A Review Pt. II: Tarzan The Invincible by Edgar Rice Burroughs
June 7, 2010
Themes And Variations
The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs
#14 Tarzan The Invincible
Part II of X
Time On His Hands
I pair this novel with Tarzan At The Earth’s Core. Burroughs could have titled that novel Tarzan In Pellucidar but he didn’t. Why not? Probably because he was trying to avoid as much confusion between his two imaginary worlds as possible, or possibly he needed the site to illustrate his point but didn’t want to make it a Pellucidar novel. Earth’s Core isn’t merely a story in which Tarzan makes a guest shot in another of Burrough’s worlds. Rather ERB is making a serious exploration of Einstein’s Theory of Time and Space. Alternatively the novel might have been titled, Tarzan, Lost In Time. The novel is written to disprove the objective existence of Time. Burroughs’ own conclusion is that time is merely a human construct for mankind’s own convenience but not substantial. I think he’s right.
The nature of Time was a topic of serious discussion during the late nineteenth century, into the twentieth , still going on today. Indeed the Pellucidar series as a whole is a discussion on the aspects of Time. Of course Burroughs was familiar also with H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine.
Perhaps one of the more interesting notions of Time and Space and time travel was one advanced by Mark Twain in 1916 in his interesting novel No. 44, The Mysterious Stranger. In his story Twain imagines that space and time are assembled like a multi-storied building with each diorama of time and space continuing in replay eternally. Thus his hero, #44 scoots around in time and space in what is apparently a system of chutes and ladders.
It is possible in this system to visit ancient Egypt to watch the Pyramids being built, climb through the years to discover the head of the Sphinx sticking out of the sand as Napoleon saw it in 1798, climb once again to watch the first Aswan dam being built, move up a story or two to watch the High Dam being built and off to Troy to stand in the front ranks with poor maligned Ajax.
To The Time Machine, Einstein’s Theory and The Mysterious Stranger, now add Tarzan At The Earth’s Core. There are more similarities than dissimilarities.
ERB apprently didn’t think he made his point in At The Earth’s Core or perhaps he received some criticism from someone so he carries the discussion over into Invincible. While incongruous for this story ERB works it in.
As there are no book s on Einstein in his library one may ask what evidence there is that ERB had ever thought of Relativity. Well, I’ve got the evidence right here, p. 104:
…but though Time and space go on forever, whether in curves or straight lines…
One can’t mention curved space and Time without being familiar with Einstein. And then, Einstein absurdly claimed that a nonexistent mental construct like Time forms a Fourth Dimension which somehow interacts with the other three. We are still waiting for a demonstration of that but we’ll let it pass. I’m sure Einstein picked that up from H.G. Wells Time Machine which was a very fine piece of imaginative literature but reflected no known physics then or now. Someone ought to pin a big red bozo nose on Einstein but, back to the future.
ERB had discussed the notion of Time thoroughly in Tarzan At The Earth’s Core. Actually that’s a contradiction of terms as a hollow earth obviates the notion of core. The key fact at the Earth’s Core is that it is always high noon. The central sun knows only endless day without a contrasting night to give the appearance of Time. Without the contrast between day and night and the revolution of the Earth around the Sun the concept of Time disappears; there is nothing to measure just pure duration.
In Invincible Burroughs explains it this way, if you didn’t catch it in At The Earth’s Core, p. 104 again, same paragraph:
The beasts of the jungle acknowledge no master, least of all the cruel tyrant that drives civilized man throughout his headlong race from the cradle to the grave- Time, the master of countless millions of slaves. Time, the measurable aspect of duration, was meaningless to Tarzan and Tantor.
Not only is Time meaningless to Tarzan and Tantor but Time is meaningless to the universe itself. Nothing that ocurs in the Universe is dependent on Time nor can Time change any occurrence. The so-called Fourth Dimension is totally ineffective. Everything will happen just as it does now and has always without any reference to Time. The progress of a physcial action will progress in scientifically determined steps from inception to completion without any interference from that clown Einstein’s ‘fabric of time and space.’
That is the import of timelessness at the Earth’s core. The inhabitants live and die without the ability to know they are getting older as there is no night, day or year. The organism merely comes into existence, behaving according to physical laws determined by genes and other micro-organisms progressing through all the changes until the final change which change no longer has any conscious meaning.
The same is true of suns and galaxies. It is virtually meaningless to say the Sun is several billions of years old. It is only a mental construct that lets you grasp a concept of duration. It is much more relevant to say, for instance, that the changes in the Sun’s development are, say, 30% completed. You see, it’s all quantative not qualitative. Barring accidents and diseases, at twenty the average life span in the US is 25% consumed. The changes relative to that portion of development in the organism have occurred and will not occur again. On that basis I have used up about 85% of the physical changes alloted my organism. The nature of future changes are predictable. They cannot be avoided. This has no reference to Time no matter what state of development an organism is in.
While in a state of depletion I become ‘old’ only if my psychology is affected by the concept of ‘age.’ While my physical capabilities are not what they were at twenty, that phase of development having been passed through, my mental capabilities have developed accordingly. As my body has decreased in powers my mind has increased. The beginning has compensated the end. If I die today or tomorrow that is as it must be. Everything has its end. There is no tragedy involved.
Life and death are completed, unaffected by Time. If time ‘stopped’ as people imagine it can, everything would continue as now. Organisms merely run their physical course. That is the point Burroughs is trying to make. He is repudiating Einstein.
As a young man I was conditioned to revere Einstein. I did this unquestioningly and, boy, was I sincere. I disgust myself in memory. But then, somewhere along the line the hypnotic spell wore off, contradicted by facts. Einstein began to unravel before my eyes. It wasn’t that I questioned his reputation it was just that a mist began to lift. I began to have doubts; sort of religious doubts. I blinked once and Einstein was no longer the archetype of genius. At the second blink I began to ask questions. I tripped over the notion of the physical reality of Time just as Burroughs did.
