JUNGLE TALES: Seriously Understated
David Bruce Bozarth
Copyright © 2002
Fans of Jungle Tales of Tarzan have missed one part of the creation of Jungle Tales. They see the work filling in Tarzan's early life and the author making money, but few of today's readers know that ERB used Jungle Tales as an experiment to see if he could provide 12 stories over 12 months for his publisher. In part he and succeeded, and later had material to create the Jungle Tales anthology, however; having accomplished that self-imposed one year task, ERB apparently decided that "short stories" did not suit his writing style, which tended to be larger in content and (realistically) more rambling with that lovely final rush to completion when he approached the pulp publisher's OUCH point for COST PER WORD.
There is no verification for what I am about to say, but as a writer I think I have a little insight: The first half dozen tales which eventually became Jungle Tales of Tarzan were written with enthusiasm and relief by Burroughs. He had no SIZE considerations, or DEADLINES! Yet, the year was not finished. The last six tales were approached with determination and perhaps a little dread. "What can I say next?" or "Where do I go?"
Some of the last six tales are only serviceable, a few rise to the level of journeyman work, and only one approaches "really interesting." But ERB completed his self-imposed task of one original story per month. Then turned his back on short stories in general after that project.
Some ERB Tarzan researchers see more in the information contained in Jungle Tales than I do. The heart of Tarzan is found in all the novels. Some view Jungle Tales as an explanation of the heart of Tarzan. This might be true because there are little snippets of Tarzan's environment and personality formation in Jungle Tales.
I tend to view Jungle Tales as ERB's attempt to do short fiction and realizing, ultimately, that he needed more words to float his boat of imagination than any short story could provide.
To test the Tangor hypothesis, imagine, if at all possible, how Tarzan might have been perceived if all the stories in JUNGLE TALES had been ERB's introduction to READERS EVERYWHERE.
I have no doubt that ERB would have fallen flat on his face. The ONLY REASON JUNGLE TALES WORKS is there were FIVE NOVELS PREVIOUSLY PUBLISHED and enormously received by readers.
Readers can like or not like Jungle Tales and will do so because they have a framework of other Tarzan novels to provide reference, but IF ONE IS COMPLETELY HONEST IN READING and HAD NEVER READ ANY OTHER TARZAN NOVEL(S), these 12 short stories are less than satisfactory and would never have found a publisher because the entire premise DEPENDS ON THE NOVELS. Jungle Tales of Tarzan is, at best, only 12 small hummocks below the hills rising to meet the mountain that is Tarzan of the Novels.
Jungle Tales of Tarzan is the pivotal collection which DEFINES the personality of Tarzan. I even draw upon the "discoveries" young Tarzan makes in Jungle Tales when I write about the ape-man. Jungle Tales of Tarzan is ESSENTIAL (regardless of what I just stated, but WHICH REMAINS VALID) if we are to understand WHY TARZAN CHANGED over the years. My observation is that if Jungle Tales was the sole output of ERB then TARZAN FAILS and would not have found a market.
Jungle Tales, however, in the context of the remaining Tarzan output shows Burroughs exploring the character more fully than he did in later volumes and what little exploration of the character that followed was BASED on the snippets of Jungle Tales.
Tarzan of the later novels would never have been as rich in personality or character if Jungle Tales had not been written--and Burroughs discovered that short stories was not his cup of tea. The readers and the author both benefited from this 12 step program. Burroughs weaned himself from short stories and the readers gained a dozen or more insights into the Tarzan character.
There could never have been Jungle Tales without five novels. The Tarzan that followed could not have evolved without Jungle Tales. In this case we have the chicken, then the egg, then the result.
But on the whole, this reader's viewpoint, Jungle Tales is not ERB at his best--but is the author at HIS MOST CONSISTENT.