A Review: Pt. V: Tarzan And The Leopard Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs

November 8, 2011

A Review

Themes And Variations

The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs

#16 TARZAN AND THE LEOPARD MEN

by

R.E. Prindle

Part V

How The Story Is Told

Obscure but persistent workers in these decades of disaster

Pieced together the puzzle bit by bit.

There is a scale of fantastic disproportion

Between the scale of the labourers and the immense consequences

They released.

The psychology of association,

group psychology,

Was a side of social biology that had been disregarded

Almost entirely before the time of which we are writing.

People still had only the vaguest ideas

of the social structure in and by which they lived.

They accepted the most arbitrary and simple explanations

Of their accumulated set of relationships

And they were oblivious even to fundamental changes in that set.

Wild hopes, delusions and catastrophes

Ensued inevitably.

–H.G. Wells, The Shape Of Things To Come, pp. 245-46

Possibly The Real Thing

     This is actually an interesting story.  If you search for references they are there aplenty.  I’ve already referred to some but another that might be overlooked is the apparent reference to Edward Bulyer-Lytton’s famous opening sentence to his 1830 novel Paul Clifford.  The original goes:

     It was a dark and story night, the rain fell in torrents- except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for this is in London our scene lies), rattling along the housetops and fiercely agitating the scanty flames of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

There is even an annual contest to see who can write the most successful parody.  The  line has such a reputation that many writers seek to write a variation on it to open one of their own stories.  ERB has successfully replicated the feel as this story opens on a dark and stormy night.

The lurid horror of the story is set in this opening scene in which the headman of Kali Bwana’s safari attempts to rape her.  She shoots him but only wounds him in the arm.  Her safari then deserts her leaving her alone in the middle of the Ituri Rain Forest where even on a bright sunny day the gloom is never lifted.  Now, that was a dark and stormy night.

She is discovered by Old Timer who himself takes it into his mind to rape her.  He is prevented from shaming himself by the abduction of Kali Bwana by the Leopard Men in his abscence.  The story of Kali Bwana and Old Timer is set in motion then as he sets out to rescue her from the deplorable fate of being Leopard Goddess to the Leopard God.

The complementary story of Tarzan And The Leopard Men is set in motion by A. The murder of an African swain, Nyamwegi by the Leopard Men during the story.  B.  The felling of Tarzan by a blown down tree with subsequent amnesia and C. his rescue by Nyamwegi’s friend Orando and his assuming the identity of Orando’s guardian angel or muzimo.

We are first introduced to Old Timer as he sits around the campfire with his partner, The Kid.  They are ivory poachers, very disreputable.  They split up to search for elephant in two different areas which leads to Old Timer’s discovery of Kali Bwana.

The protagonists of the story are the Leopard Men.  They are an African clandestine religious cult who terrorize all the tribes over a large but unspecified area although they originated in a far away  place, probably the Calabar Coast as in real life.  They have been active as far away as among Tarzan’s Kenyan Waziri which has drawn his attention to them.  He doesn’t want that kind of trouble on his estate.

The Leopard Men were a real phenomenon although not too much is known about them.  Burroughs was apparently working from newspaper or magazine articles about them, National Geographic maybe.  If he had a book or two they don’t appear in his library.  To accentuate their horrific nature ERB makes them not only murderous but cannibalistic.  They probably were both.

Cannibalism is a theme which recurs throughout ERB’s corpus not just in his African novels.  Whether he leaned on the ntion for horrific effect or whether it has some deeper psychological meaning for him I have yet to determine.  The fate of the Donner Party with its alleged cannibalism has always been discussed in hushed tones in California so he may have picked up the theme from that although the theme was prominent in earlier novels like The Mucker and Marcia Of The Doorstep.  Burroughs has a way of working it in.

It becomes necessary for the Old Timer to rescue Kali Bwana from the Leopard Men.  The Utengans wish to destroy them while Tarzan’s goal for coming to the Utengan country in the first place was to seach out their ‘fabled village and temple.’  As ERB explains coincidence allowed Tarzan not only to discover them but to destroy them.

