Friday, July 17, 2015

Forgotten Books: TARZAN THE TERRIBLE by Edgar Rice Burroughs

When I heard that Will Murray's new Tarzan novel was called Return to Pal-Ul-Don (reviewed HERE), I busted out an old copy of this novel (not the edition above, unfortunatlely) recounting the Ape Man's earlier visit to that lost corner of Africa.

Tarzan the Terrible was serialized in Argosy All-Story in early1921 and appeared in book form soon after. I first read it when I was a kid, and again when I went on a Burroughs binge twenty years ago and read his complete works over a period of about six months.

Tarzan encountered quite a few Lost Races over the course of his career, and that aspect of Tarzan the Terrible is pretty standard fare. What makes this book a stand-out is that there are so many characters and so many subplots that its like two or three average Burroughs novels packed into one.

In the land of Pal-Ul-Don, along with the usual complement of unique monsters and beasts, Tarzan meets and befriends two opposing humanoid races. One is white-skinned (the Ho-don), the other black and covered with long black hair (the Waz-don). Both races have long tails, which they employ as an extra limb. It's the sort of social dynamic later seen on many episodes of classic Star Trek. The Ho-don live in cities and palaces, while the Waz-don are relegated to the jungle. They're not exactly at war, but their co-existence is far from friendly.

To complicate matters, there are power plays at work, with the priesthood and other factions within the Ho-don itching to take over the throne. And to keep things lively, there are three romantic triangles. A Waz-don warrior is in love with a woman held captive by the Ho-don, an exiled Ho-don noble is hot for the Ho-don princess who's promised to sleazeball, and Tarzan's whole reason for being there is to search for Jane, who was abducted by Germans in an early book. More complications and abductions, ensue.

And to top it off, there's a mysterious white man (without a tail) on Tarzan's trail. That guy's identity remains a mystery until the very end.

Many of Burrough's books take jabs at religion, but I found this one surprisingly daring, especially for 1921. Learning that the Ho-don believe their god Jad-ben-Otho to be tail-free, Tarzan presents himself to the royal court as the son of that god. There are repeated references to him as "the son of god," and there's even a moment when Tarzan, hard-pressed by doubters, cries out, "Who dares believe that Jad-ben-Otho would forsake his son?" Gotta wonder how much flak ERB took for that one.


James Reasoner said...

Great minds think alike! This is my FFB today, too. Excellent novel.

George Kelley said...

I read all the TARZAN books decades ago. I need to reread TARZAN THE TERRIBLE. I have the Will Murrary pastiche on order.

Rick Robinson said...

I must have read this when I was reading the series, but I have no memory of it whatsoever. That's probably just a case of old man memory, but your summary makes it sound darn good.

Rick Robinson said...

Hey! Just saw your picture in the new issue of MYSTERY SCENE magazine! Way to go!

Evan Lewis said...

I'm famous? I think that's Bill Crider's fault.