Tarzan Over Africa
February 23, 2009
Tarzan Over Africa
The Psychological Roots Of Tarzan In The Western Psyche
As the strong man exhibits in his physical ability, delighting in such exercises as call the muscles into action, so glories the analyst in that moral activity which disentagles. He derives pleasure from even the most trivial occupations bringing his intellect into play. He is fond of enigmas, conundrums, hieroglypics; exhibiting in his solutions of each a degree of acumen which appears to the ordinary apprehension as praeternatural. His results brought about by the very soul and essence of method, have in truth, the whole air of intuition.
Edgar Allen Poe- The Murders In The Rue Morgue
…he dreams of the sight
of Zulu impis
breaking on the foe
like surf upon the rocks
and his heart rises in rebellion
against the strict limits
of civilized life.
H. Rider Haggard- Allan Quatermain
Yes! I noticed this dichotomy in the Western soul myself at least two thirds of a lifetime ago. I was always puzzled by it. Why in the midst of plenty and seeming perfection should the Western psyche be so discontented with its lot.
Well, time has passed. Two thirds of a lifetime in fact. After much mental lucubration and travail I now find myself in a position not only to understand it myself but to be able, perhaps, to make it clear to others; perhaps hopefully to you who are looking at this screen.
The problem began we are told, by people who ought to know, about one hundred fifty thousand years ago when our species, Homo Sapiens, evolved from its predecessor hominid, which has never been traced being the famous Missing Link, to begin its odyssey through time and space.
We are told that Homo Sapiens originated in Africa and that Black Africans, or what Tarzan would call savages, were the first Homo Sapiens. We are told, once again, that White people mutated from this original Black stock. This may or may not be so. I am in no position to affirm or deny the fact myself but, if so, there was a qualitative difference as well as a quantitative difference that then occurred. In fact, if one were to judge solely from appearances two sub-species of Homo Sapiens came into existence when the White evolved from the Black. This qualitative difference between the sub-species or what we have been taught to consider races, was noticed by all the early explorers with differing interpretations.
As the English novelist, H. Rider Haggard, who as a man of considerable experience and acumen, put it:
I say that as the savage is, so is the white man, only this latter is more inventive, and possesses a faculty of combination…
Rider Haggard was quite right, both sub-species evolved from the same stock, both had the same emotional makeup, but what Haggard dismisses as only ‘more inventive’ and ‘a faculty of combination’ is precisely that which separates the White sub-species from the Black sub-species and makes it evolutionarily more advanced. In conventional terms invention and a faculty of combination is called the scientific method.
The scientific method is not to be dismissed lightly. It is a faculty of mind that is an evolutionary step in advance of the White sub-species’ evolutionary predecessor, the Black sub-species.
This may be a startling interpretation to you, however if one is to follow the scientific logic adduced by scientists of Evolution the facts follow as day follows night. They cannot be avoided nor can they be explained away. They must be dealt with head on, just as our Attorney General Eric Holder has stated.
The evolutionary step within the Homo Sapiens species is almost tentative to our White minds, not so clear cut as to separate, say, the Chimpanzee species from the Gorilla species. The transition is however in that direction.
In the nineteenth century the cleavage between the scientific mind and that of the savage or first Homo Sapiens mind was beginning to become felt in the Western psyche. A malaise of spirit was created which troubled the soul of Western man. The ‘strict limits’ of scientific civilization versus the seeming naturalness and open simplicity of the African became a dichotomy in the Western psyche.
Haggard was not the first to confront the problem but before I begin at the beginning with who I consider to be the first let me elucidate the problem further by another quote from Rider Haggard.
Ah! this civilization what does it all come to? Full forty years and more I spent among savages, and studied them and their ways, and now for several years I have lived here in England and in my own stupid manner have done my best to learn the ways of the children of light; and what do I find? A great gulf fixed? No, only a very little one, that a plain man’s thought may spring across.
Haggard was quite correct as far as he went. What he failed to understand, ‘in his own stupid way’, was that there was a small gulf over which civilized man thinks he could spring backward without difficulty but from the other side that small gulf appears a great chasm which the completed mind of the first Homo Sapiens can never find a way across.
Edgar Rice Burroughs who read Haggard and was also struck by this really important introductory chapter to ‘Allan Quatermain’ pondered the issue long and hard and resolved the issue in his own mind when he said that the savage mind could never grasp science while only one in a hundred of the White species could, with perhaps one in a thousand being able to advance science. ERB intuited what modern genetics would prove.
This dichotomy between the primitive and scientific mind does not become truly prominent until the mid-nineteenth century. It wasn’t observable to the naked eye before then and only begins to establish itself in literature with the apperance in 1841 of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘Murders In The Rue Morgue.’
