Themes And Variations
The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs
#18, Tarzan And The Lion Man
Part 7 of 10 Parts
First published on the ezine, ERBzine
The City Of God
The first to the Falls, Rhonda was then spotted from the plateau by some of the Apes of God.
Now begins the story within the story. A long short story or novelette that is as fine as anything in Fantasy or Science Fiction. This story is the eighteen caret ruby in the diadem of the Tarzan series. That this story should have gone unrecognized for over seventy years is incredible.
Not only is it objectively stunning but the subjective richness is beyond measure. Just as some background on the number of influences on the story let us begin with two, both of which are interconnected in ERB’s mind.
The novel by Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, had a profound effect on ERB’s mind. He apparently read it early which is to say before 1900. The possibility of creating life had interested him from the beginning of his corpus while references to it are interspersed throughout. One of the greatest of his creations, the great physician and scientist Dr. Ras Thavas, will succeed in creating life five years hence in The Synthetic Men Of Mars but will botch the job terribly.
In this story Burroughs’ character, God, doesn’t create life but he manipulates genes to create a whole new species. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein in 1818 and in 1931 Universal made the definitive movie. That was two years before Burroughs wrote Lion Man so it is reasonable to assume the movie had an effect on him.
IMDb provides a quote from the movie that may have inspired ERB; I don’t think there is any doubt that he saw this seminal horror film.
Henry Frankenstein: Look! It’s moving. It’s alive. It’s alive….It’s alive, it’s moving, etc.
Victory Moritz: Henry- in the name of god!
Henry Frankenstein: Oh, in the name of God! Now I know what it feels like to be God!
The 1931 Frankenstein is stil an overwhelming experience to watch over seventy years later. For the audiences of 1931 it must have been overpowering. The fabulous castle of Dr. Frankenstein was surely an inspiration for the castle of Burroughs’ God. What Burroughs did with the inspiration is as astonishing as both the Shelley original and the movie.
In the news also at the time for over a period of a decade or more was the spectacular career of John R. ‘Goat Glands’ Brinkley. This is an astonishing story. I rely mainly on two accounts: Vishwas Gatitonde’s excellent article “Magic Men’ in BB New Series #59 and the account in Wlofman Jack’s autobiography. Wolfman Jack’s autobiography slipped by unnoticed but is one of the great autobiographies of the second half of the twentieth century, probably the twentieth century and possibly of all time.
Also see on the internet:
Dr. John R. Brinkley- A Story You Should Know
Grift, Goats and Gonads by Scott McLemee
Kansas State Historical Papers- John R. Brinkley
Border Radio Quackery by Gene Fowler and Bill Crawford
The Goat Gland Doctor by Joe Schwarcz, PH.D
The medical practices of God involve gland transplants along with genetic implanting or splicing. Over the years based on a foundation of Frankenstein ERB had built up a magnificent fantastical scientific edifice of life creation based on Evolution.
There can be no doubt that he read and thought about the subject a great deal. He was very well informed on evolutionary matters. He was a well educated, thoughtful, intelligent man contrary to nearly every opinion about him. His ideas as presented in Lion Man are probably as far as he could take them based on the knowledge of his time. The discovery of DNA was only a little over a decade away, actually made a few years before he died. One wonders what he would have made of it. Even then ERB’s notion of ‘germ cells’ with their indestructability contains the essence of DNA so ERB was on the right track in his thinking. I’m going to handle this out of order as the ideas explain what follows better.
ERB was familiar with the use of cannibalism to ingest certain qualities of slain warriors. Thus it was thought that to eat the brains of especially intelligent people transmitted that intelligence to oneself. To eat the flesh of a brave man made oneself also brave, etc.
From there to cellular therapy is a short step. Even though there was probably no one who believed in the physical benefits of human cannibalism this side of Africa when it came to animals parts intelligent men threw common sense out the window.
Cellular Therapy arose at the end of the nineteenth century. Joe Schwarcz explains:
Charles-Edouard Brown-Sequard, a noted French physiologist, had shocked the medical community by injecting himself with the crushed testicles of young dogs and gunea pigs. Afterwards he claimed that he had regained the physical stamina and intellectual vigor of his youth. Many men availed themselves of ‘La Methode Sequardienne’, but once the placebo effect was filtered out little remained. In Vienna physiologist Eugen Steinach proposed that youthful vitality could be restored by increasing levels of testosterone. the easiet way to do this, Steinach said, was through vasectomy. Sperm production wasted testosterone, and if the channel leading from the testes to the ejaculatory duct were tied off, then blood levels of testosterone would rise. Brinkley may also have heard of the work of Serge Vorenoff, a French doctor who was stirring u a storm of controversy with his experimental gland transplants. Vorenof had been a physician in the court of the King of Egypt, and there he had spent a great deal of time treating the court eunuchs, who suffered from a variety of illnesses. He hyposthesized that maintaining active genital glands was the secret of health. As proof, he cited his experiments with an aging ram into which he transplanted the testicles of young lamb. the ram’s wool got thicker, and his sexual vigor returned. Voreneff then went on to transplant bits of monkey testes into aging men; he claimed success, although he could offer no scientific validation of his claim. In America the stage was set for the meteoric rise of J.R. Brinkley.
Brinkley began to transplant goat glands into the testicles of his patients. As he began his career in the early 1920s radio made its appearance as a commercial entity. On the qui vive Brinkley realized its potential to increase his business and spread his gospel. He bought the first radio station in Kansas in 1923, his practice was in Melford, His call leters were KFKB- Kansas First-Kansas Best- as bold a claim as his medical ones. He was actually a fine broadcaster transmitting Country Music, weather, farm reports and other items of interest as well as infomercials for his medical practice. This notoriety brought the AMA and government down on him. By 1930 he had had both his medical and broadcasting licenses revoked.
Now, here’s where the man showed his innovative brilliance. This really got him attention. Nothing daunted he moved down to fabled Del Rio, Texas, Brinkley created the fable, across the Rio Grande from Villa Acuna. His radio station in Kansas was small, a mere 1000 watts, although probably non-directional.
In Mexico without US regulations he was able to build a boombox of 75,000 to 100,000 non-directional watts. This was later incresed, if this is believable, to 500,000 watts and tahen to1,000,000 watts according to Fowler and Crawford who really should know.
