Themes And Variations
The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs
#16 TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD MEN
This Silent River Of Mystery And Death
In our hour of darkness,
In our hour of need…
Leopard Men is an exceptionally dark novel. There is nothing about it that isn’t horrific, a sort of Gotterdamerung. There are probably more people killed in this novel than any other of Burroughs’. The threat of rape hangs heavy in the air. Old Timer/Burroughs is going through more major changes trying to burst his chrysalis.
Through it all runs the thread of religion; and not just one religion but three religious systems. There is the animistic religion of the Africans; a Semitic style religion of the Leopard Men and an esoteric interpretation concealed in a gorgeous wealth of symbolism. I will consider the last in Part B.
ERB’s life was reaching a crisis, he had the MGM contract to worry about, his ongoing war with the Reds and now his sexual crisis that had been roiling beneath the surface for nearly fifty years and was about to bubble over. Hence the novel is filled with murky, rasty sexual symbolism welling up from the subconscious disguised as religion.
For supposedly being an escapist writer without either serious purpose or intellectual content when one parses out any of his stories one is amazed that such serious purpose can be successfully disguised as escapist. ERB shares this ability with Homer of the Iliad. Since no one seems to have penetrated beyhond the surface glitter from one hundred years ago to this day I hope I will be pardoned for making the attempt.
ERB’s style of plotting is so diffuse that it is very difficult to grasp the focal point which unites the various strands of his story. In some incredible way he has half a dozen stories running concurrently each with a different point and different conclusion. One has to follow the bouncing ball. In Jewels Of Opar the uniting theme is the story of what happens to the Jewels. In Ant Men one has to follow the trajectory of Tarzan’s locket. In this one the key is Kali Bwana. ERB seems to favor this linking approach.
Leopard Men has two main stories, that of Old Timer and Kali Bwana with its subplots as well as the story of Tarzan And The Leopard Men. As the story opens Tarzan is in Leopard Men territory far from home. One wonders what Tarzan is doing in this country? Naturally Burroughs presents his information on a need to know basis. We apparently don’t need to know until p. 108 when after Tarzan regains his memory from yet another crushing blow to the skull we are told:
During the long day Tarzan’s mind was occupied with many thoughts. He had recalled now why he had come into this country, and he marveled at the coincidence of later events that guided his footsteps along the very paths he had intended on trodding before accident had robbed him of the memory of his purpose. He knew now that depredations by Leopard Men from a far country had caused him to set forth upon a lonely reconnaissance with only the thought of locating their more or less fabled stronghold and temple. That he should be successful in both finding these and reducing one of them was gratifying in the extreme, and he felt thankful now for the accident that had been responsible for those results.
Thus as Tarzan regains his memory he discovers that he had destroyed the stronghold of the Leopard Men. In rescuing Old Timer and Kali Bwana he will also destroy their temple. A good day’s work.
With this story of his quest and triumph we have a second examination of religion, a continuation of the exploration begun in Tarzan Triumphant in the first half of 1931. The reference to the accident that led to these results may be a reference to the incident in Toronto in 1899. He and Emma both believed it resulted in his writing career. Perhaps the signing of the contract with MGM in April may also be inferred to as an ‘accident.’ Much research into his relations with MGM and these critical five or six years of his career is necessary. Certainly by late July and August as he was writing this story the realization of the meaning of the contract he had signed was seeping in. By 1933′s Tarzan And The Lion Man he was fully aware. Subsequent to that discovery he formed an ill advised alliance with his new wife’s ex, Ashton Dearholt, to film the ‘real’ Tarzan. That in its place. For now his troubles were not on the laps of the gods but on the desks of Irving Thalberg and Louis B. Mayer.
If negotiations began on April 4 and were completed and signed on April 15 that means that neither ERB nor Rothmund read the contract very thoughtfully. They certainly didn’t take it to an attorney. As in Lion Man ERB complains of the duplicity of men; he was finding out what the terms of the contract meant. Perhaps in Leopard Men he was getting glimmers of the shape of things to come.
As in Triumphant the two Midian peoples obviously represent Jews and non-Jews, us meaning the Jews and them meaning the rest of the world as per Rabbi Schneerson’s division of mankind into two different species, us and them. I will treat the Utengans as us and the Leopard Men as them which is what ERB intended. The connection of the Leopard Men to the Jews can be established by two references connecting them to Hollywood:
Gato Mgungu had never had the advantages of civilization. (He had never been to Hollywood.)
And on p. 66:
Perhaps his reasons might be obvious to a Hollywood publicity agent.
I’m sure you moved out of the way so ERB’s sarcasm didn’t splash on you.
His letting his contempt for Hollywood which he had suppressed since 1922′s Girl From Hollywood show now and his associating it with Thalberg, Mayer and MGM is evidence of his frustration.
When Van Dyke returned from Africa he brought his gun bearer Riano and the actor who played Renchoro, Mutia, with him for the finishing scenes. It seems likely that ERB would have sought an introduction to these two ‘real’ Africans. One can only imagine what these two bush Negroes who had never conceived a world larger than their own Jungle thought of the twentieth century in the bizarre world of Tinseltown. How did these minds that had probably never seen a wheel prior to Van Dyke’s expedition react to what must have seemed to them a parallel universe straight out of Wells. Place yourself in their position and your head will spin. One wonders, even, having lived naked all their lives, how they reacted to dressing every morning and wearing Western style clothes all day. Did Tarzan’s experience in the shower in Tarzan Goes To New York have anything to do with these two noble savages introduction to civilization? Possibly the reference to Gato Mgungu’s never having been to Hollywood may refer to ERB’s observation of Riano and Mutia.
