A LONG time ago I devoted about six months to reading the complete works of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was a pretty cool experience, alternating Tarzan books with adventures on Mars, Venus, underground or wherever else ERB chose to take me. But eventually they all coiled together into one big tornado of adventure, and details of any particular adventure were lost in the storm.
Some years back I reread the first two Tarzan books and was surprised at how much I’d forgotten, including the fact that they were really just one story, with The Return of Tarzan piggy-backed right on top of Tarzan of the Apes. Unfortunately, I stopped there, not realizing that The Beasts of Tarzan followed right along, forming a trilogy.
Now it comes clear. Burroughs was following the same pattern he’d laid down for the Mars series: a trilogy starring the main hero, followed by an adventure featuring the hero’s son (Carthoris in Thuvia, Maid of Mars and Jack Clayton in The Son of Tarzan). Well, why not? It worked.
The Beasts of Tarzan first appeared in 1914 as a two-part serial in All-Story Cavalier Weekly, and was published in hardcover two years later. And kept on being republished.
In The Return of Tarzan, you may recall, our hero finally defeats his arch-enemy, Russian spy Nicholas Rokoff, and sends him to jail. Now a civilized gent, Tarzan brings his wife and infant son to London to enjoy the family fortune. Unfortunately for him (but fortunately for readers) Rokoff promptly escapes and devises a cunning plan to extract vengeance from his favorite enemy.
First, Rokoff kidnaps the Greystoke baby, intending to unload him on a tribe of African cannibals who will raise him as their own. While Jane is frantic, Rokoff kidnaps her, planning to extort money and then sweet-talk her into becoming his mate. He then kidnaps the ape man himself, planning to dump him on a deserted island to suffer for the rest of his days.
Woe is Jane, and Tarzan too, and they spend the next three-quarters of the book trying to find each other, chasing or being chased by their enemies, and wondering if they’ll ever see their son again.
The best part of the story is hinted at the title. Tarzan’s island prison is inhabited by variety of wild critters, including a tribe of apes and an ape-eating panther. So guess what? Tarzan turns them into one big happy army, willing to follow him anywhere and make his enemies their own. As you might expect, those enemies, Rokoff included, are fated for some major league butt-kicking.
Sure, Burroughs' prose is archaic and the plot is creaky (the story is, after all, 99 years old), but it’s good, mindless fun, and brings the Tarzan trilogy to a satisfying conclusion. Will I keep reading? Yeah, I’m hooked at least enough to continue on to The Son of Tarzan. I’ll be yapping about that soon.
This week’s line-up of Forgotten Books appears on SWEET FREEDOM. Next week, you’ll find me and Davy hosting the links here on the Almanack.