Clap For The Wolfman
Alright. When I grew up in Michigan in the 1950s I could clearly pick up the successor Del Rio station after dark when its power was only 250,000 watts. Wolfman Jack who worked the station tells an amusing story of his arrival. Driving through the desert to the transmitter he noted that all the cars parked there had left their headlights on. This mystified him but then he learned that the wattage was so powerful that headlights glowed in consequence. The air crackled around him. At a half million and a million watts people must have levitated.
So, Dr. Brinkley was much in the news all these years so that ERB as Gaitonde suggests couldn’t have missed him. While in our time there is no reason to mention La Methode Sequardienne yet with Brinkley being reviled it is quite possible ERB came across a discussion of cellular therapy in his reading which did mention these earlier experiments.
ERB has God, a formerly handsome Englishman, create a hybrid hominid between a gorilla and a human. God himself has regressed being a hybrid human/gorilla. p. 133:
“What is this strange purpose we are to serve?” asked Rhonda.
“It is purely scientific; but it is a long story and I shall have to start at the beginning,” explained God.
In the beginning. God appears to have been a medical student back in England with a strong interest in biology. p. 134:
“I had always been intrigued by Lamarck’s investigations and later by Darwin’s. They were on the right track, but they did not go far enough; then shortly after my graduation, I was traveling in Austria when I met a priest at Brunn who was working along lines similar to mine. His name was Mendel. We exchanged ideas. He was the only man in the world who could appreciate me, but he couldn’t go all the way with me. I got some help from him; but doubtless, he got more from me; though I never heard anything more about him before I left England.”
ERB gives us a fair amount of information here. He is familiar with the Frenchman Lamarck of the eighteenth century who centered on heridity. A red flag goes up on Darwin because if God left England in 1859 he would have known nothing of Darwin who published that year. In any event while Darwin’s Origin Of Species sheds light on the mechanics of the variations among a species I can’t find any evidence of how species themselves evolve. ERB is also familiar with the genetics of the monk, not priest, Gregor Mendel, who published in 1866 sending a copy to Darwin which the latter dismissed as irrelevant. However, Burroughs through God seems to have taken Darwin less seriously than Mendel.
He imples that Mendel was on the right track with his peas but that following the same line of reasoning God went well beyond him which indeed he did. Mendel was disregarded in 1866, his revival beginning in the year 1900. So Burroughs in 1930 is keeping up his reading.
Burroughs then goes on to explain God’s theory of heredity. His theory is not all that bad. It shows Burroughs obviously doing some reading and thinking on the subject. p. 134:
“In 1857 I felt that I had practically solved the myster of heredity, and in that year I published a monograph on the subject. I will explain the essence of my discoveries in as simple language as possible, so that you may understand the purpose you are to serve.
“Briefly, there are two types of cells we inherit from our parents- body cells and germ cells. these cells are composed of chromosomes containing genes- a separate gene for each mental and physical characteristic. The body cells, dividing and multiplying, changing, growing, determine the sort of individual we are to be; the germ cells remaining practically unchanged from our conception, determine what characteristics our progeny will inherit, through us, from our progentors and from us.
“I determined that heredity could be controlled through the transference of these genes from one individual to another. I learned that these genes never die; they are abosolutely indestructible- the basis of life on earth, the promise of immortality through all eternity.
It appears that ERB’s main concern is heredity and indeed genealogy was important to him. While his information is a clumsy account compared to what has been learned since then, given the times ERB was quite advanced. He doesn’t have the handle on DNA which is a decade or so in the future, Watson and Crick published in 1947, but in the germ cells he’s on the track of the right idea. The notion of the body cells is, of course, superfluous.
But now God runs up against a brick wall when he publishes his theory in 1857. Remember Mendel’s discoveries were still eight years in the future while so far ahead of their time that they will be disregarded for thirty-four years.
I don’t know what horror films have been released by this time, Dracula and Frankenstein for sure, but here the plot seems very familiar, possible Burke and Hareish. Unable to proceed in a legal manner because of society’s obtuseness God turns to criminal means, but quite novel crime.
As he has detemined that germ cells are immortal he raids the tombs of Westminster Abbey extracting germ cells from Henry VIII and his court and entourage. Thus he has a little time capsule when he is discovered and flees England to avoid blackmail. He decides to conduct his experiments on gorillas in Africa. He finds the greatest concetration of gorillas in Africa, and hence on earth, in the valleyof diamonds. In something like seventy years he converts pure gorillas into a hybrid of gorillas and humans capable of speech and human cognition. They build his magnificent City of God for him which must have been quite new when Tarzan arrived.
As they are bred from the genes of medieval Englishmen the effects of Lamarckian heredity are evident as they speak a medieval form of English and replicate the City called London after its medieval progenitor. Following Burroughs’ earlier thought in Opar the gorillas accept only beings born in gorilla form with human attributes. Sports and mutations are expelled. the other are, of course, the result of Mendelian genetics that are beings with odd combination of genes.
God was born in 1833, the same year as Burroughs’ father, thus in 1933 he is one hundred one years old. Some forty years back or so as he realized he was aging so he decided to splice in the body cells of young gorillas in a form of cellular therapy to rejuvenate himself. This worked well in preserving his youth but unfortunately the more gorilla body cells he spliced in the more gorilla-like he became, so that when Tarzan and Rhonda meet him he is a grotesque hybrid, more intellignet than the gorilla hybrids, but reverting rapidly to pure gorilla. Serious problem.
God is very pleased to capture two such fine looking human specimens as Tarzan and Rhonda because by splicing in their body cells he will be able to resume his human shape in some style.
So Burroughs has been developing his ideas in a creditable scientific way. While it’s true his actual science is speculative he is employing some fairly sound reasoning on the matter that may not have been too dissimilar from the tack taken by Stalin’s scientists, while creating a human-ape hybrid has apparently been a timeless fascination. It is said that our own scientists have succeeded in actually creating a chimp-human hybrid but that the specimens have been destroyed. I haven’t any confirmed proof that such has been done but rumors are around.
Having given a reasonable scientific explanation of the gorilla hybrids and God’s purpose for Tarzan and Rhonda, Burroughs with his usual ghoulish delight introduces his favorite topic of cannibalism. He informs the two that after satisfying his need for body cells he intends to eat them thus imbibing their characteristics. He also says that he will extract several glands from Rhonda for some special purpose.
