A Review, Pt. V Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar By Edgar Rice Burroughs

October 23, 2009

 

Themes And Variations

The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs

#5  Tarzan And The Jewels Of  Opar

Part V

by

R.E. Prindle

Texts:

Du Maurier, George: Peter Ibbetson

Dudgeon, Piers: Captivated:  J.M. Barrie, The Du Mauriers & The Dark Side Of  Neverland, 2008, Chatto And Windus

Hesse, Herman:  The Bead Game

Neumann, Erich:  The Origins and History Of Consciousness, 1951, Princeton/Bollingen

Vrettos, Athena: “Little Bags Of Remembrance: Du Maurier’s Peter Ibbetson And Victorian Theories Of Ancestral Memories”   Erudit Magazine Fall 2009.

 

     While it is today commonly believed that Sigmund Freud invented or discovered the Unconscious this is not true.  As so happens a great cataclysm, The Great War of 1914-18, bent civilization in a different direction dissociating it from its recent past.

     Studies in the earlier spirit of the unconscious continued to be carried on by C.G. Jung and his school but Freud successfully suppressed their influence until quite recently actually.  Through the fifties of the last century Freud’s mistaken and harmful, one might say criminal, notion of the unconscious held the field.  Thus there is quite a difference in the tone of Edgar Rice Burroughs writing before and after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.

     There are those who argue that Burroughs was some kind of idiot savant who somehow knew how to write exciting stories.  In fact he was a well and widely read man of varied interests who kept up on intellectual and scientific matters.   He was what might be called an autodidact with none of the academic gloss.  He was very interested in psychological matters from hypnotism to dream theory.

     The scientific investigation of the unconscious may probably be dated to the appearance of Anton Mesmer and his interest in hypnotism  also variously known as Mesmerism and Animal Magnetism.  The full fledged investigation of the unconscious began with hypnotism.  Slowly at first but by the last quarter of the nineteenth century in full flower with varied colors.  Science per se was a recent development also flowering along with the discovery of the unconscious.

     While Charles Darwin had brought the concept of evolution to scientific recognition in 1859 the key discipline of genetics to make sense of evolution was a missing component.  It is true that Gregor Mendel discovered the concept of genetics shortly after Darwin’s Origin Of Species was issued but Mendel’s studies made no impression at the time. His theories were rediscovered in 1900 but they were probably not widely diffused until after the Great War.  Burroughs knew of the earlier Lamarck, Darwin and Mendel by 1933 when he wrote  Tarzan And The Lion Man.  His character of ‘God’ is the  result of genetic mutation.

     Lacking the more complete knowledge of certain processes that we have today these late nineteenth century speculators seem ludicrous and wide of the mark but one has to remember that comprehension was transitting the religious mind of the previous centuries to a scientific one, a science that wasn’t accepted by everyone then and still isn’t today.  The Society For Psychical Research sounds humorous today but without the advantage of genetics, especially DNA such speculations made more sense except to the most hard nosed scientists and skeptics.  The future poet laureate John Masefield was there.  Looking back from the perspective of 1947 he is quoted by Piers Dudgeon, p. 102:

     Men were seeking to discover what limitations there were to personal intellect; how far it could travel from its home personal brain; how deeply it could influence other minds at a distance from it or near it; what limits, if any, there might be to an intense mental sympathy.  This enquiry occupied many doctors and scientists in various ways.  It stirred George Du Maurier…to speculations which deeply delighted his generation.

     Whether believer or skeptic Burroughs himself must have been delighted by these speculations as they stirred his own imagination deeply until after the pall of the Revolution and Freud’s triumph.

     Burroughs was subjected to dreams and nightmares all his life.  Often waking from bad dreams.  He said that his stories were derived from his dreams but there are many Bibliophiles who scoff at this notion.  The notion of  ‘directed dreaming’ has disappeared from popular consideration but then it was a serious topic.  Freud’s own dream book was issued at about this time.  I have already reviewed George Du Maurier’s Peter Ibbetson on my blog, I, Dynamo and on ERBzine with Du Maurier’s notions of ‘Dreaming True’.  It seems highly probable that Burroughs read Ibbetson and Du Maurier’s other two novels so that from sometime in the nineties he would have been familiar with dream notions from that source.

    Auto-suggestion is concerned here and just as support that Burroughs was familiar with the concept let me quote from a recent collection of ERB’s letters with Metcalf as posted on ERBzine.  This letter is dated December 12, 1912.

     If they liked Tarzan, they will expect to like this story and this very self-suggestion will come to add to their interest in it.

