on September 20, 2012
Perhaps the most well-known fictional creation of the 20th century, Tarzan celebrates his official centennial in October 2012. First appearing in the pulp publication "All-Story Magazine" as a complete novel in October 1912, "Tarzan of the Apes" proved so popular that its creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs, wasted little time in coming up with a sequel...the first of an eventual two dozen! That sequel, perhaps inevitably titled "The Return of Tarzan," was first seen in the pages of the short-lived pulp "New Story Magazine" (cover price: 15 cents); unlike its predecessor, it was published serially, in the June-December 1913 issues, and first saw book form in 1915. This is a tremendous continuation of the initial, now-classic story, and does what all good sequels SHOULD do: expand on what we already know while deepening characterizations...and leaving us wanting still more!
The book is a direct continuation of the earlier novel, at the end of which Tarzan was seen nobly renouncing his aristocratic title so that his lady love, Jane Porter, could comfortably marry his cousin, William Cecil Clayton. Picking up scant weeks later, the sequel finds a despondent Tarzan mulling over his lot while on a steamer to Paris, where he resides with his good friend Paul D'Arnot. He becomes involved with the affairs of a troubled couple, the Count and Countess De Coude, while on ship and after returning to Paris; it seems that the Countess' brother, the cravenly Russian agent Nikolas Rokoff, will do virtually anything to blackmail the couple into giving him some top-secret government papers. After these episodes (and the book certainly must be deemed "episodic"), Tarzan becomes a secret agent for the French government (!), has some remarkable adventures in the desert of Algeria (again coming up against Rokoff), is thrown off a mid-ocean steamer by Rokoff and his henchman, Alexis Paulvitch, and fetches up in his native Africa. Once on his home turf, Tarzan's veneer of civilization is quickly sloughed off, as he rises to the kingship of a native tribe, the Waziri, leads them in battle against a band of ivory hunters, and discovers the Haggardian lost kingdom of Opar, along with its treasure horde of gold. As you can tell, the novel is just crammed with incident and adventure; Burroughs throws quite a bit into this one to guarantee the reader a rousing good time. And I have not even mentioned the trials that poor Jane and her party go through after a terrible shipwreck and marooning. Readers won't be bored, that's for certain!
While no one would ever call Burroughs an elegant writer, he sure was a compelling one, and "The Return of Tarzan" really is quite impossible to put down. With two story lines alternating for our attention, and its chapters arranged cliffhanger fashion, the book is compulsively readable. It also goes far in deflating the charges of racism that have been leveled against Burroughs in the first book; here, the Waziri are portrayed in a very winning light, and Tarzan often ponders how much more decent they are than some "civilized" folks whom he has encountered (still, the book's Manyuema cannibals are naturally shown in anything BUT a decent light!). The novel features some lovely romantic interludes that should have the lady readers sighing, while of course dishing out enough gun battles, fights with wild animals, cloak and dagger antics, and lost-world elements to keep the most jaded action fan happy. And although Burroughs had never visited Africa--and thus could not impart the "Dark Continent" authenticity that H. Rider Haggard engendered so easily in his own books--his research goes far here in filling in the blanks; for example, who has ever heard of alfa (esparto) grass before, ropes of which are used to bind Tarzan in the Algerian desert? Put simply, the book is a gas, from start to finish.
Still, it is a far from perfect affair, and Burroughs must be held accountable for several goofs that a careful reading will spotlight. Egregiously, he mentions that Tarzan's ape mother, Kala, had been killed by a spear that "found [her] vitals." In the initial novel, however, it is clearly stated that Kulonga's spear merely "grazed her side"; rather, it was a poisoned arrow that did her in. The author tells us that Bou Saada, Algeria, is south of Sidi-bel-Abbes, whereas a quick look at a map will reveal that it is east. And he tells us that Tarzan's vessel was sailing "east" from Algeria to get to the Strait of Gibraltar, whereas that should of course be west. Perhaps worse than these oversights, which should actually have been caught by Burroughs' editor, is the overdependence on coincidence with which the author advances his plot. By coincidence, Tarzan's first assignment in Africa involves his enemy, Rokoff; by coincidence, the sheik who befriends Tarzan is the father of the dancing girl who later rescues him; by coincidence, Tarzan meets Jane's best friend, Hazel Strong, on a steamer at sea; by coincidence, the marooned Tarzan washes up on the African shore right at the cabin where he was born (!); by coincidence, Hazel bumps into Jane in Cape Town; and by two more coincidences, the lifeboats of the aforementioned shipwreck also fetch up on the African shore within five miles of Tarzan's cabin. Small world, and all that! The first Tarzan novel was also dependent on coincidence, but not nearly as absurdly so as its sequel. But you know what? The story is so entertaining, so much fun, and told with such dash and vigor, that none of these things seems to matter. While one part of the reader's mind is saying "Oh, come on!" the other part is making those pages flip, anxious to see what comes next. To demonstrate this point, I find that, despite having dozens of other books clamoring for my attention right now, I yet HAVE to read the second Tarzan sequel, "The Beasts of Tarzan," next. Flaws and all, even after 100 years, these books CAN prove highly addictive....
on May 26, 2010
Few would ever claim that Edgar Rice Burroughs was a great writer at any point in his career, but it should be noted that he was an extremely poor writer at the start of his career. He improved immensely during those first few years, but re-reading his early books can often be rather painful. On the other hand, he did have a lot of very good ideas, and that is why his series are still remembered and still read today. This is especially true of Tarzan, in which he created an iconic character who is known by many people who have never even read one word of Burroughs' work. "The Return of Tarzan", the second in the Tarzan series which was published from June through December 1913 in "New Story Magazine" is a good example of the contrast of good ideas and poor writing.
The story picks up where "Tarzan of the Apes" left off; Tarzan had given up his legacy and the woman he loved and travels to Paris to see his friend Paul d'Arnot. On the way there, he makes an enemy of Nikolas Rokoff, and Rokoff becomes Tarzan's nemesis. In the first book, time and time again Tarzan took on Lions, but in this book it is Rokoff that Tarzan repeatedly faces, at least in the first half. That being said, Rokoff does make a bit more interesting of a foe, as he has different schemes, but it still becomes tiresome. As the action moves back to Africa, the Lions return as a repeated foe, though Rokoff is still lurking around.
Another significant weakness of Burroughs writing at this time was his reliance on the amazing coincidence. When Tarzan is pushed overboard by Rokoff, he amazingly makes it to shore almost exactly where he lived before he was found. When the others are forced to abandon ship, they too find themselves within a few miles of the same spot even though they are split into two groups. The only slightly saving factor is they are completely unaware of how close they are to that spot.
On the positive side, Burroughs has some good ideas. He makes Tarzan struggle with his barbaric ways when in civilization. His creation of the lost city is inventive and adds a different element to the story as well. This highlights one of the key differences between the Barsoom series on the one side, and Tarzan on the other. With the Barsoom series, Burroughs was able to create an entire world, but with Tarzan he was constrained by reality, and thus it is Tarzan repeatedly fighting Lions and other wild beasts. With the lost city, Burroughs is free to break away from the constraints of the known Earth.
For the reasons given above, I don't think the first two books of the Tarzan series hold up as well as the first two books of the Barsoom series. Neither of the series has great writing, but Mars, as a setting, gave Burroughs much more freedom to invent and imagine then did Earth, and that played to Burroughs' strength. At the same time, one shouldn't judge these stories too harshly. They are still good fun if somewhat dated, and if one just wants some mindless adventure they can still fill that need.
on May 31, 2012
This second book in the Tarzan series was always my favorite of the lot, followed by "Tarzan and the Foreign Legion." As another reviewer points out, it has a strong "Raiders of the Lost Ark" vibe, although it predates that film by almost seven decades seeing as how it was first published in a pulp mag in 1913. The book edition came out two years later.
Like "Raiders," the story plays out seriously, but has a decidely cartooney air because so much adventure and coincidence are packed into the story. It's a fantasy adventure but it's just so thrilling, packed with jungle adventure, desert adventure, spies, cruise ships, lost cities, half-human races, treasure, Paris, love-to-hate villains and gorgeous women.
I recommend "The Return of Tarzan" above the first novel mainly because everyone knows the basic origin tale and so it's kind of stale. "The Return of Tarzan" is the best place to start with the series. It's equal parts thrilling, captivating and just plain fun!