Edgar Rice Burroughs’
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle
by David Adams
The opening six chapters of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle present us with a series of events which may seem to be a collection of rather confused attempts to begin a story that really only gets off the ground in chapter seven with Blake’s arrival at the cross which stands before the pathway into the City of the Sepulcher. My remarks will show that a symbolic reading of these events dispels at least in part this apparent hesitancy of entering the story.
It is obvious that this novel owes no small debt to Mark Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. In Twain’s story the hero in knocked unconscious at the beginning, which makes it possible to read the story as a kind of dream. This happening is echoed by having Tarzan knocked unconscious twice and Blake once. It makes one wonder if these extravagances are merely examples of ERB's sense of humor. Yet, I will show that the entire opening might be read in a deeper sense.
In the first part of this novel, there is no overarching task to be performed but rather a series of rescues and/or events with a variety of animals. It seems like a sort of nostalgic revisitation of Tarzan's early life in the jungle. However, a clearer understanding can be found by reading these events as a series of three powerful tales.
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle begins with a short story, which is more than reminiscent of chapter two, "The Capture of Tarzan" from Jungle Tales. This is followed by two more animal stories each with its own function and meaning.
The twelve short stories in Jungle Tales are unique in that they explore the childhood of one of ERB's major characters to a depth that he pointedly avoided in the lives of most of his heroes. They are daring stories, involving sexual attractions between man and apes, rather Freudian dream sequences, and Tarzan’s first religious speculations to mention only a few of the themes. After this set, Burroughs took Tarzan to war in a series of what many consider his strongest Tarzan novels. Next came the Tarzan/Gulliver's Travels novel (Ant Men) and a set of Tarzan children’s stories. In the midst of these last mentioned light tales we find the composition of Lord. One might speculate that Burroughs found it a natural next step to combine these recent ideas, using another novel (this time by Twain) and his own childhood fantasies of Tarzan. This bridge is there in Lord but it does not stand as a clear architectural masterpiece. It is more a tiny footbridge rather than a Golden Gate, but it serves the purpose of getting Tarzan from one condition to another.
In these opening six chapters there are three stories to consider: They are rounded by Tarzan's unconscious states. Each one is a tale that involves Tarzan's friendship and/or conflict with key animals in his life with the exception of the big cats, which do appear once the opening episodes are over. If the three stories are read as dreams which reinforce each other, they go successively deeper into an unresolved problem, which reaches a stunning resolution. The dream-stories to be considered are as follows:1. The Tarzan/Tantor story - chapters 1 and 2The First Story
2. The Ape Tribe story - chapter 3
3. The Gorilla/Snake story - chapters 4 and 6
Tarzan is Captured by Arabs, then Rescued by Tantor
The story opens with Tarzan at peace upon the back of Tantor, the elephant. This condition in the Tarzan series is one of equanimity and rest. It is Tarzan’s natural state, so to speak, living at one with himself and the world.
Tarzan is a man of nature, thus his living completely in the unconscious is not a regression the way it would be for a normal human being. He is a demigod of the forest, so completely at home in a state which to anyone else would be living in fantasy. This is his fundamental state, which in any other grown man would be seen as irresponsible and childish.
A fundamental theme in the Tarzan Series concerns his struggles to balance this native unconscious state with what one would consider a normal human life. This is of course the basic human problem we all have to deal with to some degree, however, in Tarzan’s case the animal nature is so close under his skin (under his thin veneer of civilization) that we tend to accept this unnatural condition as being a suitable norm. Tarzan is closer to his basic, instinctual nature than we are, yet it is easy to see that this might be the sort of a being who lives close under our own skins as well.
Tarzan's peace is rudely broken by Arab slavers and poachers. He is knocked unconscious and captured. Tarzan has to be knocked off the back of the comfortable elephant before he can enter into the human world again. So too, we sometimes have to be torn out of a comfortable way of living in order to face the realities of life. Later, Tarzan is rescued by Tantor in the night, but is only untied by the mangani after lying bound for three days. Thus it is in reuniting with his tribe, his own people, that he is free to enter into the deeper problems he will face in the story. This episode also serves to introduce the Arabs who play a significant part in the larger story to come, however, it is mainly the "wake-up call" to Tarzan that is of interest in this study.
It does seem an odd thing with Tarzan, who is a man who lives naturally in his unconscious, to be actually knocked unconscious. It is in fact a redundancy in a mythic being. What we have to see here is his human side, vulnerable as the rest of us. His becoming unconscious, even for a short time, snaps his attention to being conscious in the world of men rather than living exclusively in the one with his animals (which are of course symbols of his basic instincts).
In bringing back this Tantor rescue, one might surmise that ERB is simply recycling an old theme the way Bach and Handel often did with their own musical themes. It is certainly a legitimate practice and one that gives the delight of recognition to readers familiar with the Tarzan stories as well as bringing new readers up to date on the history and situation his jungle hero. Yet, a closer reading will show that this Tantor episode is but the first link in a chain of events to come.
