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Saturday, September 3, 2016

Tarzan and the Castaways: Edgar Rice Burroughs – Book Review

castTarzan and the Castaways is the last book to be published containing stories of the Ape Man’s jungle adventure and is not so much a novel as it is a collection of short stories; Tarzan and the Jungle Murders written in January 1939 and first appeared in the pages of Thrilling Adventures, Tarzan and the Champion written in July of 1939 and appeared in the pages of Blue Book Magazine, and the title story Tarzan and the Castaways is actually novella sized and first saw print in the pages of Argosy magazine under the title The Quest of Tarzan, it was collected with these shorter stories by Canaveral Press in 1965 by editor Richard A. Lupoff.

This collection starts with Tarzan and the Castaways (a more appropriate title than The Quest of Tarzan and also prevents confusion with the earlier book Tarzan’s Quest), and though this story has some rocky moments it is still a pretty good Tarzan tale. The chief villains of this piece consist of an unscrupulous animal dealer named Krause, and the cruel eyed Abdullah, the Arab, who somehow convinces Krause that Tarzan would make an excellent and lucrative addition to his menagerie. This story element is the biggest hurdle as even in the late 30s and early 40s you couldn’t really exhibit a human being in a cage. Kraus himself points this out but when Abdullah informs the German that the Ape Man has lost the ability of speech he decides to go along with the plan of capturing the “Wild Man.” How Tarzan became afflicted with aphasia is never explained, and it vanishes just as mysteriously, but what is also never explained is how Krause would not end up in jail for locking up John Clayton, Lord Greystoke. Surely at some point someone would recognize Tarzan and who he really is as previous books have clearly stated his notoriety around the world.  So basically this is a stupid plan and is only here to set up the current adventure.

So Tarzan is captured, loaded aboard the good ship Saigon, and placed in an iron cage on the deck of the ship. Kraus and Abdullah care little for the happiness and safety of their captive but Kraus’s French girlfriend Janette insists the “Wild Man” be fed and treated decently. Unfortunately for all involved Kraus and Abdullah aren’t the only asshats aboard this ship as second mate Schmidt plans a mutiny, supposedly in name of the Fatherland. Schmidt is a complete psychopath but also a pretty one note villain; he tries to torture Tarzan and fails, and when is mutiny gets turned around by a storm he becomes even less effective as a villain.

Now if you thought three villains and a pretty face were enough characters for a novella you clearly underestimate Burroughs; when the caged Ape Man is able to rest a pistol from Schmidt he is shot in the head by one of Schmidt’s mutinous minions (If you’ve guessed that the bullet only creases Tarzan’s skull give yourself a cookie), and this somehow leads to the mutinous crew capturing of an English yacht. Aboard the yacht are Col. William Cecil Hugh Percival Leigh, his wife Penelope, and their niece Patricia Leigh-Burden, who will be one of two love interests in this story. Much of the humor in Tarzan and the Castaways derives from Penelope’s snobbery as she considers Tarzan to be a naked savage and Janette a French whore, and it’s often her prejudices that causes strife among the group. There is a nice bit where Janette makes the Englishwoman think that Tarzan is a cannibal and that he ate the captain.  Tarzan goes along with this as he has a similar dark sense of humor.


The real action begins when our group of heroes wrest control of ship from the mutineers but then a horrible storm sends the ship crashing onto a reef that surrounds an uncharted island. Tarzan and company agree that leaving the mutineers to die on the ship would be wrong so they free the villainous bunch, but the group is quite surprised when Tarzan insists on freeing all the animals that Kraus has locked below decks. This will of course lead to Tarzan later having to kill one of those recently freed lions because a Tarzan book without Tarzan fighting a lion isn’t really a Tarzan book. In fact Tarzan’s freeing of this deadly menagerie is one of the major threats to the survival of the castaways. The group soon realize that any trip into the island’s jungle to hunt for food is almost suicidal, unless you are Tarzan, so they are mostly stuck sitting on the beach eating nearby fruits. This is a time when one can sympathize with the white characters who start to question Tarzan’s actions, but we all know by now that Tarzan couldn’t care less about the average human when compared to even his animal enemies. Only Histah the snake gets left to die on the ship. Tarzan does order that Krause, Abdullah, Schmidt and all the other mutineers to make their own camp far away, but surprising they disobey and they camp within an easy march of our heroic company.
So we have an asshat animal hunter, an evil Arab, a bunch of mutineers, and an island jungle suddenly filled with various carnivorous beasts; you’d think that is enough conflict for any book let alone a novella, once again you are underestimate Burroughs because this story also has a lost city. Apparently centuries ago a group of Mayans set up shop on this island in the middle of the South Pacific, and they become an exceedingly large fly in the ointment of the jungle paradise. This leads to Tarzan saving a Mayan girl from being sacrificed to the gods and it also adds a third leg to this books love interests.