Poe created a whole new genre of literature, not only of the detective story, but of the conflict between what Freud would later identify in his system as the Unconscious and the Conscious mind. Prior to Poe reason, or the forebrain, was the sole approach to knowledge; after Poe awareness of the Unconscious element began its long rise until today it is dominant.
When dissatisfaction with Haggard’s strict limits of civilization began to forcibly intrude into White consciousness, causing the split identity, is not clear to me although it may well have been the introduction of the Age of Steam. Certainly by 1841 the intrusion of the steam railroad was going a long way to condition man’s mind to a rigid one way view of reality as laborers spun out the long steel ribbons along which the great unyielding iron locomotives ran.
The science of steam was unforgiving, with a low level of tolerance for human error, and making no allowance for individual idiosyncracies.
In the days of the great steamboat races on the Mississippi boiler pressure was controlled by a little governor. Greater speed could be attained if the governor was removed allowing boiler pressure to increase. Of course, the inevitable result was the explosion of the boiler and destruction of the steamboat and crew. Even knowing the scientific consequences of removing the governor operators time after time did it in hopes of defeating physics and winning the race.
Thus science seemed ‘unfair’ and the White man’s limited undeveloped understanding began to rebel.
When evolution gave man access to science he reached the limits of what human exertion alone could do. Thus the forebrain was frustrated, driving it back toward the brain stem and the Unconscious. A new scientific frontier was opened thereby- the study of the human mind.
Edgar Allan Poe grasped this significance expressing it in poetic language. ‘Murders In The Rue Morgue’ posits the problem in the form of C. Auguste Dupin who, while using rigorous scientific method is mistaken for being intuitive. The Conscious mind versus the Unconscious.
The Unconscious is always disreputable. It is there that little understood sexual urges and primitive egoistic rituals reside. It is there that the primitive man resides; the savage of Rider Haggard, the Negro of the present day. It is there that the Western psyche rebels, seeking to emerge triumphant over science and understanding. That is the little leap backwards that Rider Haggard saw. In academic writers of the nineteenth century it was called ‘the thin veneer of civilization.’
Thus the initials of C. Auguste Dupin spell CAD, or a slightly disreputable man. A man who thinks only of himself. If Poe doesn’t introduce the notion of the doppel ganger, he certainly defines the role and purpose. Dupin and the narrator are two halves of the same person. They are in fact one personality.
This notion would be further developed in Conan Doyle with his creation of Sherlock Holmes and his doppelganger, Dr. Watson. The notion would be brought to horrifying fruition in the classic tale of the split between the conscious and unconscious minds, Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.’
Poe’s narrator being of greater means than Dupin who is seedy and down at the heels rents an old dilapidated house in the Faubourg St. Germain which creaks as lustily as the House of Usher. The house is a symbol of psychological decay. The Faubourg St. Germain is itself a symbol of decay. Formerly the home of the pre-revolutionary elite, since the French Revolution it is the home of shattered fortunes.
The two men, who are inseparable, lock themselves up in this mansion by day with all the curtains drawn, sure sign of intense depression, going out only after dark into what the narrator calls the ‘real night’ as opposed to the night of the soul; the dark Freudian unconscious.
And then two women are murdered in mysterious circumstances. Using all his scientific method Dupin divines the murderer to be an Orang-outang, which was no small feat whether scientific or intuitive. Thus the highest mental powers were symbolically pitted against man’s animal nature.
Poe thus states the central problem of the Western psyche which is still unresolved at this time while still being discussed as much. While Rider Haggard was wrestling with the problem Conan Doyle was writing his Sherlock Holmes stories. Holmes like Dupin is a bit of a cad; not entirely an admirable person. He has placed himself above the law, being quite capable of executing summary judgment on one who might in his sole opinion escape the toils of the law. Holmes companion, Dr. Watson, is a sturdy unimaginative burgher who serves as the example of the unconscious to Holmes’ conscious but scientifically unfeeling mind.
Robert Louis Stevenson takes matters to an even more intense level at roughly the same time. Jekyll and Hyde are in fact one man. Jekyll is the example of what Freud would call the repressed man but one which society calls a disciplined and respectable man. He is in total control of himself but he suspects there is another side to his character which he would like to discover.
Unable to find access to this other side by psychological or rational means, he uses his scientific acumen to invent a potion which releases this demon, Mr. Hyde, concealed inside his unconscious. Hyde is a very destructive character and having been once released he proves impossible to put back in the bottle. He returns unsummoned. Eventually he suppresses Jekyll becoming the sole personality. The jump only works one way.
Thus Stevenson predicted the evolution of the twentieth century. This little cluster of writers bridging the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is very interesting.
