The Misadventures of
Tarzan in Pellucidar
David Arthur Adams
Jason Gridley’s choice of Tarzan as expedition leader in his quest to rescue David Innes in Tarzan At The Earth’s Core was not a good one. Tarzan was a lone hunter-explorer who was more often led by flights of his own inclinations rather than fulfilling a role of a good team-player. Acting as a leader of men was not a strong point in Tarzan’s personality, in fact, even as King of the Apes he was less than a sterling example. Quite soon after his ascendancy, he decided to allow the apes to choose a new leader and went his own way, only returning to them when the choice suited his own purposes.
Of course Jason was led to his choice through conversations with Edgar Rice Burroughs, yet his final decision was based as well upon a careful reading of the texts of Tarzan’s life and adventures. He was well aware of the proclivities for lone action, but the chance of entering into an adventure with the ape-man himself must have overweighed all other factors.
Being jungle-trained from his youth, Tarzan would seem to be the perfect choice for dealing with the challenges of Pellucidar with its teeming millions of prehistoric beasts and savage races. After all, Tarzan had proven himself with the grifs in Pal-ul-don, and he was a past master in quickly picking up languages of primitive peoples. He was the only human on the planet who spoke the language of the mangani, and his ability to handle situations with half-human beings successfully was without question.
Tarzan was the chief of the Waziri, a tribe of African warriors, ten of whom were also asked to be a part of the expedition. However, it is likely that Muviro, who is pictured as Tarzan’s lieutenant, was the one who actually directed the day-to-day activities of the tribe rather than the ape-man who had other things to attend to on his estate. Tarzan does not seem like the sort of man who would be greatly concerned with the actual management of a native tribe, leaving the mundane chores to men like Muviro and others with notable administrative abilities.
In this article I show that Tarzan was not a good choice for an expedition leader to Pellucidar, however, the very nature of the land itself promotes a certain dreaminess that even affects Jason. I follow the dream symbolism of the story and refer to the Jason myth as being one that is also filled with dream imagery. It is a viable reading that might be expanded later, but it certainly does present food for thought in its 3000 words.
Please note that Jason said to Tarzan on page 6 of TEC “Doubtless I could have raised the necessary money elsewhere, but I believe that you are peculiarly fitted TO LEAD SUCH A VENTURE as I have in mind.” this is why I take Tarzan to be the titular leader of the expedition.
Jason Gridley must have been aware of Tarzan’s habits and methods of leadership. When he was leading his usual band of fifty Waziri to Opar in Tarzan and the Golden Lion, he often ranged far ahead of his party to do the hunting. This was his first act upon his first “morning” in Pellucidar. After a brief rest to recover from the trip on the O-220, Tarzan stripped down to his loin cloth, and taking his bow and arrows, knife, spear, and the long rope which he always carried, he went off in search of game.
Tarzan’s behavior as expedition leader may seem strange to anyone accustomed to a more scientific approach to exploration, but then this was a mission of rescue, so the tactics of guerrilla warfare are not entirely out of place. Tarzan was chafing over his confinement on the zeppelin and felt like “a boy released from school,” but his purpose may have been one of looking over the country before committing his men to unknown dangers.
Burroughs tells us that Tarzan “was not hunting; he was not even searching for the new in this new world. For the moment he was only living.” (TEC, 26). If this was a true picture of what was going on in the ape-man’s mind at the time, it was rather foolhearty, and inexcusable in a man who had been through so many dangers in so many strange places.
Perhaps, Burroughs was correct in his evaluation of Tarzan’s mood because he was almost immediately caught in a primitive snare and captured by the Sagoths, the gorilla-men of Pellucidar. Jason Gridley might well have expected something like this to happen to Tarzan since similar events had often befallen him in his other adventures. It was simply a risk one had to take when dealing with this rather impulsive but talented man.
Tarzan must not have had much briefing on the difficulty of finding directions in Pellucidar, or perhaps he was not listening. He simply romped off into the jungle and found himself lost in a place with an eternal sun overhead which gave no indications of direction by shadows on the trees and leaves, which was Tarzan’s normal method of locating himself. A fine expedition leader he turned out to be!
Burroughs frankly admits that Tarzan quickly lost interest in returning to his duties at all.
“And so the companionship of Tar-gash (his Sagoth hunting buddy) coupled with the romance of strange sights and sounds and odors in this new world, acted upon the ape-man as might a strong drug, filling him with exhilaration and dulling his sense of responsibility, so that the necessity of finding his people dwindled to a matter of minor importance” (TEC, 92).
Burroughs goes on in a weak effort to exonerate Tarzan’s lackadaisical behavior by saying that “ Had he known that some of them were in trouble his attitude would have changed immediately, but this he did not know.” (TEC, 92). Tarzan justifies his own dereliction of duty by rationalizing that the men had the means to insure their own safety and return to the surface without him -- “his absence would not handicap them in any particular.” (TEC, 92). It seems that Jason was sadly mistaken about Tarzan’s abilities as an expedition leader, and that another choice would have been a wise one. Only when Jason’s search plane passes over does Tarzan realize that people are risking their own lives to save his own, and changing his mind again, he decides to try to locate the O-220.