Old Timer in his attempt to rescue Kali Bwana is led to the town of Gato Mgungu who is the political leader of the Leopard Men.  Old Timer who has traded with Mgungu never knew his connection with the Leopard Cult.  Whereas before he was welcomed  now he is made captive to become the feast at the Leopard cult orgy.  Then to the temple where he discovers Kali Bwana decked out in the regalia of the Leopard cult presiding at the festivities.

Burroughs introduces some wonderful details such as that the high priest is a ventriloquist who has deluded the Leopard Men into believing that the Leopard God actually speaks in their dialect.  Tarzan, watching from the rafters, on behlaf of the Utengans although he has neither heard or seen ventriloquism before applies his mighty intellect, this guy learned to read an unknown language from a picture book, to the problem of divining the secret.  Of course Tarzan had been to Paris and was familiar with London music halls so ERB may be laying it on a little thick here.  Tarzan was surely sophisticated enough to know of ventriloquism.  In his defense, however, he was suffering from amnesia so that while he did know of ventriloquism he had to work it out anew.  I do detect a slight inconsistency here nonetheless.

Let us retrace out steps to recover Tarzan’s story after he was released by Oranda the Utengan.  Tarzan has absolutely no recollection of who he is or where.  Thus when Orando suggests to him that he is his muzimo Tarzan readily accepts the role.  His companion, Nkima the monkey, who has not lost his memory can’t understand why Tarzan doesn’t accept the information when he tells Tarzan that Tarzan is Tarzan and Nkima is Nkima and not the spirit of Nyamwegi.  Tarzan is unconvinced and even Burroughs refers to Tarzan only as Muzimo until he regains his memory.

Muzimo and Orando then set out on the trail of the Leopard Men to avenge Nyamwegi.  Four Leopard Men were involved.  Muzimo and Oranda kill three while the fourth escapes.

The next task is lunch.  For this Tarzan, who only kills for food, never for sport, dispatches an Okapi described as bigger than a cow.   The two hunters cut off a couple pounds for lunch and leave the rest for roving scavengers.

The Okapi would have been unknown to most of Burroughs’ readers.  The beast was a native only to the Ituri.  Its existence was only confirmed in 1900, so definitely an exotic touch to the story for its time.

The next task is to organize an army to attack the Leopard Men.  The Leopard Men were much feared so this was not only difficult but nearly impossible.  Only a hundred men showed up for the summons including the secret Leopard Man, Lupingu.  Orando also has to counter the influence of the witch-doctor, Sobito, another secret Leopard Man.   Even though Sobito’s influence is enormous Muzimo is able to counter it with his own seeming supernatural influence.

Sobito and Lupingu have a conference from which Lupingu is sent to betray Orando’s force to the Leopard Men.  While Orando attends to the details of marshalling his force Muzimo acts as the intelligence wing reconnoitering Gato Mgungu’s village.  Gazing down from the large lower branch of the ubiquitous tree Tarzan detects Lupingu betraying the force.  The Leopard Men arrange a 300 man force within minutes attacking the Utengans while meeting Muzimo on their return.

The Utengan force had been decimated which is to say one in ten had been killed which is what  decimated means.  As someone interested in military matters one wonders if this is an inside joke of ERB’s.

Reconnoitering further Tarzan attends the installation ceremony of Kali Bwana.  He is surprised to find the two white people there, Old Timer was there as a prisoner, but as a Utengan Muzimo, in fact as in name, has no racial interest in Whites.

He returns to Orando to tell him that the Leopard Men will be returning completely hungover so a perfect opportunity has presented itself.  Orando takes advantage of the opportunity completely routing the returning Leopard Men while exterminating the men, women and children of Mgungu’s village and appropriating their left over beer.  To the victor belongs the spoils.

