Rod's Reply: Commentary on Adam's "Thin Veneer..."
Copyright © 1998
Note from Tangor:
I originally included Rod's Essay at Tangor Responds since there was not (at the time) an appropriate place for it to appear at erblist.com. Since then ERBmania! came into being and I should move it there.... but that might break a search engine somewhere, so here it stays.
Tangor's two essays (Tarzan at the Movies and Balancing Tarzan were pretty much on target. Watching "Tarzan and the She-Devil" recently, I was reacquainted with the falsehood of Lex Barker's Tarzan (though I'm sure he was a victim of directorship and writing). ERB's Tarzan wouldn't just give up without even searching for Jane. If Tarzan ever gave up it was a retreat into amnesia. It was, however, a good jungle man movie, and I still enjoyed watching it.
Adam's essay was more disturbing. I recognized London almost immediately, since I have read a number of his books, enjoying his standard portrayal of a super being unable to achieve satisfaction in life because of that super being's inability to relate to the rest of humanity on a social/romantic level. This is not the same theme that underlines most of ERB's work. The two authors are very different in their method of writing and the message they present to their readers.
I find no parallel for Tarzan in London's work. At least not that I have read, or can remember reading. There might be a parallel between White Fang and the Mucker. Here the stories are somewhat similar, though London chose a dog as his protagonist. I always believed that he did this to accentuate the concept of the divinity of love, since the human master that he grew to love at the end of the book was more of a god to him than a woman. I always thought that this was a hint to London's concept of love and its place with men.
I am not a scholar. I haven't read all of London's books, though I dare say, I've read most of ERB's. London is much darker than ERB. I enjoyed "Moonface" and nearly considered the man who plotted the death of this smiling character to be the 'hero' of the tale. I don't think that the bitter irony I had enjoyed in this London short story can be found in great quantity in ERB. However, I have a faulty memory, and some of ERB's books I haven't read since I was a kid.
In any case, I'm not sure that Tarzan was a true savage. Eating raw meat, shucking off one's trousers, and killing one's enemies might not be true criteria for savagery. Was Tarzan wild and untamed? Certainly, by forces outside himself. Tarzan was self contained, in control, so in a sense he was self domesticated. Many of London's supermen were lacking in the quality. Too much materialism vs socialism in London's themes.
Did Tarzan live under primitive human conditions? Certainly, though he never suffered from them. No disease, injury or starvation stunted the enjoyment of his life, except on a temporary basis.
Was Tarzan ferocious, fierce? Only when fighting, and this can be said (and should be said) of any fighter. Tarzan had to fight, so he had to hurt his opponent. He had to be committed to the dominance and destruction of whatever opponent he faced. Fighting is savage. I know. And 'civilized' men do plenty of it!
Was Tarzan vicious, cruel or furious? I don't think so. Actually, he was rather moderate when it came to emotions. A rather deep thinker rather than deep emoter. IMHO. And if Tarzan was upset when matters of Jane came to a troubled head, then he was no different than any other red blooded man. No man has ever manhandled my wife.
Finally, was Tarzan uncivilized? At first one is tempted to cry, "Yes!" I don't think that would be correct, though. Tarzan was civil. One great test of this was the easy way he got along with groups of people. Any group of people! He acted properly within the group he was currently staying. At the same time he managed to remain true to himself. If this isn't civilized, and at a rather high order I might say, then I don't know what is. The fact that he often wanted to get away and do "his own thing" is not a measure of savagery, its a measure of individuality. Civilization is getting together and doing good things for everyone. Tarzan did this often. ERB painted a picture of reluctance for Tarzan, but that was part of his ingenious way of endearing his superman to his readers. Tarzan helped people whether he wanted to or not. He was dependable despite his N'Kimalike protests.
Can the same be said of Wolf Larsen? I think not. That guy was truly savage.
Well, I printed out Adams's essay for deeper study. Often I fail to understand Nkima's messages. Like I said, I'm no scholar, and my head hurts when I try to follow the thoughts of those who are. I'm probably way off target in my comments, but I enjoyed reading and thinking about the essay.