It must be admitted that Jason’s decision to hunt alone in the scout plane for Tarzan, Von Horst, and the missing Waziri (who were all soon lost at the beginning of the story) echoes Tarzan’s example of a lone warrior against the world,or in this case, against the underworld. The other people are nominally the officers and crew of the ship that brought them to Pellucidar, and they are justified in remaining with the ship smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. Perhaps it was not such a bad decision for some of the men to stay behind considering the difficulties of knowing direction in Pellucidar. It would really not do to have everyone lost. Even so, this seems like one of the most inept rescue missions in the annals of history.
Perhaps we should take a look at that other Jason -- the one who went with the Argonauts in search of the Golden Fleece. In this tale told by Apollonius of Rhodes, which was a familiar one to Burroughs, the famous hero, Hercules, who may represent Tarzan in Pellucidar, was lost at the beginning of the story and did not come back. Perhaps we can give the ape-man the benefit of the doubt and say that Burroughs was merely following this old Greek tale as an explanation of his wayward behavior.
After Jason rescues the beautiful Jana, the Red Flower of Zoram, he too begins to feel the waning of responsibility caused by the lack of a means of telling time. Like Tarzan, he starts living in a timeless dream and “easily and naturally embraced the irresponsible existence of Pellucidar. (TEC, 138).
By the time the reader has reached the half-way point in this novel, he begins to wonder why Burroughs brought Tarzan to Pellucidar at all, other than the fact that it was desirable to write another Tarzan story, which were proven sellers in the fiction market. ERB separates Tarzan and Jason and each has their independent adventures -- Jason gets the formulistic romantic scenes with Jana, but Tarzan is thrown in with male companions and must perform Herculean tasks against, Dyals, thipdars and cave bears.
If the model of Hercules was in Burroughs’ mind for Tarzan’s part in this story, it might be his way of showing us what might have happened to this Greek hero after he left the Argo in the ancient story. Yet, ERB may have had a more subtle role for his ape-man in this novel, not necessarily a conscious one, but when he wrote TEC he had a dozen previous novels in the Tarzan Series and three in his Pellucidar Series to set an unconscious background that must have played some part in its construction.
Tarzan seems to have fallen into a dream as well as the center of the earth. Philip Jose Farmer wrote that this story was entirely fiction since there is really no such place as Pellucidar. (Farmer, 180). One might follow this dream suggestion if only to a limited degree since many actions in this story make sense on a symbolic level. Burroughs himself promotes such a reading with his constant references to sleeping and waking and with the very nature of the hallucinatory setting of Pellucidar where the sun always shines and everything curves upward and vanishes into dizzying perspectives. Of course, the question that must be answered is whose dream are we in in Pellucidar? While the obvious answer is -- this is the dream of the author, Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I do not promote an extensive dream interpretation of TEC as the basic premise for writing this story, but a few ideas may be followed with interest merely as a curious speculation. Like all of ERB’s stories, this one is filled with elements of the fairy tale and legend where dream imagery does plays a role in the events that happen to the characters.
In chapter two, Tarzan completes his sleep (or does he?) then goes into the forest where he is almost immediately caught in a primitive snare and hung “head-downward, spinning dizzily like a human plumb-bob.” (TEC, 27). We see the great hero twisting and turning upside down marking the center of the center of the earth. In a place with no discernible direction, Tarzan himself marks the way he will go, which is anywhere the rope turns him. Burroughs most likely intended this as subtle joke since he was fond of puzzles, and all of his stories are filled with touches of wry humor.
Burroughs plays with this rope, using it as a symbol of Tarzan’s journey in the underworld. He is first drawn up by the rope that holds him upside down by the Sagoths, which may be reminders of his own mangani, for they speak the same language. Tarzan befriends Tar-gash, who frees him from his ropy bonds. Thus, it might be said that he dreams of his earliest companions. At least he has returned to a friendship with these ape-like beings. He is among “familiar “ creatures -- those like his own family.
Tar-gash means “white-tooth” or “white-fang” in the ape language. I carefully mention Jack London’s “White Fang” in this context, but it does seems a most distant a connection. However, London’s story is about a wild, wolf-like dog who gradually becomes a tame one. This is certainly a Burroughsian theme since there are various level of evolution represented in Pellucidar. It is more likely that ERB simply used a name like Tar-zan to suggest that this creature was like him but on a more primitive level.
Tarzan does not use his rope in the fight with the Dyal, which only shows that one should not become overly enthusiastic about symbolistic meanings in this story. The battle is simply ERB’s way of having Tarzan meet another character, this time, Thoar, who is a gilak, a cave man on a higher evolutionary level than Tar-gash. Thoar does carry a club, which may be a humorous reference to the hammer of Thor, the Norse god. He is also the brother of Jana, the Red Flower of Zoram, so even though his heroes are separated, Burroughs has set up the means whereby they will be reunited at the end.