In the battle Muzimo is knocked unconscious who when he comes to is Tarzan once again.  Muzimo disappears from the story.  Tarzan informs the awestruck Utengans that he is really the legendary Tarzan of the Apes whose exploits are the stuff of the campfire tales of the Utengans.  Yes, friends, even in the depths of the Ituri Rain Forest the legend of Tarzan is a huthold word.  The goddess Kali must have been running a close second.

Apparently when amnesia strikes one forgets one’s life prior to the attack but when one regains one’s memory one can remember the amnesicac details because Tarzan now remembers the two White people at the Leopard temple deciding to check up on them because of some faint racial affinity.

In the meantime without the aid of Tarzan Kali Bwana and Old Timer manage to escape with the bumbling aid of the African chief, Bobolo.

They manage to appropriate a gigantic dugout that Old Timer is able to manipulate on his own.   Leaving the mysterious and silent river of death they enter the main river, one presumes  the Aruwimi.  While they are thus engaged the Leopard Men between them and downstream at their village are defeated and the survivors flee back to the temple.  Old Timer perceives the first batch of canoes, steering his lumbering craft into the shadows of the bank where he is perceived.  Rather than waiting to see if any others are following he immediately heads to center stream where he encounters Bobolo’s contingent.  Old Timer is captured while Bobolo captures the glowing white Kali Bwana.  Raising a warning cry he is able to detach himself from the little flotilla carrying Kali Bwana back to his own village to be his White wife.

Old Timer is taken back to the Leopard temple to serve the noble function of lunch.  All this is convincingly well described by Burroughs with his usual economy.  All this takes fewer pages than one might imagine.

Tarzan returning as Tarzan to the Leopard temple sends all the canoes save one downstream.  He reenters the temple in the nick of time to save Old Timer who he sends downstream in the single canoe.  Apparently all those canoes he released didn’t form a log jam on that narrow nearly stagnant slow moving mysterious and silent river of death.

As Old Timer poles his pirogue laboriously downstream Tarzan demands the Leopard Men give him Sobito who he had recognized behind his mask as a hostage.  He then leaves carrying Sobito through the otherwise trackless and impenetrable swamp and jungle.  The Leopard Men find all their canoes missing seeing only rows of crocodile eyes facing them.  They have no way to escape the temple and…they are all cannibals, if you know what I mean.

So now Tarzan has destroyed this whole Leopard Man contingent.  He leaves Sobito with Orando.  Sobito contrives to escape himself heading downstream to his old friend Bobolo.  So the whole crew is moving toward an assemblage at Bobolo’s village.

Now, when Bobolo showed up with this White wife his Black wives objected especially the Mduze like older wife.  Bobolo is compelled to remove Kali Bwana.  Rather than giving her up he transfers her to the Betetes, a tribe of Pygmies, for safekeeping intending to visit her on the sly.  He promises to send food in recompense for her keep to the hapless Pygmies.  Before he can the escaped Sobito shows up placing himself under Bobolo’s protection.

Old Timer who has been treed for several hours notices the canoe of Sobito coming along just behind him while from his tree he hears some native women discussing the fate of Kali Bwana.  From them he learns Kali Bwana has been transferred  to the Pygmy village.  He sets out to the rscue.  If you notice, through this whole story there has been nary a lion.  Tarzan hasn’t killed his usual half dozen nor  has Jad-Bal-Ja made an appearance.  Instead Nikima has spent the book complaining about the overwhelming aroma of Sheeta.

Burroughs during his long career has made several errors of fact concerning the fauna of Africa.  One of them is placing lions in the jungle.  Lions are savanna dwellers.  In Invincible Burroughs acknowledged there were no deer in Africa by changing Bara the deer to Bara the antelope.  In this volume the antelope is known as Wappi.  As there are no lions in the jungle Tarzan finds a savanna in the middle of the Ituri full of lions.  While there are no lions in the jungle there are also no savannas in the Ituri but one assumes it will take his critics some time to discover the fact.  You always have to be one step ahead.

