Pt. 2: Tarzan And The River

May 8, 2011

Tarzan And The River

Part II

Edgar Rice Burroughs In Aspic

by

R.E. Prindle

When ‘Omer smote his bloomin’ lyre,

He’d heard men sing by land and sea:

An’ what ‘e thought ‘e might require,

‘E went and took- the same as me!

The market-girls an’ fishermen,

The shepherds and the sailors, too,

They ‘eard old songs turn up again,

But kept it quiet- same as you!

They knew ‘e stole, ‘e knew they knowed,

They didn’t tell, nor make a fuss,

But winked at ‘Omer down the road.

An’ ‘e winked back= the same as us.

-Rudyard Kipling

I want a dream lover,

So I don’t have to dream alone.

–Bobby Darin

 First published  in the Burroughs Bulletin

Spring 2003 issue.

Last Night He Had The Strangest Dream

     As an author Edgar Rice Burroughs belongs to the generation of writers who wrote between the wars.  He is or should be placed beside Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner, Aldous Huxley, P.G. Wodehouse, H.G. Wells, John Dos Passos and John Steinbeck, among others.  Further, of all those authors ERB was the best selling writer in the entire world.  His reign came to an end in 1939 and then only after his talent was dissipated.  This is a remarkable achievement against some very qualified and important writers.  One doesn ‘t often hear of Steinbeck societies.  Hemingway or any of the others but Burroughs societies exist in many countries around the world.

     I consider myself an intellectual and literary snob, yet I acknowledge ERB as important an intellectual and literary figure as any of the savants mentioned above.  ERB did not parade his knowledge and savvy as most writers are wont to do.  He incorporated a fairly deep understanding of many contemporary issues without a hint of the lamp.  Tarzan Triumphant is a case in point.  Obviously the two religious groups in the novel refer to Jews and Christians, but there is no reference to either sect.  One is left to infer that the Old Testament crowd led by Abraham, son of Abraham, is of the Old Testament while their rivals are New Testament.  In so far as ERB allows the story to involve religious discussion, the moral is ‘a pox on both your houses.’

     Even more remarkable is that over the writing of the published twenty-one Tarzans before 1940 all the novels are interrelated.  ERB was able to keep his Tarzan facts in order over a twenty-seven year period of writing while being involved in the writing of dozens of other books.  In point of fact the Tarzan oeuvre is a roman a fleuve- a river novel.

     A River novle is a series of novels which traces the course of a nation, people, a family or an an individual over a period of at least decades.  The first novel ever written was a River novel, that was the story of the Greek invasion of Troy.

      The two surviving complete books of this remakarble story are Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey.  Moreover, many fragments exist predating the events of the Iliad and after.

     Perhaps the most prodigious of all River novels is the Vulgate Lancelot chronicling  the adventures of King Arthur and his knights.  The story runs on for thousands of pages.

     In modern times Alexander Dumas’ five volume epic concerning the adventures of the Three Musketeers constitute a River novel.  Trollope wrote two, that of the Pallisers and the Barchester series.  The model for the twentieth century was Remembrance Of Things Past by Marcel Proust.

      Edgar Rice Burroughs has always been treated frivolously, yet the Tarzan oeuvre is a work of some magnitude which does not compare unfavorably with Proust.

     Proust’s work looks backward as he relives his life trying to make order of his psychology.  Burroughs’ Tarzan oeuvre records his psychological development on a current basis as it evolves year by year.

     ERB’s work is characterized as imaginative fiction while Proust’s is considered realistic fiction.  In other words, realistic fiction builds on real life experience in real life situations, while the imaginative writer is compelled to ‘invent’ incidents.

     Thus while the realistic writer draws primarily from personal experience and observations, the imaginative writer has to draw from published sources of either fiction or nonfiction or convert real life experiences  into symbolic form.  The latter is more true of science and fantasy fiction.  If the science fiction writers of the forties and fifties hadn’t had a couple thousand years of esoteric literature to draw on there would have been little science fiction.  Of course the writers so disguise their sources  that without an extensive education in esoteric writings oneself the stories seem incredibly original.

