ERBmania! Logo
Nkima Speaks


David A. Adams

Tangor, my dear friend,

In light of your recent "Tarzan's Growth" article, I felt it was time to turn my notes on THE ETERNAL LOVER into an article, which I did last night and most of today. I was tempted to make this my Chat #20 for Hillie since I am working that Northern route, but I recalled that I had promised you any material that I might be doing for Tarzan's so called "Colonial Period." Also, I feel that this article will make a nice companion to your own, which I did enjoy very much.

I feel that another article about the sociology of Tarzan's colonial period might be written, whereas my own has to do with the literary side of the affair. Tarzan's so called "plantation years" have been covered by Torgovnick to a certain degree, especially his relationship to the blacks. I really do not feel a great desire to pursue this side of the matter as my interests lie away from racial/genetic concerns, and these areas have already been well documented.


Tarzan’s last words in THE RETURN OF TARZAN are spoken to his bride, Jane Porter, as they sail away from Africa.

“I should hate to think that I am looking upon the jungle for the last time, dear, were it not that I know that I am going to a new world of happiness with you forever” (RT, 365).

Burroughs penned these words on January 8, 1913. For all we know, perhaps Tarzan is planning to enter English society and disappear from the literary scene forever. Indeed, Burroughs had written in a letter to his publisher, Metcalf, that he felt that most of his ideas “are already worn to a frazzle.”

“... I cannot forget what you once told me about the majority of writers playing out after a couple of years. I imagine they play out with readers who have followed them for that long, as in two years a fellow pretty nearly exhausts his stock of situations, phrases and the like” (Porges, 176)

The next we hear of Tarzan is in a story called “Nu of the Neocene” which was entitled THE ETERNAL LOVER when it appeared in All-Story magazine. This tale was written in November 1913, so by the end of the year Tarzan had been transformed into a plantation owner who had returned from England and had made a permanent home in equatorial Africa. Tarzan and Jane also have an infant son named Jack.

Perhaps Burroughs considered his Tarzan stories to be completely finished with the two novels he had written and had in his own mind retired this character to the life of a gentleman rancher who spent his time entertaining friends and traveling back and forth to London.

At this point in his life Lord Greystoke indeed seems to be comfortably settled-in. He is playing the part of a civilized man with only occasional returns to his former ape-man characteristics. This state of affairs seems to be a good description of what would have been the case with a man who lived a feral life among the apes but three years before. He is still reacting to what Torgovnick calls his “fall into humanity.”

“In the novels Tarzan does return to the apes or go(es) off into nature alone several times, but always to realize that he cannot go home again, especially not after his commitment to Jane. The fall into humanity that occurs roughly one-third of the way into TARZAN OF THE APES implies a permanent fall into the need to master human Others.” (Torgovnick)

Burroughs describes this Tarzan of THE ETERNAL LOVER as “John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, who was once upon a time, known as Tarzan of the Apes. (EL, 15-16). The author seems to view his Tarzan character as one he has finished writing about -- one who is destined to live a quiet, settled life on an African estate forever. Even the former life of Tarzan is given a fairy-tale-like quality by Burroughs’ characterizing it as “once upon a time.”

Burroughs also remarks that John Clayton, Lord Greystoke has nothing to do with this story. The fact of the matter is, this character appears quite often, but he never acts like the Tarzan of the first two novels.

It is interesting to note that ERB uses nearly the same phrase in describing Tarzan in his BEASTS OF TARZAN, which was written a few months later in January 1914. Burroughs writes, “John Clayton, Lord Greystoke -- he who had been ‘Tarzan of the Apes’ . . .” as though the ape-man phase of his life was now completely over.

When Tarzan is marooned on Jungle Island in BEASTS, he still seems to be suffering from a certain lack of attention that he displays so strongly and in such an uncharacteristic Tarzanic fashion in THE ETERNAL LOVER.

The author himself comments, “Where the acute hearing? Where the uncanny sense of scent?” when an completely unaware Tarzan is being approached by apes on Jungle Island. (BT, 30).