I’m not exactly clear on what cannibalism meant to ERB. It seems he associates it with his father who was particulary hard on Burroughs in his youth which ERB may have interpreted as being eaten alive by his father. As we have God, cannibalism and his father associated here his father may be the reason for the recurring reference to cannibalism is his work.
The female glands recur again in Tarzan’s Quest where the Kavuru chief Kavandavanda requires female glands for his immortality pills and Vishwas Gaitonde finds the subject mentioned again in Tarzan The Magnificent.
So when Rhonda arrives at the Falls and is spotted from above by the seeming gorillas, she is actually spotted by a clone of the real fifteenth century Lord Buckingham in his gorilla guise.
Now begins a series of astonishments, jokes and twists such as are found in few novels. As I mentioned, today much of this is old hat, but in 1933 this was startling fresh and new. At this point we are unaware of the hybrid nature of the gorillas. The following passage then was not only startling to Rhonda but to us. p. 94:
(Rhonda) felt very small and alone and tired. With a sigh she sat down on a rounded boulder and leaned against another piled behind it. All her remaining strength seemed to have gone from her. She closed her eyes wearily, and two tears rolled down her cheeks. Perhaps she dozed, but she was startled into wakefulness by a voice speaking near her. At first she thought she was dreaming and did not open her eyes.
“She is alone,” the voice said. “We will take her to God- he will be pleased.”
it was an English voice, or at least the accent was English, but the tones were gruff and deep and guttural. The strange words convinced her she was dreaming. She opened her eyes, and shrank back with a little scream of terror. Standing close to her were two gorillas, or such she thought them to be until one of them opened his mouth and spoke.
“Come with us,” it said; “we are going to take you to God;” then it reached out a mighty, hairy hand and seized her.
There’s a shocking opener to the twilight zone between R2 and R3 as ERB prepares the curiosity of the reader for what is perhaps the most amazing story he ever told.
Rhonda, physically and emotionally exhausted by the terrific events of the past few days, slips into a trance in the middle of Africa only to be brought out of it by voices speaking Enalish saying they are taking her to God. What can that possibly mean? When she opens her eyes she sees two gorillas are doing the speaking.
That’s something else, isn’t it? Had they been on the screen could they have competed with King Kong that was released in that year of 1933? Out of King Kong came 1949’s Mighty Joe Young while the public’s fascination with gorillas continued until Planet Of The Apes which, if it doesn’t owe anything to Burroughs’ story, develops the theme ad absurdam. Kong, Young and Planet Of The Apes, Stalin’s experiments all owe their origins to the Tarzan oeuvre.
Burroughs raises the theme to heights that have never been surpassed. Combining the human gorillas with the City of God was incomparable genius.
With the background clear let’s take a leap into the future.
The City Of God
God At Work
The whole thing seemed like a hideous and grotesque nightmare,
yet it was so real that she couldn’t know whether or not
she was dreaming.
Lion Man p. 95
In taking the ‘germ cells’ of individuals from the time of Henry VIII, as the cells were cloned with those of the gorillas the hybrids cloned the environment they knew. While clones have no mermory of a previous existence, in the popular imagination they do. Thus in the paranoid classic movie The Boys From Brazil of 1978 the number of clones of Adolf Hitler all exhibited the supposed conditioned responses of the original which they could not have experienced themselves.
At the same time ERB cleverly replicates the political situation between God, Church and Henry VIII. When Rhonda was captured, two gorillas named the Dukes of Buckingham and Suffolk quarrel over whether she is to be taken to Henry VIII or God. As we still have no idea of what is going on we are as mystified as Rhonda.
And then as Rhonda tries to order her bobbled brain she realized she could communicate with these improbably English speaking apes. p. 96:
Now she had an instant in which to think clearly, and with it came the realization that she had the means of communicating with her captors.
‘Who are you?” she damanded. “And why have you made me a prisoner?”
‘The two turned suddenly upon her. She thought their faces denoted surprise.
“She speaks English!” exclained one of them.
There’s a neat turnabout similar to when Tarzan addresses Buckingham in Mangani and the gorilla answers him in English. The gorilla exclaims, “She speaks English.”
Then follows an explanation of God, Henry VIII and Cranmer that only succeeds in confusing Rhonda further as she seems to be in some costume play in which for some inexplicable reason actors clad as gorillas are acting out a play about Henry VIII. She pinches herself to no avail. She is awake. This isn’t theatre, although Hamlet soon would be played in Nazi uniforms which is just about as ridiculous.
The gorillas take her to Henry VIII where we will leave her until she is joined by Tarzan.
While Rhonda escaped theArabs Naomi had been recaptured. In company with the Arabs she is brought to the canyon that leads to an easy ascent of the plateau according to the map. As the ascent becomes steep they leave the horses with Eyad going ahead on foot. Awaiting them at the crest is Stalin’s dream corps. Throughout the oeuvre one is always amazed at the disregard for their own well being the apes exhibit. They charge in story after story with complete disregard for their own well being. Always a signficant portion are left on the field of battle but the survivors never complain while Tarzan complacently accepts their sacrifice as his due.
So here, barehanded against the Arab firearms the gorillas launch a wave attack reminiscent of the Chinese in Korea that doesn’t stop until all the Arabs are dead. No regard at all for casualities. No wonder Stalin thought Burroughs was on to something. While the apes perform as they have always performed in Tarzan stories the difference here is that these are not mere apes but hybrids with human intelligence. If Burroughs was aware of Stalin’s experiments was he laughing at the Great Commissar? Is this battle a reference to Stalin? One can’t be positive of course but I am sure that the character of God-the formerly handsome Englishman- is partially based on H.G. Wells who was associated with Stalin.
Naomi was with the Arabs. She is captured by Buckingham who asks her how she got away from God; she is identical to Rhonda so Buckingham naturally confused her for the latter. The Apes sense of smell was not as developed as Tarzan’s. I’m sure the Big Bwana would have smelled the difference immediately.