There is some wonderful stuff going on here. If Hollywood wasn’t centered on pornography and its concomitant degraded sadistic violence with a little imagination they might be able to put together a good movie or two from this material. Do I digress? Ah, then I digress. But back to the story.
As with ‘them’ elsewhere the Utengans are good men going about their business while the ‘us’ or Leopard Men are a destructive force in society. ERB has displaced the two religious systems to Africa where he presents two rather derogatory versions of Africans. He is uncharacteristically derogatory of the Blacks. Perhaps his concentration on so portraying the Africans was the result of his rage at the Scottsboro Boys. On p. 92 he says of the orgy of the Leopard Men:
He saw that religious and alcoholic drunkenness were rapidly robbing them of what few brains and little self-control Nature had vouchsafed them, and he trembled to think of what excesses they might commit when they passed beyond even the restraint of their leaders; nor did the fact that the chiefs, the priests, and the priestesses were becoming as drunk as their followers tend but to aggravate his fears.
ERB in his evolutionary mode had always considered the African to be less evolved but this is subjective observation and not an objective one. The bold statement ‘what few brains and little self-control’ may have been his personal opinion but doesn’t look well in print. I can’t imagine how it got beyond the Ballantine censors. I think it probable that his anger over the Scottsboro affair caused him to lose his customary discretion. In doing so he would be giving fuel to his detractors which it is never wise to do. When it is said that this is his worst novel I believe it is because of passages like this.
One wonders why the delay in the book issuance until 1936 and why then. Among other reasons one may have been that by 1936 the Communist campaign to embarrass the United States over the alleged injustice to the Boys was reaching a peak. Perhaps one intention of ERB was to show by the African example that Negroes were by nature of feeble intelligence and little self-control. If so, risky business for ERB. However throughout the novel a series of Black men is slathering at the mouth to rape Kali Bwana, recalling the train incident of the Scottsboro Boys.
ERB also introduces the concept of religious drunkenness which can exist quite independently of alcohol. Indeed there are many who can maintain a perpetual religious high. The bizarre statements of Rabbis Schneerson and Ginsburg can be attributed to religious drunkenness. In their religious enthusiasm they have certainly set aside reason. So once again a greater depth of thought is revealed than is usually attributed to Burroughs. Just two words- religious drunkenness- reveal a fair amount of thought and study.
During the great storm the Leopard Men catalyze the story by the ritual killing of a Utengan named Nyamwegi. While the storm is raging Tarzan who has taken refuge beside the bole of a great tree has it blown down with one of its great lower branches landing on his head. One admires the tensile strength of the Big Bwana’s skull. Apparently a big eighteen wheeler laden with thirty tons could roll over his head, the only possible result being a temporary loss of memory. Burroughs is going through another period of great stress so Tarzan does wake up in a world he doesn’t recognize.
A Utengan passing by notices the Big Bwana pinned to the ground on his back by the tree, not on his head, thank goodness, but somewhere over his body. No broken bones, luck is still with the Big Guy. As he had his bow and quiver slung over his back as he was pinned one has to think he’s in a fair amount of discomfort. Orando, the Utengan, is about to eliminate Tarzan from the story, which would have left a gap, when he has the suspicion that this might be his Muzimo. Orando had just been praying to his Muzimo to aid him in his hunting, perhaps Muzimo is the hunter after whom this chapter is named, and lo, he now appears. ERB goes to some lengths to demonstrate the superstitious nature of African religion. He really seems to be making an effort to belittle the African in this novel. Orando’s suspicion is confirmed a few moments later when by a series of coincidences Tarzan seems to answer when Orando calls him Muzimo. As Tarzan has no memory of another identity he assumes the role of Orando’s Muzimo. This is really quite well done.
A Muzimo is a sort of guardian angel, a spirit of an ancestor who looks after you. Tarzan really fills the role performing natural- for him- feats that Orando believes are supernatural. Tarzan, or Muzimo, directs the entire successful attack on the Leopard Men’s stronghold.
Tarzan’s role of Muzimo is a story within the story within the story which based on Trader Horn. If one keeps diving we might even find another story within the story. The story of Tarzan as Muzimo is quite independent of the story of Old Timer, the Kid and Kali Bwana. As we will learn when his role of Muzimo ends, Tarzan’s reason for coming to Utenga was to search out the Leopard Men. The fact that Old Timer, Kali Bwana and the Kid are there is mere coincidence. Their stories only become meshed at the Leopard Men’s temple which inadvertantly brings all together. Even then, after regaining his memory, as Burroughs explains, they are of little interest to Tarzan. The connection is only racial which is very weak. Really the devil is in the details; a whole lot of devils.
ERB has established the conflict between the superstition based animistic religion of the majority culture and the horrific satanic religion of his minority culture. He may be ‘fictionizing’ here the real life situation between the Western dominant culture of Christiantity, which he would still believe superstitious, and its recessive Jewish sub-culture. I’m not clear how closely he intends the comparison. At first sight Orando’s mistaking Tarzan for his Muzimo or guardian angel seems ridiculous yet even at this moment seventy percent of Americans believe in guardian angels. The figure would probably have been a few percentage points higher at that time.
Also, the Scopes Monkley Trial in Dayton, Tennessee was as recent as 1925-26, so the conflict between science and superstition in the US was by no means a settled matter. The analogy between African and American culture may be sardonic.
