A Review: Pt. 8, Tarzan The Invincible by Edgar Rice Burroughs

October 31, 2010

A Review

Themes And Variations

The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs

#14 Tarzan The Invincible

by

R.E. Prindle

Part 8

Edgar Rice Burroughs In Idaho

Red, White And Black

Now we get to the ostensible story which is the Red assault on Italian Somaliland.  If few people today understand the partition of Africa by the European powers it might be well to recap the situation a little.  The two big players were France and England with Spain and Portugal picking up some early real estate to be later joined by the bit players, Germany and Italy.  The German possessions were stripped from them after the Great War and given to England.

This novel takes place in the Horn Of Africa or the Northeast corner facing the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Ocean.  The area contained Ethiopia otherwise known as Abyssinia, the only independent State in Africa save Liberia whose independence was guaranteed by the United States.

Ethiopia was bordered by Italian Eritrea and French and British Somaliland on the North, Italian Somaliland on the East, Kenya and Uganda on the South and Anglo-Egyptian Sudan on the West.

The Galla tribe with whom ERB became fascinated had been driven about by the Somals occupying lands mostly in the interior of Ethiopia after the manner of the Middle Eastern Kurds, where they were constantly in conflict with the Ethiopians and the Somals on the border.  ERB deals with the Ethiopian-Galla situation in Tarzan And The Mad Man.

The Red camp is located in Ethiopia several days march from the border of Italian Somaliland.  Opar which is nearby must now be located in Ethiopia.

The Reds have assembled an international cast of characters or in other words a multi-cultural outfit.  Their multi-cultural nature will prove to be a liability rather than an asset as indeed it must in real life.

The organizers are Russian or Soviet Communists of whom there are four, Peter Zveri, the leader, Zora Drinov, Paul Ivitch and Michael Dorsky.  They are joined by an American agent acting as a double agent, Wayne Colt.

Burroughs casually mentions that the expedition was put together in the United States by Zveri operating on both coasts.  As Burroughs is writing a novel he wisely declines to preach or analyze, he is, as he says, an entertainer.  As I who do function as an analyst pointed out in Marcia Of The Doorstep that the US had been used as a safe haven by every conspiratiorial revolutionary group on the planet.  Burroughs is noting the same thing but only in passing as part of the story.  If one is not attuned to such details they slip right by without significance as do the dots and dashes of the Morse code to the uninitiated.

The group is also composed of a Filipino Red, Antonio Mori and a Mexican revolutionary Miguel Romero.  These people form the core group.  Affiliated with them are the Moslem Arabs of Abu Batn who appear to have been recruited from the Mahgreb, perhaps Algeria, where some of Tarzan’s early adventures occurred.   They do not appear to be Black Arabs of the Horn.  While appearing to be Communists they remain Moslem Arabs whose real motive is to drive the Christians or Nasrany as they call them out of Africa.  This means Whites of no or any religious affiliation.

Zveri has also patched on the Bantu tribe of Kitembo, the Basembos.  This is because Kitembo has actually been to Opar, the only member of their party who has.  Kitembo doesn’t appear to be a true Communist but is a former powerful chief from Kenya who had been displaced by the British.  He comes from a place on Lake Victoria which should make him a Luo but for reasons perhaps not pertinent I tend to think of him as Kikiyu probably partly based on someone like Jomo Kenyatta who already had notoriety by 1930 although Kitembo’s history is close that that of the Unyoro Chief Kaba Rega whose story Burroughs was definitely familiar with from the memoirs of Samuel Baker.

Kitembo is interested only in recovering his past dignity augmented ten fold.  All that becomes irrelevant when he deigns to lay his hands on Zora.

We should remember that Burroughs is writing in 1930 not 2010, so many things that are more or less clear to us now were undetermined at that time while understandings and motivations were quite different then from today and as those of today will be fifty years hence.

For one thing Africa was still a land of mystery where one wouldn’t have been too surprised if someone had discovered  a lost civilization, a strange anthropoid- perhaps the so-called Missing Link, very real to the imagination at the time- and any number of things.  One of the great losses of my childhood was the recognition that Africa was known; that nothing truly wonderful would be discovered in the world again.  All was now cataloguing.

Abercrombie and Fitch who had built a very lucrative business outfitting ‘explorers’ or safaries, having not yet turned to teen porn,  lost its raison d’etre as did all the ‘Explorer’ clubs where grown men sat around in khaki Safari gear drinking and dreaming.  All that was left for me and my generation was Trader Vic’s and he’s gone now.  The miracle is that the National Geographic found a way to survive when they could no longer portray exotic, naked, painted savages with necks supported by copper rings, plates in the upper lip and that.   Now of course they don’t have to go as far for such exotica as Whites imitating the Africans sport massive tattooing suported by all kinds of nose rings and body piercings.