     Borrowing from every source is extensive.  For instance, Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End is the same story as H.G. Wells’ Food Of The Gods with different detailing.  Wells himself extrapolated his story farom Darwin’s Origin Of Species and The Descent Of Man.  Darwin of course turned to nature, the ultimate source of suggestion, for his story.

     That Burroughs borrowed extensively and sometimes blatantly is of little consequence, especially as his original contributions were so extensive and satisfying.  As the opening poem by Kipling indicates, at least he was honest enough to admit of outside influences.

     The Russian Quartet, or first four novels, is a tentative beginning to the Tarzan oeuvre.  It is possible that the first novel, Tarzan Of The Apes, was just an attempt to express certain ideas about heredity and such related topics that ERB wanted to say with no thought of sequels.  The story itself is absurd enough that it seems a miaracle that it was accepted and published.  It is perhaps less surprising that it was so readily accepted by the reading public as the great figure of Tarzan rises shining from the pages.  One ignores any story telling flaws to get a glimpse of the bronzed forest giant, the great Tarmangani, the jungle god, the Lord of the Jungle, Tarzan.  A writer should be so lucky to come up with such an archetypal figure.

     Return and Beasts find Burroughs groping for a direction.  Beasts is is heavily influenced by H.M. Stanley’s writing on Africa as well as that of Mungo Park, not to mention Edgar Wallace’s Sanders Of The River.  The story of Paulevitch’s experience in the jungle was obviously taken from Mungo Park’s Travels In The Interior Of Africa.  Beasts itself which also has a lot of Defoe in it, is absurd to the extreme yet somehow redeems itself as one becomes entranced by the outrageous notion of apes and men row-row-rowing their boat down the stream.  Somewhere either before the beginning of Beasts or after the end, ERB interweaves the story of Barney Custer and the Mad King and the Eternal Lover to bring his own psychology into the Tarzan character.  Thus ERB pictures himself as the Son Of Tarzan in the novel of that name.

     Having resolved, after a fashion, his conflicts with this father and somewhere in that tremendous gush of writing having integrated his personality, ERB then turns to himself as the conflicted Animus of Tarzan the Hero and Tarzan the Clown to resolve that psychological dilemma over the next seventeen volumes published during his lifetime.

     The Russian Quartet was written over a period of three years.  The eight novels between Son and Lost Empire were written over fourteen years.  Whether the ‘Lost Empire’ refers to Emma and Opar is open to conjecture.  In any event Lost Empire signifies a terminal junction in ERB’s psychology.

     Then as the problems of his Animus and Anima resolve themselves ERB rapidly turns out six volumes over four years.

     He had difficulty writing Tarzans while struggling with his psychology but wrote quickly once he had made up his mind.

     From 1934 in psychologically related volumes to 1938 he published the three additional novels of Quest, Forbidden city and Magnificent.  The psychologically relevant Madman was discovered and published in 1964, fourteen years after his death.  Perhaps the thought the novel was too personal and painful to publish himself.

     As noted “Foreign Legion’ is a propagandistic after thought to the oeuvre.

     As ERB didn’t begin writing until he was thirty-six it is fair to say that his writing represents the effort of a mature mind.  This is even more evident when one reflects that the majority of the Tarzan oeuvre was written between the ages of forty-one and fifty-eight.  Lion Man, which is the culminating volume of ERB’s psychological odyssey was written at the last age.

     The novels written between 1930 and 1934 which I consider excellent work and the best of the Tarzan oeuvre are the ones most often dismissed as repetitious.  One of the very best, Tarzan And The Leopard Men, is, oddly enough, often dismissed as ‘hack work’.  Very strange.

     But to return to Opar and move forward from there.  From 1912 or 1911 if you consider from the first moment ERB put pen to paper to 1915, things developed very rapidly in ERB’s mind.  The rich experience of his lifetime, all his opinions, thoughts and fancies were so compressed within his skull that as I say he erupted with more than the force of Spindletop.  It took him three years to cap that gusher and then the flow was strong and steady until 1934 when he realized himself.