     Athena Vrettos whose article is noted above provides some interesting information from Robert Louis Stevenson who developed a system of ‘directed dreaming’  i.e. auto-suggestion.  We know that Burroughs was highly influenced by Stevenson’s  Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde while he probably read other novels of Stevenson.  How could he have missed Treasure Island?  Whether he read any of Stevenson’s essays is open to guess but in an 1888 essay A Chapter On Dreams Stevenson explained his method.  To Quote Vrettos:

     Rather than experiencing dreams at random, fragmented images and events, Stevenson claims he has learned how to shape them into coherent, interconnected narratives, “to dream in sequences and thus to lead a double life- one of the day, one of the night- one that he had every reason to believe was the true one, another that he had no means of proving false.”  Stevenson describes how he gains increasing control of his dream life by focusing his memory through autosuggestion, he sets his unconscious imagination to work assisting him in his profession of writer by creating “better tales than he could fashion for himself.”   Becoming an enthusiastic audience to his own “nocturnal dreams”, Stevenson describes how he subsequently develops those dreams and memories into the basis for many of his published stories, most notably his 1886 Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde.

     Now, directed dreaming and Dreaming True sound quite similar.  One wonder if there was a connection between Stevenson and Du Maurier.  It turns out that there was as well as with nearly the entire group of English investigators.  Let us turn to Piers Dudgeon again, p. 102:

          Shortly after they met, the novelist Walter Besant invited [Du Maurier] to join a club he was setting up, to be named ‘The Rabelais’ after the author of Gargantua and Pantagruel.  Its name raised expectations of bawdiness, obscenity and reckless living, (which were not in fact delivered) as was noted at the time.  Henry Ashbee, a successful city businessman with a passion for pornography, and reputed to be Robert Louis Stevenson’s model for the two sides of his creation, Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde, denounced its members as ‘very slow and un-Rabelaisian’, and there is a story that Thomas Hardy, a member for a time, objected to the attendance of Henry James on account of his lack of virility.

     Virility was not the issue however.  The members of the Rabelais were interested in other worlds.  Charles Leland was an expert on fairy lore and voodoo.  Robert Louis Stevenson was the author of The Strange Case Of Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde (1886) which epitomized the club’s psychological/occult speculations.  Arthur Conan Doyle, who became a member of the British Society For Psychical Research, was a dedicated spiritualist from 1916.  Henry James was probably more at home than Hardy, for both his private secretary Theodora Besanquet, and brother William, the philosopher, were members of the Psychical Society.

     In many ways  the Rabelais was a celebration that [Du Maurier’s] time had come.  Parapsychological phenomena and the occult were becoming valid subjects for rigorous study.  There was a strong feeling that the whole psychic scene would at any moment be authenticated by scientific explanation.

       Du Maurier was obviously well informed of various psychical ideas when he wrote Ibbetson.  In addition he had been practicing hypnosis since his art student days in the Paris of the late 1850s.

     So this was the literary environment that Burroughs was growing up in.  As Bill Hillman and myself have attempted to point out, ERB’s mental and physical horizons were considerably broadened by the Columbian Expo of 1893.  Everything from the strong man, The Great Sandow, to Francis Galton’s psychological investigations were on display.  The cutting edge of nineteenth century thought and technology was there for the interested.  Burroughs was there for every day of the Fair.  He had time to imbibe all and in detail.  The Expo shaped his future life.  That he was intensely interested in the intellectual and literary environment is evidenced by the fact that when he owned his stationery story in Idaho in 1898 he advertised that he could obtain any magazine or book from both England and America.  You may be sure that he took full advantage of the opportunity for himself.  As this stuff was all the rage there can be no chance that he wasn’t familiar with it all if he didn’t actually immerse himself in it.  Remember his response to Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden was instantaneous.  Thus you have this strange outpost of civilization in Pocatello, Idaho where any book or magazine could be obtained.  Of course, few but Burroughs took advantage of this fabulous opportunity.  It should also be noted that he sold the pulp magazines so that his interest in pulp literature went further back than 1910.

      In addition ERB was enamored of the authors to the point of hero worship much as musical groups of the 1960s were idolized so he would have thirsted for any gossip he could find.  It isn’t impossible that he knew of this Rabelais Club.  At any rate his ties to psychology and the occult become more prominent the more one studies.

     It seems to me that longing as he did to be part of this literary scene, that if one reads his output to 1920 with these influences in mind, the psychological and occult content of, say, the Mars series, becomes more obvious.  He is later than these nineteenth century lights so influences not operating on them appear in his own work making it more modern. 