Just as the Utengans probably represent the Christian culture of the West so the Leopard Men may represent the minority Jewish Culture. Just as the Leopard Men had adherents functioning secretly within the majority culture directing affairs so did the Jewish Culture in the West. Just as the Leopard men had organizatonal representatives distributred amongst all the tribes across Africa functioning toward a common goal so Jewish Culture was represented in every culture of the Western world. Just as the witch doctor Sobito manipulated the affairs of the Utengans from within for the benefit of the Leopard Men so the Jewish Culture through the ADL/AJC manipulated Western Culture for its own benefit.
In the twenties and thirties the International Jewish Conspiracy phase of Jewish manipulation was the prevailing fear. The struggle to deny the Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion had not yet been effected although well along.
It seems clear to me that Burroughs always has ulterior motives in his novels. He is not simply telling a story for entertainment. Burroughs must have been puzzled by the attitude of the majority culture. While Science was daily discrediting the supernatural yet the majority of the majority clung to, not so much outmoded religious beliefs, as a religious cast of mind. The belief in Christianity was being steadily eroded as based on superstition yet rather than abandoning religion Americans frantically tried to incorporate science into religion. Thus one has the strong religious quality of Liberalism that encourages the defamation of Christianity yet pursues a religious agenda based on wishful thinking.
It is very strange, more than passing strange, that while Westerners reject Christianity they have reverence for Judaism and Moslemism. While Christianity represents an anterior stage in the psychological development of mankind, the former two are even more primitive, magical and superstitious. One has to laugh out loud at Rabbi Schneerson’s attempt to incorporate genetics into his religious system while the Moslem clerics are unfathomable by both Scientific and Liberal ideas and notions. Yet Liberals attack Christianity while endorsing Judaism and Moslemism.
Burroughs pits his alter-ego Tarzan and the majority against the minority religion launching an all out attack. Tarzan, whose memory is gone, accepts his role as Orando’s Muzimo. Curiously Burroughs describes Tarzan’s tan as so deep that he is the same skin color as Orando yet retains his status as ‘White.’ Possibly Orando was better able to accept Tarzan as his Muzimo because of the skin color. Tarzan becomes Muzimo being in fact Orando’s guardian angel until he regains his memory at which point he becomes again his own man pursuing his own interests. While he is Orando’s Muzimo he is a spectacular guardian angel directing Orando’s quarrel with the Leopard Men to a successful conclusion which as we are told his original intention was the suppression of the Leopard Men.
Tarzan foils the Leopard Men’s advantage in Utenga by exposing the witch doctor Sobito as a Leopard Man as well as the spy Lupingu. He is instrument in the deaths of both. His task is made easier because Orando believes implicitly in whatever his Muzimo says. Thus, while there is a natural explanation for what happens the results appear as genuinely supernatural to Orando and his tribesmen.
This is all handled very cleverly by Burroughs as he lets the reader see what is happening as he also shows Orando’s superstitious interpretation. It’s actually pretty funny.
By following Tarzan/ Muzimo’s advice the Utengans catch the Leopard Men coming back from a ritual orgy while hung over and either kill or scatter them, men, women and children. There was no one left alive in their village. Thus the majority expel their troublesome minority or sub-culture from their midst, perhaps as ERB wished the majority culture of the United States might do with its troublesome minority culture. He may have used Africa as a metaphor for the United States. In any event Leopard Men seems to be a continuation of Triumphant on the religious level while being perhaps the most detailed examination of religion that ERB ever did. But you can see why his Liberal detractors would call this his worst novel.
At the time of writing Leopard Men the most recently issued story was Tarzan The Invincible. Tarzan Triumphant had been written and probably submitted to Blue Book but it wouldn’t be published until 1932-33 while the book edition was published in 1932 so there couldn’t as yet have been a reaction to his portrayal of the two Midian cultures and Abraham son of Abraham and his followers of Paul.
Perhaps ERB found his religious portrayal of Triumphant too clumsy so he refined it in Leopard Men.
Riders On The Storm
If you don’t enter as an initiate you won’t get the story. The symbolism in this story is so strong and complete that it should be a standard psychological textbook. Burroughs writes as though he had just come from a course in esoteric symbolism. He continues this throughout the story too. I don’t know if I can do this justice but I will try.
Burroughs has entered the defining crisis of his life, thus the novel is full of symbols of life, death, sex and regeneration. ERB feels that he is being born again, the butterfly emerging from the cocoon. The very name Kali Bwana is the primary symbol. Kali is the Hindu symbol of life, death and regeneration. Her image is as dark as this story. This story, as it were, emerges from the very bowels of the pit, the viscera of frustrated desires and hopes of their fulfillment. Very frightening actually. I can see how on one level so many people would consider it ERB’s worst. It isn’t easily understandable.. The story deals with primal needs and desires that would drive a man insane. Indeed, Kali Bwana considers Old Timer insane. He himself says that maybe he is crazy. He makes psychotic statements and is on the verge of criminal sexual behavior throughout the book until the very end when he is reformed. This is an extremely violent but regenerative story. Sort of like Walt Disney on steroids.
Kali Bwana is the joy of man’s desiring. A platinum blonde, her beauty apparently disintegrates all men’s self control as she inspires dreams of rape rather than courting. Old Timer himself has rape in mind all through the book. No man or animal in the story every thinks of honoring her femininity; their only thoughts are to violate her beauty to gratify their illicit lustful desires or, perhaps, to cannibalize her beauty and make it their own possession. This is serious stuff.