In this novel, in contrast to the odd Tarzan in THE ETERNAL LOVER, ERB allows Tarzan a complete recovery of his uncanny senses and writes an exciting novel as a part of the Tarzan series. While in THE ETERNAL LOVER, Tarzan is submerged in the persona of a rather incompetent Lord Greystoke.

Before looking at this Lord Greystoke in depth, there are several observations that can be made about THE ETERNAL LOVER that have some bearing upon a close reading of this novel.

One must recognize that THE ETERNAL LOVER is not really a Tarzan novel at all. Rather, it is the story of Nu of the Neocene, a cave man who is awakened from his hermetically sealed cave by an earthquake. This cave man is the Tarzan-like hero of the story, so most readers are willing to pass over Lord Greystoke’s curious behaviors. The heroic figure Nu dominates the action, which provides an exciting read without becoming too concerned with the lackadaisical Greystoke.

Secondly, since the entire novel is wrapped in what is described to be Victoria’s dream, Tarzan’s aberrant behavior is dismissed by most readers as a fanciful interlude since he plays a secondary role in that dream. Lord Greystoke plays a bit-part in a dream that does not have to make sense simply because it is a dream.

Thirdly, it is sometimes pointed out that Burroughs probably only used Lord Greystoke in this story to cash in on the certain name recognition Tarzan would bring to the reading public. It is not a Tarzan novel, as ERB himself points out, so the ape-man does not have to always act in his characteristic role as a hero with almost superhuman abilities.

Despite these useful literary observations, it seems that Burroughs does owe something to his readers by at least trying to write his famous character in a suitably characteristic mode. Many facets of the literary evolution of Tarzan can be drawn from THE ETERNAL LOVER, and serious speculation about the curious behavior of Lord Greystoke must be made to understand the author’s entire development of his great creation.

There are five main encounters with Lord Greystoke in THE ETERNAL LOVER that seem to be totally uncharacteristic of Tarzan’s former personality which was presented with infinite care in the first two Tarzan novels.

The First Encounter

We first see Lord Greystoke riding on a morning lion hunt. He and his guests at the African ranch are looking for a lion that has been preying on Greystokes’ sheep. Greystoke is found “riding a couple hundred yards in rear of the others with one of the older men” (EL, 40). This seems hardly the place for the leader of a hunting party in his own territory, but perhaps Greystoke wants to allow the others the first chance at any game they may encounter.

Even so, this Lord Greystoke is tremendously strong, for he rolls over a dead zebra all by himself in order to examine it. He has Tarzan’s sense of smell since he is able to identify the zebra kill as one made by a white man from the lingering scent. Lord Greystoke observes that the zebra has been killed by a spear that has passed entirely through the body -- a superhuman feat. Then, he remarks:

“I think nothing,...except that my judgment tells me that my senses are in error -- there is no naked, white giant hunting through the country of the Waziri” (EL, 42).

It seems odd that Tarzan would simply reject the accurate judgment of his jungle-trained senses and not even theorize about the possibility of someone entering his land. He seems anxious to leave the scene and get on with his search for the lion who has been killing his sheep. (What is a single numa doing stealing sheep from Tarzan anyway? He must be going to bed too early.)

There is indeed a naked, “white” giant hunter in the country of the Waziri, which is -- or used to be -- Tarzan himself. Lord Greystoke almost seems to be in denial about his own past, but the comment is understandable from an author who is trying to create a sort of mystery about the Nu-Tarzan character he is introducing in this story. Throughout the entire novel, Nu does everything that the real Tarzan of the Apes would normally be doing, and thus Lord Greystoke has to be reduced to the role of a curious bystander.

The Second Encounter

This is really not an encounter with Lord Greystoke at all. Rather, it is the remarkable absence of the man during a night stalk for the preying lion. Several men walk down to the garden and search in the darkness for a half an hour for the lion, while Nu moves skillfully around just in front of them. Greystoke is not along, which is remarkable due to his eagerness to bag this particular lion. Later that same evening Victoria Custer is allowed to wander around the house in the darkness, even though they are aware that a lion might be nearby.