In the intervening near fifty years between ‘Murders In The Rue Morge’ and ‘Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde’ science had been revealing nature at a galloping pace placing even greater stress on the Western psyche. Central to the further deteriorization of the psyche was Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin Of Species’ which appeared in 1859 just on the eve of the exploration of Central Africa when the stressed scientific Western psyche confronted its dark unconscious in the form of the African Black man. Thus Africa became the Heart Of Darkness for the White man just as Hyde was the heart of darkness to Jekyll. That little gulf across which he thought he might leap appeared as a gigantic chasm.
The notion of evolution versus Biblical creation not only caused a tremendous social dislocation but the notion of evolution from a lower to a higher, from Ape to White man, placed the Black man or Negro in an intermediary state of development just as Burroughs would later depict the role of Tarzan Of The Apes.
Beginning c. 1860 with the expedition of Capt. Richard Francis Burton into the lake regions of Central Africa the problem began to take a concrete form.
What the White Man found in the interior of Africa startled him. For here the dichotomy between his unconscious and conscious was juxtaposed in reality between himself and the Black African. The Black African seemed to represent unchanged what man had been one hundred fifty thousand years before when he evolved from the hominid predecessor.
For Burton and Henry Morton Stanley who followed him as an explorer the superiority of the White was apparent. In the Negro they saw only the child of nature; men without alphabets, physics, chemistry, astronomy or intellectual attainments of any kind. The Negro was to be pitied, treated paternalistically as a little brother or as the Negro would later be known: The White Man’s Burden, Idi Amin notwithstanding.
The main period of exploration and discovery was ending when Rider Haggard began publishing his great African adventure trilogy from 1885 to 1888.
While Burton and Stanley felt an easy superiority over the Blacks, Rider Haggard took a more disquieted attitude. He was troubled when he noted that for all the White man’s scientific attainments there was no difference in the emotional development of the two sub-species.
And what did he find? A way forward? A great gulf fixed? No. ‘Only a little one, that a plain man’s thought might spring across. I say,’ he said, ‘that as the savage is, so is the white man, only the latter is more inventive, and possesses a faculty of combination…’
Well, indeed. But wasn’t Haggard undervaluing the quality of being more inventive and possessing a faculty of combination? Those two qualities, after all, comprise the scientific faculty which cannot be attained by effort but is evolutionarily ingrained. It is forever beyond the reach of the first Homo Sapiens. Haggard and all other writers recognized that this faculty is what the Africans lacked.
Consider then in one hundred fifty thousand years the Africas were so incurious that they had never observed the heavens. They had no astronomy! When the White split off probably one hundred thousand years ago this is the first science they established. Think about it.
Is this scientific faculty such a small thing? If, in fact, a White man of plain understanding can make the leap backward to a natural state can the Black or natural man leap the chasm to a scientific state of consciousness?
Darwin’s theory of evolution is based on natural selection, actually a form of eugenics, by which he believed new species were evolved. It would appear, however that evolution is caused by genetic mutations and when a species has mutated into the complete expression of itself evolution stops for that species which then becomes, as it were, a living fossil.
Rather than natural selection there is perhaps natural rejection. When a new sub-speices forms with its differences it is more likely that the predecessor recognizes the differences and ejects the new comer rather than the new species recognizing itself and banding together. Consider Tarzan among the apes.
When the White sub-species came into existence perhaps one hundred thousand years ago it is more than probable that the sub-species was rejected by its Black predecessors and forcibly ejected from sub-Saharan Africa.
Thus in the two closest known predecessors of Homo Sapiens, the Great Mountain Ape and the Chimpanzee both species are completed and now await extinction as they are unable to compete with their successor hominids.
Scientists tell us, I have no way of disputing their conclusion only interpreting them, that Homo Sapiens evolved from a predecessor about a hundred fifty thousand years ago. They further tell us that the first Homo Sapiens was the Negro sub-species.
The predecessor, who has disappeared without a trace, unless he is the Bushman, was a completed species; he was incapable of further evolution himself but from him the Negro sub-species of Homo Sapiens evolved.
Now comes the hard part to accept. Science is science; one must either follow its facts or abandon the pretence of being scientific man.
As the first Homo Sapiens was the Negro sub-species, is the Negro sub-species complete as an example of evolutionary development? If the Negro was the first Homo Sapiens then the White sub-species must be evolved from the Negro and as nature is ever groping toward higher intelligence the White must be an intellectual improvement on its Black predecessor. The apparent facts indicate this.
Evolution appears to be always toward a form of higher intelligence. Thus the qualities of combination and inventiveness may be completely beyond the reach of the Black sub-species. The Black may stand in relation to the White as the Great Mountain Ape stands to the Chimp.