As Kali she is the mate of Shiva. while Shiva is usually depicted as a handsome young man serenely playing the flute while all goes to hell around him Burroughs represents him as the Leopard god of the cannibalistic, criminal animist or nature cult. Thus, Kali Bwana is captured by the Leopard Men to serve as high priestess to their Leopard god thus forming an Anima and Animus. Burroughs does an excellent job of presenting both the barbaric splendor and degradation of the cult or religion.
The story is set by the book’s opening, one of attempted rape and violence set amidst a terrific storm in a sort of swamp like atmosphere. One feels this is not an ordinary storm but one fraught with significance and meaning. It is a life changing storm.
The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols which I use here for reference is readily available. It discusses storms on p. 941:
The storm is a symbol of a theophany, the manifestation of the awesome and mighty power of God. While it may herald a revelation, it can also be a manifestation of divine anger and sometimes of punishment.
Creative activity is also unleashed in a storm. In a cosmic upheaval beyond the power of words, life itself was born.
And then Burroughs refers to the storm as a hurricane. The Penguin dictionary says this of that, p. 533:
Hurricanes are almost Dionysiac orgies of cosmic energy. They symbolize the ending of one period of time and the beginning of another as tireless Earth repairs the damage.
So now we have the figure of the eternal female, the symbol of birth, death and regeneration coupled with storm and hurricane symbols also denoting major epochal changes. The impact is increased by the whole being expressed in a half dozen pages, very compressed.
It should be noted that Florence Gilbert represents Kali Bwana and Old Timer is obviously ERB. the changes are happening to him. Florence/Kali is both repelled and passive. Perhaps because of the ripening romance between his wife and ERB Ashton Dearholt had taken her on a motor tour removing her from the scene probably hoping separation would end the affir. According to the ERBzine 30s Bio Timeline the Dearholts returned to LA in May just as ERB was completing Triumphant and before he began Leopard Men. If he had been fighting his feelings for Florence her return was obviously more than he could deal with hence this terrific storm and the overwhelming number of female symbols in the novel.
At the same time as the rape attempt the Leopard Men corner Nyamwegi, a Utgengan returning from a date with his girl friend. Amidst the multiple bolts of lightning which illuminate the entire sky and tremendous crashes of thunder the Leopard Men gruesomely and bloodily murder the boy removing body parts.
ERB accentuates the ferocity of the storm and hurricane by saying that the lightning bolts were numerous and continuous, filling the entire sky. The Penguin dictionary, p. 606:
Lightning symbolizes the spark of life and powers of fertilization. It is fire from Heaven, vastly powerful and terrifyingly swift, which may be either life giving or death dealing.
And on p. 607:
As the weapon of Zeus, forged in FIRE (symbol of the intellect) by the Cyclops, lightning is the symbol of intentive and spiritual enlightenment or the sudden flash of inspiration. However, while it enlightens and stirs the spirit, lightning strikes down the drive of unsatisfied and uncontrolled desire…
So after this storm all will be changed; there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth. Kali Bwana has averted personal disaster while Nyamwegi has met his end. Nearby in another part of the forest Tarzan and Nkima crouch beside a forest giant to wait out the storm. Here the hurricane topples the tree uprooting it. Tarzan tosses Nkima out of the way but is himself struck by a branch, one assumes one of the big ones of the lower terrace. Once again the Big Fella is given a case of amnesia so that he is not aware of his racial affinity to the Whites aligning himself with the Blacks.
In another part of the forest, not too far away, Old Timer and the Kid are discussing their fortunes apparently unaware of this massive storm. As Old Timer sets out on the trail of ivory on the morrow he hears a shot which leads him to Kali Bwana. All the elements of the New Day are in place.
The action takes place not only in the forest but in the Ituri Rain Forest, the forest of forests. In Western symolism the forest is where the lost man wanders in search of his redemption. One has to find one’s way out of the forest for personal redemption. Thus Old Timer and Kali lose their way wandering around in the forest hopelessly lost. At one point Old Timer can’t see the constellations to navigate at night. At another the forest is so dark he can’t see the sun to navigate by it. Both he and Kali have to be rescued by Tarzan after he regains his memory.
As David Adams has pointed out Sheeta the panther is always associated with the Anima or female. Usually Sheeta is described as a panther but in this novel Sheeta is the Leopard. The smell of Sheeta is overwhelming throughout this novel. In this case I think we may be sure that Sheeta represents the fear of the feminine. Tarzan and Nkima are inseparable in this novel. Throughout the entire novel Nkima complains about the small of Sheeta who wishes to devour him, in other words, to emasculate him. So Burroughs is afraid of what is happening to him in regards of Florence. When Tarzan recovers consciousness after the battle with the Leopard Men the first thing he does is call Nkima. The little monkey in his place on Tarzan’s shoulder reminds one of the Egypian Ka or double. Tarzan the fearless and Nkima the fearful. Burroughs as a child confronted by John the Bully.
As an aspect of Tarzan’s- and Burroughs’- character Nkima probably represents his more chicken livered side. There is no record of Tarzan ever having fear, he doesn’t even know the meaning of the word, but Burroughs did hence Nkima who knows nothing but fear. Neither Tarzan nor Burroughs have ever been what one would call ladies men hence if not fear of the feminine at least an apprehension of it. As Burroughs is now reaching a major crisis of his life having now to choose either Emma or Florence it is not to be wondered that the forest reeks of Sheeta. Indeed, the Leopard Men themselves are symbols of the feminine and they intend to sacrifice Old Timer. Thus one has the leopard as Leopard god and Kali Bwana as his Leopard goddess.