Nu saves Victoria by killing the lion, “old Raffles,” and Victoria is found lying on the ground by Barney and Curtiss, who quickly sprang into action once they hear the lion’s roar. Curtis gets a shot off at Nu, but it takes another minute for Lord Greystoke and his natives to arrive. (Maybe they were sleeping in another wing of a very large building, or even in another part of the estate.) In any case, Lord Greystoke is late on the scene.

Greystoke indicates a desire to find the one who has killed the lion, but he takes no part in the search. The twenty men who look for Nu cannot find him “because he lay directly beneath their noses in a little clump of low, flowering shrubs” (EL, 55). It seems that a man lying this close to Tarzan would have been very easy for him to discover if he had employed his uncanny sense of smell.

Perhaps Tarzan knew he was there, but for reasons of his own, he failed to mention the fact. (This theory seems utterly preposterous.) It seems more likely that this is simply more evidence that Greystoke was slipping.

The Third Encounter

In the morning, Greystoke “can almost swear” that the spear left in the lion by Nu “was never made by any of the tribesmen of present day Africa” (EL, 56). He goes on to explain that he “once saw several similar heads, though, in the British Museum. They had been taken from the debris of a prehistoric cave dwelling” (EL, 56). This does indicate a man with a keen eye for primitive weapons.

Next, a black servant tells Lord Greystoke that he has found a dead ewe in the compound (which was the remains of Nu’s meal of the night before). Greystoke says that the zebra killer is welcome to the kill. It is strange that no one bothered to investigate the sheep compound until the next day considering that they were conducting a search for “several hours” the night before.

Brown, a big-game hunter visiting the Greystokes, points out a little pool of blood and footprints in the garden. He was busy acting like a curious detective while Greystoke was sitting at the breakfast table making historical remarks about the spear. Greystoke goes down to look, but again completely misses more blood in the grass observed by Victoria alone. She keeps her observations to herself.

[Brown is a man with a keen eye for seeing things that Greystoke does not. All expert opinions come from him rather than Greystoke, and he is the one who makes important discoveries throughout the novel. Brown is a Sherlock Holmes.]

The Fourth Encounter

Barney goes off on a hunt for a buffalo bull, presumably with Greystoke. Victoria wanders off with one of Lord Greystoke’s great wolf-hounds, named Terkoz after Tarzan’s ape foster father. She finds Nu but is captured by Arab slavers. She is tracked to Nu’s cave by Barney Custer, Curtis, Butzow, and a half dozen other of the searching party” (EL, 70-71). Lord Greystoke was probably at home taking a nap with Lady Greystoke and the rest of the servants (EL, 60). (This may seem to be a cruel jibe, but it is entirely a part of the picture we are given by Burroughs of the daily habits of the Greystokes.) Burroughs presents Lord Greystoke as an elderly gentleman, somewhat scholarly, given over completely to hunting on horseback. He does not seem to have a great deal of curiosity, not does he seem particularly physically active.

The Fifth Encounter

Nu is brought back to the Greystoke estate for doctoring since he was wounded by the rifle shot of Curtis. Greystoke sets his wolf-hound, Terkoz, to guard Nu to prevent his escape, but the dog sides with cave man. (What a blow for Tarzan, the great companion to the beasts! At this point, you realize that Nu is the real Tarzan and Greystoke is just a grey man who is near a stroke.)

Everyone talks to Nu and learns to speak parts of his language except the great linguist Tarzan--which is utterly preposterous.

Nu escapes easily with Terkoz. Greystoke surmises that Nu must have killed his dog. (EL, 89). (This dense “Tarzan” is laughable.) Later, Brown has to point out the dog tracks to Greystoke at a buffalo kill and does laugh at him. (EL, 94). (By this time, old man Greystoke must have been chewing on his grey beard.)

This Lord Greystoke of THE ETERNAL LOVER is definitely not the familiar Tarzan of the Apes. Tarzan will return again with his full powers in the BEASTS OF TARZAN, but these sorry episodes in his life certainly did nothing to enhance his legend. For most fans of the ape-man, it would have been better the strange adventures of this Lord Greystoke had never been written.