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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Tarzan Triumphant: Edgar Rice Burroughs - Book Review

TarzanTriumphant-BB1Originally released as Tarzan and the Raiders in 1931 for The Blue Book Magazine Tarzan Triumphant is the 15th book in the Tarzan series and shows that by this time Burroughs had his Tarzan formula down pat. Civilians enter the jungles of Africa, Tarzan will become aware of them and investigate, a lost city will be found, and one or more of the civilians will fall in love with a princess, a priestess, a slave girl, or a British aviatrix. Then at some point towards the end of the book the Waziri warriors will show up to kick ass. As formulas go it’s a pretty good one, and Burroughs mixes in such a great collection of characters that make almost every story fun and exciting.
The beginning of Tarzan Triumphant has author Edgar Rice Burroughs informing us that two thousand years ago of the martyrdom Paul of Tarsus which caused an epileptic named Angustus of Ephesus to flee through the Island of Rhoades, acquire a slave girl, travel through Alexandria, Memphis, Thebae, and headed deep into Africa. How does something that happened so long ago have any bearing on Tarzan and his friends? Well this epileptic would found the Land of Midian which will be today’s lost civilization, where two diametrically opposed societies believe the other to be heretics, and it's these religious fanatics that will put our heroes in great jeopardy.

And who are today’s guest stars? First we have Lady Barbara Collis, daughter of the Earl of Whimsey, who is flying over the Ghenzi Mountains. When she runs out of fuel, with added problem of a broken compass, she is forced to bail out of her aircraft. She parachutes down into a massive volcanic crater, also known as Midian, and it there that she is at first believed to be some messenger of God. This group of people, known as South Midians, consists of repulsive looking, dark haired, big nosed men and women who suffer from epileptic seizures. There does happen to be one attractive resident; Jezebel is a blonde and beautiful girl who quickly befriends Barbara. She teaches Barbara the local language and does her best to hold up the whole “Messenger of God” con for as long as possible. The cruel and sadistic religious practices of the South Midians shock Lady Barbara but when she tries to stop them this just has the jealous male leaders decry her a false prophet and a heretic and she is sentenced to death. When has the religious con ever worked out for anybody?

We also have Leon Stabutch, a Russian personally chosen by Joseph Stalin to avenge Peter Zeri's death (killed in Tarzan the Invincible), and his mission is to and track down and kill Tarzan of the Apes. Things take an unexpected turn for this communist agent when a band of shiftas attack (local militia in the lawless rural mountainous regions that consist mostly of bandits and revolutionaries) all the natives making up Stabutch’s safari desert him. This particular group of shiftas is led by Dominio Capietro, an Italian communist, who spares Stabutch as they are both Reds. As Tarzan is a threat to Capietro’s operation he is more than willing to help Stabutch with his mission if ridding the world of the Ape Man. Unbeknownst to them Tarzan has been given reports of a white man leading a group of raiders and has headed off to investigate.

Note: When a native asks Tarzan for help with these shiftas that are looting, killing and enslaving his people Tarzan initially refuses, “But why do you come to me?” demanded the ape-man. “I do not interfere among tribes beyond my boundaries of my own country, unless they commit some depredation against my own people.” But when he is told the shiftas are being led by a white man, “That,” said Tarzan, “is different. I will return with you to your country.” I understand that Tarzan can’t police all of Africa but it's strange that him just hearing a white man is involved will get him off the pot.

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Next we have Danny "Gunner" Patrick, a Chicago mobster who is on the run after double crossing the local crime boss that employed him. Thinking England would be a nice safe place to lay low he books passage on an ocean liner where he encounters Lafayette Smith, a geologist heading to Africa to study rock formations. When Gunner learns there are no police in Africa he decides to join Smith’s expedition, even though he hasn’t a clue what geology is. Smith is one of those scientist types that should never leave the lab as he has no concept of danger or self-preservation, but lucky for him Danny is packing a Thompson machine gun, a little item that saves the day several times including a nice rescue of Tarzan from the shifta horde.

Because Africa is such a tiny place all these characters end up in the same part of the jungle. Smith accidentally finds a crevice that leads into the Land of Midian and is able to rescue Barbara and Jezebel from being burned alive, unfortunately his rescuing skills, as well as his marksmanship and navigation, are not the best and they are soon captured by the North Midians. These are the other inhabitants of Midian who, unlike their northern brethren, are all blonde and attractive but just as religiously zealous. Total out of the frying pan and into the fire situation.

Note: Any reader of Burroughs knows that the author is not a fan of organized religion and his depiction of the Midians is a biting satire against the silliness of Christianity. I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the Python gang was a fan and some of the stuff here influenced Monty Python and The Life of Brian.

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Tarzan Triumphant is almost farcical in its nature; we have Smith and Danny bumbling through the jungle, a place neither clearly belongs, and then we have Barbara and na├»ve Jezebel who give us a sweet relationship between women of vastly different backgrounds, as well as some nice comedy. Barbara is sharp and sarcastic while Jezebel thinks any man that is not like the repulsive looking people from her village is “beautiful.” Jezebel eventually will encounter Danny, who she says is beautiful, and their back and forth dialog is brilliant.  She has only rudimentary understanding of the English language that she gained from being with Lady Barbara and when she tries to understand Danny’s American gangster slang it’s just hilarious. This is basically provides us with an excellent Abbot and Costello routine years before those two teamed up.

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This group of misfits will be captured, escape on their own, get recaptured, then get rescued by one of the other misfits or Tarzan himself, that is until the Waziri warrior eventually show up to blast the hell out of the shiftas. I simply love this book; it is pure escapist entertainment, with great humor and wit that had me laughing out loud several times. Once again Tarzan serves as the “outside agent” and it’s the civilians who enter “his country” that is the focus of the book. From Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle on it’s the quality of the “guest stars” that determine whether the book works or not.

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