Further, if one assumes, as one must, that evolution has not stopped either with the development of Homo Sapiens or its sub-species the White man, then the White man must carry the genetic makeup for the mutation to the next step of evolution. As only fifty thousand years intervened between the evolution of the first Homo Sapiens and its White successor than the next evolutionary sub-species or species may already be among us. This is what H.G. Wells novel The Food Of The Gods is about. Apparently the evolutionary bud, like a swelling on a tree, may only blossom once and then the sub-species or species is incapable of budding again becoming fixed in form
The question then arises will the next step be to a new species that will make Homo Sapiens a completely inferior species such as now exists between Homo Sapiens and the Chimpanzee or a new sub-species that will merely increase the distance between it and the first sub-species.
If the new mutation increases its intellectual capabilities will it also be able to evolve a new emotional organization that will separate it from Homo Sapiens and its animal nature completely? Or is it possible that the dichotomy between the two under which Western man suffers will increase involving some sort of evolutionary insanity or suicide?
Well, as the nineteenth century drew to a close vitamins hadn’t even been discovered let alone genetics so people muddled along in a dissatisified condition.
The unconscious aspects of man began to predominate over the conscious as Western man confronted with his natural state in Africa began to slip back across the little gulf in admiration of the seeming ‘natural ‘ state of the ‘noble savage.’ This slip backward was aided and abetted by Sigmund Freud’s vision of the unconscious.
Late in the century Thomas Alva Edison invented the movie camiera. This invention was to have a major effect on the rise of the Unconscious or retrogression to the primitive as the dominating factor in the Western psyche. At approximately the same time as the film industry was becoming important Sigmund Freud published his seminal work: The Interpretation Of Dreams. Thus a scientific vocabulary began to come into existence by which the workings of the mind could be analyzed and discussed. the Unconscious became an established entity.
Now, writing is work of the forebrain or in other words, a scientific pursuit, while movie making is a function of the Unconscious. A good story is more important in writing while subliminal drives are the stuff of movies. It is only required that movies make emotional but not rational sense. They follow a different logic.
Edgar Rice Burroughs was to be confused by this difference when he tried to translate his books to the screen. While the early Tarzan films were not unsuccessful they were not all that satisfying; it was not until MGM invented the Tarzan of primal desires impersonated by Johnny Weismuller that the movie Tarzan became potent. However in that guise Tarzan was entirely another creation. His being had become independent of ERB’s mind.
One movie is capable of finding more viewers than a thousand books can find readers. Thus the subconscious began to dominate over the conscious Tarzan.
I am of the opinion that Freud was already aware of the effect of the emergence of the Unconscious as a formative factor in society before he codified the phenomenon in scientific language. After all Freud was subject to the same influences as Poe, Haggard, Doyle, Stevenson and Burroughs.
Freud himself came from an earlier school which delighted in the unrestrained indulgence of the unconscious or passions. In English terms the attitude took form as the Hell Fire Club to which the American Benjamin Franklin belonged. Its motto was: Do What Thou Wilt. Its bible on the continent was ‘Gargantua and Pantagruel’ by Rabelais, while in Jewish circles the credo had been established by Jacob Frank and his descendants. Frank’s position was that man will never be good until he commits evil to his heart’s content. Freud being Jewish was of this school.
These groups of people were quite extreme. Their credo was startlingly expressed in the eighteenth century by Tobias Smollet when his hero, Roderick Random, is introduced into a woman’s home who wrote the following:
Thus have I sent the simple king to hell
Without or coffin, shroud or passing bell.
To me what are divine or human laws?
I court no sanction but my own applause!
Rapes, robb’ries, treasons, yield my soul delight;
And human carnage gratifies my sight;
I drag the parent by the hoary hair,
And toss the sprawling infant on my spear,
While the fond mother’s cries regale my ear.
I fight, I vanquish, murder friends and foes;
Nor dare the Immortal gods my rage oppose.
The above pretty much defines Freud’s intent in his psychology. So long as such sentiments were consciously expressed in print they horrified a rational thinker while remaining strictly an underground movement. But now Freud combined the attitude with the malaise of soul which had been called into existence by the dichotomy of the scientific and unconscious minds.
Freud reduced the mind, including the Unconscious, into scientific terms by which such Rabelaisan attitudes could be discussed and disseminated into polite society as scientific thought rather than eccentric opinion.
Freud despised what he called the morality of the day or in other words, Christian morality. He determined that the main cause of mental illness was the repression of disorderly or anti-social desires. He glorified these base desires as the Ego and proclaimed that where the Unconscious was Ego shall be. This is another way of saying: Do What Thou Wilt.
Thus in the decades following Freud the whole notion of self control and a disciplined mind fell into disrepute as Western man began to revel in his most criminal desires; for the Unconscious which always disregards the rights of others is alway criminal.