ERB is now dealing with his sexual problems. Of the three women involved with the City of God- Naomi, Rhonda and Balza, it is necessary to sort out which woman represents what to ERB. As Naomi is weak and vacillating she obviously represents Emma. Rhonda who is strong and self-willed seems to represent ERB’s Anima ideal or in other words, La of Opar. La disappears from the oeuvre after Tarzan The Invincible of 1930 but as Tarzan and Rhonda in God’s prison replicate Tarzan and La in the Lion’s den of Invincible it seems probable that ERB has transported La from the fantasy world of Opar to the mere imaginary world of the movies. This leaves Balza- The Golden Girl- who probably represents Florence, but we will deal with her in the appropriate place.
ERB has now gotten the two women, the Arabs and Tarzan to the Falls. Orman, West and the safari are assembling at the base of the Falls so, having dissolved his story after the Bansuto attack ERB has now reintegrated it.
After a series of adventures during which Buckingham kills Suffolk, Tarzan appears to rescue Naomi killing Buckingham. At this point in Burroughs’ psychology he assumes the identity of his ordinary self and that of Tarzan into one being. As the movie people have never seen Tarzan they assume that he is Stanley Obroski his identical twin. Tarzan does not correct anyone but allows them to believe he is Stanley.
As I perceive it then ERB has now deluded himself into believing that he is Tarzan. Those who know him still perceive him as Ed Burroughs. He has no choice but to let them believe that because if he attempted to impose his delusion on them he might have been committed. Thus for a period of about five to six years from 1934 to 1939-40 Burroughs perceives himself as Tarzan but capitulates in Tarzan And The Madman giving up his illusion of being the Big Bwana. In Lion Man he describes Tarzan as a madman so the two novels are linked by the concept of madness.
After writing Madman Burroughs left California for Hawaii where he forced Florence away from him. WWII came along which saved him from himself. After the war he went back to LA to die. It is interesting that he didn’t choose to live in Tarzana but bought a house in Encino that backed against the Promised Land. thus like Moses, with whom there was a connection made in Tarzan Of The Apes, ERB was destined to view the Promised Land but not enter it.
In Lion Man he is flush with the hope of being able to live out his fantasy. He is now a few months from abandoning Emma so symbolically he returns Naomi to the safari at the Falls from whence she disappears from the story.
Only Rhonda and Balza will figure in the rest of the story. Emma is no more although Jane will appear again in Quest probably as Emma’s replacement Florence. In Magnificent Florence is mentioned only anonymously as Tarzan’s ‘wife.’ ERB is definitely struggling.
Having delivered Naomi to the safari Tarzan then reascends the plateau in search of Rhonda and the City of God.
The City Of God
Every one of us, I believe, is possessed of two characters.
Often time they are so much alike that the duality is not noticeable,
but again there is a divergence so great
That we have the phenomenon of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
in a single individual.
E.R. Burroughs- The Swords Of Mars
Tarzan And the Lion Man was followed at the end of 1933 by the Mars story The Swords Of Mars which features the return of John Carter. ERB had taken a vacation from Emma returning to the scene of his own early adventures- Arizona. Not coincidentally in the White Mountain of Apache country. ERB’s motivations are sometimes obscure. He was in the Army in Arizona in 1896-97 which was before he married Emma. So he took his leave of absence from Emma to a place before he married her. Setting the clock back, so to speak, somewhat reminiscent of The Eternal Lover.
Just as Tarzan and Stanley met in Lion Man so while about to go to sleep, O.B.- The Other Burroughs- hears the door open, the clank of a man in war gear walking across the floor; terrified like an adolescent in a bad dream, O.B. is relieved and pleased when John Carter, back from Mars, greets him. A real Jekyll and Hyde situation. Thus as with Tarzan and Stanley the two Martian aspects of Buroughs are reunited but not melded. John Carter then tells O.B. a bedtime story as though Burroughs were a child again. I’m not that familiar with the Mars stories but there must be a connection to Lion Man and the MGM situation. This must be true because this is the novel in which the opening letters of each chapter spell- TO FLORENCE WITH ALL MY LOVE, ED. One assumes then that although the decision to leave Emma was difficult to make, ERB made the final decision in the Arizona mountains.
So now a few months earlier Tarzan/Stanley makes the journey to the City of God where he will be reunited with his Anima ideal, Rhonda -La of Opar- in prison. Thus his whole person both Anima and Animus are locked up by MGM.
Rhonda had been taken to Henry VIII by Buckingham and Suffolk. The city was called London, the country England and the river The Thames. As ERB jokingly smirks- The English always take a little bit of England with them wherever they go. Pretty funny, actually.
Here the events of Henry’s reign are being reenacted. As the apes are clones of Henry and his court who replicate their times one wonders whether each succeeding generation will be stuck in this one period of history reenacting it over and over until the end of time. Once again I am reminded of The Eternal Lover. ERB seems to be obsessed by the idea of time.
Rhonda was first placed with the wives of Henry, a week later being moved to a cell in God’s castle where Tarzan found her when he too was captured.
For now he was moving through the night until he came up against the ten foot high wall surrounding the City of London and within it the City of God. Here we have the historical confrontation between the spiritual and temporal powers. At the least the story is a very humorous parody of the religious situation of Henry VIII. Once again ERB ridicules religion and this is done so cleverly and with such genius.
But there are many levels of meaning. Earlier I mentioned that the capture of Tarzan may have been meant to replicate ERB;’s capture by MGM. In that sense then the City of God might represent MGM which boasted that it had more stars then Heaven. So there is probably a joke there too.
On the other hand, God is described as a formerly handsome Englishman. The only candidate for that role I can come up with is ERB’s bete noir, H.G. Wells. I think that I have adequately documented the literary feud between Wells and Burroughs. Wells began well with his scientific romances. While not as fresh and stunning as they were at the time of issue they still hold up well today. Even though ERB denied having ever read Wells I think that claim can be dismissed out of hand. ERB, then, would have been as impressed with Wells’ early romances as anyone else. Then when Wells began his campaign of defamation and ridicule which is most clearly represented in his Mr. Blettsworthy On Rampole Island he fell from favor in Burroughs’ eyes, hence the grotesquely deformed ‘formerly handsome Englishman.’
As much as I like Wells he does pontificate. Like all Liberals he has a difficult time distinguishing his opinion from truth, right and wrong, or reality. While he does sometimes make a hit in his prophesying he is mostly wrong. Backing the Worker’s Paradise of Stalin’s USSR was certainly wrong and more than enough to discredit him in the staunch anti-Communist Burroughs’ eyes.