So, in 1930 Burroughs’ story still had a degree of probability.  Especially in the way he joined contemporary politics to nineteenth century Africa.  In one reads closely this is quite a story, a true tour de force.

Not only do the Arabs and the Bantus have their personal motivations apart from Communism, so we learn does Peter Zveri.  The streak of individualism is not extinct in his collective mind, he sees the opportunity to make himself Emperor of Africa in Tarzan’s stead.  Apparently Soviet intelligence has been keeping close tabs on the doings of the Big Ape Man because Zveri knows of Tarzan’s ‘fool dirigible trip’ believing him absent from Africa and possibly dead as no one has heard from him for the past year.  This was before Google Alerts too.

Indeed Tarzan drops as from the clouds into a clearing filled with great apes as the story begins.  Just coincidentally Jad-Bal-Ja and Nkima happen to be in this exact part of Tarzan’s estate of Africa at the same time.   Zveri then is very disappointed to learn that his nemesis is back.  As well he might because he has engaged himself mano a mano with the Big Bwana and Africa, believe it or not, is not big enough for both of them.

In his examination of Communism, multi-culturalism and human nature Burroughs is at his incisive best.  Remember few of these stories go over a hundred ninety-two paperback pages.  These are tremendously condensed stories.  They’re somewhat like a zipped file with megabytes compressed into kilobytes.  To really get the stories you have to unzip them and let them expand in y9ur mind.  Don’t be deceived by their seeming simplicity.

The various cultures involved in this plot are only loosely held together by Communist ideology.  The plot eventually falls apart because the cultures see through the phoniness of the Communist ideal.  Zveri himself isn’t even that sincere a Communist as he intends to use the gold of Opar to make himself a third world power as Emperor of Africa.  In the end Communism is a fatuous dream,whether utopian or dystopian is up to you.

Burroughs does not emphasize his opinions, he merely tells his story.  My conclusions as to his intent are derived from the result of the story.  In the end Communism fails because of internal contradictions while the big Bwana is invincible retaining his position as Guardian or Emperor of Africa.  Not one world of preachment.

Wayne Colt in his rather absurd trek across Africa arrives too late for the first assault on Opar.  He does happen into camp in time to spot the shaking tent and rescue Zora from Jafar, the Indian Communist,  with Tarzan’s help.  After killing Jafar Tarzan turns his steps to Opar traveling in a bee-line through the Middle Terraces he handily arrives before the first expedition which had left some time before him.

Let me take a moment to discuss Burroughs’ Africa.  In the first place these stories are combination dreamscape, fairy tale and mythmaking.  His Africa bears no more relation to this planet than Arthur’s Camelot bore to Medieval England.  I find it tiresome for scholars to try to find the ‘real’ history of Arthur’s career.  Arthur may have a loose connection to real historical events but the story, a great one, is a projection of psychological needs.  There isn’t any such thing as a Holy Grail.  No knights ever went in search of it.

In the same way Burroughs’ Africa is a psychological projection hopefully leading to his Holy Grail.  There are no lower, middle or upper terraces in a nearly uniform jungle in the real Africa.  Anyone who tries to find them will be severely disappointed.  Such things are merely inventions of Burroughs’ dream world.  I am glad he shared it with me, you and the millions.

The frequency with which the characters run into each other way out there is also impossible but in Burroughs’ dreamscape, his fairy tale, his myth, it happens all the time.  There is no sense in arguing the impossibility.  If you find it too offensive to your sensibilities then the oeuvre is not for you.  One just accepts that these are fairy tales and in fairy tales things like this happen all the time.  It’s a fantasy, fantastic things go on.

I try to fathom the psychological intent so while I may smile and jest at some impossible details it is only at the naive dream details and not the serious intent of the story.  In our time these stories would have been taken at warp speed to another galaxy where in that context all things would be possible.  But, that would be pure fiction hence unbelievable.  I never did take Star Trek seriously, in fact, I refused to voluntarily watch it.  Burroughs’ Africa can still be located on a map of the world connecting psychological reality with temporal reality in a very satisfying blend.

So, as this series is a roman a fleuve or River Story, Tarzan ruminates on his previous visits to Opar as he strides across the hot dusty desert, where the rain never falls, toward the fabled gold and red domes and turrets in the distance.

