When one thinks of Tarzan the term “Secret Agent” does not immediately leap to mind, but in this first sequel that is exactly what Tarzan becomes. Even stranger is that after the success of the first Tarzan book All-Story Magazine rejected The Return of Tarzan manuscript (twice) and so Burroughs went to New Story and ended up getting more money. So in the year 1913 fans were finally able to learn if Tarzan and Jane actually got together.
Tarzan of the Apes
did end on a bit of a downer note with Jane deciding to marry William
Cecil Clayton, denying her love for Tarzan, and the ape man himself
nobly stepping aside even after finding out that he is the true heir of
the Greystoke title. So The Return of Tarzan begins
with our dejected hero returning to Europe via ocean liner. It’s while
on this voyage that Tarzan encounters two of his most nefarious foes;
Nicholas Rokoff and his henchman Alexis Paulvitch. Tarzan notices Rokoff
slipping something in the pocket of Count Raoul de Coude, who is
playing cards with Paulvitch, and is able to expose a plot to discredit
the Count as a card cheat. Later Tarzan foils a plot where Rokoff
attempts to besmirch the honor of Countess de Coude. This all stems from
the fact that Rokoff is a Russian spy and he needs leverage to
blackmail the Count. Tarzan’s thwarting of Rokoff’s plans earns the ape
man the enmity of this dastardly spy, but Tarzan is unable to meet out
jungle justice as he is repeatedly asked to spare Rokoff by the
Later in Paris Tarzan becomes great friends of the Count
and Countess, but once again the nefarious schemes of Rokoff intrude
and the evil Russian is able to trick Tarzan into a situation that
results in him having to have “Pistols at Dawn” with the Count.
Considering himself to be in the wrong, he was found with the Countess’s
boudoir at night, Tarzan just stands there while the Count unloads
three shots at him. Lucky for us it takes more than that to kill the
Lord of the Jungle. Tarzan then offers his own pistol to the Count
stating that, “Only death could atone for the wrong I have done.”
Tarzan then hands a confession he had earlier beat out of Rokoff that
clearly shows that neither the Countess nor Tarzan were at fault. (A
document I may have handed over before the duel, but then again I’m not
the noble Tarzan). Tarzan and the Count resume their friendship and the
Count even gets Tarzan a job with the Ministry of War.
this point that Tarzan becomes a secret agent for France. (It’s a shame
we never got a story where Tarzan working for France faced off against
James Bond working for Britain.) So Tarzan is sent to Algiers to
investigate whether or not a French officer is selling classified
information to the enemy. I must say it was a great idea thrusting the
“Lord of the Jungle” into the deserts of Africa as it goes to show that
he can pretty much adapt to any environment or danger. It’s also the
beginning of the long tradition of Tarzan rescue a person who turns out
to be related a person of power or prestige. In this case a beautiful
slave girl that just so happens to be the daughter of a great sheik.
Later, when death is almost a certainty, his earlier act of heroism will
pay off and he will be rescued by his new friend(s). This is a
situation that will play out in many of the Tarzan books, sometimes
happening more than once per book.
surprises no one, least of all Tarzan, when the foreign agent involved
in Algiers turns out to be Rokoff, and once again Tarzan spares the
bastard’s life because he is the brother of the Countess. The amount of
times he could have easily ended this villain’s life in this book is
almost staggering, but Burroughs always manages to give a reason for
Tarzan holding back his bestial nature. Though considering in this book
alone Rokoff tries to outright murder Tarzan a half dozen times I doubt
such defenses as “He’s my brother” or “If you kill him they will arrest you for murder” would hold much water to a man who spent much of his life killing to survive.
transporting the retrieved documents via cruise ship Tarzan encounters
Hazel Strong, Jane Porter’s oldest and dearest friend, but he cannot let
her know who he is as he is travelling incognito. Also aboard the ship
are Nicholas Rokoff and Alexis Paulvitch, who have been trailing Tarzan
in the hope of getting back the documents. Tarzan threatens Rokoff but
now they are starting to feel like idle threats, and the two Russians
steal back the documents and toss Tarzan overboard. Proving it is really
a small world one of the boats passing in the night holds Jane and her
fiancé William Clayton.
What follows is unadulterated action and
drama. Ships sink, there are battles over the morality of cannibalism,
Tarzan washes ashore right by the cabin his father built (proving once
again this little inlet is a magnet for Greystokes), he befriends the
Waziri tribe by saving the chief’s son from a hungry lion, defends them
from slavers and ivory poachers, and becomes their king when their
chieftain falls. Jane and friends are shipwrecked themselves and end up
on the shores of Africa just a few miles down from Tarzan’s cabin
(seriously, it is a really small world), and included in this group is
the villainous Rokoff.
if this isn’t enough for one book we are also introduced to the lost
city of Opar, an outpost of Atlantis that was forgotten after the
sinking of the fabled continent. It’s there that we meet the La, high
priestess of Opar who at first is going to sacrifice Tarzan to the Sun
God, but eventually wants him for more carnal activities. Will Tarzan
pick this beautiful but deadly woman over his true love, or will he go
back to living with the Great Apes? Will Nicholas Rokoff finally get his
just desserts? Does Tarzan finally reclaim the title of Lord Greystoke?
All this and more is answered in book so packed with action it’s hard
to believe it’s just over two hundred pages. The Return of Tarzan is the book that clearly set the tone for the rest of the series, and a very good tone it is.