Friday, October 18, 2013

Forgotten Books: TARZAN AND THE JEWELS OF OPAR (1916)


I’ve read all the Burroughs’ Tarzan novels, several more than once, and up until last week, I’d have named Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar one of my favorites. I had fond memories of the fabulous lost city, the lusty Princess La, and her army of snaggletoothed beast-men. Unfortunately, those memories were from Tarzan’s first visit to the city, in Tarzan of the Apes.

Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar features only a brief visit to the city, and La and the gang appear in only a few scenes before vanishing from the story. That wouldn’t have bothered me much, if I could still go adventuring with Tarzan. But for most of this book, Tarzan is absent. In his place, inhabiting his body, is an odd creature with amnesia. And it’s a particularly contrived and annoying sort of amnesia. Tarzan considers himself a beast, having mentally reverted to a time before discovering he was human - but at the same time retains his command of human speech.

Otherwise, there’s plenty of action. Oodles of natives and Arabs are slaughtered, sometimes by each other and sometimes by apes, lions and elephants. A fortune in gold keeps changing hands, as do the titular Jewels of Opar, and there’s a stand-out villain in Barton Werper, a true master of the double-cross. (This same Barton Werper, you may recall, went on to write five unauthorized Tarzan novels that were published in the ‘60s, and ultimately ordered destroyed by the Burroughs estate.)

So it isn’t really a bad book. I just missed Tarzan, and did not enjoy the time I spent with his dimwitted doppleganger.

I did learn a new word, though, one worthy of the mind-boggling vocabulary of Clark Ashton Smith. The word is recrudescence. It appears when Jane is about to be either slain or devoured by a lion, and Tarzan, whom she believes dead, comes flying from out of a tree.

    Wide went her eyes in wonder and incredulity, as she beheld this seeming apparition risen from the dead. The lion was forgotten - her own peril - everything save the wondrous miracle of this strange recrudescence.

So what the heck does it mean? My Funk & Wagnalls defines it thusly:
1. A breaking out afresh, as of a disease or sore. 2. A reappearance; return. 

At the end, when Tarzan’s memory has finally returned, he get philosophic:

    “Deep in the soul of every man,” said Tarzan, “must lurk the gem of righteousness. It was your own virtue, Jane, rather than your helplessness which awakened for an instant the latent decency of this degraded man. In that one act he retrieved himself, and when he is called to face his Maker may it outweigh in the balance, all the sins he has committed.”
    And Jane Clayton breathed a fervent, “Amen!”

Gag me. If ever a Burroughs villain deserved to burn in Hell, Werper was the guy.

This week's Forgotten Books are at George Kelly.org.

5 comments:

George said...

I read TARZAN AND THE JEWELS OF OPAR last year to get me ready for the Philip Jose Farmer pastiches of Opar. Great fun! Love those classic covers!

Evan Lewis said...

I'm pretty sure La and the Beastie Boys return in a later Burroughs novel or two, but disremember which. I know I read those Farmer books at some point, too, and disremember them equally well.

Anonymous said...

I think La and Opar appear in "Tarzan the Invincible."

Richard said...

I have all the Tarzan paperbacks but I sure haven't read them all, and this one doesn't sound familiar at all.

Anonymous said...

Tarzan's first visit to Opar was in THE RETURN OF TARZAN...and the bad guy's name is Albert Werper...Mike