So it was that the terrible figure of Dracula who began his rise in the 1890s became the dominant psychological projection of the twentieth century. Dracula is the Unconscious incarnate. Completely despising the rights of others, even their right to life; he sucks anyone’s life blood so that he alone may live.
Like Dupin and the narrator of ‘Murders In The Rue Morgue’ Dracula only comes out in the ‘real night’. In fact, one ray of the sun, in other words, consciousness, will turn him to dust. Light is anathema to him; he must shun the day.
Alongside Dracula the cult of the Phantom Of The Opera has grown into huge proportions being disseminated to polite society by Andrew Lloyd Weber’s opera of the same name.
Talk about conscious and unconscious, the Phantom lives in a sewer, the very home of the Unconscious, where he has installed a huge organ on which he plays the most glorious conscious creations of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Deformed in soul, the deformation has been extended to his exterior in the form of a burned face which he covers with a mask just as one masks one’s interior motives from others. Attracted to the higher things from the depths of his sewer he haunts an opera house directly above where, spying from secret passages, he falls in love with the beautiful opera singer who, initially repulsed by the soul shown on his face gradually succumbs to the lure of the unconscious.
Edgar Rice Burroughs was born into this strange social milieu, as we know, in 1875. Seemingly failing in every thing he did, he had scant prospects in life until at the age of 37 in 1912 his education jelled into the creation of his life, Tarzan the Magnificent.
Tarzan is extraordinary in that he runs counter to the other expressions of the Western malaise. Tarzan is whole and entire. In Freudian terms, where Unconscious was, now Ego reigned and it was good Ego, not the criminal model of Freud.
As Tarzan was, so must have been Burroughs, although I have no idea how he achieved this. It appears, nevertheless, to be true. In fact, whatever Burroughs read or was thinking about he seems to have resolved in Tarzan the mental dilemma which was first formulated by Poe. Further, he acknlowledges Poe’s influence.
We know that Burroughs read and revered the African adventure novels of Rider Haggard. It can be stated certainly that he read the African explorers Capt. Richard Burton and Henry Morton Stanley. Whether he read the other seekers of the source of the Nile, Speke and Baker, I don’t know, as I cannot so state with certainty. It is not impossible that Baker’s wife was a model for Jane.
It is certain nevertheless that the great age of African exploration thrilled him while occupying a prominent place in his daily thoughts.
Being scientifically inclined, he applied his reading in evolution, exploration, geology, psychology and other subjects to the formation of his great creation, Tarzan. As he says, he wrote to amuse and entertain (read: make money) so that he expressed the results of his deepest study in seemingly frivolous tales. Then, while he captured the imagination of the reading public, he offended the critics of ‘serious’ literature who refused to take him seriously. He even found it difficult to find a book publisher even though he was a proven popular success.
Yet he pondered deeply the dilemma propounded by Poe while apparently puzzling out the deeper meaning of Haggard’s introductory chapter to ‘Allan Quatermain.’ Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde filled his thoughts.
There is little doubt that Haggard’s hero, Sir Henry Curtis, is a progenitor of Tarzan. One can see Tarzan in the great White English warrior standing tall in a sea of Black soldiers. Sir Henry Curtis leads the Black Kukuana into battle against their foes. The first Big Bwana had come into existence.
Burroughs wants his hero Tarzan to be born in Africa so in 1888 the year ‘Allan Quatermain’ was published and Sir Henry Curtis sealed himself in his valley high in the Mountains Of The Moon, Lord Greystoke and his wife, the Lady Alice Greystoke are abandoned on the West Coast of Africa where, as we know, they both lost their lives but not before Lady Alice gave birth to a son who was then adopted by the great she ape, Kala.
In The Return Of Tarzan the putative successor to Lord John Greystoke is voyaging through the Suez Canal around Africa in his yacht, the Lady Alice, when he is shipwrecked near the exact spot where his father and mother built their tree house in Africa.
To understand fully this sequence in Burroughs’ imagination one has to examine the other source for his creation, Tarzan- Henry Morton Stanley.
There can be no question that before Burroughs wrote Tarzan he had read if not studied the books of H.M. Stanley. And, why not? Stanley’s most important titles are: How I Found Livingstone In Central Africa, Through The Dark Continent and In Darkest Africa.
‘Through The Dark Continent’ is one of the great adventure stories of all time. The conscious living out of Stanley’s unconscious needs and desires is remarkable reading.