La’s love for him which began in Return Of Tarzan has caused dissension between her and her people.  She has retained her position only through the active intervention of Tarzan.  Defeating the revolution that had ousted her in Tarzan And The Golden Lion the big Bwana had replaced her on the throne guarded by the Bolgani of the Valley of Diamonds and the semi-human Gomangani.  It is interesting to not that the Oparian revolution occurred after the Russian.  Might be a connection.

As he approaches the city he believes that the Oparians appreciated his defeat of Cadj and that they love and respect him so that his reunion with them will be joyous.  Not so.  In the interim the Oparians who hate and resent Tarzan have deposed La putting her in a foul prison in the vast underground maze of dungeons of Opar.  Passing back through the narrow cleft, bounding up the stairs, Tarzan is surprised to find himself attacked by the howling Frightful Men.  The Man of the Steel Pate receives another frightful blow which lays him out.

He wakes to find himself the captive of Oah and Dooth.  He is placed in a cell the details of which I have already related above.

I haven’t plumbed the signficance of Tarzan and La being imprisoned together while the city is attacked by the Communists unless the dreamworld of Opar represents a sanctuary that is now invaded in the attempt to destroy Burroughs’s literary career.  In that event it might be necessary for the Anima and Animus to be together.   This story also harks back to the invasion of the Emerald City in Baum’s story The Emerald City Of Oz.

In any event the various strange screams and noises from within Opar unsettle the superstitious Blacks and Arabs who lose their nerve refusing to enter Opar.  The Blacks believe in spirits and the Arabs in jinns both of which they fear more than living men.  Thus Burroughs is contemptuous of both cultures.

Zveri and his Russians are too cowardly to enter themselves.  The only one with the nerve is the Mexican Miguel Romero who gets very good reviews from ERB.  Miguel retreats in the the face of the horde of Frightful Men but he is very cool about it.

Returning to camp the Arabs are now disaffected having words with Zveri.  The arrival of Colt and Mori puts a little heart into Zveri so that a second attempt  on Opar is determined leaving the Arabs to guard the camp.

Tarzan and La escape from Opar between the two assaults becoming subsequently separated.  Zveri takes the Blacks and Communists with him.  Being left behind dissolves the Arab affinity with the Cause.  Never good Communists, being interested only in ejecting the Nasrani from Africa, they decide to disappear into the desert.

About this time La wanders into camp.  Sacking the camp, Abu Batn and his Arabs leave with the two women whose value in the North he knows full well.  The Arabs are out of the story.  The Communist coalition is breaking up.  As Burroughs points out the goals of the two are not the same.

Back in Opar Zveri finds it impossible to force his Africans into service while he and his Russians remain cowards.  Colt behaving bravely, as only an American can, along with Miguel Romero penetrates to the sanctuary where they are faced by the Frightful Men.  Perhaps in a comment on American tactics Colt fires over the heads of the Oparians while the Mexican, Romero, fires directly into the mob.

Why when Americans go to war they are reluctant to do the dirty work of killing is beyond me.  The reluctance to engage the enemy in Viet Nam cost us that war.  The reluctance to do what we have to do in Iraq is costing us that war.  Perhaps we think we can hide behind a wall of steel as our technology wars for us while we imagine we can remain safe.  Our punishment of our own soldiers for merely humiliating the enemy must be unique in the annals of warfare.  And they wonder why no one wants to join the Army.

Romero who shoots to kill is able to escape while the pussy footing Colt is downed by a thrown club and captured.  A thrown club!  Once again a Burroughs’ surrogate takes a blow to the head, but how does one survive a thrown club?

Just as Colt and Zora exchange partners in the jungle so now Colt takes Tarzan’s place in jail.  Here, he is befriended by a nubile beauty, Nao, rather than as La did Tarzan and, pephaps as Florence was doing for ERB.  Afer killing to free him Nao is left behind as Colt disappears into the dusty desert.  Not a very thoughtful thing to do as Nao would certainly be discovered.

Zveri returns to his devastated camp to be handed a letter notifying him that Colt is a double agent.  Abandoning any thoughts of Opar the Communists concentrate on their mission which is the simulated invasion of Italian Somaliland.

As they are about to leave Tarzan returns Zora to camp.  Coldly dropping her off without a word he climbs onto a branch to spy on the conspirators.  His leopard skin shorts are mistaken for the real thing.  Here we go again.  the shot at the imagined leopard grazes the Big Guy’s skull putting him out of commission for a full day.  So that is at least two knockouts for Burroughs’ surrogates plus this concussion.  Tarzan’s frequent lapses of attention become more intelligible.

Zveri wants to take advantage of his opportunity and kill Tarzan but Zora intervenes so Tarzan is bound which leads to next day’s episode when Dorsky threatens him only to be annihilated by Tantor.