Apparently Burroughs cannot write a book without a lion kill or two by Tarzan so he gratuitously throws in Chapter XVII: Charging Lions.  This is a completely unnecessary episode that adds nothing to the story.  It is interesting nonetheless.

Tarzan is hungry.  Game is scarce.  He reaches a savanna in the forest.  The grass is tall, over his head.  he spots a herd of herbivores off in the distance.  Tarzan has eaten carnivores in the past when necessity dictated it but he much prefers herbivores.

Leaving the cowardly Nkima in a tree quaking because of the smell of Sheeta that pervades the forest Tarzan starts out over the savanna.  He hasn’t gone too far when the aroma of lions assails his sensitive nostrils.  But, he can smell that they have just fed so he is  not worried.  Well fed lions never charge.  However worse than being unfed he has stumbled upon a mating pair which did escape his sensitive nostrils.    Bad news, because a lion disturbed in copulation will always charge.  Information like this has prevented me from making reservations for the Serengeti.    Now the story actually gets not only improbable but a little bit on the looney side.

Disturbed In This State A Lion Will Always Charge- E.R. Burroughs

Apparently ERB is psychologically compelled to include this episode that adds nothing to the story while being difficult to understand.  Tarzan and the lions which include the copulating pair and another four or five males are in tall grass so they can’t see each other.  Only the grass waves indicating the seven lions.  Tarzan has carefully kept a tree within fifty feet which with his lightning speed he can reach before any lion.  However Tarzan is irked at having to run.  He doesn’t mind a dignified advance to the rear but he resents having to make a headlong flight.  Thus as the great male head appears through the grass the Big Bwana decides to kill him.  His giant muscles rolling like molten steel beneath his bronzed skin he launches his heavy war spear at the charging lion.  Muscles, weight and charge add up to a skewered lion.

Tarzan hasn’t counted on the female who is right behind her lover so he has to make his undignified  pell mell flight anyway.

The female is plenty sore.  She won’t go away.  Just hangs around, waiting.  The other male lions sit in a semi-circle first looking up at Tarzan, over the at the female and then at each other.  A very peculiar and incongruous image.

The reluctance to flee and the brutal killing of the male are easy to understand.  The male obviously represents John the Bully on the Chicago street corner.  Burroughs was ashamed of having run so he stands his ground killing the image of John.

What of the enraged female and other males?  Don’t know.  Possibly the female represents his failed Anima.  The strange image of his Anima and John the Bully copulating is very difficult.  The four male lions looking on might easily be imagined as four boys watching ERB’s humiliation on the street corner.  As Caz Casadesus points out Tarzan in the tree pelting the lions may represent the story of Kit Carson treed by a bear.  The story must have tickled Burroughs so much he often places Tarzan in a tree tormenting the beasts below.  Caz is probably correct in making Kit Carson a hero figure to ERB as Carson Napier of Venus is obviously named after him

I will get into this next section but as David Adams points out much of these stories are reported as viewed from above.   We may have the reason explained here as John symbolically ran ERB up a tree causing dissociation or a splitting of the personality.

About noon of the next day the female gets tired of waiting, moving off.  Tarzan retrieves his spear, which in itself was a great feat of strength withdrawing it from the carcass of the lion, returning to Nkima.

After this strange, irrelevant episode Tarzan is heading for Bobolo’s village because Old Timer had said Bobolo took Kali Bwana there when he passed near, not too near, Betete’s village.  In Van Dyke’s Horning Into Africa he mentions that the Pygmies he dealt with had an overwhelming stench.  Tarzan is downwind so this stench is wafted by Usha the wind right to him.  Amidst this stench he detects a more delicate aroma that reminds him of something.  Oh yes, a White Woman.  Not bad work even for so sensitive a nose as his.  Could there be two White women in the same patch of the Ituri Rain Forest?  Not likely.  Tarzan will peek in.