The tremendous rainfall, itself a symbol of regeneration and fertility from the male sky god would create a steaming swamplike atmosphere as it fell on Mother Earth while the temple of the Leopard God itself was in a crocodile infested swamp.
First the Crocodile as symbol, Penguin p. 244:
The crocodile which carries the Earth on its back, is a divinity of darkness and the Moon, whose greed is like that of the NIGHT which each evening devours the Sun. From civilization to civilization and from age to age the crododile exhibits a high proportion of the countless links in that basic symbolic chain which belongs to the controlling forces of death and rebirth. The crocodile may be a formidable figure, but this is because like all expression of the power of fate, what he displays is inevitable- darkness falling so that daylight may return, death striking so that life may be reborn.
In other words, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs. Poor Emma. Obviously for ERB he is killing his past so that his future may be born.
The temple is in the center of a swamp so deep withing the forest that the sun never shines on it. The swamp is the quintessential female symbol. It is in the Lernean swamp where Heracles has to battle with the Hydra. Hydra=the water of the feminine and the irrational. Each time Heracles cuts off one of the seven heads another grows in its place until he cauterizes each severance with fire, that is the power of the male intellect.
Thus, one has crocodiles, leopards, water, swamp, the river and Stygian darkness. if you can’t rise above the fear of the feminine, you will be swamped, drowned in her waters. The only entrance and exit is this slow moving river is obscured by the forest. This river of mystery and death, this impenentrable forest. The River is the last of the great symbols we will consider, Penguin p. 808:
The symbolism of rivers and running water is simultaneously that of the ‘universal potentiality’ and that of the ‘fluidity of forms’ (Schuan) of fertility, death and revewal. The stream is that of life and death. It may be regarded as flowing down to the sea; as a current against which one swims; or as something to be crossed from one bank to another. Flowing into the sea it is the the gathering of the waters, the return to an undifferentiated state, attaining Nirvana. Swimming against the stream is clearly returning to the divine source, the First Cause. Crossing the river is overcoming an obstacle, separating two realms or conditions, the phenomenal world and the unconditioned state, the world of the senses and the state of non-attachment.
Then this from Burroughs, p. 191:
The sun was sinking behind the western forest, its light playing on the surging current of the great river that rolled past the village of Bobolo. A man and a woman stood looking out across the water that was plunging westward in its long journey to the sea down to the trading posts and the towns and the ships, which are the frail links that connect the dark forest with civilization.
If one looks at this novel from an esoteric symbolic point of view the symbols tell their own story.
As Old Timer says Kali means Woman. At the beginning we have Woman and the Shaggy Man.
I haven’t given the symbolism of the Shaggy Man yet so using the Penguin Dictionary of Symbols again under the heading Rags and Tatters, p. 782:
(Rags And Tatters) are the symbol of anxiety and lesions of the psyche as well as that material poverty which, in folktale, is sometimes adopted as a disguise by princes, princesses and wizards. It denotes simultaneously poverty and anxiety or cloaks inner riches under an appearance of wretchedness, thus displaying the superiority of the inner over the outer self.
Thus Kali- the Woman- the symbol of death, birth and regeneration, and The Shaggy Man or the Frog Prince, the Hero in disguise, waiting to be regenerated by the kiss of the ultimate Woman. A classic fairy tale, actually, with a tip of the hat to David Adams for insisting on the fairy tale connection.
The Man, the Woman, the Storm with a tremendous display of Lightning, Thunder, Wind and Rain completely transforming both the physical and psychic landscapes bringing the Man and the Woman together.
The Woman is then captured by the repressed sexual desire of the Leopard Men who wish to install her as their Goddess. The Woman or Kali is stripped Naked and then adorned with various attributes of the Leopard Cult.
As in various myths, fairytale and folklore stories the Man and the Woman (the Anima and Animus) have been separated by Fate and must fight through all obstacles to be reunited.
Kali (Woman) is led through the teeming, steaming forest with a rope around her neck to the big river down which she is canoed to a smaller stream, ‘the silent river of mystery and death’ in the darkest, swampiest, most crocodile infested part of the darkest of dark forests.
Abandoning all other concerns the Shaggy Man pursues Kali to the village of the Leopard Men where he is taken prisoner, then taken down the silent river (the Styx?) to be sacrificed. By a miracle the two escape only to be separated again while the Shaggy Man is taken back to the temple of the Leopard Men. Kali, Woman, is captured by a Black chief to serve his sexual needs. Rape again. White=Light, Black= Darkness. Thus the ever present threat of rape seems to be about to be fulfilled. But no, the elder wife of the Black chief objects to the White Woman. Out of the pot and into the fire. The Woman is left with Pygmies who are even more vile than the Blacks.
But now a Deus ex-machina, Tarzan, has released the Shaggy Man. Hot in pursuit he follows Woman to the Pygmy camp. He madly attempts rescue which is successful once again because of the Deus ex machina.
It’s not over yet folks. ERB can make any 192 page story go on for a near eternity. Together again Kali and the Shaggy Man are once more torn assunder when the Deus ex machina sends an ape who captures the Shaggy Man. Makes you breathless, doesn’t it? Deus once again reunites the Woman and Shaggy Man. Now, if you will notice the Shaggy Man forces a kiss on Woman. His act of violence shames him so that he finds redemption in his remorse. Thus the kiss of Woman has returned the Frog Prince to his rightful form.
As the story ends the two are about to leave the dark forest for the light of civilization down river.