The charming fairy tale between Nkima, Tantor, Tarzan and the Hyena then takes place which is a repeat of the same scene in Jewels Of Opar.

Nkima then goes in search of the Faithful Waziri to aid Tarzan while the Big Fella begins his campaign of terror against the Communist conspirators.

His strategy is to separate Kitembo and his Basembos from Zveri and his Communists.  To do this he plays on their superstitious natures.  A mysterious voice comes down from the trees, in other words, the sky, telling them to go back.  In the meantime Little Nkima has recruited the Faithful Waziri who arrive to help out not with spears and bows and arrows but modern repeating rifles.  Arranging themselves in front of the advancing Communists hidden in the tall grass -this stuff grows six feet high- they give the appearance of being many more than they are.  Burroughs doesn’t make it clear how they can see the Communists through the grass while the Communists can’t see them but as Tarzan usually navigates pretty well even in total darkness I’m probably making a bigger problem out of it than it is.

Zveri does a rapid advance to the rear which act of cowardice completely destroys his credibility.  Dorsky is dead while Romera and Mori renounce their Communism.  Zora reveals she’s only in it for the revenge because Zveri had murdered her family twelve years earlier in the Revolution while, as we are aware, Colt is an American agent.  This leaves only Zweri and Ivitch who I believe represent Frank Martin and R. H. Patchin, ERB’s old nemeses in Chicago.

Returning to camp Zveri spots Wayne Colt.  Calling him a traitor he fires point blank missing while the bullet grazes Colt’s side without breaking the skin.  That was a close one.  Before Zveri can fire again he is brought down from behind by Zora.  Burroughs replays scenes like this over and over with different variations.  Just as the constant bashings on the head his surrogates take reflect his own experience in 1899 so must all these conflicts between his surrogates and another man and his surrogate woman reflect his situation with Frank Martin and Emma.  In each instance in one way or another the woman rejects the other man.   Thus Burroughs ‘fictionizes’ his own situation.

So now Zora kills Zveri so that she and Colt can bridge that gap.

As a sidekick Ivitch/Patchin is allowed to leave Africa.  In point of fact Martin died some time before Burroughs although not until after 1934 while Patchin survived both.

Tarzan in the meantime escorts La back to Opar where he reinstalls her on the throne this time doing the sensible thing of eliminating Oah, Dooth and all their sympathizers.  One must believe there will be no more trouble in Opar.  In any event Opar disappears from the oeuvre.

Tarzan then returns to the camp to dispense justice as becomes the Lord Of The Jungle.

As the story ends the ‘invincible’ Tarzan seems to have solved all the problems confronting he and Burroughs in 1930.  The Big Fella has not only thwarted Zveri but defeated Stalin and the whole Soviet empire.

As the exchange between Zveri and Romero explains it:  pp. 183-84:

“Which proves,”  declared Zveri, “what I have suspected for a long time; that there is more than one traitor among us,”  and he looked meaningly at Romero.

“What it means,” said Romero’ “is that crazy, harebrained theories always fail when they are put to the test.  You thought that all the blacks in Africa would rush to our standard and drive all the foreigners into th ocean.  In theory, perhaps, you were right, but in practice one man, with a knowledge of native psychology, which you did not have, burst your entire dream like a bubble, and for every other harebrained theory in the world there is always the stumbling block of fact.”

Thus Tarzan not only defeats Zveri, Stalin and the Soviets but he disproves the whole Communist ideology as a harebrained theory.

On top of that the Invincible One restored order in Opar while putting his personal life to rights by separating out Colt and Zora or Burroughs and Emma and Tarzan and La or Burroughs and Florence.

The succeeding novel Tarzan The Triumphant- Invincible, Triumphant- will rescue the Russian situation while its successor Tarzan And The City Of Gold disposes of Emma/Jane/Zora/Nemone by her self-immolation while its successor Tarzan And the Leopard Men bring Kali/Florence and Old Timer/Burroughs together.  The series climaxes with Tarzan And the Lion Man when Burroughs 2 kills off his early self, Stanley Obroski, or Burroughs 1 to come into his own, or so Burroughs supposes.  The rest of the series is playing out the aftermath of the divorce from Emma and the marriage to Florence.

As could have been predicted the marriage to Florence was less than satisfying.

So, perhaps, Burroughs’ solution to his personal dilemma is based on a harebrained theory itself which fell to earth on ‘the stumbling block of fact.’

For the moment however Tarzan has saved Africa from the Communist menace and perhaps the World.

Edgar Rice Burroughs- High On A Mountain By The Sea

 

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