type of a female descendant of a singular race with an unmixed bloodline going directly back into the dawn of humanity? Atlantis' location adjoined the Mediterranean, which would give us reason to imagine her appearance to mirror the statuesque grace and erotic beauty of many of that region's young woman. We do know that Tarzan thought she was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen and he had seen Paris with D'Arnot, the Frenchman as a his guide. And then remember that La stunned Zora Drinov and party with her looks and regal poise when she walked into their camp in the African jungle. Is there a mangani word for 'a Ten'?!
Opar's ritual sacrifices did not seem to follow any calendar or other cycle, but were an impromptu event initiated when a stranger entered Opar or when a citizen angered those in power. How many victims had La's blade claimed? Had black men died under La's knife? Gorillas from the south country had been sacrifices. The denizens of Opar themselves were a small dwindling society that could ill afford to sacrifice their own without a strong reason. The knife would have been the fate of Oparian lawbreakers. Where were the citizenry as well as the sacrificial victims buried? Probably in the underground vaults near the Chamber of the Dead where La hid Tarzan in the lower catacombs? The High Priestess presided over other rituals of the lost colony. One was a ceremony of worship at sundown as the Flaming God sank in the western skies. There were songs and rituals for the rising sun and the noonday sun as well. This would limit her time allowed for exploring beyond Opar, but she would have been able to explore the chambers of Atlantean artifacts stored in Opar. What other ceremonies were in the duties of the High Priestess? I assume she was also magistrate and director of the duties and responsibilities of the city's citizenry. She was learned in the healing herbs and incantations for the sick. La was the most schooled and educated person in Opar.
We last meet La in the prime of her beauty but the twilight of her childbearing years, still pining for Tarzan. La has followed her heart and not her duty and not wed and borne a successor. She had known love and would not deny it to marry from among the males of Opar. She is at peace with herself. Love has softened her, expanded her horizons. Knowing Tarzan has changed her life for the better. (She shares that phenomenon with all of us. Recognizing that fact helps understand why ERB fans identify so strongly with her!) The last time we saw La she was questing and growing. Would that extend out to her city? On the other hand, has the ten thousand-year reign of a queen descending from the only daughter of Atlantis' royal family finally come to an end? Has Tarzan's arrival in Opar and effect upon La doomed the lost city? Has there been a chronic result of Tarzan's involvement with La and Opar? Was Tarzan's coming to Opar the final death knell that dooms this dying race? If La leaves no royal daughter to follow after her, what happens to Opar? Can the celibate La prepare her people for that situation? It is a serious question to contemplate. And one that ERB does not resolve.
La is a favorite lady with most ERB fans. Many wish that she had been Tarzan's mate instead of Jane. She was the stronger developed love interest and more intriguing character. ERB and everyone else that have handled Tarzan since have had trouble with Jane. They either love her or exclude her. Mostly they follow ERB's later pattern and omit her, and Tarzan is off on his adventures with no romantic strings attached. Or else they add something to Jane to flesh her out and give her something to do other than to be habitually rescued. That is why Maureen O'Sullivan's fully developed characterization of Jane has always been so popular with fans. This portrayal was soon toned down, but still MGM's cinematic treehouse allowed Jane to be a domestic jungle goddess and hit the vine for adventure in her own jungle skins. The recreation is perhaps more obvious in the latest incarnation done by Disney wherein Jane is an artist with a rather brassy personality, and an outsider adapting to the jungle life. ERB-APA member, Dennis Wilcutt even made her a mechanic in his Tarzan: The Collector . The point was made to me at a recent Dum-Dum when I asked Bill Stout why he had never drawn Jane in all of the ERB sketches that had been collected in his many books. Bill put it bluntly that Jane was just too boring. Jane never rose to the imaginative stature of her mate, Tarzan, nor her chief rival, La. La is the most interesting female and the most complex and developed character, after Tarzan, that ERB created. The grounds for an argument are there as to whether Jane or La was the better mate for our hero. As the country song goes, La came along one promise too late to have the Jungle Lord for her own. The romantic tension is left there in all of the books and in our hearts as ERB fans as well. ERB fans would all like to have seen a happy ending for Queen La of Opar.