Wells probably shook Burroughs’ faith in the glory of England which had been a keystone of his secular faith fromt he beginning. Thus, combining MGM, Stalin and the USSR and Wells, Burroughs packages all the troublemakers of this perilous time for him into one big box with a bigger bow on top.
As his story could have no effect on his situation let us hope it was at least cathartic for him. When Tarzan ends up in the cage with Rhonda that about epitomizes Burroughs’ situation vis-a-vis MGM, Stalin and Wells. There are so many coincidences here that the brain revolves like a turret. Was it wholly coincidental that Wells showed up in Hollywood at the end of ’35 to visit fellow Red Charlie Chaplin just as Burroughs was completely boxed in because of his Guatemalan adventure?
Isn’t it amazing that Burroughs met his fate in Guatemala, the scene of the adventures of his early hero General Christmas and also the scene of some of the adventures of Ogden McClurg who was killed shortly after this return from the area in 1926? It may be truly coincidental but the further one digs very often the more dirt one turns up.
Burroughs may have felt confident he could write his way out of this box just as he was able to escape by self-publishing in 1930; perhaps he thought he could escape this time by making his own movies. If so, a little analysis would have shown him that the rules had drastically changed. Especially as he had signed the rights to represent his character Tarzan away.
Coincidental with the release of the MGM Tarzan movies which preempted the nature of Tarzan from literature came the decline in Burroughs’ own literary powers. Whereas in 1930 he was able to respond to the challenge with a series of top novels, after Lion Man there is a preciptious decline in the the quality of is work. While the later novels have their charms for Burroughs’ admirers they do lack commercial appeal.
By 1935 also Burroughs had antagonized radio which had become the major source of his income so that that medium was closed to him during his lifetime. With publication revenues declining and the comics by Burroughs’ own admission producing a pittance, ERB had only one major source of income left and that was the moves. MGM had him over a barrel.
MGM might have produced a whole series of Tarzan films along the lines of the Charlie Chan movies as Burroughs reuefully remarked but they chose instead to issue only four movies between 1932 and 1939. Obviously the makret would have borne more. The limited release schedule kept EBB on a short financial tether.
It is said that events cast their shadow before them so that it is possible, if not probable, that Burroughs foresaw the shape of things to come even as he wrote Lion Man.
In 1930 when the Reds invaded his dream land of Opar ERB abandoned that fantasy. The fabled city ceased to exist in his imagination while disappearing from the oeuvre. Now in Lion Man it appears that the enemy had captured the castle while building a ten foot wall around it with Tarzan/Burroughs on the outside. Thus Burroughs’ dream of separating himself from the world by a tne foot wall has been inverted in his imagination. He wasn’t keeping the world out; the world was keeping him out.
In the novel succeeding Lion Man, The Swords Of Mars, when the mad inventor Fal Sivas quails at taking hsi invented spaceship to the Martian moon Thuria the following exchange takes place between he and John Carter:
“But you built this ship to go to Thuria,: Carter cried. “You told me so yourself.”
“It was a dream,” he mumbled; “I am always dreaming, for in dreams nothing bad an happen to me.”
Fal Sivas can be taken as an alter ego of Burroughs. The Sivas probably refers to the Hindu god Shiva or Siva with whom Burroughs had become a devotee or developed a fascination for. Thus while his heroes Tarzan and John Carter are men of action Sivas/Burroughs or any other combination is not.
So in Lion Man Burroughs is desperately trying to become the man of action rather than the dreamer. The problem now is that ERB himself is past the point of no return. He has been walled out from the City of God.
In dreams however Tarzan enters the Heavenly City by a fantastic feat of strength that recalls Burroughs’ 1890-1920 infatuation with the Strong Men such as the Great Sandow.
The wall which Tarzan fancies was built to keep out lions i.e. the Lion Man has sharpened stakes pointing downward. p. 124:
…he leaped for the stakes. His hands closed upon two of them; then he drew himself up slowly until his hips were on a level with his hands, his arms straight at his sides. Leaning forward, he let his body drop slowly forward until it rested on the stakes and the top of the wall.
That seems to be an impossible feat of strength except in dreams, but then by this point Tarzan thinks he is dreaming. This might as well be an MGM movie lot such Burroughs spent five weeks on. Here the dream faces a sort of reality. As though pasing through a movie set as ERB must have done during those five weeks Tarzan comes to the steps leading to the Heaven of God. this Stariway to Heaven, Jacob’s Ladder.
As if to accent the relationship to MGM he passes the Apes of God who are dancing and partying. The scene will be replicated at the foot of the Falls when the movie company duplicates this scene thus strengthening the connection with MGM.
Tarzan begins the long climb up the Stairway to Heaven. The fire flares illuminating him on the steps but the apes below don’t notice- high above on a parapet of Heaven, God does. Note the resemblance to the move castle of Frankenstein. A man of action God quickly prepares a trap.
In real life the trap was probably the promise of the contract and money. ERB blames the movies for being duplicitous, which is definitely true, still, he had had a dozen or more years to work out the conditions prevailing on his own. After all, by 1932 he had proven product to sell. The public had even given a profit to some pretty crummy movies so that had he taken the time, acted on his own conditions, rather than just signing for a few quick bucks he might have retained a position of some control, made himself an equal partner. So, while MGM did betray him he might have been able to manage the situation.
Tarzan enters the castle to be confronted by six doors of which only #3 is open. Depending on how you count them there were six to eight major studios, thus the six doors may represent the Studios of which only MGM was willing to deal with him. Remember he had been blacklisted since 1922, the blacklist having been broken in 1928 by Joseph Kennedy.
Tarzan descends the stairs as heedlessly as Burroughs signed the contract and like Burroughs he finds himself trapped. The nose of noses sniffs the air and detects the delicate scent of a White woman. He has found she whom he sought, Rhonda.
The Confrontation With God
Now Tarzan is reunited with his Anima ideal in the person of Rhonda formerly La of Opar. That Rhonda can be associated with La is because this scene is a replication or double of Tarzan and La in the lion’s den of Invincible. There La and Tarzan were imprisoned in a cell beneath Opar. They escaped the cell in a duplication of their escape from this prison. In Invicible there was a runway within which the lion fed. A shaft led upward to a room in a tower. There the old man who betrayed them discovered them.