One might think that Burroughs’ yacht ‘Lady Alice’ was named after Clayton’s mother, Lady Alice Greystoke. Not so. Burroughs is full of subtle jokes and elaborate circumlocutions. If not Clayton’s mother then how did Burroughs come up with the name ‘Lady Alice’ for the yacht? Well, if you read Stanley’s ‘Through The Dark Continent’ you will find that he carried for thousands of miles through Africa a boat in sections that could be broken down and rebuilt. With this boat Stanley circumnavigated Lake Victoria as well as Lake Tanganyika, then sailed the boat down the entire length of the mighty Congo River. That boat was named the Lady Alice. Thus Tarzan like Stanley was carried by the Lady Alice. That’s a very subtle joke, Son. Stanley himself had named the boat after his Cincinnati fiancee, Alice. During his sail down the Congo she ditched him for another man. In weird synchronicity Stanley ditched the Lady Alice on a bluff overlooking the Atlantic nearly at the end of his journey. What a true coincidence.
As an aside, the psychology of it is very interesting. Psychologically a vessel represents a woman. the Holy Grail which is a chalice represents woman while the blood it contains represents man. Thus you have the man, Stanley in the boat, woman. Stanley’s mother abandoned him as a child. He saw her only once thereafter. Thus, his mother, the most important woman in any man’s life abandoned him. In the Lady Alice, Stanley was obviously carried once again by his mother although I don’t know if her name was Alice also. He then abandoned his boat the Lady Alice.
Stanley didn’t follow the Congo to the sea as is popularly believed but abandoned the river after traversing an incredible series of rapids when he came to an identified rapids at Stanley Pool where, completely exhausted and having reached an explored point, he considered his job done. He had the Lady Alice carried to a hill top where he left it to the elements. Now, in Burroughs mind he may have landed the Lady Alice at the approximate place he thought Stanley had abandoned his Lady Alice. So, Tarzan’s house may have been intended to be on the coast directly below the Lady Alice. That would also make the location in Gabon. In that sense Tarzan was the successor of H.M. Stanley.
One may therefore assume that the Greystokes were put ashore near the mouth of the Congo where the fictional yacht Lady Alice ws shipwrecked within sight, as it were, of the real Lady Alice. That’s how the mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs worked.
On his way from England on the Emin Relief Expedition which forms the content of ‘In Darkest Africa’ just like Lord Greystoke Stanley sailed from England through the Suez to Zanzibar where he collected his porters, sailed with them to Capetown and from thence to the mouth of the Congo. Then Stanley began his incredible journey up the Congo across Africa from West to East into the Northern lake regions where on this trip he located and identified the fabled and thought mythical, snow capped on the equator, Mountains Of The Moon.
Anyone who doesn’t admire Henry Morton Stanley has the heart of a dullard. What a man! What terrific incredible adventures. I’d rather read about them than live them myself but what a story. So thought Edgar Rice Burroughs who never tried to live such adventures either.
Very important to Tarzan is Stanley’s dealings with the various African tribes. Stanley is virtually a single White man leading a faithful band of Negroes just like Tarzan and his faithful Waziri.
Africa was virtually Stanley’s province as it was for Tarzan. Tarzan’s reputation was far famed throughout Africa or at least the areas of Africa through which Stanley traveled. Tarzan doesn’t have much to do with South Africa which has no association with Stanley although Tarzan does travel in North Africa of which Samuel Baker wrote.
Stanley, whose three major expeditions covered a period of about fifteen years must also have become legendary amongst the Blacks. The exploration of Lakes Victoria and Tanganyika coupled with the journey down the Congo must have been the subject of astonished conversation in every village in Central Africa. The more so because Stanley was on scientific expeditions to map geographical features like lakes and rivers which reason no African could ever comprehend.
They could comprehend slaving and ivory buying but they couldn’t comprehend scientific endeavors.
Stanley’s situation in Uganda near the Ripon Falls, the outlet of the Nile from Lake Victoria, with its emperor Mtessa is the stuff of legend for either Blacks or Whites. Stanley, virtually singlehandedly at the head of a band of African natives successfully negotiated months at the court of Mtessa and lived to the tell the tale which I believe few could have accomplished. Then traveling South through areas that had never seen a White man he successully negotiated the circumnavigation of Lake Tanganyika. Both Victoria and Tanganyika are among the largest bodies of fresh water on earth, huge lakes. Then transporting the Lady Alice to the Congo he made the extraordinarily hazardous descent of that enormous and hostile river. This is really mind boggling stuff.
There are too many allusions in Burroughs to the adventures of Stanley to believe that he wasn’t a source for Tarzan.
As more or less an aside there is even a possible allusion to a scene in Burton’s ‘Travels In The Lake Regions Of Central Africa.’ Burton describes in particularly vivid detail an apparition he had while suffering from fever. In a fairly remarkable psychological projection he experienced himself as two different people, not unlike Jekyll and Hyde, who were at war with each other; the one attempting to defeat the best efforts of the other.
In 1857 this psychic manifestation could not be understood. Today it can be interpreted. It would seem that Burton was consciously aware that he seemed to thwart his own projects. He undoubtedly worried about this a great deal but as an unresolved subconscious controls the conscious mind he couldn’t penetrate the mystery.