Thus one has the classic myths- Psyche and Eros, Perseus and Andromeda and many others, numerous fairy tales -Cinderella, one which ERB has used before, and much folklore. It is done very well, too, if you’re following the bouncing ball.
It is noteworthy that the work of another great author is misunderstood too. I refer to the ancient poet Homer. While Homer’s reputation is very great no one understands the Iliad. The adventures of the Gods and Goddesses are beyond the comprehension of classical scholars. Thus they prefer the Odyssey which is written in a more comprehensible if pedestrian style. If I remember correctly the Five Foot Shelf excludes the Iliad while containing the Odyssey. While both are attributed to Homer they must have been written by two different mind sets. The psychology of each is too different to have been written by one mind. Besides the Iliad concerns the middle part of the Siege of Troy while the Odyssey skips all the way to the story of only one of the Returns.
There are similarities in the way Burroughs and Homer tell their stories but to avoid argument Homer is incomparably the greater.
Nevertheless Burroughs has masterfully used a set of symbols to supply a very rich subtext to this story and he has done it intentionally. He does know whereof he speaks. I don’t think there is any doubt that he has studied Esoterica. Probably the topic was of life long interest both in the old kook capitol Chicago and the new kook capitol of Los Angeles. (Kookie, Kookie, lend me your comb.)
There was a lot of esoterica going on in LA. The Golden Dawn of Aleister Crowley was out in the desert at Barstow, Manly Hall was advising the movies on estoteric matters, the Vedantists were established and the Theosophists had a terrific college in LA.
Anybody who thinks ERB wasn’t interested in such things doesn’t know how to spell Edgar Rice Burroughs.
While ERB wouldn’t touch a religious theme unless ‘highly fictionized’ he managed to highly fictionize all manner of religion in this great novel of his mature period. He was working at break neck pace too.
Love this stuff.
On to Part IV which will deal with the cast of characters. Inevitably there’s a certain amount of repitition but I try to cast the stuff in different highlights, crosslights and aspects. This stuff deserves a thorough examination.
August 5, 2011
Themes And Variations
The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs
#15 Tarzan Triumphant
Threads And Strands Of The Web
For I must speak what wisdom would conceal,
And truth, invidious to the great, reveal.
More than likely it is a coincidence that Burroughs wrote a fictional account of time and space weaving a web at this time, for Fate was bringing together threads and strands of the web of his own life in a picture of unparalleled opportunity and deadly peril. The decisions Burroughs would make would determine the outcome. His life could have gone another way. Or, perhaps, Burroughs sensed the impending crises and fictioned them in an attempt to deal with them.
We are already aware of the conflicts with the Judaeo-Communists. It seems clear that they were the original aggressors and that Burroughs was in reaction to them, in other words, on the defensive. Thus these first two Tarzan novels of the thirties are direct attacks on both aggressors. If Burroughs expected counter attacks there seems to be no evidence that he prepared for them. He never seems to have sat down to coolly analyze the problem in order to have a plan.
In fact, there seems to be little evidence that he ever actually realized the consequences of his success or how to handle it. While he had incorporated himself he made no effort to corporately structure his writing enterprise. In point of fact as a creative artist he was fundamentally incapable of running a structured business. Doing so would have interfered with his creative function. In fact, I am convinced that he dissipated his creative energies by becoming involved in business decisions to the extent he did.
Developing an organization is very difficult. While he should have done this, without a very fortuitous combination of circumstances it is very doubtful he could have. Hollywood was full of sharpers ready to take advantage of creative talent and in this case and nearly all others they did.
On the positive side, from 1911 to, say, 1928 ERB had created an unparalleled intellectual property in Tarzan. One in a zillion chance. As the twenties developed unparalleled opportunities to exploit the property evolved.
Apart from publishing, the three key profit centers were comics, movies and radio. All three strands came to fruition as the thirties began. Each required a slightly different approach. Each required thinking out with an intellectual departure from the past.
At this crucial moment ERB’s past arose to drag him down from behind. He was unable to make the emotional transition from what was essentially an emotionally battered youth to a successful, affluent man in control of his destiny. He remained psychologically attached to his personal relationship to Tarzan as an aspect of his personality rather than objectifying the character as a psychological projection for the world. He had prepared the way to make Tarzan a savior man-god but then couldn’t separate him from his own personality. If Fate had thrown the right people in his way they could have done this for him.
Thus rather than maximize his financial returns he essentially shot his feet off. He carped at the various media companies to the point where he was viewed as troublesome, an undesirable actually. Thus while he expected great financial returns including the means to buy a yacht, he sabotaged his own efforts to obtain them.
He belittled the returns of the comic strip for instance, bemoaning that it only returned thirty dollars a day. Well, that was eleven thousand dollars a year, every year. He could count on it. His MGM contract for Tarzan, The Ape Man provided him the exact same return. Twenty-two thousand divided by two years is eleven thousand a year.
At the time ERB signed the MGM contract he had a very valuable intellectual property already fully developed but he had developed a reputation among the Studios. The Studios had already had extensive dealings with him from the silent era. ERB, without a plan to market Tarzan had accepted whatever money came his way. Two of his titles had been sold in 1921 although production of them had been shelved. In 1927 FBO Studios decided to film Tarzan And The Golden Lion. While this film was lost for decades a print of the film was discovered which was issued on DVD in 2006 so that it can now be viewed.