Part II-Looking for La Beyond the Books
As Tarzan became a publishing and film phenomenon, ERB's books and characters were soon in other hands. In the 1921 film serial adapting The Return of Tarzan , The Adventures of Tarzan , Opar and La play a major role. Lillian Worth, a tall, leggy blond actress, played La. A few years later Tarzan & the Jewels of Opar is adapted for the screen in the serial, Tarzan the Tiger . La, played to great effect by Kithnou, competes with Jane played by Natalie Kingston for Tarzan's affection. Tarzan suffers from amnesia, and can't remember to whom his heart belongs. Tarzan and the Golden Lion opted for only the Palace of Diamonds for its locale, and no La is present in this film adaptation either. Only two more films utilize Opar in their plots, Tarzan and the Lost Safari and Tarzan and the Lost City . Both use the locale but exclude any of ERB's denizens, including La.
The ERB produced serial, The New Adventures of Tarzan takes place in Guatemala. But the "lost city" in the jungle that the green goddess statute is stolen from is easily a twin city of Africa's Opar, including a High Priestess, Kai Kai, with a sacrificial dagger (Was she a less comely royal cousin of La's from a common Atlantean family tree?). Should we call this Western Hemisphere lost city, West Opar or New Opar? There is another thread that supports a link. The presence of African lions in the dungeons beneath the "lost city" in Guatemala is a clue that suggests that there was an ancient bond, possibly when both colonial cities were in a thriving trade contact with the prosperous seafaring Atlantis. Remember that lions were kept as pets in Opar, until they got too fierce and then they were put in the lower pits with prisoners. The same scenario seems to apply to the "lost city" here as well and would account for the African lions found in this ancient Guatemalan culture.
Since ERB had input in this film project was there an intended connection or was ERB just slipping one of his favorite locals in the film adventure under another name and on another continent? Was it just smart salesmanship? As I said earlier, the questions accumulate rapidly about La and Opar.
The next screen appearance of La certainly deserves attention. In Tarzan: the Epic Adventures TV series La appeared in two episodes beautifully portrayed by top Korean-American model, Angela Harry. Her portrayal captured much of the mercurial and quixotic personality of the High Priestess of the Flaming God. She was at once a haughty queen and a fragile woman. Her portrayal of La was the best thing about the whole series to me. In two episodes she wore a number of costumes and head-pieces which suggests much effort had gone into developing her wardrobe and that if the series had survived the first season, we would have seen a lot more of the exotic Angela Harry as our favorite ERB femme fatale. I certainly wanted to see more of her!
Disney followed up their blockbuster Tarzan film with an animated half hour TV cartoon series. La is the major femme fatale in three episodes in this venue. She is a platinum-tressed queen (consistant with and connecting her to the females of Disney's Atlantis animated movie) ruling over a lost city of leopard-men with supernatural abilities from her staff and the secret skills handed down from her ancestors. She is regal, cunning, conniving, and at times even cruel to exercise her authority and power. She is portrayed as very cat-like herself and quite sexy for a Disney product, enhanced nicely by the voice skills of Diahanne Carroll. Disney even utilizes the romantic tension and conflict between Jane and La over Tarzan. Allowing the changes that the Disney team have introduced, the stories , its characterizations and dynamic elements work very effectively and compatible with ERB's intent. The Oparian beastmen are herein portrayed as leopardmen.