     Return was written in 1913 when his Anima, La of Opar, first pops up.  She then disappears until 1916 when wife Emma apparently sneered at the wealth ERB had laid at her feet.  She would not so soon forget the first twelve years of her humiliation.

     Her rejection of ERB the Hero must have hurt Burroughs to the quick.  Following Return he wrote The Mad King in which after numerous trials and tribulations and after he had disposed of Custer’s inept doppelganger, the Mad King, Barney Custer and the Princess Emma were reconciled.  In all likelihood the story was a day-dream of wish fulfillment in the Freudian manner because in The Eternal Lover which followed quickly Barney Custer goes to Tarzan’s Equatorial estate but with his sister Victoria and not the ‘Princess Emma’.  His marital relationship is obviously still very troubled.  As noted, The Eternal Lover is a myth of the nature of Pysche and Eros, the Anima and Animus.

     Interestingly, Boy Jack’s wife, which is to say ERB’s at the end of Son of Tarzan is no longer a princess but the daughter of a general.  Emma had apparently been demoted in ERB’s emotions.

     In a psychological quandary ERB has Tarzan leave Jane in 1916 to return to Opar and La for more gold to lay at Jane/Emma’s feet.  This story is crucial for the rest of the oeuvre.  ERB’s dream lover, La, spares his life and offers to marry him or in other words take him away from Jane/Emma.  At this point in his life ERB is faithful in body if not in spirit.  He declines her offer having his faithful Waziri stagger back to Jane under a load of one hundred twenty pounds of gold each.

     Apparently the wealth of Opar of which tons of gold remained to be tapped as well as bushels of the very largest of diamonds (move ahead to the Father of Diamonds in the Forbidden City) is not enough to assuage Jane/Emma’s anger at Ed’s failure for the first twelve years of married life.  She rejects ERB’s present income.  This must have been a staggering blow for Burroughs who at this point in his life wanted to abandon his clown role for that of the hero.

     He had already begun Jungle Tales Of Tarzan, which he managed to finish, otherwise from Jewels of Opar to Tarzan the Untamed there is a hiatus in Tarzan novels for thirty-nine months.  For over three years he and Emma were apparently at a stalemate making it impossible for him to write further Tarzan adventures.

     When Tarzan returns it is as The Untamed and he and Jane have been separated, possibly for good as Tarzan has no idea where she is; common report is that she is dead.

     One may infer that the marriage is all but over.  It takes another twenty-three months before Tarzan The Terrible appears.  Tarzan goes from Untamed to Terrible.  Apparently ERB and Emma are now temporarily reconciled as Tarzan finds Jane in the forgotten land of Pal-ul-don (paladin?) and he, she and Jack go swinging down the jungle trails to return to Equatoria.  the family is reunited.  But is it?

     After the passage of twenty-two months Burroughs follows Terrible with Golden Lion.  Now the title Golden Lion is somewhat misleading as the Lion doesn’t play that large a role in the story.  The Lion seems to have sprung from Burroughs’ subconscious as a defense against the Lion of Emma.  In this story Tarzan leaves Jane for a fairly extended visit to his dream lover, La in Opar.  They are together for some time as they adventure into the adjacent lost valley called The Valley Of Diamonds.  (Once again, see Tarzan And The Forbidden City.)  Possibly the Father of Diamonds represents the Jewel of Great Price which turns out ironically to be a piece of coal.  This was after ERB left Emma for Florence.

     Golden Lion introduces the great doppelganger of Tarzan, Esteban Miranda.  I am absolutely fascinated by this character.  Miranda looks, talks and walks so much like Tarzan that not only can’t Jane/Emma tell them apart but Miranda even fools the faithful Waziri.

     Golden Lion is paired with Tarzan And The Ant Men.  You have to read both to get the whole story.

     Esteban Miranda is a London actor, a clown and a cowardly fool.  ERB goes to great lengths to deliniate the character of this unpleasant but goofily amiable alter ego.

     In the confusion Miranda is captured by a savage tribe of Blacks where he is spared because of his resemblance to Tarzan.  He escapes finally although he is a blithering idiot who has lost his memory.  Get that!  Even Tarzan’s doppelganger loses his memory.  I haven’t been able to fugure out ERB’s problems with his memory yet.