In my opinion FBO did handsomely by ERB. A good clear scenario was written by William Wing that remained true to the spirit of Burroughs’ work; perhaps more than it ought to have in a movie sense. The filming, the photography is terrific; it has never been done better, not by MGM, not by RKO. It is true that Wing invented a sister for Tarzan but this is a minor point.
I find it difficult to undertand what ERB was disgruntled about except that another writer was handling his alter ego. The difference between a movie scenario and a book is very distinct. There would have been no way to get the entire convoluted story of Golden Lion on the screen so Wing wisely chose to develop a variation on the story of the Valley of Diamonds. Even so he threw in an earthquake scene a la Jewels Of Opar and Tarzan’s jumping the gap in the tunnel.
If anything his attempt to write as closely to Burroughs as he did lessened the impact of the film with some needless clutter. If, in 1935′s New Adventures Of Tarzan for which Burroughs provided the story idea, Dearholt attempted to tell the story more or less as Burroughs wrote, then the result was a hopeless mish mash. The movie was no truer to Burroughs’ Tarzan than FBO’s film, while lacking the clarity and force of the latter. Burroughs should have been grateful to FBO for an excellent movie. My idea of the best of the lot even though silent.
Had I been associated with FBO I would have found ERB’s criticisms nitpicking and offensive. After all FBO broke the boycott ERB had been under since 1922. The FBO movie triggered a response from Universal which held the rights to Jungle Tales and Jewels Of Opar. These titles were released as Tarzan The Mighty and Tarzan The Tiger starring Frank Merrill. At present there is no print of Tarzan The Mighty while as of December 5, 2006 I am still awaiting the release of Tarzan The Tiger. ERB once again was unhappy with these films, voicing loud complaints. All this carping could have done little for his reputation among the Studios. Before the long hiatus of Tarzan movies from 1921 to 1927 he had been run off the lot during the filming.
According to the ERBzine Timeline for the ’30s ERB approached MGM in 1930 asking $75,000 for a movie and was rebuffed. If this is true, $22,000 in 1931 was quite a comedown. MGM solved ERB’s querulousness by obtaining the rights to do with the character as they wished. They promptly disdained Burrughs’ storylines for their own while changing the character of Tarzan from that of an international sophisticate to that of a feral boy.
As the first full sound Tarzan, MGM hit the jackpot with the victory cry of the bull ape. The Tarzan yell would be the trademark of the charcter, although hardly a blood chilling fearsome holler. Burroughs himself couldn’t do better as Herman Brix in New Adventures merely growls out a long drawn Tar-man-gan-eee with the last sylable in falsetto. More laughable than fearsome.
In between these two films Sol Lesser released a monstrosity starring Buster Crabbe. Lesser never got the handle on Tarzan on his own, instead borrowing the MGM Characterization when he acquired the rights from them.
Lesser and his brother Irving were independent producers of some substance. Sol was born in 1890 in Spokane, Washington, dying at 90 in 1980. There is even a biography of his life. Not easy to find and not available on any site when I looked. If anybody knows where one is or having one could make a copy for me it would be much appreciated.
Lesser’s father who was in the nickelodeon business died in 1907 in San Francisco leaving the business to Sol and brother Irving. Sol got involved in distribution in 1910 eventually forming the Golden Gate Film Exchange in 1915.
In that year San Francisco’s infamous Barbary Coast was shuttered. Before the closure Lesser filmed the area, selling the movie. It would be interesting if the film was still around.
He made the right moves. After distribution he became a producer for First National and then formed a chain of movie theatres. After an aborted retirement he reentered production forming his own independent studio called either Principle or Principal Pictures. David Fury spells the name Principal in his Kings Of The Jungle and that sounds right. This was apparently Sol’s status when he acquired the rights to Tarzan from a third party in 1928 and when he made the Crabbe abortion in 1933.
Lesser was influential in Hollywood. He made it a point to know and be known. In the early thirties it was he who was responsible for introducing Disney to Joseph Schench (pronounced Skenk) and facilitating Disney’s move from Columbia to United Artists.
One can’t be sure of his politics from the sources cited but according to the New York Times:
…Lesser forsook production for distribution again, returning to the creative end of moviemaking in 1931 when, through is friendshlip with writer Upton Sinclair, he became involved with the Sergei Eisenstein project, Thunder Over Mexico.
Thunder Over Mexico was undoubtedly a Communist diatribe. Sol Lesser while involved with consevatives like Disney and Burroughs, also played the other side of the street with the likes of Upton Sinclair and the Jewish film maker, Sergei Eisenstein of Battleship Potemkin fame.
It would seem probable that he at least knew such luminaries as Louis B. Mayer and possibly Irving Thalberg. Even though he could have foiled both Burroughs and MGM with his prior rights to Tarzan, he characteristically stepped aside, for remuneration of course, to let their films play through. It would be interesting to know how and why he obtained his rights from a third party and how they had obtained theirs.
One doesn’t know what his relationship to Mayer and MGM was at this time but it is noteworthy that he acquired exclusive rights to Tarzan when MGM abandoned the profitable series. Under Lesser the movies continued to gross two to three million a picture.
Sound movies should have been a gold mine for Burroughs if he had handled himself properly. Instead through his impulsiveness and vanity there were at least four competing Tarzans on the screens from 1930 to 1935. This must have created confusion in the public’s mind, while injuring Burroughs’ financial returns.
At the time sound brought the potential of immense movie profits to Burroughs the thread of radio also came to maturity about 1930. While the evangelists were quick to capitalize on the potential of radio, Burroughs wasn’t far behind. Perhaps the success of Aimee Semple Mcpherson showed him the way.
