Friday, July 03, 2015

Forgotten Books: Tarzan the Untamed - Edgar Rice Burroughs


I have a copy of Will Murray's new Tarzan novel, RETURN TO PAL-UL-DON, but I thought before I read it that I would reread the two original Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs most closely associated with it, TARZAN THE UNTAMED and TARZAN THE TERRIBLE. RETURN TO PAL-UL-DON is a sequal to TARZAN THE TERRIBLE, and since TARZAN THE UNTAMED leads directly into that book, it seemed like the place to start. Besides, I vividly recall reading TARZAN THE UNTAMED during study hall in sixth grade (at the Rock School in Azle, for those of you familiar with it) more than fifty years ago and thinking it was great.


Well, this is one of those cases where the reality doesn't quite match the memory, but I'm still glad I read the book. For those of you who haven't, it's divided roughly into thirds. In the first third, German troops raid Lord Greystoke's farm in British East Africa during World War I and murder Tarzan's wife Jane. Tarzan isn't there at the time, of course, but when he finds out about Jane's death, he sets off to wipe out the entire German army in Africa and darned near succeeds. This is the most famous and controversial section of the book, which not surprisingly angered a lot of German readers when it was published there. It's also pretty good, with lots of fast-moving action.

Then in the second section of the novel, Tarzan meets a beautiful blond German spy and a stranded British aviator, and the three of them have a bunch of adventures both together and separately, mostly involving a tribe of cannibals and some native troops who have deserted from the German army. In the first section Burroughs stuck to one storyline, Tarzan's vengeance quest, but in the middle third his trademark parallel plotting pops up, and the structure emphasizes that the only purpose of this seemingly endless round of capture/escape, capture/escape, capture/escape is to fill up pages. It gets tiresome in a hurry.


But then things pick up again in the third and final section of the book when our three protagonists find themselves in one of the many lost cities that are scattered across Burroughs' version of Africa. It's not nearly as inventive as some of the other lost cities Burroughs came up with, but it's colorfully described and the story perks along at a much better clip before coming to a rousing finale. Burroughs saves two big plot twists for the very end, but I suspect most readers saw them coming a long way off, even in 1917 when this yarn first appeared in serial form under the title "Tarzan and the Valley of Luna" in the pulp magazine ALL-STORY WEEKLY.

So TARZAN THE UNTAMED doesn't hold up quite as well as I might have hoped, considering how much I liked it all those years ago, but there's enough good stuff in it that I certainly enjoyed reading it. If that middle section had been tightened up a lot it would have landed in the top five or six books in the series as far as I'm concerned. But the real reason I read it was because it lays the groundwork for TARZAN THE TERRIBLE, and I'll be getting to that one soon.

(The cover scan at the top of this post is the edition I read all those years ago, with art by Robert Abbett, who did the covers for most, if not all, of the mid-Sixties Ballantine editions of Burroughs' novels, I believe. I bought every one of them I found on the paperback spinner racks back in those days. I thought about buying a copy of that same edition on-line so I could reread it that way, but I wound up reading an e-book version instead.)

15 comments:

Scott Parker said...

I'm doing the exact same thing. I knew that RETURN TO PAL-UL-DON is a direct sequel to TERRIBLE, but didn't know about UNTAMED. Thanks for that. With my mom's collection and the 12-15 I picked up at Half Price Books about a month ago, I've got most of the collection. 22 I think. I read 1-3 a few years ago and when PAL-UL-DON was announced, figured I'd just jump ahead and read TERRIBLE.

Victorian Barbarian said...

I wonder if the relative aimlessness of the middle section isn't related to a plot choice that ERB made early on and later reversed with one of the twists you mention? (Trying not to be spoilerish here.) That decision to reverse is usually described as ERB succumbing to the pleas of family members or fans, but I wonder whether in part it was a realization that the subplot romance (originally intended to be between the fraulein and the superman) wasn't working.

George Kelley said...

I remember reading TARZAN novels in Study Hall, too! I'm going to have to follow your lead and reread these Tarzan novels before I tackle Will Murray's RETURN TO PAL-UL-DON.

Victorian Barbarian said...