     He is discovered by the Waziri where he is once again mistaken for the real thing.  He is taken to the ranch house where Jane nurses him back to health.  Still mistakes him for the real Tarzan, he is about to be embraced lovingly by Jane when the terrible, untamed Tarzan appears through the French windows.  Tarzan himself had been off having incredible adventures with the Ant Men returning just in the nick of time.

     Here apparently Jane rejects Burroughs the Hero in favor of Burroughs the Clown of the first twelve years of her marriage.  This is something which ERB can’t forgive.  His resentment turns into a divorce about ten years later.

     There is then another long hiatus of approximately forty months before Tarzan returns as Lord of the Jungle with Jane in a very subsidiary role.  So in twelve years Burroughs wrote only about five Tarzan novels.  Then between 1929 and 1934 he whipped out an additional seven.

     The change of pace was caused by the quickening resolution of ERB’s psychological dilemma.  He was obviously living his life vicariously as Tarzan.

     It is this development of his psychology recorded through Tarzan that makes the oeuvre the most fascinating of River novels.

     Let us understand that a writer, any writer, is always discussing his own psychology.  this applies both to so-called non-fiction as well as fiction.  Properly speaking there is no such thing as non-fiction.  The difference between the two is that in non-fiction a writer describes actual events through a prism of so-called objectivity.  In other words in writing about Edgar Rice Burroughs I am bound to adhere to the facts of ERB’s life and I cannot invent details to improve the story.  However, in actuality I see what my own psychology has prepared me to see.  My psychology, that is, in conjunction with my intelligence and emotional perspicuity.

      Anyone who has read the autobiography of Frank Harris knows that his favorite adage is that no man can see over the top of his head.  Therefore it behooves every man to broaden and develop his experience so that he can stand as tall as possible.  In that way he can at least hopefully see over the heads of all his fellows.  I was once fortunate enough to try this on a crowded street in Hong Kong where I stood head and shoulders above my fellow Chinese pedestrians.  You could see the heads and shoulders of all the American sailors inching slowly along like icebergs in a sea of Chinese.

     But seriously, one must develop one’s intelligence and that is exactly what Edgar Rice Burroughs did throughout his life.  ERB was an avid reader both of fiction and non-fiction.  He makes frequent allusion to Poe, Wells, Doyle and who I think he respects most, Rudyard Kipling.  If you have read the great African explorers you will have no difficulty identifying sources.  ERB was quick in picking up new titles also.  Forbidden City was, I believe, based partially on Digging For Lost African Gods by Byron Khun de Protok published in 1926.

     ERB was also forced to respond to hectoring outside criticism.  I’m sure he little knew the effect that the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 would have on him personally, but by 1933’s Leopard Men he was thrown on the defensive by what H.G. Wells called the ‘Open Conspiracy’ or the Red Revolution.  I will deal with it in the last essay in our series called ‘Star Begotten.’

     All of Burroughs stories are many layered if you care to look beyond the surface details.  After Golden Lion ERB develops a whole jungle family of attendant animals which follow him through all the stories.  Each novel is merely one episode in the life of Tarzan/Burroughs and each leads to the next novel in true River fashion.

     This is wonderful stuff.  There is no difficulty understanding why Burroughs was the best selling author of his time.

     After recording the difficulties of reconciling himself with Emma from 1916 to 1928 ERB reluctantly threw in the towel when he wrote Tarzan And The Lost Empire.  The double entendre of the lost empire is explicit in between the lines.  It is not only the Lost Empire deep in the Heart Of Darkness but also his dream of building a great empire with Emma.  The dissolution of his marriage and his search for a real live La of Opar begins with the book.

     At this point he has also come under attack by the Reds who cannot tolerate the success of a Conservative writer.  Consolidating rapidly from 1917 to 1923, by this time the Revolution was in control of publishing.  They could deny access to new conservative writers, creating the myth that all the best new writers were Communist in faith, but they still had to destroy the reputations of older, non-conforming writers.