As the decade dawned, his eye turned in radio’s direction. By 1932 he was successful in launching a show. Once again ERB failed to analyze the difference between books and a new medium. Radio was for him the most lucrative of all his ventures. His revenues from radio equaled his income from all other sources combined. This income stream could have continued unabated through the thirties but, once again, ERB interfered with the show rather than contributed. Undoubtedly because of his constant carping the first series was not renewed. A second series was launched which was also discontinued. From 1935 until his death he was unable to get on radio again. After his death in 1950 a new series was launched.
Thus, between publishing, comics, movies and radio ERB was provided opportunities to exploit his great labor in creating the ultimate intellectual property of the twentieth century and blew it. The personality forming psychology of his youth popped up to prevent his realizing his most cherished dreams in this sphere of his life as it did in his relationship to women.
If ERB had read his Homer at some earlier time, or possibly, earlier times in his life, it seems evident that he reread the Odyssey, for sure, at this time. The evidence is prominent in these five novels, especially Triumphant and City Of Gold. A text in all five novels is the struggle between the La aspect of his Anima and that of Jane. Subconsciously he had steered his love life to this critical juncture where he would have to choose one and reject the other.
There may have been a fortuitousness in his choosing to concentrate on his own Odyssey at this time. He was able to capitalize on a number of good story ideas, while on the other hand a major story line of the Odyssey is the examination of a man’s control of his sexual desires. A key story of this aspect is the story of the seductress Circe. By inducing all men to abandon themselves to unbridled sexual desire she turns them all into pigs. A lesson for contemporary times. Odysseus avoids this by having a pocketful of Moly. Moly is some sort of charm that allows him to resist Circe’s seductions.
Thus Odysseus retains his manly integrity while securing the release of his crew. The Sirens, Calypso and the other women are all temptations for Odysseus to abandon his manhood for the luxuries of sex or in other word, the Matriarchy. He resists them all to return home to Penelope in Ithaca where she sits lonely endlessly weaving her web.
One can’t know directly how Burroughs read the story or even if the above details registered with him; nevertheless these five novels are about a man’s relationships with women and more specifically they concern the details of ERB’s relationships with women. The story as told by him is a troubled one.
It would appear that his cherished Anima image of the previous forty years or so, La of Opar, no longer answered his needs, so at the end of Invincible Tarzan abandons La of Opar. She and Opar disappear from the oeuvre never to be mentioned again.
In real life perhaps La has been replaced by Florence who now figures as the Golden Girl. With the appearance of Jezebel in Triumphant the Golden Girl makes her first appearance to dominate the stage until Lion Man and the end of this five novel series.
In Triumphant the Jane aspect which has been missing for the last couple novels parachutes back into ERB’s life. He marries her off to the stable aspect of his Animus while pairing the Golden Girl with the low life aspect of his Animus.
Emma had always said ERB was a low brow so perhaps he found it too unpleasant aping high brow manners giving up the fight to indulge that aspect of his Animus more comfortable to him.
In this struggle Florence had been removed from the scene. Back during the writing of this novel Burroughs quickly opted to join his low life aspect with his sexual desire for the Golden Girl. His Moly gave out on him. Thus Danny ‘Gunner’ Patrick is transformed into Old Timer of Leopard Man while Jezebel becomes the platinum blonde, Kali Bwana.
Having made the decision to take the Golden Girl he has to eliminate the Jane aspect which he does in City Of Gold. Perhaps wavering a trifle in Lion Man he seems to have created a type of middle Tarzan Anima figure in Rhonda Terry. While he rejects Naomi/Jane he seems to have misgivings about Balza/Florence as the Golden Girl.
But, by this time the die had been cast so that in real life he does leave Emma to begin his life with Florence as a born again sex hound. As Old Timer in Leopard Men he says he was entitled to some pleasure in life and by God he was going to take it.
So, in both his business life and his personal life his past rose up and bit him in the behind destroying any chance he had to realize his true desires. I’m afraid I have to look at the remainder of his life as a failure as he was unable to eliminate the psychological impediments placed in his way by his early life. Not that he didn’t try. He appears to have studied psychology trying to find a way through to the other side of the maze of consciousness. Thus we have the subterranean passages too dark for anyone to find their way, yet his characters do. As he searches for a way out, the past rises up in the shape of deformed monsters like the Oparians beneath the Sacred City.
Or the round about way Tarzan and La found their way out of the lion cage in Invincible to be betrayed by the Old Man who professed to be true to La. Who was the Old Man? The shade of the past? David Adams has brought emphasis to this scene in his review of “The Ancient Dead of the City of Horz,” itself a dead city on the shores of a dead sea in Burroughs Bulletin #68.
By the writing of The Ancient Dead, ERB no longer had any hope to escape his past, while at the same time it was too late.
So, as the matter turned out, this period from 1930 to 1934 was the final crucial period in ERB’s life where he could have taken control of his destiny. He apparently sensed that the threads and strands of the web of his life were being brought together by Fate.
I neither condemn nor advise, unlike the literary fashion of today. I assume no superior airs, nor do I have a right to do so, but the fact is that had he been able to control his sexuality while restraining his impulsiveness, Fate might have been kinder to him at this juncture. As he was unable to order his psychology Fate, as it were, laid him low.
The critical junctures were the impetuous signing with MGM, his abandonment of Emma and his mismanagement of his radio affairs.
I have now covered four of the five Tarzan novels of this period. The last, The City City Of Gold deals with his ferocious sexual needs that destroyed his chances for success.