The next venue to present Tarzan to a new public forum was the newspaper strip, which began in 1929. The daily strip drawn by Rex Maxon systematically adapted the ERB novels and La was represented when her novelized appearances came along. But as for the Sunday page neither La nor Opar appeared in the 1931-1950 year span during the reigns of artists Hal Foster or Burne Hogarth. (That is a shame. But then Jane barely appeared either.) In the Bob Lubber years, there is only a daily adventure that borrows from the books that featured a thinly disguised Wala, High Priestess of the Zimba moon worshippers (strips #3983-#4057). Dick Van Buren, then the strip's writer, 'borrowed' regularly from the books to craft new stories. Fans wanted the real thing but were given imitations. Wala and Zimba were were brought back for another story (strips# 3480-3547) penned by Van Buren and drawn by John Celardo.When John Celardo was finally able to add the writing responsibilities to his drawing chores, he brought the real Opar and La back in both strips, daily (#7427-#7500) and Sunday (#1821-1834).
Russ Manning took over the newspaper strip and made La a major recurring character and explored Opar as a wonderful and dangerous place. Opar and La were the basis of his first long daily story (#8881-#8928) and with it he showed that he was a talent that understood Mr. Burroughs' material was ready to take the strip back to Burroughs own fertile world and then confidentially add other fantasy elements of his own. Manning did two stories involving La and Opar in the Sunday strip (#1994-#2023 and #2318-#2372). His beautifully designed and colorful Opar should be pointed out was well researched and confidently crafted as well.
After Manning's tour de force on the strip, Mike Grell did one Oparian based story (#2607-#2614). (The last two strips in this story were not pages done by Mike. He missed a deadline and the syndicate had an in-house artist draw those two pages. Mike's strips arrived in time to be distributed but they were not used and he was docked two weeks pay. Mike has showed me those two pages and they were far superior to the pages that ran and if the strip is ever reprinted I hope they use his original pages.
When Don Kraar and Gray Morrow took on the strip they put in a number years on the strip before they utilized La and Opar. Don once told me, "Unfortunately, this (the 14 week story length limit) applies to one of my favorite characters, La of Opar. For some time I've wanted to use her in a story, but the limited format of the strip makes real character development hard to do." Finally in strips #3114-#3127, they do a story wherein Jane meets Gabrielle, La's daughter. When Tarzan won't tell her who the girl's father is, Jane gets jealous. Then La arrives on the scene and settles the girl's paternity. It was a fun look at the personal dynamics involved. This story explored the romantic tensions that came before and the solution made sense and was a plausible character change in the lives of all involved.
For the newspaper strip, Tracy Scott Griffin penned an Opar story, "La's Plight', #3383-3396, wherein we meet La's brother. (ERB fan Bob Hyde plays a major role as the story's villain.) And Alan Gross, the strip's next writer, wrote two adventures that pass through Opar en route to their main story strip. The second story explored a bond between Opar and Pellucidar. And Gray Morrow, the master of the fetching female character, did indeed enjoy drawing La. The UFS Sunday Tarzan strip has now gone into reprints so unless things change any new material from the syndicate for the strip is not to be…
In the Tarzan comic books, there was a real quandary as how to use La and Opar. Dell Comics did not want any hint of another woman in Tarzan's life during the early fifties when comics were the subject of a political witch-hunt. La was too hot to handle. Tarzan was told that La was rumored to have been killed off in Dell Tarzan #5. Opar became just another lost city in the suburbs of Pal-ul-don in their comic cosmos. Jesse Marsh explained this in a letter that appeared in an early Burroughs Bulletin that is worth sharing, "I, to, am sorry that La is gone. It would seem that I am responsible for the deed. But before judgement is passed consider these points: the comic book is currently the most maligned and severely censored of all publications. This is due to an exaggerated notion of the comic book's affect on a child's character. Crime, sex and violence are severely excluded from the writer's equipment and rightly so. However, as an example of the length to which this editing is carried out, you must believe me when I tell you that the intrusion of a young and appealing female character in a comic book is regarded as an intrusion of something evil and sinister. To assume, as the censors do, that the child has the Biblical attitude towards women is, to me, a rather far-fetched assumption. Until he is taught to do so, I doubt that a child sees evil female beauty. This explains what happened to La. I doubt if we will see her resurrected from her tomb in the hills of hypocrisy. ERB himself assumes an aloof attitude toward the Tarzan of the comics and movies and I ask of all Tarzanophiles that they emulate the Master and look upon us with disinterested amusement." La does appear in issue #15 and again in #38 but is not the fully developed La of ERB. In fact Opar is soon abandoned and occupied by other Pal-ul-donian tribes. Years later after the political storm died down, La appeared briefly in one more short story in the 1960 Dell Tarzan annual and drawn by Mr. Marsh. She was just not to be a major factor in the Dell and Gold Key books.