In this case a breeze passing over the floor indicates an air shaft to Tarzan. This is probably borrowed from Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines although it will soon if not already be a staple of the movie genre. Tarzan locates the shaft in the ceiling in a corner of the cell. He and Rhonda ascend it to the opening in front of which God is talking to some gorillas. Thus the scene virtually duplicates Invincible. La and Rhonda must be associated in ERB’s mind.
As an aside Burrughs uses a variation of this scenario in The Swords Of Mars when John Carter is imprisoned. There are beams some twenty feet ot so above the floor to which Carter leaps. He takes a position above the door dropping on his keeper when he enters.
At this point in the story Tarzan and Stanley Obroski may be considered to be reunited as one persona. Rhonda, who has never seen Tarzan, addressed the person in Stanley’s guise as Stanley. ERB has a little fun as he has Tarzan play along.
As he says in Swords, he is convinced that every man has a dual Animus, that is two different aspects, sometimes nearly identical but sometimes as different as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Thus at this point his mind is impressed with Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde. He had read both novels before 1900 while both stories were released as movies in 1931. So the stories are very fresh in his mind.
Tarzan/Obroski may be considered of the Jekyll/Hyde variety. There is little doubt that Burroughs saw the pair and himself that way. Thus Carter and Fall Sivas in Swords may also be seen as two sides (Jekyll/Hyde) of the same persona. Tarzan does not try to convince Rhonda that he is not Stanley, but in the Jekyll side of the persona he astounds here with Hydelike feats compelling her to reevaluate him.
There are undoubtedly snippets of other horror movies here that ERB has seen also but I can’t remember the titles or dates. There was one about two Scottish body snatchers Burke and Hare which I think I can detect here and another about a mad doctor who operated on the brains of abducted victims that shows up here and in Swords that was called the Black Sleept or somesuch. The latter would have had a castle along these lines as well as Frankenstein. Of course, which of that ilk of movie didn’t? Burroughs is combining an astounding number of influences here both literary and cinematic but both combined.
Thus, having availed himself of ‘such a God given opportunity’ to find Rhonda he is imprisoned with her. The joke was ERB’s. You know, God left the doors open- God given opportunity. I chuckled softly to myself as I read.
After an exchange of repartee between Stanley/Tarzan and Rhonda God makes his appearance. Not exactly what one would expect God to look like. In fact it is almost amazing that the fundamentalist Christians didn’t create an uproar. After all according to the Old Testament man was created in God’s image. There’s a laugh. Here’s the image. p. 128:
It had the face of a man, but its skin was black like that of a gorilla. Its grinning lips revealed the heavy fangs of an anthropoid. Scant black hair covered those portions of its body that an open shirt and a loin cloth revealed. The skin of the body, arms, and legs was black with large patches of white. The bare feet were the feet of a man; the hands were black and hairy and wrinkled, with long, curved claws; the eyes were the sunken eyes of an old man- a very old man.
The Scopes Monkey Trial had only been about seven years before. So here Burroughs is making sport of God with a sort of reverse evolution. God is a cross between a man and a gorilla. Yet ERB led such a charmed life that his mockery or parody of God created no comment. If he wanted to start a ruckus to promote his book sales he failed miserably.
God might have been half ape but he had a whole hearted sense of;humor. Overhearing Tarzan say that he had come for Rhonda his opening comments are mock injury. p. 128:
“So you are acquainted?” He said. “How interesting! And you came to get her, did you? I thought that you had come to call on me. Of course it is not quite the proper thing for a stranger to come by night without an invitation- and by stealth.
“It was just by the merest chance that I learned of your coming. I have Henry to thank for that. Had he not been staging a dance I should not have known, and thus I should have been denied the pleasure of receiving you, as I have.
“You see, I was looking down from my castle into the courtyard of Henry’s palace when his bonfire flared up and lighted the Holy Stairs- and there you were!
Burroughs is justly criticized for the occasional bit of wooden dialogue but I find the confrontation with God very well written. The constantly mocking tone of God is carried off very well. Tarzan’s indignation is very well executed. The influence of Shelley, Stevenson and the various movies is seamlessly blended into a very tightly executed scene.
All this is done in a very few pages while it is a remarkable bit of writing.
God hints at his motives for their use for him. p. 129:
“…I shall keep you for a while for the pleasure of conversing with rational human beings.
“I have not seen any for a long time, a long, long time. Of course I hate them nonentheless, but I must admit that I shall find pleasure in this companionship for a short time. You are both very good looking too. That will make it all the more pleasant, just as it increases your value for the purpose which I intend you- the final purpose, you understand. I am particularly pleased that the girl is so beautiful. I always did have a fondness for blonds. Were I not already engaged along some other lines of research, and were it possible, I should like nothing better than to conduct a scientific investigation to determine the biologial or psychological explanation of the profound attraction the blond female has for the male of all races.”
Burroughs doesn’t tell us how blonde Rhonda and Naomi are, whether they are platinum blondes like Kali Bwana or merely blondes. Of course today ERB would be censored for his handling of the sexual and racial preferences for blondes but it is a recurrent theme in his writing and one worth studying.
Having piqued our curiosity as to his purpose for the couple God leaves to check up on Henry. p. 130:
“Come back here!” (Tarzan) commanded. “Either let us out of this hole or tell us why you are holding us- what you intend doing with us.”
The creature wheeled suddenly, its expression transformed by a hideous snarl. “You dare issue orders to me!” It screamed.
“And why not?” demanded the ape-man. “Who are you?”
The creature took a step nearer the bars and tapped its hairy chest with a thorny talon. “I am God.” it cried.
There you go. The cat’s out of the bag.
The scene is dramatically successful while the reader is now left to guess the model for God. We are told that he was a formerly handsome Englishman now deformed as a hybrid ape-human. The city is London, the territory is England and the river is the Thames. A reasonable place to look would be among the English. Who among the English is bedeviling ERB? H.G. Wells is the only one I can think of. Regardless of whether Wells considered himself a Communist or not he is sailing his craft so close to the wind that it is impossible to distniguish between the two. At the very least Wells is throughly subversive. If anything he resents not being in Stalin’s place. So Burroughs must consider him Communist.