Now, Kali Bwana’s situation is getting desperate.  No supplies have arrived from Bobolo and these cannibals are pretty darn hungry.  You get the idea.  Both Tarzan and Old Timer arrive at this particular spot in the Ituri at the same time.  Fortunately the Leopard Men had overlooked a jackknife in Old Timer’s pocket so he is able to cut through the hinges of the gate in the nick of time.  His daring attempt of rescue is about to fail when a shower of arrows from ye olde overhanging bough cinches his opportunity.  Chucking the naked Kali Bwana over one shoulder he hightails out the gate as he hears a crash behind him.

As Tarzan turned to leave the branch he was standing on sheared from the bole.  Stunned by the fall, like Lilliputians the Pygmies bound him and tossed him in a hut.  ERB uses a device he has fine tuned several times, most recently the previous year in Invincible.

Burroughs always establishes these things.  On his way to Bobolo’s Tarzan chanced  to run into some great apes he knew who had only recently moved into the Ituri.  Zutho and Gayat were old acquaintances for the wide roaming ape man.

Nkima is waiting in a tree trembling in fear of Sheeta.  The fear of the feminine is very pronounced in our little monkey.  Nevertheless Tarzan gets him to direct Zutho and his fellow tribesmen to the village for his relief.  These apes are seven and eight foot giants so when they scramble over the wall the Pygmies move back.  Tossing Tarzan over a shoulder they scramble away.  An entertaining page or two.

The diabolical Betetes had not only bound the Big Guy with thongs but they had also used copper wire.  Nkima could chew through the thongs but neither he nor the apes could manipulate the copper wire.

Tarzan tells Goyat to go find him a Gomangani to unwind the wire.

Back again to Kali Bwana and Old Timer.

Having been gotten safely into the jungle Kali Bwana is surprised that her new abductor is Old Timer.  As she wearily says she is getting used to being abducted.  As the two tramp through the jungle Old Timer gains his redemption while Kali Bwana falls in love with him.  They are busy building a shelter when who shows up but Gayat.  His instructions are for a Gomangani but his primitive brain figures a Tarmangani will do just as well.  Not only do all the humans in this comedy want the delectable White Woman but Old Timer figures the apes do too.  ‘Run, Kali,’  he exlaims, ‘he wants you.’  Old Timer was wrong there as he discovered as Gayat tucks him under his arm.

Old Timer releases Tarzan who hurries back to Kali Bwana.  Not only do the humans and apes want Kali but so does a Leopard who now crouches for the leap.  Employing a new variation on an old theme as the Leopard leaps Tarzan launches landing on his back in each’s mid leap.  Work the geometry out on that one.  Although unarmed the Mighty One wrenches the Leopard’s head breaking his neck.  Boy, would I have liked to have been there to see that one while sneaking a peek at the voluptuous Kali Bwana at the same time.  She doesn’t faze Tarzan though.

OK.  We’re almost there.  Only a few paragraphs to go but with Burroughs a few paragraphs are always a near lifetime.  Tarzan is leading his party through the forest with his unerring nose as a compass when they come upon an army detachment searching for them.  The native contingent is led by a couple White French officers.  The French are invariably good in Burroughs for some strange reason.  With them is the Kid, Jerry Jerome.  Old Timer feels out in the cold until Jerry explains that Kali is his sister.  ‘Your sister,’ ejaculates the incredulous Old Timer.  Why not?  Coincidence is coincidence but if Burroughs strains anything in the oeuvre it is coincidence.

Well, you know, it only take another couple paragraphs but everything ends happily.  Tarzan takes Sobito back to his just deserts, Bobolo and the remaining Leopard Men are arrested and Old Timer is not only redeemed but gets the girl.  What a story, hey?  Almost too incredible to believe.  Well, it is too incredible to believe.  This issue is not the issue though and it’s the other issue that is believable.

Ready, Set...

Next the sixth and last part.

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