Under the influence of malarial fever the psychic barriers of the subconscious broke down and his desire was shown to him symbolically by his unconscious mind. Had Burton been psychologically capable of pursuing this insight to its logical conclusion unearthing the fixation on which it was based then he would have resolved his problem and integrated his personality becoming a single unit or whole person. His legs wouldn’t have given out on him as he came close to his goal. Depth psychology was unknown in 1857 so the psychological manifestation remained a mystery to him.
It seems clear that Burroughs was equally impressed by this incident which he later used to create an alter ego for Tarzan called Esteban Miranda. If you recall, Miranda’s inept activities were bringing Tarzan into disrepute. Africa began to wonder.
As the evolution of Tarzan, as I mentioned in my earlier essay, the idea of Tarzan entered the back of Burroughs’ mind bearing a candle which in a pitch black cave is a pretty strong light. This idea was probably an identification with Sir Henry Curtis of Rider Haggard but Burroughs was unable to develop the train of thought when he came to the water barrier in the vaults of Opar.
Tarzan successfully leaped the barrier but Burroughs lost his train of thought when the candle symbolically blew out leaving the idea of Tarzan to gestate in his subconscious. There Curtis slowly combined with Henry Morton Stanley to erupt from Burroughs’ forehead fully formed in 1912 as Tarzan.
Burroughs probably read Stanley in the nineties. His creative juices would have been jogged when Stanley died in 1905. Stanley’s devoted wife gathered several chapters of Stanley’s autobiography of his childhood, composed by himself, then cobbled together the rest of his life from diaries, news clippings and the like.
Stanley’s autobiography was released in 1909. The first Tarzan book was written in 1912. I don’t know when Stanley’s autobiography came to Burroughs’ attention but sometime before 1912 he read it completing the idea of Tarzan in his mind. As Burroughs’ prospectus to All Story Magazine indicates, Burroughs was struggling to combine a number of ideas into the entity that was to become Tarzan.
The publication of Stanley’s autobiography plus the pressure at age 37 of having to so something to merit his high opinion of himself probably forced the jelling of the idea of Tarzan which erupted from his forehead bearing gold ingots like Tarzan emerging from the rock of Opar above the gold vaults.
Burroughs now had the ideal vehicle to give expression to all his social theories. Critics may see Burroughs as a mere shallow entertainer but I don’t. I bought my first Tarzan book the year Burroughs died in 1950 with I was twelve. I continued to buy them until 1954 when I was sixteen. I was totally absorbed in them; not as mere entertainment. I thought Burroughs was writing some pretty heavy stuff even if I missed the much I picked up later when my interests were subconsciously directed to the same social problems that concerned Burroughs. I found to my surprise that Tarzan having entered the back of my mind had formed much if not most of my social thought. I give you the results of my education by Burroughs here.
I find myself amazed by the depth and profundity of Burroughs’ thinking. The ease with which he handled these complex problems without directly identifying them or preaching is fairly amazing. I pointed out in my earlier essay how Burroughs addressed the problem of eugenics in the males and females of Opar.
So he took on the problem of psychic dislocation in the White sub-species in the very nature of his creation, Tarzan.
We know he was heavily influenced by Poe’s ‘Murders In The Rue Morgue’ because he retells the story in the ‘Return Of Tarzan’ in Chaper 3, ‘What happened In The Rue Maule.’ Now this retelling is close enough to be considered borrowing if not plagiarism if his purpose hadn’t been to develop Poe’s theory. Poe was positing the problem; Burroughs was offering the solution.
Just by way of reference; my copies of Tarzan are those of Grosset and Dunlap from the late forties and early fifties. They also have what I consider the finest artwork on Tarzan, a matter of taste, I know.
Where in Poe, Dupin is a human while the Orang-outang a beast, Burroughs combines the two in one. The sub-conscious and the conscious are integrated. Tarzan is at once the most charming and civilized of men but once aroused he quickly reverts to animal ferocity. But he is able to pass back and forth at will, unlike Jekyll and Hyde, and at a moments notice; he is in control of both his animal and human nature.
He even escapes by leaping from the window to a telephone pole, which had appeared since Poe’s time, shinnying up the pole, having had the good sense, or science, to look down first to see a policeman standing guard, he then makes a fairly daring leap, the result of his jungle training, to the roof of the building scampering across numerous rooftops. Tarzan then descends to earth down another telephone pole. There were telephone poles in Chicago but I don’t know whether Burroughs checked to see if there were telephone poles in Paris.
Running wildly for a few blocks he then enters a cafe, successfully cleaning himself up to a gentlemanly appearance in the rest room. Now fully human again he ‘saunters’ down the avenue where he meets the countess as his charming urbane self.