To my mind then, Burroughs is mocking Wells much as Wells mocked Burroughs in ‘Blettsworthy.’ God has delusions of grandeur and so does the highly pontificating Wells. My vote for the model is Wells.
One also notes that in the last of the MGM Tarzan movies, 1942’s Tarzan’s New York Adventure, Tarzan is captured by the circus roustabouts and thrown into a mobile cage. The camera then pans around to front which identifies the cage as a lion cage. One thus has the joke of the Lion Man in a lion’s cage. A final thumbing of the nose at Burroughs exiled in Hawaii. MGM then dropped what had been a very lucrative series. Strange behavior indeed.
God then returns to give his history as detailed earlier in the essay. While for some reason everyone, fans and detractors alike, wants to think of Burroughs as a semi-literate boob who is coincidentally a ‘master of adventure’ yet both in content and exposition, God presents his story in a masterly way. In 1930 there may have been few of his readers who had ever heard of Mendel and possibly Lamarck, although one hopes all had heard of Darwin. So it is possible that a reader might have been puzzled by the inclusion of Darwin while dismissing Larmarck and Mendel as fictitious. Of course if you’re reading strictly for fast-paced adventure you may not notice the details even though they are far from concealed.
God also clears up the mystery of the map. Surprisingly the map is not a stage prop but authentic. In fact, God made it about seventy years previously. It seems that he had been in love with a women back in England but she preferred wealth to being the wife of an impoverished scientist.
This may be a coincidence but that is the premise of the plot of H.G. Wells’ In The Days Of The Comet. Perhaps it was a message to Wells in case he hasn’t gotten it yet. But then God discovered the immense number of diamonds in the valley so he wrote the girl promising her riches beyond imagination. He had employed a native runner to take the letter to the coast to mail it but since he had never had a reply he wondered if it had ever been received. Now it came back to him. A simple but inventive twist.
When God leaves this time Tarzan sets to work to escape. Following the draft across the floor he finds the air shaft. Just as in Invincible he sends La up first now he sends Rhonda up first. As in the earlier story they are trapped at the top.
Looking through the entrance to the shaft they spy God and some gorillas in front of it. Their escape is spoiled. Now begins the Gotterdamerung.
The City of God
Burroughs now has both aspects of his Animus with his Anima trapped in the tower unable to go foward or backward. God and his gorillas stand in anticipation before the opening. Burroughs has been stalemated. At this point one aspect of God must be MGM and its contract.
ERB has spun out his fantasy in a plausible way to this point, but now he has to find a way to resolve his dilemma. As he is daydreaming and this is a mad dream, as Fal Sivas says in Swords, in dreams nothing bad can happen to you. In this bind something bad can happen to ERB. He can lose his grip on reality. In that way he becomes mad or insane which is what the story is about.
In speaking of Henry God might also be speaking of ERB. p. 143:
“You all forget,” (God) cried, “that it was I who created you; it is I who can destroy you. First I shall make Henry mad, and then I shall crush him. That is the kind of gods humans like- it is the only kind they can understand. Because they are jealous and cruel and vindictive they have to have a jealous, cruel and vindictive god.”
There’s a lot information in that quote. It refers to the ancient Greek saying: Those who the gods would destroy they first make mad. So we have an excellent joke here. The incredible mind of Burroughs can conceive humor in the midst of the blackest despair.
He is talking of the Yahweh of the Old Testament while he quite soundly understands that god is a psychological projection of the mind of his creator. In a masterly grasp of Freudian group psychology, whether he knew it or not, he realized tha the people have created a god in their own image and not vice versa. Trapped in the tower this is a real agonized cry of despair before losing his grip on reality.
I don’t mean to say that ERB went stark raving mad but he edged into a fantasy world at least once removed from the fantasy he had been living since 1912. For the period of his marriage to Florence he can only be described as spaced out. Bear in mind that it’s going to get worse as he gets trapped into his movie production experience.
The Masenas in The Swords Of Mars make the threatening moves on John Carter who keeps backing away. Only too late he realized he had maneuvered himself where they wanted him. The Masenas were cat-men, i.e. lions who had two mouths. In a sly way Burroughs is caricaturing the Jews of MGM and their mascot Leo the Lion. The upper mouth which is sort of pursy and purring to seduce one, is above a lower mouth that is all teeth and no lips to rend one. So he is saying that he is dealing with two-faced people. While the upper mouth is assuring, the lower rending mouth is ever ready to destroy you.
Tarzan realizes that he has no choices left but to stay put or rush God and the gorillas. Alone he would have had a chance of success but with Rhonda in tow he is lost. This is an interesting reflection on the relationship of the Animus to the Anima. I’m at a bit of a loss to explain this.
God had sent for Rhonda to be told that she was not in the cell. Knowing that Tarzan was in the air shaft it followed that Rhonda was too as neither could have escaped the cell otherwise. He orders smudge pots to be lighted to smoke them out. Thus Burroughs acknowledges that his own situation is untenable while he has no solution. The only one left is the Samson like effort of pulling the temple down on his own head destroying both himself and his enemies.
God’s plan backfires as he sets his own castle afire. Unable to stand the smoke any longer Tarzan rushes out to be felled by a blow from one of the apes. At this precise point ERB goes mad or loses his mental balance. I don’t believe there is a Tarzan novel in which the Big Bwana isn’t knocked on the head at least once. In this case when he gets up he won’t have lost his memory but he will be a different man, another round of emasculation.
Once again he is separated from his Anima. Rhonda is spirited off to Henry. God and Tarzan are trapped on the patio as the castle becomes engulfed in flames.
This chapter is appropriately titled ‘The Holocaust.’ In its way everything that ERB had hoped and dreamed goes up in flames with God’s castle. Heaven is reduced to ashes.
Tarzan has his trusty rope so he can escape over the parapet to the roof of a lower level. God begs him to save him which Tarzan reluctantly does.
Tarzan, one has difficulty in styling him the Big Bwana in this emasculated state, reverses the actual situation between Burroughs and MGM by placing the rope around God’s neck putting him on a short tether. Henry is now in full revolt. Tarzan agrees to help God in exchange for his help in recovering Rhonda and letting them leave. Perhaps Burroughs was asking MGM for a release from his contract. Let by Tarzan the forces of God defeat Henry.