Has anyone forgotten Tarzan is married? Burroughs certainly wishes we would as he’s basically ignored her existence for the bulk of the series, but he never allows our jungle hero to dabble in adultery. Women in this series are constantly throwing themselves at this forest god (Note: He is actually mistaken for a Mayan forest god in this story), but at no point does Tarzan rebuff the romantic overtures of these women by saying something simple like, “I’m already married.” Instead Tarzan just tries to pretend he is oblivious to the goo-goo eyes that women are constantly throwing at him. This attitude often results in problems as a spurned or jealous woman is not something you want to deal with when any moment you could be attacked by a lion or warrior from a lost city. In Tarzan and the Castaways we get this sweet Mayan girl becoming jealous of Patricia Leigh-Burden (Note: Janette excuses herself from these romantic shenanigans by falling in love with First Mate Hands de Groote), and this results in the Mayan girl betraying Tarzan when he races off to save Patricia from being sacrifice. Women, go figure.


Tarzan and the Champion is a shorty story that has the Ape Man encountering the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. “One-Punch” Mullargan wins the heavy-weight boxing championship and decides he needs some vacation time, and by vacation he means traveling to Africa to shoot a ton of animals. When Tarzan comes across a herd of zebras that Mullargan has mowed down with his machine-gun, and then later some murdered elephants, the Ape Man sees red. Tarzan catches up with Mullargan, and his poor suffering boxing manager, and proceeds to beat the shit out of the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World. Tarzan clearly intends to kill him and is only prevented in doing so when they are surprised by the Babangos, a tribe of cannibals that Tarzan had been investigating, and they are captured. It’s while in captivity with Tarzan that Mullargan gets a lesson in animal nature from Tarzan. When Mullargan learns that their legs and arms will be broken, and that they will then by hung neck deep in the swamp to marinate, he is appalled, but Tarzan points out that Mullargan is worse than the Babangos,

“You had no reason for hunting the zebras and the elephants. You could not possibly have eaten all that you had killed. The Babangoes kill only for food, and they kill only a much as they can eat. They are better people than you, who will find pleasure in killing.”

It’s not often you hear Tarzan sticking up for cannibals, but he does have point and Mullargan actually begins to understand that animals aren’t just things to kill for a trophy wall. Later when the three manage to get free of their bonds, and sneak out of the cannibal encampment, Mullargan turns around and rushes back to the aid of his manager who isn’t fast enough to escape the enraged cannibals. It’s this moment of heroism that changes Tarzan’s view of Mullargan, and spurs him to attempt to rescue him and his friend despite his earlier feelings. Tarzan and the Champion is a quick read but it has some series philosophical debates, and nicely fleshed out characters for a short story, making it an excellent read.


Tarzan and the Jungle Murders is the third and last story in this collection and is both a jungle adventure and a drawing room murder mystery. Tarzan stumbles across a crashed airplane and discovers that pilot had been shot, but from the angle of the entry wound it is clear that the man was shot by someone outside and above the plane.  Tarzan quickly deduces that he must have been shot by someone in another plane. Two sets of footprints leaving the wrecked plane reveal that two passengers had survived the crash, and after getting one of the survivors scent from a discarded glove Tarzan decides to follow them. Instead of finding the survivors he comes across a second downed plane, one that is riddled with machine fire, and Tarzan concludes that this must be the plane that fired the shot that killed the pilot of the first plane. Tarzan finds the discarded parachute from the pilot of the second plane and proceeds to track him.

That pilot happened to be Lieutenant Cecil Giles-Burton, an agent of the British government who had had been sent to retrieve stolen plans for a device that can disrupt the ignition system of any internal combustion engine. We haven’t really had any spy stories since way back in The Return of Tarzan so I found this plot to be a nice diversion from the standard lost city story, and when Tarzan later encounters a safari the bodies start piling up.  With the Ape Man considered a suspect the story really gets fun. I found it completely delightful that this story ends with an almost standard murder mystery ending with Tarzan pulling Sherlock Holmes style deductions to reveal who the killer is, only Sherlock Holmes never had the use of Tarzan’s keen jungle senses.  He literally sniffs out the culprit.


Tarzan and the Castaways is the last book of Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan stories, it’s nice that the series left off on a rather good note, and the last paragraph in the book also seems to be a very appropriate sign off for the series…

Tarzan paused, swept them with his glance.
“I am going home,” he said. “Goodbye, my friends. It was good to see some of my people again, but the call of the jungle is stronger. Goodbye…”
And Tarzan of the Apes returned to the jungle.

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