     At least through 1917 the unconscious was thought of as a source of creativity rather than the source of evil impulses.  If one could access one’s unconscious incalculable treasures could be brought up.  Thus gold or treasure is always depicted in Burroughs’ novels as buried.  The gold represents his stories, or source of wealth, brought up form his unconscious.  The main vaults at Opar are thus figured as a sort of brain rising above ground level.  One scales the precipice to enter the brain cavity high up in the forehead or frontal lobe.  One then removes the ‘odd shaped ingots’ to cash them in.  Below the vaults are two levels leading back to Opar that apparently represent the unconscious.  Oddly enough these passageways are configured along the line of Abbot’s scientific romance, Flatland.

     In Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar the gold is taken to the Estate and buried replicating the vaults.  Once outside Opar and in circulation, so to speak, the ingots are accessible to anyone hence the duel of Zek and Mourak for them.  The first gold we hear of in the Tarzan series is brought ashore and buried by the mutineers.  This also sounds vaguely like Stevenson’s Treasure Island.  The watching Tarzan then  digs the gold up and reburies it elsewhere.  In The Bandit Of Hell’s Bend the gold is stolen and buried beneath the floorboards of the Chicago Saloon.  Thus gold in the entire corpus is always from or in a buried location.  These are never natural veins of gold but the refined ingots.

     Not only thought of as a source of treasure during this period  the unconscious was thought to have incredible powers such as telekinesis, telepathy and telecommunication.  One scoffs at these more or less supernatural powers brought down from ‘God’ and installed in the human mind.  As they have been discredited scientifically Western man has discarded them.

     On the other hand Western Man deludes himself into accepting the oriental Freud’s no less absurd assertion that the unconscious exists independently of the human body somewhat like the Egyptian notion of the ka and is inherently evil while controlling the conscious mind of the individual.  This notion is purely a religious concept of Judaism identifying the unconscious as no less than the wrathful, destructive tribal deity of the old testament Yahweh.  Further this strange Judaic concept of Freud was allowed to supersede all other visions of the unconscious while preventing further investigation until the writing of C.G. Jung were given some credence beginning in the sixties of the last century.

     In point of fact there is no such unconscious.  The supernatural powers given to the unconscious by both Europeans and Freud are preposterous on the face of it.  For a broader survey of this subject see my Freud And His Vision Of The Unconscious on my blogsite, I, Dynamo.

     This so-called unconscious is merely the result of being born with more or less a blank mind that needs to be programmed.  The programming being called experience and education.  The maturation and learning process are such that there is plenty of room for error.  All learning is equivalent to hypnosis, the information being suggestion which is accepted and furthers the development of the individual.  Learning the multiplication tables for instance is merely fixing them in your mind or, in other words, memorizing them.  All learning is merely suggestion thus it is necessary that it be constructive or education and not indoctrination or conditioning although both are in effect.  Inevitably some input will not be beneficial or it may be misunderstood.  Thus through negative suggestion, that is bad or terrifying suggestions, fixations will result.  A fixation is impressed as an obsession that controls one’s behavior against one’s conscious will, in the Freudian sense.  The fixation seems to be placed deep in the mind, hence depth psychology.  Thus when ERB was terrified and humiliated by John the Bully certain suggestions occurred to him about himself that became fixations or obsessions.  These obsessions directed the content of his work.

    To eliminate the fixations is imperative.  This is what so-called depth psychology is all about.  The subconscious, then, is now ‘seprarated’ from the conscious, in other words the personality or ego is disintegrated.  The goal is to integrate the personality and restore control.  Once, and if that is done the fixations disappear and the mind become unified, integrated or whole; the negative conception of the unconscious is gone and one is left with a functioning conscious and subconscious.  The subconscious in sleep or dreams then reviews all the day’s events to inform the conscious of what it missed and organize it so that it can be acted on.  No longer distorted by fixations, or obsessions, the individual can act in his own interests according to his abilities.  The sense of living a dream life and a real life disappears.

     That’s why experience and education are so important.  What goes into the mind is all that can come out.

     But, the investigation of the unconscious was blocked by Freudian theory and diverted from its true course to benefit the individual in order to benefit Freud’s special interests.

     So, after the War ERB forgot or abandoned the wonderful notions of the unconscious and was forced to deal with and defend himself against Freudian concepts.  The charactger of his writing begins to change in the twenties to meet the new challenges of aggressive Judaeo-Communism until by the thirties his work is entirely directed to this defense as I have shown in my reviews of his novels from 1928 to 1934.

     Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar then reflects this wonderful vision of the subconscious as portrayed by George Du Maurier and Robert Louis Stevenson

     Then the grimmer reality sets in.

 

End Of Review.

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