     I don’t know that any studies have been made of literary or journalistic attacks on ERB, but he responds as though there were many.  In 1929 he took time out from his personal psychology to write a major counter-attack against the Revolution with Tarzan At The Earth’s Core.

     While this may appear to be simply a critique of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, in fact Einstein was as much a political figure as a scientific one.  Both he and Freud were prominent agents of the ‘Open Conspiracy’ along with that literary political agent, H.G. Wells, so that Earth’s Core is a counter-attack on his detractors.

     Then in quick succession ERB turned out Tarzan the Invicinble, (watch the titles) Tarzan Triumphant, Tarzan And The City Of Gold, Tarzan And The Leopard Men and Tarzan And The Lion Man.

     After a long struggle Burroughs quickly resolved his psychological dilemma.  He rectified his Animus, disposing of the clown side of his nature while at the same time reconciling his Anima.  He divorced Emma while marrying what he fancied was a La of Opar in Florence.  The final conflict with Emma is recorded in City Of Gold.  The basic idea for City was probably borrowed from Bulfinch’s The Legends Of Charlemagne.  In Legends, an enchantress has captured many of the leading palladins of Charlemagne which she has imprisoned in a city of gold.  The medieval writers borrowed the story of Odysseus and Circe from Homer.

     In Burroughs’ story the enchantress Nemone has ‘captured’ a bemused Tarzan who may escape any time he chooses but he elects to stay around to see what will happen.

     Lion Man is notable for the way Burroughs blends psychology, fiction, the movies and how the movies affect the perception of reality of movie-goers.  Film, which was developed during Burroughs’ young manhood, had a profound effect on the movie-goer’s ability to distinguish real life from movie fantasy.  Burroughs was qite precocious in understanding this.  There are earlier references to the matter in his work but here he gives it a full scale examination, both as when the fictional Tarzan replaces the even more fictional Obroski in Africa and when as a Burroughs doppelganger Tarzan mixes on set with the movie people in Hollywood where they fail to recognize him as the real thing, Lion Man is perhaps the most interesting of all the Tarzan novels.

     After Lion Man, which both rectifies his Animus and reconciles his Anima, his motive for writing fast and furious disappeared.  In fact, his subject matter disappears.  He had in effect run out of material.  Tarzan’s Quest and Tarzan And The Forbidden City record his lingering problems with his two ladies at the age of sixty-three.  You can see why he wrote it as a farce.

     Tarzan And The Madman caps the story of his pschological development although he did not publish the novel during his lifetime.

     At the end, as is not unusual, he returned to the beginning as in The Mad King.  The totally farcical Forbidden City is an example of what his writing might have turned into if he had been allowed to publish under his pseudonym, Normal Bean.  As a comic novel, Forbidden City is actually very funny, if absurd, as Tarzan is driven from pillar to post by his two women.  This undoubtedly  reflects his real life situation.  In the end, he says, the fabulous diamond he and everyone else is seeking, the Jewel Of Great Price, is merely a mirage turning out to be as worthless as a piece of coal.

     Both Lion Man and Forbidden City seem to have influenced Aldous Huxley, one of the major intellectual writers of the period.  His novel, After Many A Summer Dies The Swan (1939), has allusions to Burroughs’ two novels.  The theme of ‘Lion Man’ of the mad scientist, God, who reverts to a half-ape, half-man creature is replicated in Swan in which an English nobleman who has lived for two hundred years reverts to an apelike existence.

     That the theme may be more than coincidental is the fact that Huxley incorporates an imaginary University of Tarzana into the story.  Thus one of the great intellectuals of the period found much of deep interest in ERB’s novels while also reacting to Wells.

     Edgar Rice Burroughs was in fact a great literary artist, if a trifle coarse.  He is, in fact, a great talent which if the critics fail to realize it, the people don’t.

     Surviving a hundred years is no small matter, it takes some talent to do that.  Yet, after those hundred years ERB is still an active force in the literary coal mines.  Well, it’s not like coal doesn’t burn with a pure blue flame and under pressure turn into diamonds.

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