ERB Book Reviews

ERB Book Reviews

Edgar Rice Burroughs book reviews from fans like you.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle

Reviewed by: Nkima 1999-07-11

"I hunt for haddocks' eyes
    Among the heather bright,
And work them into waistcoat-buttons
    In the silent night."
      --(The Knight's Song from Through The Looking-Glass)

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle is Blake's story. He is the hero, while Tarzan floats in and out of the tale like an untouchable ghost, warning, saving, granting boons—now in the trees, now a noble knight upon a dashing charger—yet he remains strangely peripheral to the main character, (Sir) James Hunter Blake, son of a thirty second degree Mason and Knight Templar. Of course, I am speaking of the plot of the story which has Tarzan following the rich American big game hunter, always just a step behind to allow him his own adventures. By comparing Tarzan to a ghost, I really mean, Spirit, for he is the guiding force of ERB's story despite the secondary place he takes in much of the action.

And this is a story of action, filled with knights and ladies and kingdoms at war, as fits the framework of Burroughs' so called "Lost Cities" formula novels. It's a strong novel, not just tossed off to fit some pattern or to sell by the number of words.

I investigate the mysterious comings and goings of the Ape-man and leave the synopsis of the whole for another telling. What makes Lord Tarzan so illusive in this story? I think it is more than a novelistic decision by ERB. He certainly knew how to tell a story by now, and it was no idle matter to set Tarzan creeping through vines and tendrils to find poor, lost Blake who was doing just fine on his own.

After his reduction in size in Tarzan and The Ant Men, the Lord was struggling to find his proper size and shape again.

"I wonder if I've been changed in the night? Let me think: was I the same when I got up this morning? I almost think I can remember feeling a little different. But if I'm not the same, the next question is, Who in the world am I? Ah, that's the great puzzle!" (Alice in Wonderland)

Perhaps, you will think I am mad. Perhaps you will think I am reaching for straws or stars when the matter is as plain as the nose on my face. Perhaps you will think I am mixing metaphors in a brew that needs no stirring.

Who cares? Let us begin with a sultry air current moving sluggishly from the north, lolling upon the back of an elephant. Let us mention a dream-child moving through a land of wonders wild and new, in friendly chat with bird or beast, and half believe it true. If Tarzan is knocked unconscious again, who is to say it is not just a summer dream in the folds of the jungle heat—the somnolence that is a corollary of equatorial midday?

The "Sir Tarzan" episode called Chapter 23, "Jad-Bal-Ja"

Who is this Lord? A Viscount, a peer of the realm—but this is a given. I really mean to say, who is this ghost of a man who melts into the jungle like a spirit whom we once knew so well in the flesh?

By the end of the story Burroughs is openly playing with Tarzan the demigod who drops to the ground out of a rustling above our wondering heads. He descends into the life of Guinalda with omniscience, "You are the Princess Guinalda?" It is like dying and opening your eyes in the presence of The Lord. It is like Mary at the tomb of Christ talking to the gardener.

"Are you hurt?" he asked. And we just shake our head in response of amazement.

"Do not be afraid," he assured her in a gentle voice. "I am your friend. You are safe now."

I may be reading too much into this scene, but it struck me like a physical blow when I first read it. It is like St. John's Jesus who passes through walls to say, "Peace be unto you."

"There was something in the way he said it that filled Guinalda with such a sense of safety as all the mailed knights of her father's realm had scarce imparted.

"I am not afraid—any more," she said simply."

"Where are your companions?" he asked.

She told him all that had happened.

It is told as calmly and as simply as a gospel story. I think it very beautiful, one of the most lovely things in all of Burroughs.

"Who art thou?" asked the girl.

"I am Tarzan."

We would not have been surprised if he had replied, "I am the Lord."

There is a strong Christian flavor to Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, that is sometimes found in the best of Burroughs, such as the sentimental mixture of religion and patriotism demonstrated in The Moon Men. In that futuristic novel people had to gather in secret for prayer and solidarity in the midst of an alien occupation of Earth. It may be the clearest account in Burroughs' writing of his personal beliefs.

"From behind the altar he took a shepherd's crook to which was attached a flag like that in my father's possession, and held it aloft, whereat we all knelt in silence for a few seconds, then he replaced it and we arose. Then we sang a song—it was an old, old song that started like this: "Onward, Christian soldiers." It was my favorite song. Mollie Sheehan played a violin while we sang " (Moon Men, 448).

If you wonder how so many good Christian ministers have been fans of this non churchgoer, perhaps it is because Burroughs demonstrated a strong spiritual foundation in the character of his heroes as well as the almost blasphemous portrayal of Tarzan/Christ, the immortal Son of God.

"Down from the Cross went Tarzan and Jad-bal-ja and before she turned back to enter the tunnel that led to her father's castle the Princess Guinalda stood watching them until a turn in the trail hid them from her view.

"May Our Lord Jesus bless thee, sweet sir knight," she murmured, "and watch o'er thee and fetch thee back once more with my beloved!"

Now I don't think I'm reading too much into this scene when I point out the obvious in Burroughs' own well-crafted sentences. "Down from the Cross ..." Indeed a daring construction and a fully-meant intention.

Tarzan and Jad-bal-ja share a moment of transfiguration as they pass from view by a turn in the trail. The Princess stands watching, and we recall the opening of the Acts of the Apostles.

"Why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven." There is a sequel to our story as well as to the story of Tarzan. Perhaps this is what is known as inspired writing.