The First and Only Online Fanzine Devoted to the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
Master of Imaginative Fantasy Adventure
Creator of Tarzan and "Grandfather of American Science Fiction"
Tarzan and the Forbidden City is pretty good, and is in some respects a departure from the other books. This one is the 20th book, and follows Quest, another good one. Although the last parts of the book are relatively mundane and I found little of the excitement which keeps one turning the pages to see how the book will end, such as we had in the earlier Tarzans, and also in Quest, the book has numerous passages which are interesting, and some great imagination. An examination of certain passages is illuminating when one discusses the ape-man near the end of his adventures:
Tarzan seldom thought of himself as a man. From infancy he had been raised among beasts, and he had been almost full grown before he had seen a man. Subconsciously he classed them with Numa, and Sheeta, the panther; with Bolgani, the gorilla, and Histah, the snake, and other such blood enemies as his environment afforded.
This passage coincides with my own interpretation of Tarzan as a beast, and I feel this is consistent with the Tarzan I've always known.
The following passage surprised me, however:
"White bwana send Ogabi bring Tarzan. Must see Tarzan."
"Where?" asked Tarzan.
"Big Village, Loango." explained Ogabi.
Tarzan shook his head. "No," he said. "Tarzan no go."
"Bwana Gregory say Tarzan must," insisted Ogabi. "Some bwana lost. Tarzan find."
"No," repeated the ape-man. "Tarzan does not like big village. It is full of bad smells and sickness and men and other evils. Tarzan no go."
I don't recall Tarzan ever using this infantile form of communication with a person prior to this. It seems more like how Johnny Weismuller would talk, and perhaps ERB was influenced a bit by the movie Tarzan in this passage. I didn't care much for it, though it's not repeated. I did find it unusual and quite similar to the movie Tarzans.
One wonders what ERB's relationships with women were like when he wrote this one, in 1938, when one reads the following passage:
Magra had not meant to go far from the camp, but the forest was intriguing, and it seemed so quiet and peaceful. She walked slowly, enjoying the blooms, watching the birds. She stopped before a lovely orchid, which, like some beautiful woman, sucked the life blood from the giant that supported it.
Tarzan's views on life, death and fighting are expressed in the following passage:
The drums carried their message to Tarzan. They told him of impending torture and sacrifice and death. The lives of strangers meant nothing to the ape-man, who, all his life, had lived with death. It was something that came to all creatures. He had no fear of it, he who feared nothing. To avoid it was a game that added zest to life. To pit his courage, his strength, his agility, his cunning against Death, and win — there was the satisfaction. Some day Death would win, but to that day Tarzan gave no thought. He could fight or he could run away, and in either event preserve his self-respect, for only a fool throws his life away uselessly; and Tarzan had no respect for fools; but if the stake warranted it, he could lightly accept the gravest risks.
Again, this is the Tarzan I have always known. Fearless and intelligent. Arrogant in his prowess and self-perception.
There is no "Quick is Numa" in this one, but a similar passage evokes memories of such passages:
Swift as Ara, the lightning, is Tarzan; as agile as Sheeta, the panther.
I always enjoy reading such passages, which occur throughout the series, and in my own memories are ERB's unique prose defining Tarzan of the Apes.
ERB does confuse his ape-language a bit, however:
Slowly, relentlessly, his neck was being broken. At last he could stand it no longer, and bellowed "Kree-gah", which means "I surrender"; and Tarzan released him and sprang to his feet.
Kree-gah means "beware", and "Ka-go-da" means "I surrender". ERB was a bit confused here.
This discrepancy appeared numerous times in the '30s. For example in the short humorous "Even Apes Fight for It" which ERB wrote for SCRIPT magazine February 25, 1939 ~Tarzan said:
“Kreeg-ah!” he shouted, which means “Surrender!” He placed a foot upon the body of his foe and raising his face to the heavens, voiced the victory cry of the bull ape.
“Kreeg-ah,” admitted Um-gah, which also means “I do surrender.”