These two stories of Poe and Burroughs are fairly remarkable; one posits the problem which the other resolves. Was either conscious of what the problem was that they were dealing with? The results would indicate yes but in the chapter on the Rue Maule Burroughs has this to say:
‘Tarzan spent the two following weeks reviewing his former brief acquaintace with Paris. In the daytime he haunted the libraries and picture galleries. He had become an omnivorous reader and the world of possibilities that were opened to him in this seat of culture and learning fairly appalled him when he contemplated the very infinitesimal crust of the sum total of human knowledge that a single individual might hope to acquire even after a lifetime of study and research, but he learned what he could.
Surely Burroughs is here reflecting on his own study and research with becoming modesty. His thirty-seven years have not been wasted in idleness. As an omnivorous reader he has acquired some small store of knowledge which he has considered deeply. He does think about the problems of his times. The conflict between the split conscious and unconscious mind of the White man which was commonly discussed as we have seen interested him. Tarzan is simply the result of his cogitations.
Tarzan, born in Africa, the seat of the primitive, reared by Kala a she ape as a pure animal, then progressing straight from his animal nature to the civilized pursuits of study and absinthe he returns to the jungle to experience the intermediate Black nature as chief of his faithful Waziri. This pretty well describes the historical reality of Western man. Then Tarzan rules over Africa as an avatar of science.
Sometime after 1915 when Freud’s body of work began to develop in translation Burroughs must have done a quick study finding, apparently, no difficulty in understanding what Freud was talking about. Further, I think he quickly went beyond Freud’s own understanding, or at least, he applied Depth psychology in a positive way while Freud chose the negative way. Thus Tarzan integrates his personality while Freud exacerbates the separation of conscious and unconscious.
Both Freud’s and Tarzan’s influence grew during the period between the wars. However when MGM preempted the influence of the books in the thirties withe the invention of the movie Tarzan, the great jungle hero began to be lost in the Freudian miasma. The movies turned him into part of the unconscious.
At the same time Africa became a known quantity and while not losing its charm for the Western dichotomy it lost its mystery becoming more commonplace as the Black African absorbed the forms of Western culture. A Black African in a shirt, pants and shoes is just an ordinary Black man. He is no longer the ‘noble savage.’
Then, too, Black resentment at White dominance came to the fore and resistance to the White began along with an offensive for not only equality but superiority.
Thus Marcus Garvey appeared with his Universal Negro Improvement Association. While he was ridiculed in America and had his credibility destroyed he nevertheless laid the ground work for what has followed. His UNIA was truly universal organziaing Blacks in Africa, the West Indies, Brazil and the United States.
At the same time White scholars like Lothrop Stoddard were proposing the innate superiority of the White man. As the science of the time posited one species of Homo Sapiens composed of three separate ‘races’ there were slight grounds to suppose that there were any other than superficial differences between the ‘races.’ There was no basis to differentiate substantial qualities as between two sub-species of different developmental stages. Stoddard and the ‘racists’ were discredited and ridiculed as much as Marcus Garvey had been.
The Second World War intervened suspending discussion for a few years. After the war Freudian thought had taken hold of the psychological community. The founder’s ideas were revered rather than questioned or tested. Freud’s ridiculous map of the mind took on concrete form as students struggled to understand such nonsense as the Id, Libido and Super-ego. Really laughable stuff.
His notions of the unconscious were embraced by the people at large. The ideas of self-discipline and mental training were rejected in favor of avoiding ‘repression.’ The criminal aspects of the unconscious gained the ascendance furthered along by the avatars of the unconscious- movies and movie makers.
As 1960 dawned the Whites began a precipitous slide back across that narrow little gulf, which Haggard saw, toward savagery.
However as there was a difference in the quality of the mind of the White it became apparent that it was not so possible as it seemed to abandon their scientific nature. While the Black without the scientific ‘gene’ could be relatively comfortable in a scientific milieu supported by Whites, the scientific White could not be comfortable in a savage world, He was troubled either way.
Freud had thus injured the sub-species greatly by insisting on the ego occupying the unconscious rather than melding the two halves of the mind by eliminating the destructive elements of the subconscious.
I had taken my Tarzan in subconsciously so that in 1960 when the challenges to White intellectuality became confusing I was able to hold on to my standards if not undisturbed then at least securely. When I later integrated my personality I became proof against the destructive elements of Freudiansim.
Through Burroughs then I identified with his hero Tarzan to save my soul. When I say that Tarzan lives I mean that he was my sheet anchor on the stormiest of seas. It was because of ERB’s creation of Tarzan that I have survived whole and entire. May Tarzan ever prosper and never die. May he have discovered the fountain of youth. Look to the future and keep you eye on the bouncing ball.