During the sixties ERB revival, Gold Key cut Russ Manning and Gaylord DuBois loose and they began adapting the ERB Tarzan novels and La appeared again in all her seductive and noble beauty. La would appear in original stories many times in both the Tarzan and Korak titles. DC and Marvel likewise adapted the novels during their tenure of the ERB comic rights and La was there to play her tragic part. Joe Kubert drew one intriguing original Tarzan and La story,"Death Is My Brother" in issue Tarzan #224 , wherein we get a glimpse of La's childhood and meet her tragic brother. But it remained for Malibu Comics to take the wraps off of La and let her ply her full feminine charms on Tarzan in their original "Love, Lies and the Lost City." She was dangerous, wild and enticing in a fresh and provocative way. This story which tackles Tarzan and Jane's longevity also interestingly enough raises the question as to whether La is also an immortal and whether Opar exists beyond a protective space-time portal. Both became ideas to ponder in ERB fandom.
ERB fan favorite, Tom Yeates, did his most masterful job yet as an ERB illustrator for an adaptation of the last half of The Return of Tarzan in a three issue Dark Horse Comics series. His adaptation focused on the later incidents at sea with Jane and her fellow castaways and Tarzan's initial adventure in Opar. Tom captured the look and mood of the lost city and presented La to us from that initial encounter very accurately. While sales were disappointing and the book did not merit a trade paperback reprint, as is DHP's publishing pattern with successful series, Tom can be justifiably proud of his work on the book. Dark Horse also republished the first few Manning/DuBois Gold Key stories, which include Return and Jewels, of interest to us here in that La was in those two stories.
Dark Horse did one more Tarzan story, Superman-Tarzan: Sons of the Jungle. It was a strange amalgamation done in their Elseworlds format, wherein they take characters and stories and throw them in a mixer and rewrite them in "new" topsy-turvy conceptions. In this one, Ka-el of Krypton's spaceship lands in the jungle and the young Superman is raised by apes and John Clayton is a young British adventurer with a wonder-lust for adventure. Toss in Lois Lane and her friend Jane, La and the Oparians and it is a strange tale for fans to get a grip upon. The artwork is done in a cartoony style that I would call Disney on drugs, and while quite effective for this tale it is still rather distractive. La in her leopard-skins looked exotically fetching but her role is two dimensional as a villainess, at best.
Perhaps, in closing, I should mention La has starred in numerous pastiches. Chiefly among them is Tarzan on Mars by John Bloodstone, wherein he made her a Barsoomian by birth! Philip Jose' Farmer has Sherlock Holmes and Watson join Tarzan on an adventure to Opar, but no La in The Adventures of t he Peerless Peer . Andy Nunez has La meet Conan in his "Well of Time" , online. Bruce Bozarth likewise has penned a La of Opar story online. The ERB-APA'ers meet La in Opar in George Alonzo's Simba . And then Tony Mennegazzo edited The Treasures of Opar as a comic serial in those pages as well. And the list could go on, I'm sure. Numerous presentations to both Dark Horse Comics and Ballentine Books, the ERB licensees for ERB projects have La and Opar featured prominently. Time will tell if we ever see them in print. If anything is certain, it is that all ERB fans do not want to have seen and read the last of La, High Priestess of the Flaming God.