I’m not clear who Henry represents or if he is meant to represent a real individual. Aware of his defeat Henry abandons his wives for the blonde White woman, Rhonda. He has a secret subterranean escape route. Thus Burroughs, who through Tarzan stormed the gates of Heaven, the heights of consciousness, has first returned to earth and now slips back into the subconscious. In all probability then, his attempt to integrate his personality had failed while coming so close.
Henry had followed his tunnel to emerge into the valley of diamonds and mutants. Here he encounters a lion. Throwing Rhonda down he runs from the lion which we all know is the exact wrong thing to do. Rhonda then escapes.
Tarzan emerges from the tunnel just as the lion is rending Henry. So Henry perishes. Tarzan sets off into the valley of diamonds in pursuit of Rhonda or, in another word, his Anima.
The City Of God
The Golden Girl
While one is astonished that there was no uproar because of ERB’s treatment of God, Heaven and the gorillas, one is even more astonished that at no time since 1912 was ERB ever under attack for his views on evolution. The oeuvre is a veritable compendium on the various possible results of evolution yet no one ever said a word nor has to this day.
In LIon Man which treats of evolution in perhaps his most daring way yet, his effort is met with stony silence. God, in his creation of the hybrid gorillas according to the logic of Gregor Mendel, had a large number of sports and variations. The ‘normal’ hybrid apes refused to accept these either killing them or driving them from their society.
God laments that the tendency to exclusivity, or like to like, was such a strong characteristic of the new species that he could do nothing to break the hybrid’s attitude. This must be a wry comment on those who wished to break down racial and special barriers.
Apart from the role of White women in racial politics, which ERB through God has already commented on, there is not, nor will there ever be, inclusivity of different races on the pshysiological level nor even on the intellectual level of religion.
Thus the theme of separation in this spurious London, England was a variation on Opar where normal males were killed producing the ape-like male Oparians, while only the beautiful females were preserved. In this case the rejected hybrids, who bear some resemblance to the Hormads created by Ras Thavas, have taken up residence across the Thames. Among them, as one might suppose, Mendelian genetics predicts, were two human looking specimens. The male who was perfectly human in form had a gorilla mind; the female although rumored to have a gorilla mind in fact was a perfect human in mind while also possessing a normal human form.
She is the mate of the human looking male as kind mates with kind. Tarzan, having recovered Rhonda, finds Balza, which means Golden Girl, being abused by her mate. He rescues her but the trio is set upon by the whole tribe of mutants.
Balza explains to Tarzan that having defeated her former mate Tarzan has claimed her for his own. She is his, will-he or nil he. She then becomes hostile to the Anima figure of Rhonda.
So now we have a difficult psychological situation. Burroughs, who believes that every man is of a dual personality, has first united the two Lion Men and has now killed off one half of the duality leaving Tarzan as a single psychological unit. Not integrated but half a man so to speak. This is in violation of his stated belief which he has clarified no further. At the same time Balza seems to be driving his old Anima figure of La/Rhonda away, replacing her. Thus this Wild Thing becomes both Burroughs’ Anima ideal and human woman. We have single with single, or half with half. Now we have a single Animus, the Lion Man, Tarzan and Wild Thing as his Anima and woman. This is quite a combination. That would certainly explain the nature of the next several years of ERB’s life when he seems to run completely off the rails.
He expresses this in his work of the thirties in different ways. The Venus series is born out of this conflict in the second half of 1932 subsequent to the release of the movie Tarzan, The Ape Man. John Carter does reappear at the end of 1933 in The Swords Of Mars but Burroughs in the Venus series creates a much lesser man than either Carter or Tarzan; Napier is a pale shadow reflecting Burroughs neo-emasculated state.
In the first venus volume Napier heads for Mars in his rocket ship. Mars or the Greek Ares is the manly planet. But now suffering from his further emasculation Burroughs no longer feels capable of competing with men on Mars. Thus Napier has miscalculated the influence of the Moon, or female influence, which bends his trajectory sending him to the female planet Venus instead. In terms of classical mythology with which Burroughs was very familiar the Moon represents the feminine principle, while Venus, the Roman form of the Greek Aphrodite, represents the force of Love. Thus in symbolical terms ERB/Napier is diverted from the Manly principle of Mars by the female principle of the Moon and sent to the planet representing domination by the feminine principle of Love. Napier is not a warrior.
In Lion Man, written a few months after The Pirates Of Venus Tarzan follows his female Anima principle, Rhonda, into the valley of diamonds, where he is attached to The Golden Girl, Balza. In Burroughs’ terminology diamonds represent the realization of his sexual hopes. So Rhonda in this instance can be taken to represent Napier’s moon who leads him to Balza, the planet Venus or Florence. Burroughs is now severely handicapped in his conflict with MGM. In this chapter of Lion Man when he catches up with Rhonda comes across Balza being beaten by her man, the sport with the human appearance and gorilla brain. Balza had been misrepresented earlier, actually having a human brain. She now attaches herself to the emasculated Tarzan.
In their flight from the mutants- Tarzan running away again- they discover a pit full of diamonds. Presaging Tarzan And The Forbidden City in which the father of diamonds is a piece of coal, the huge pile of diamonds has lost any value to him. Thus Burroughs senses in 1933 that love is going to be a serious disappointment.
As a matter of fact in his psychological malaise Balza/Florence seems to have lost any value to him. He leads the women to the foot of the Falls where they rejoin the movie company who are living riotously. Their dance is a double of the Dum Dum like dance of the gorillas. Not a favorable comparison, perhaps indicating that man has not advanced much from the apes. Leaving Balza to become a movie star Tarzan returns to the jungle to find Stanley dead, thus the dead Stanley is rather unaccountably accepted by the movie company who return to LA. The whole story becomes a sort of mirage which, while we know it did happen, never happened.
ERB as a writer has now completed Ring 2. He completes his Ring construction by returning to the site of Ring Left 1, Hollywood as Ring Right 1. As Holtsmark notes he has followed the classical mode of Homer. He has not only done that but written his most perfect example. I find Lion Man masterly on all levels, in fact, ERB’s Magnum Opus.
A year after the movie company returned to the US Tarzan himself undertakes a visit to the film colony of Hollywood.
Go To Part 8, More Stars Than There Are In Heaven