After Tarzan makes an amazing spear cast to save D'Arnot, his friend, Thetan, expresses his thoughts in a manner I personally find quite appropriate:
"Whew!" exclaimed Thetan.
Tarzan kills and kills in this book. Several lions, numerous men, and even a dinosaur. And in some respects he takes pleasure in his killing.
As his foe charged with raised dagger, Tarzan leaped to one side, wheeled quickly and seized him from behind; then he swung him high above his head and hurled him to the flagging. He could have killed him then, but he preferred to play with him as a cat plays with a mouse. It was the Asharian's punishment for attempting to use a dagger; and too, it was the humor of the jungle, which is grim and terrible.
This is a terrific scene, in the arena, and is one I remember well, though I had forgotten which book it was in. In this one the Asharian killer tries to get his killing hold to crush Tarzan, and the ape-man simply permits him to get it, and of course the killer finds it is useless against Tarzan, who then growls and bites for the jugular, and later chases the man, growling, until the guy just gives up and stabs himself to death. It reminds me of a similar fight Conan had in one book, where he lets his adversary get his best hold and then destroys him.
This Tarzan is no civilized man. He is an intelligent beast, exacting his own brand of justice according to his own conception of law. He is magnificent in this book, and for sheer fighting and killing I don't recall any book which has so much in it of the ape-man in this regard. He engenders awe in one person after another in this book, and in the reader, too.
The story itself is another one of two lost cities who war against each other, and Tarzan agrees to help find Brian Gregory, the son of a friend of D'Arnot. D'Arnot himself is in love with Brian's sister, Helen. Although this is the 20th book, one might argue that this one takes place much earlier in the series, since D'Arnot would be in his fifties if one took the books chronologically, and Helen is only 19.
Tarzan also happens to be the spitting image of Brian, which causes some mistaken identity with good guys and bad guys. I never did care for ERB having such "doubles" of Tarzan, particularly when unclothed. To me, no man could ever resemble Tarzan's physique, nor his scarred face and grey eyes under that shock of hair. I don't think this plot device was realistic and it didn't add much to the story, either.
The plot is pretty good, mainly because Tarzan is in the book so much and is in action so much. He kills at least four or five lions in this one; killing two of them at one time in one sequence, and even takes on a dinosaur with a knife.
ERB's imagination gets a workout, too, with an underwater temple and "scuba" equipment; and prehistoric creatures who live in the lake upon which the cities are situated.
The plot is confusing, however, in some respects, and unrealistic. The good guys never make a copy of this map, so when Wolff steals it they are stuck. Then later it's obvious Wolff has it but they don't seem to care as he leads them to the forbidden city. I found this silly.
Also, the Father of Diamonds had been lost when a ship sunk, and the high priest, Chon, was in the boat, but survived, and for years lives in this cave with his followers. Why in the heck didn't he just go back to the city? Much of this book just makes little sense.
The ending is quite mediocre, as ERB brings this book to a closing which wraps up the story but really isn't very interesting. It does seem in some of the later Tarzan books that ERB just got tired of writing and ended them with no suspense or much real interest; and this is one of them. Leopard Men was another, as was Lion Man.
In these books ERB is writing about Tarzan rather than writing a story. He exercises his prose and highlights the greatness of the ape-man, and has a reasonably good plot, but it does have inconsistencies and no real suspense. Brian Gregory isn't an admirable character, though both of the women are good characters, and D'Arnot is good.
As in many of the later books, ERB spends time utilizing his "characters" such as Usha, and Ara, in his prose, much moreso than in earlier books. We have Wappi the antelope, rather than Bara, the deer. These are certainly more interesting than most of the human characters in this book.
The ape-man is simply magnificent in this book, however. If you like Tarzan, you will enjoy this book, which, like City of Gold, portrays Tarzan as I always envision him. He is still the Tarzan I met in TOA, only moreso, if possible. For all its shortcomings, this is truly a book about Tarzan of the Apes, and I enjoyed it a great deal.
Savage is the ape-man.
Lands of Adventure: