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My Favorite Tarzan Book (so far),
This review is from: Jungle Tales of Tarzan (Paperback)My original plan to read through all the Tarzan books was nearly thwarted by the shocking low quality of the writing. 'Son of Tarzan' was just about the last straw literally insulting the very concept of Tarzan while the previous two books were likewise weak. I skipped `Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar' because I don't happen to own that book but `Jungle Tales of Tarzan' has reinvigorated my quest to forge on. Jungle Tales goes back to before Tarzan met Jane and was still living with the apes. THIS is what I read Tarzan for and THIS is where Burroughs shines. I love it when Burroughs tries to put the reader into the mind of an animal. In one story Tarzan ponders the concept of God having discovered it in one of the books he came across. He consults an elderly ape, Mumba, but her single stroke of wisdom through her many years of life is the story of how she once ate a sting-bug beetle that she mistook for an edible one. In another story a tiger, having killed a female ape, attempts to drag her away for lunch. The ape tribe having no long term thinking simply accepts the situation intending to go about their lives. Tarzan, however, rallies the apes having realized that if no punishment is meted out to the jungle cat it'll simply return again and kill more apes. Burroughs treatment of the animal intellect is much more believable and inventive here than in the lamentable `Beasts of Tarzan' where Tarzan trains a tribe of apes to row a canoe. Perhaps my favorite in this book was when Taug discovers that other apes in the tribe intend on killing Tarzan. His primitive mind feels a kinship towards Tarzan thanks to the numerous times Tarzan had saved him. Although Taug couldn't literally recall that his feelings of friendship grew from past events they existed nonetheless and discovering the conspiracy enraged his primitive mind... until a rodent caught his eye and he forgot the whole thing. Classic.
Unlike previous books `Jungle Tales of Tarzan' is a series of smaller stories that blend together. In one story Tarzan kidnaps a young African boy when he begins feeling that everyone has someone to care for except him. It's somewhat touching except that Burroughs can't help but push the idea that the boy is a genetic inferior. There is a LOT of interaction between Tarzan and the local tribe of Mbongo whom he holds a grudge against for causing the death of his adoptive mother, Kala. It generally involves Tarzan playing pranks that lead to the deaths of one or more black. It's understandable that Tarzan would feel anger towards the Mbongo tribe but the racism is often cringe worthy.
My favorite part of the book was when Tarzan attempts to pull a prank on his own ape tribe. Tarzan had been trying to teach the apes to post guards to watch out for jungle cats or other animals who might venture in to their territory and suspects that the apes have been lax (the apes are notoriously difficult to train in long term planning). In order to test their watchfulness he dresses in a tiger skin and tries to invade the ape camp before being knocked unconscious and nearly beaten to death. Even after they discover it's Tarzan some still desire to finish the job they started because... y'know... they're apes. This was the one time Tarzan appeared vulnerable and somewhat dimwitted and gave the character some rare depth. Through most of the book he's simply the infallible `white jungle God'.
The unfortunate racism is more a sign of the times than a damning of Burroughs. It was nice that in the final story Tarzan risks his life to save a black warrior out of respect for bravery he had shown. I've never felt that Burroughs had the skills of Rudyard Kipling who also wrote about a feral child in his Jungle Books but here Burroughs carves out his own nitch and proves he's at least capable of writing some very entertaining stories even if he often fails.