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Saturday, May 28, 2016

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle: Edgar Rice Burroughs - Book Review

TarzanLordOfTheJungle-C1Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle is the 11th book in the series, released in serialized form in Blue Book Magazine from December 1927 through May 1928, but due to it's subject matter could have been titled “Tarzan and the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” We all know that Tarzan discovered the City of Opar, the lost outpost of Atlantis back in The Return of Tarzan, and has popped in to visit the high priestess and her minions from time to time, but that was only the beginning of Tarzan’s adventures with lost civilizations. From mysterious valleys ruled by intelligent gorillas to hidden away cites populated by Lilliputian warriors Tarzan makes it a habit of discovering lost worlds, and Tarzan Lord of the Jungle is another example of this favorite trope of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

The book begins with Tarzan having a relaxing afternoon sunbathing on the back of the mighty Tantor, but when Arab raiders try and shoot the elephant, not having spotted the Ape Man resting on his back, the elephant is spooked and Tarzan is knocked off by a passing branch as the beast charges away. Tarzan is of course rendered unconscious, and sadly this is a reoccurring theme when it comes to Tarzan. The amount of times he is accidentally knocked unconscious is staggering, with the worst culprit being Tarzan falling out of tree (usually because a branch failed to support him, or as happens later in this book a tree he is perched in is hit by lightning, which makes one wonder if the gods are against our hero), and this becomes kind of embarrassing. This stems from the problem of having created a character so badass that having him captured by anything less than overwhelming forces is improbable.  Instead Burroughs has Tarzan repeatedly knocked out so that he can wake up later, tied and imprisoned, so that he can then escape using his jungle wiles. I call this “padding out the story” and it rarely serves the plot to any relevant extent.



Tarzan himself could almost be considered padding in this book as he is far from being the main character here; that would be American photojournalist James Blake. After escaping from the cruel and duplicitous Arab raiders, who have ventured through Tarzan’s territory on a quest to discover the fabled treasure city of Nimmr, Tarzan encounters James Blake and Wilbur Stimbol who are on a hunting safari; Blake with camera, Stimbol with rifle. Stimbol is your standard “Big Game Hunter” that is found in many of the Tarzan books and movies, as he is a complete racist asshat who insults and belittles all the natives who make up the safari’s bearers. Blake on the other hand is a decent chap who eventually decides that their natures are too different and that it would be best if they split up the safari, but the problem with that is none of the natives want to be part of Stimbol’s group.
Stimbol first encountered Tarzan when he was trying to shoot a gorilla but not only does Tarzann rescues the gorilla from being shot he also saves the ape from the coils of Histah the snake. Tarzan than basically tells Stimbol to get the hell out of his jungle. Stimbol, being the ugly American, does not take to being talked to this way by a naked savage. Let’s just say things don’t go so well for Stimbol in this book. Even if Tarzan doesn’t personally wreck your shit jungle karma will get you in the ass.

During a severe lightning storm, the one that leaves Tarzan unconscious, *sigh* Blake is separated from his safari and ends up stumbling upon the entrance to the lost valley of Nimmr. Blake is first shocked to find a giant white crucifix in the middle of the jungle but that pales in comparison to him finding two black men dressed up as Templar Knights, and that they address him in such vernacular as, “Od zounds!” and “What has thou there, varlet?” Blake is taken into custody and brought before the prince who rules half of the valley. At first Blake believes he’s stumbled into a movie production but soon the reality of the situation becomes apparent and he settles into becoming a knight. Turns out the people of this valley where on their way to the Holy Land, to partake in Richard’s Crusade when their ship was run aground upon the shores of Africa. Upon finding this valley, which they dubbed “The Valley of the Sepulcher” half of the knights claimed that this concluded their mission and that they could now return to England, while the other half believed it was their duty to continue on to Jerusalem. This feud has gone on for seven and a half centuries, along with the belief that there valley is surrounded by Saracen hordes.

Blake, with some smooth talking, is able to join the ranks of the Knights of Nimmr.  With his skilled horsemanship, as well as modern sword fighting techniques, he does rather well for himself. There is of course a beautiful princess in this medieval world, and Blake is destined to fall in love with her. Our American hero will be forced to joust and sword fight many opponents to eventually win the heart of thy fair maiden, who in turn will at first spurn his love as is required by Burroughs Lessons of Love 101, but then will of course be kidnapped multiple times by various villains.

And what of Tarzan? Well he’s basically just wandering around the jungle; hanging with apes, riding Tantor, the usually Ape Man schtick, but eventually he will try and locate the missing Blake.  He'll have several encounters with the traitorous Arabs before finally finding himself in The Valley of the Sepulcher. Tarzan’s adventures in this book are easily the least interesting part of this book, well not as bad as the stuff with Stimbol and his pathetic shenanigans but nowhere near as fun as the stuff with Blake as bloody Knight of the Round Table.


James Blake is a fantastic character, the lost world he finds hearkens back to Burroughs’ other medieval tale The Outlaw of Torn, and is something the author clearly has more fun in writing about than just another simple Tarzan adventure. This "predominant secondary character" will become the norm for the remainder of this series as allows Burroughs to throw in some romance, a staple of his books, which is hard to do if Tarzan is the sole protagonist as Tarzan is very much still married.  With characters like Blake Burroughs is able to still do his “will they won’t they” love story. This book not only has a love story between an American photographer and a medieval princess but we also get a star-crossed romance between one of the Arab raiders and the Sheik’s daughter. This kind of explains Jane’s absence for many of these stories, she’s just not needed. In this book Tarzan himself is barely needed; that he, Jad-bal-ja the golden lion, and the Waziri warriors showing up at the end to save the day seems almost intrusive.


Burroughs obviously wanted to take another shot at a medieval adventure/love story, but as Outlaw of Torn was less than successful he decided to Trojan it in with a Tarzan story. This is still a very entertaining book, and a very fast read, but would it have been better minus Tarzan and instead dealt solely with Blake and the lost city of Nimmr? Probably, but there is still enough badass moments with Tarzan in this book to make his appearances worth reading, and not too much of a distraction.

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