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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tarzan and the Madman: Edgar Rice Burroughs – Book Review

madIn this book Tarzan must track down an imposter who is besmirching the good name of Tarzan, and it’s at this point we have to start wondering if there aren’t more people in Africa that look like Tarzan than those who don’t. Many people chuckle over the numerous lost cities that populate the Tarzan books, and don't worry Tarzan and the Madman has these as well, but for me the silliest trope that Burroughs created was the Tarzan lookalike. From villainous imposters to actors we’ve had Tarzan dealing with this bizarre personal headache, and for me the only time it worked was in Tarzan and the Lionman as it was used to nice comedic effect. On the positive side as this was the second last book in the series I at least was fairly confident this would be the last one.

Note: Though written by Burroughs in 1940 it was released posthumously in 1964, never getting its standard magazine issue but was released as a hardcover by Canaveral Press.
When Tarzan learns that someone is running around the jungle stealing women and children under his name the jungle man leaps into action. And by action I mean he intends to hunt this man down and kill him. Tarzan encounters a safari consisting of Pellham Dutton and a group of nefarious white men, one of whom Tarzan had previously kicked out of the jungle, but Dutton is unaware that his associates are not of the highest calibre he is more concerned with the missing Sandra Pickerall, daughter of Scottish millionaire Timothy Pickerall. Dutton is on the hunt because he is in love with Sandra, and will risk all to bring her home, but his men are more concerned with the reward her father is offering, and because it is believed that Tarzan is responsible for her abduction there is an added bonus for Tarzan’s head as well.

Just who is this Tarzan imposter and why is he abducting women and children? His true identity isn't revealed until the end of the book and for the bulk of the story he is seen as a man suffering from some peculiar form of amnesia. Two years ago he fell from the skies and was worshipped as a god by the people of Alemtejo, a lost city founded by 7th Century Portuguese explorers. The current king and high priest are fully aware this man is not a god, but he makes for a great tool to control the masses. The man himself believes that he is the great jungle hero Tarzan, because arrive garbed in just a loincloth, and though he is in excellent physical shape, and pretty good with a bow and arrow, he doesn’t quite have the jungle smarts that the real Tarzan has. As for his reason for stealing women and children, well that is on the behest of the king and high priest, they’ve told him that he needs a goddess so the poor deluded sap keeps venturing out into the jungle to grab innocent natives. Apparently black natives are not goddess material so most of those find themselves either enslaved or worse end up on the sacrificial alter or fed to the guardian lions. It’s when he lays eyes on the very beautiful and very white Sandra Pickerall do things change for him, she is a woman the people will except as a goddess.


When Tarzans meet.

There are some fun moments in Tarzan and the Madmen, but mostly we get the standard elements of the damsel being captured repeatedly; she is first abducted by the false Tarzan, then she is captured by some cannibals, after she is rescued by the real Tarzan she is about to be held for ransom by the villainous white men of Dutton’s safari, but then she is rescued by the false Tarzan. Sandra is brought to the castle of Alemtejo but eventually she is captured by the rival city of “Moslems” (Note: It does seem that all of Burroughs’ lost cities are dual capitals that are at war with each other), and then after escaping being a bride of the evil Sultan she falls into the hands of the group of great apes that once followed the false Tarzan, but then she lands back in the hands of one of the Sultan’s men who plans to rape and murder her. Sandra Pickerall has to be the lamest of the Tarzan damsels, though at one point she does kill an abductor, but by that time I’d given up caring about her. What is really odd in this story is that Sandra does fall in love with the false Tarzan, poor Dutton gets killed trying to get her home removing that romantic complication, and it never really rings true. Sure love is weird and mysterious thing, but to fall in love with a nutcase who thinks he’s Tarzan, a man who has been going along for years with the brutal murder of poor women and children, is just insane. His defense of “They told me I was a god so I had to do what they told me to do” is beyond idiotic, and certainly does nothing to bolster his character.


A god falling to Earth.

Also not helped is the “Big Reveal” as to who he really is; Colin T. Randolph, Jr, a rich American from West Virginia who was huge fan of Tarzan and who had spent a lot of time getting in shape and becoming proficient with bow and arrow. He also loved a good wager and he bet a friend he could survive in the jungle for a month with nothing but Tarzan’s standard accoutrements. The plane he takes to Africa develops engine problems and he is forced to bail out, the friend he made the wager with had also been aboard and he bailed out first only to be captured and enslaved by the Sultan for two years. Colin’s parachute dragged him into the walls of the Alemtejo castle which caused his unique amnesia. This isn’t even the worst of the contrivances Burroughs ladles on in the last chapters; when the real Tarzan is aiding the few survivors of this tale to escape Alemtejo they come across Colin’s plane, which somehow landed by itself ,and with but a minor repair and some pumped up tires, it's able to fly even though it’s been sitting out in the elements for two bloody years. I’d buy a jungle littered with Tarzan lookalikes before I’d buy that.  There’s adventure fantasy and then there is totally bullshit.


Tarzan seen here dealing with a different kind of bull.

There are some nice moments in Tarzan and the Madmen; the villainous thugs try to make off with the gold from the lost cities’ mines and basically die of greed, and we do get some nice Tarzan action moments such as him bringing down a charging water buffalo by taking it by the horns and wrestling it to the ground, but the goofy ass love story, and who imposter turns out to be is just too lame to compensate for those brief moments of coolness.  It’s quite easy to understand why this sat on the shelf unpublished for all those years and really should only be read by Tarzan completists.


Note: This book also includes one of the Burroughs' standard tropes to get Tarzan temporarily incapacitated. The Ape Man gets shot in the head, but once again the bullet only creases his skull and thus only knocking him unconscious, and not killing him.  By this point Tarzan must have more creases in his skull then the beds in a Holiday Inn.

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