Tarzan’s rope does play a part in his escape from the thipdar’s nest and in his escape from the cave bear, but here the rope and the symbol, if there ever was one, is snapped in two and does not appear again in this story.
As I mentioned above, the story of Jason and Jana carry the love-interest in this story. Sometime after her rescue from the lowlanders, Skruk and his men, and the wild hyaenodons (jaloks) Jana runs away from Jason, and he muses that he has become bewitched by her like Odysseus was by Circe. Burroughs is not mixing up his stories, but continuing in a age-old way of expanding these mythological tales.
Michael Grant points out the relationships between the Argonautic legend of Jason and the Odyssey , both being a “great conglomerations of myths and folk-tales, familiar and obscure.” (Grant, 259). He also pictures these works as ones with “dream-like associations.”
“Its folk-tales exhibit types of variation that are uniform with others of this genre and in accordance with the dream-like associations of ideas by which it is characterized. The reader’s mind is continually switched, by bizarre transitions, to new yet not unfamiliar tracks. It comes to cross-roads at which any one of three or four paths can be followed. Often in the end we have followed each of them, and yet they have all converged upon the same place. (Grant, 74).
This description sounds like the model ERB followed in writing TEC. Of course, in this case it was not a conscious plan, but part of the tools of the trade that every natural story-teller has in his bag.
Jason looses his clothes except for a shirt and his pistols. The author muses that “In his dreams he had sometimes imagined himself walking about in some ridiculous state of undress.” Jason tears the shirt into strips to form a primitive loin-cloth, which Burroughs pictures as “an Adam armed with two Colts.” (TEC, 174).
Time is marked in Pellucidar by periods of sleep or by occasions of hunger, so the reference to dreams is not really so farfetched. These men from the upper world never know how long it takes for events to happen, and the strangeness of this world, along with the irregular occasions of sleep, may have worked together to make even waking moments seem like dreams to them.
When Jason is reduced to the state of a primitive, he makes a spear and bow and arrows, and gives up hope of ever returning to the surface of the earth. Pellucidar has had its dreamy way on both Tarzan and Jason, and by chapter 10 one can only wonder about the fate of the others in the rescue party, now abandoned by both of their leaders, to say nothing of the one whom they came to rescue, David Innes, who still lies in the dungeon of the Korsars covered by snakes. Its a good thing that time means nothing in Pellucidar.
By chapter 11 Jason has in one of ERB’s favorite phrases “sloughed off the thin veneer of civilization.” When Burroughs mentions Muviro and the Waziri warriors or Von Horst as people Jason occasionally thinks about, we are surprised he even remembers them at all. ERB has to bring them up just to remind us (and perhaps himself) what the story is about.
By the time Jason and Thoar are captured by Korsars in chapter 14 we are thoroughly aware that it is a fortunate occurrence since it seems unlikely that the mission would ever be accomplished in any other way. The Ur- villains from Tanar of Pellucidar had to come to them because they were lost in another dream, in another adventure -- body and soul. Even Jason takes the capture as a stroke of good luck.
In his captivity, Jason falls asleep and has a nightmare about Jana in the hands of the Horibs , which she is, since she has gone through adventures of her own with Tarzan in the cavern of the Clovi and in the Phelian swamp. Burroughs gradually brings the threads of his story and his characters together again in his masterful way. We are not really surprised that Burroughs is able to accomplish these twists and turns of storytelling because he has done it before in all of his novels.
If we expected a straight-forward tale of Tarzan and the Waziri methodically searching Pellucidar for David Innes fully employing the scientific knowledge of Jason Gridley, we have forgotten the freewheeling mind of this conjuror of intricate webs. As Burroughs notes at the beginning of his Tarzan the Triumphant, “Fate . . . weaves the design that is never finished. A thread from here, a thread from there, another from out of the past that has waited years for the companion thread without which the picture must be incomplete.” (TT, 9).
In the end it is the superior technology of the outer world that wins the day, but through the cleverness of his plotting, a culminating bloodbath is avoided. Another writer might have told this story in a more direct fashion, following steps of logic and careful planning to effect the rescue of David Innes. Burroughs takes us on a rollercoaster ride up and down the skyways and byways of Pellucidar and gives us a rousing adventure tale that is surely one of his best.
TEC is an extremely rich novel. By combining the best ideas, characters and creatures of two of his successful series, Burroughs has given us a novel that may be read on many levels. I have only presented a few hints that may be followed by others in more extensive studies on the use of dream imagery, the functions of the Jason myth, and even the form of the fairy tale (which I only hinted at in this article.)
The next time you read this outstanding novel of adventure, you might look for threads of your own to follow. The story is overflowing with ideas fully as fertile as Pellucidar itself. I have not found half the wonders that wind in its teeming pages.
- Burroughs, Edgar Rice, Tarzan At the Earth’s Core, G&D.
- ---------- Tarzan Triumphant, ERB, Inc.
- Farmer, Philip Jose, Tarzan Alive, Popular Library, 1972.
- Grant, Michael, Myths of the Greeks and Romans, Mentor, 1962.
July 27, 2000