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Friday, June 3, 2016

Tarzan and the Lost Empire: Edgar Rice Burroughs – Book Review

blue book tarzanReleased through 1928 and 1929 in the pages of Blue Book Magazine Tarzan and the Lost Empire continues Tarzan’s exploits in the darkest jungle of Africa where everyone’s favorite jungle lord spends his time either basking in the sun atop a wandering elephant or finding a lost civilization. Now if you remember waaaaaay back in the last book Tarzan encountered a valley that had been settled by group of Templar knights that got sidetracked on their way to the Holy Land, now in this installment Tarzan will stumble across a lost remnant of the Roman Empire. I’d say “What are the odds of that happening?” but then I’d remember I’m reading a Tarzan novel and realize the odds are actually quite good.

The one element that stands out in this book is the introduction of Nkima, Tarzan’s monkey pal. I simply adore Nkima, he’s just this little monkey who believes the whole world is out to get him, and he completely adores Tarzan. Part of this adoration is based on the fact that while riding upon Tarzan’s shoulder Nkima feels free to cast insults to all his supposed enemies, knowing full well that he is safe in the presence of the Ape Man. Nkima basically lives in a perpetually state of fear, hunger and loneliness when Tarzan isn’t around and his running commentary, often while he is running for his life, are some of my favorite parts of this book. At one point Nkima is fleeing for his life from an enraged ape, we learn shortly that the ape was rudely awakened by a thrown stick by a bored Nkima, and the little monkey simply couldn’t fathom the ape’s reaction or his complete lack of a sense of humor. This is why Nkima is one of my favorite supporting characters, even though he often gets Tarzan into trouble he also often helps get him out of it.

tarzan and the lost empire

The book begins with Tarzan and an agitated Nkima encounter a safari led by Doctor von Harben, a missionary friend of Tarzan’s, who is looking for his missing son, Erich von Harven. Erich was apparently searching for The Lost Tribe of the Wiramwazi Mountains, who the local natives believe to be spirits of the dead, but Erich hopes to find archeological proof an ancient civilization. Of course Erich will not find broken pottery shards or ruins of an old temple but a fully realized Roman city.  When Tarzan and Nkima set out to find Erich the Ape Man runs into a little trouble while climbing down into the canyon, the one that supposedly holds the Lost Tribe, he briefly loses his footing and when a panicked Nkima leaps from Tarzan’s shoulder it causes the Ape Man to completely lose his balance and he plummets down the mountain. He is of course knocked unconscious by the fall and captured by his enemies. Let’s stop here and compare this book and its predecessor…

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle                                                    
Tarzan knocked unconscious by freak accident.                         
Is hunting for lost photojournalist James Blake.                    
They independently find lost medieval city.                            
James Blake falls in love with a princess.                               
There is a jealous suitor for the girl’s hand.                                
Waziri warriors show up to save the day.                               

 Tarzan and the Lost Empire
 Tarzan knocked unconscious by freak accident.
 Is hunting for lost explorer Erich van Harven.
 They independently find lost Roman city.
 There is a jealous suitor for the girl’s hand.
 Erich falls in love with Roman equivalent.
 Waziri warriors show up to save the day.

Yeah, Burroughs clearly not worrying about similar plot structures here.

One can tell that with Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle that Burroughs really wanted another shot at writing a medieval story after his Outlaw of Torn failed to catch on, and now with Tarzan and the Lost Empire Burroughs returns to the Roman Empire which he dabbled with in his book I am a Barbarian, but where the Tarzan stuff in Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle seemed kind of shoehorned into the story about James Blake and his adventures with the Templar Knights in Tarzan and the Lost Empire the Ape Man is front and center the hero of this story. James Blake used modern sword fighting techniques and his superior horsemanship in Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle to impress the Templars while in Tarzan and the Lost Empire Erich van Harven gets a job in a Roman library chronicling Caesar’s life story. Which sounds more exciting to you?

Now in this lost canyon there are two Roman cities, just are there were two Templar cities in the last book, but in Tarzan and the Lost Empire we kind of get two princesses, and each of them has an evil suitor all their own. Erich will eventually win the hand of his but Tarzan is married so he just saves the second one so that she can marry a centurion who she has loved for years. The love story in this one isn’t quite up to snuff when compared to Blake’s in Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, but then again this book has Tarzan turn into bloody Spartacus which is a definite plus. This leads to some of the best Tarzan action moments in the series as our titular hero is sentenced to die in the Coliseum and as we know Tarzan isn’t all that good at dying. If you think Tarzan leading an army that consists of gladiators, convicted murders, and a group of Great Apes is appealing then this is a book you will enjoy immensely.


Tarzan and the Lost City allows our hero to briefly sit on the throne of the Emperor of Rome, and that’s kind of cool, and though the love story is fairly underutilized the action more than makes up for it. My chief complaint is something that pops up in many of Burroughs story, the wrap up is often damn abrupt. Often with either the Waziri warriors or Jad-bal-ja the golden lion (often both) showing up as a deus ex machina to save the day. This may be part of the curse of the serialized format they were originally written for but it is a tad off-putting. Still this is an immensely fun book and I’d love to see a Ridley Scott directed movie of it.

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