By the way, I dreamed last night I was at a con and saw you waiting outside a room to be opened up for the first panel of the day. We struck up a conversation, and some fans came up, expectantly looking for an opportunity to ask you to sign a book. One of them looked at me questioningly (like "Are you somebody I should know?"), and I said, "I'm not anybody-- you want Mr. Reasoner here!"

James Reasoner said...

I didn't know that about Burroughs changing his mind about the plot (or being persuaded to change his mind), but given how the book reads, that certainly seems possible.

R.K. Robinson said...

I have the complete set of the mid-Sixties Ballantine editions, I believe Abbett did all of them, but did not check that, they just look similar. I'm not sure about rereading this one, nor the new one. If I do read one of them, it will be TERRIBLE.

Walker Martin said...

In the latest BLOOD n THUNDER magazine, there is an interesting article by Kurt Shoemaker about his experience in rereading TARZAN THE UNTAMED. The article is very detailed and quite long. I recommend it. The issue is the triple issue for 2014-2015 with the TERROR TALES cover. It's available at Ed Hulse's Murania Press website and amazon.com.

thedarkman said...

Just ordered the new novel, can't wait to read it! I have always wanted to write a pastiche Tarzan tale...I think I will give it a try, just for fun!

Martin OHearn said...

I'm rereading the Tarzans one or two per summer--I had to detour into the Inner World series to lead into TARZAN AT THE EARTH'S CORE, which I finished last night. I've set aside RETURN TO PAL-UL-DON to read next.

The artist on that edition of TARZAN THE UNTAMED is Richard Powers. It's not realism in the James Bama style, but it's certainly different from Powers's iconic abstract science fiction covers.

Powers did the first twenty-two Tarzans for Ballantine, and Abbett did CASTAWAYS and MADMAN, which came out a couple of years later (Abbett did all the Mars books too, as you're recalling, James). After that, Ballantine had Abbett paint the covers for new editions of the original twenty-two.

James Reasoner said...

Walker,
You convinced me. I've ordered that issue of BLOOD 'N' THUNDER. I'm always interested in anything Kurt Shoemaker has to say, and it also reprints HB-J's THIS FICTION BUSINESS. Got to have that.

thedarkman,
I wrote a Tarzan pastiche when I was 12 or 13 years old. Long since lost, and probably for the better.

Martin,
Thanks for the info on the cover artist. I liked the Mars series even more than the Tarzan books and can still see all those Abbett covers for the Ballantine editions. Great days to be an avid reader.

Charles Gramlich said...

Many of the Tarzan series books just seemed so much less "focused" than the Martian books. Really rambling plots. I enjoyed them but definitely liked the John Carter books better

Neil Waring said...

I also remember reading these many years ago. Didn't remember much about the plot though. Might need to take another look - but not till the snow flies.

Chap O'Keefe said...

As well as the new Will Murray Tarzan novel, Altus Press has also just released as an ebook the second volume of The Best of Spicy Mystery. It seems a while back now, James, since you mentioned while reviewing volume one that you were looking forward to this. I've downloaded it, but so far read only the first story. The collection promises to be a fine dessert for weird menace fans who enjoyed volume one. The introduction repeats editor Alfred Jan's preference for tales where the supernatural aspect isn't explained away by clunky devices like villains in rubber monster suits and phosphorescent paint! I'm right with him on that score ... and I'm also hoping your own anthology of new weird menace stories will be coming up soon.

James Reasoner said...

Yeah, I just bought the e-book version of THE BEST OF SPICY MYSTERY, VOL. 2. Looking forward to reading it.

Philosophicon said...

I think some copies of the later Ballantine mass market paperbacks credit Robert Abbett as the cover artist but used the original Richard Powers painting on the cover.

I've got two copies of Tarzan and the Forbidden City, for example. The first one, published in 1964, has a cover whose top third is tan, and it credits "Dick Powers" as the cover artist. It's clearly his work, featuring Tarzan holding a man over his head at the mouth of a cave. My other copy, published in 1974, has a white border on the front with the exact same Richard Powers painting cropped into it. But this copy credits Robert Abbett as the cover artist, which is wrong.