When I read the ancient Jewish historian Josephus I began to sense the specious nature of the problem. According to Josephus Abraham was the greatest astronomer cum astrologer of his time just as Einstein is thought to be the greatest of ours. At the time of the transition between the Age of Taurus and the Age of Aries Abraham had an astrological/astronomical dispute with the academy.
You see, at that stage of the evolution of human consciousness astronomy and astrology were united into one discipline. The magical element of astrology wouldn’t be separated from the scientific element of astronomy until the scientific consciousness of humanity had separated itself from the magical or religious which two systems are synonymous. The concept of god functions only in a magical sense as his presence is even less noticeable than that of Time.
However magic and astrology are still part of human consciousness although with a quasi-scientific basis so that systems organized perhaps tens of thousands of years ago continue to function through inertia. I have been accused of being New Age. Quite frankly as New Age in my view rejects the scientific consciousness as much as any other religious system, Fundamentalist Judaism, for instance, hint hint, I cannot be New Age. But, I sure like the way they talk.
What I discuss is scientific history. Facts which religious people reject because they disavow the ideas behind them but accept as real, i.e. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Why bother worrying about it; witches do not exist except in the imagination.
So whether you ‘believe’ in astrology, the Zodiac or whatever is irrelevant. The fact is at one time in history people universally did and they acted on their beliefs.
At any rate the fact is at the time of the transition from the Age of Taurus to the Age of Aries Abraham had an astrological/astronomical dispute with the Chaldean astronomers of Ur. As I understand it they said the religious archetype was changing with the transition from Taurus to Aries. (I think of this as a form of set theory; it is so because everyone agrees it is so. No different than now.) Abraham argued that the archetype of the Ages was Eternal, unchanging, the Rock Of Ages to you religious types. Rock of Ages means unchanging through all the signs of the Zodiac, all twelve Ages. An Age is one sign of the Zodiac. Ages are the twelve zodiacal signs. (Hello, Central? Put me through to God.)
Now, to be Eternal is astrologically impossible. The Earth wobbles on its axis visible at the North Pole so that every twenty-five thousand years or so it creates a Great Year then begins again. The Ancients divided the Great year in the system of twelve periods, called Ages, to correspond with the months of the terrestrial year.
Apparently Abraham denied this and adamantly insisted on the Eternal. For this reason, according to Josephus Abraham and his fellow Terahite cultists were run out of town.
Lousy astronomers, then, Abraham’s descendants had learned little by the time Einstein stepped onto the world stage to give his oration. Just as Abraham had voiced his foolishness four thousand years previously Einstein did the same in our time. There are those who seriously argue that time travel is possible in Einstein’s universe. Well, maybe in his, but not in this one.
Nothing is relative but one’s point of view. The physical universe is one of absolutes; that is the nature of science. Science cannot be relative; in order for an experiment to be true it must replicate itself the same way under the same conditions. As unpleasant as that may be to some intellects there is in fact only one way in a given set of circumstances. A+B will always equal A+B. If one switches to A+C then the result will always be A+C. There is nothing relative about it. You may religiously expect other results but you will be eternally disappointed. So Einstein said that the further out in Space his mind penetrated the closer he got to god. Who can say, but he never got close enough to touch God. Einstein was not a scientist. He was a Rabbi. There is no g-d to get closer to. I’m sure that a good Rabbi would find arguments in the Talmud almost identical to those of Einstein.
Burroughs saw through Einstein hence his arguments disproving the physical existence of Time and the futility of any supposed Fourth Dimension. These are religious matters requiring a belief in a supernatural being.
Having said that Time was measureless to Tarzan and Tantor which was not entirely true since the rotation of the Earth divides ‘Time’ into night and day unlike at the Earth’s core. Burroughs then goes on to say, p. 104, same paragraph:
Of all the vast resources that Nature had placed at their disposal, she had been most profligate with Time, since she had awarded to each all that he could use during his lifetime, no matter how extravagant of it he might be. So great was the supply of it that it could not be wasted, since there is always more, even up to the moment of death, after which it ceases, with all things, to be essential to the individual. Tantor and Tarzan therefore were wasting no time as they communed together in silent meditation…
A beautiful piece of sophistry. Regardless of the Time involved, immutable physical changes continued to take place. What opportunities appropriate to that physical state were lost forever.
Apropos of which carrying his argument further, on p. 120 he says:
Time is of the essence of many things to civilized man. He fumes and frets, and reduces his mental and physical efficiency if he is not accomplishing something concrete during the passage of every minute of that medium which seems to him like a flowing river, the waters of which are utterly wasted if they are not utilized as they pass by.
Imbued by some such insane conception of time, Wayne Colt sweated and stumbled through the jungle, seeking his companions as though the fate of the universe hung upon the slender chance that he could reach them without the loss of a second.
I understand what ERB is saying, of course, I’m virtually a disciple. Tarzan lolling on the back of Tantor achieved his goal more easily than the frantic Colt. Still, one should remember: Work, for the hour grows late. Those irreversible physical changes are drawing one closer to the grave. Get it done now.
ERB displays a seeming peevishness over the issue which has little or no bearing on this story. It is an interesting aside but it does not illuminate the tale. Maybe somebody criticized the ideas expressed in At The Earth’s Core and Burroughs is carrying on the argument. Nobody paid any attention, still I am charmed by the vision of Tantor and Tarzan suspended in Space and Time wandering blissfully through the jungle unaware of any impending doom.
Proceed to Part III of X