The second story
Chapter 3 - The Apes of Toyat
Tarzan meets his very own ape tribe, the Mangani, now with Toyat as King of the Apes. The Mangani are brought to free Tarzan from his bonds by Little Manu, the monkey, who later becomes a more solidified character in Nkima. He convinces the apes that he is still their old friend by prodding their memories until a few of them agree to let him stay, while most of the others grow bored with his lengthy speeches and wander away looking for food. The important point is that Tarzan makes contact with his old tribe and does not have to fight for his kingship or for his life. He ranges with them and has a bout of nostalgia, remembering his past.
He remembers Kala's bravery, overthrowing Kerchak, battles with Terkoz and Bolgani, and he thinks of Teeka, whom he had loved and all the other events in Jungle Tales.
The story is an idyl of reconnection with his past, a pleasant daydream that reunites him with living allies and the psychic powers of his own childhood roots. It is an older and more reflective Tarzan who recalls "old Kerchak" with a sense that one might even call fondness.“What a magnificent beast he had been! To the childish mind of the ape-boy Kerchak had been the personification of savage ferocity and authority, and even today he recalled him with almost a sensation of awe. That he had overthrown and slain this gigantic ruler still seemed to Tarzan almost incredible.”These are the thoughts of maturity. It is evident that Tarzan has to a degree grown away from a limited “black and white,” “good and evil” way of thinking. Yet, we see him later standing before the Blake safari making a judgment as an absolute lawgiver, so he has put on that persona rather than taking the next step into a higher, more spiritual way of looking at the world. Indeed, one cannot expect more from Tarzan since he cannot reach beyond the mind of his creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs. It is the next story which takes Tarzan’s consciousness another step, and it is to a rather surprising place it has never been before.
The third story
Tarzan kills a snake and saves a gorilla
The first two stories present Tarzan as a petitioner, calling for help from his animal allies: first from Tantor as he is bound in the tent, then by sending a message through the monkeys to his tribe. In the third story, Tarzan is no longer the bound, helpless one but freely takes action, bringing about a resolution of a situation, which effects a transformation in his own consciousness.
The James Blake camera safari plans to split after their hunter, Wilbur Stimbol, assaults a porter. Stimbol shoots at a gorilla, and when Tarzan comes to the sound of the shots, he saves the beast from the gun and from a python. He tells Stimbol to go back to his camp.
Burroughs reflects that "In the heart of Tarzan was no great love for Bolgani the gorilla. Since childhood the shaggy, giant man-beast had been the natural foe of the ape-man."
His first "mortal combat" is mentioned. This occurs in chapter six of Apes called "Jungle Battles" in which Tarzan kills a gorilla and thus learns how to use his father’s hunting knife as a weapon. This story is recapitulated in Jungle Tales, chapter nine, "The Nightmare" in which Tarzan having eaten tainted elephant meat falls into feverish dreams where he dreams of bolgani, the gorilla only to find out that the dream-gorilla is real and again ends by killing it with his knife.
Yet, here in Lord, Tarzan remains loyal to the brute over man. The situation is so strange that one is inclined to read it in a symbolic way rather than just assuming it another example of Burroughs' pulp fiction extravagance. Just as the gorilla has escaped the bullet of a rifle, it is attacked by a snake. When Tarzan appears on this scene "he saw the huge brute beset by two of the natural enemies of both the Mangani and the Bolgani, there flared within his breast a sudden loyalty that burned away the personal prejudices of a lifetime."
It is telling that Burroughs calls Tarzan’s adversarial role to Bolgani a prejudice. A more natural reaction might have been simply watching as his two enemies go about killing each other with the jungle "better off" for the demise of both. One might read a kind of psychic resolution or forgiveness of bolgani by this rescue. At least, they end as friends, which is not the usual condition between Tarzan and gorillas. It is certainly a complex turn of events in the life of Tarzan -- not really in his future relationship with gorillas -- but in hs making a judgment against his most primitive instincts.
Tarzan does not have a similar epiphany in relation to the python. He cuts the snake in twain.
In chapter 4, "The God of Tarzan" in Jungle Tales, Tarzan saves Gazan, Teeka's balu from a python. This story is the famous one in which Tarzan sees God in Teeka’s love for her baby and in all of creation except in Histah, the snake. "Who made Histah, the snake?" the young Tarzan asks, expressing a primate reaction as much as a commentary on the book of Genesis -- one of ERB's little jests.
Tarzan becomes the serpent divider. "What man born of a woman could hope, unaided, to escape from the embrace of the deadly coils of a python?" (56) The phrase, "Man born of a woman" reminds one of Matthew 11:11 where Jesus says, "Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding he that is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he."
Here, Burroughs continues to use a kind of Biblical language in relation to snakes. He relies on his reader's prejudicial acceptance of the slaying of the python rather than having Tarzan release it into the jungle. There is really no reason why a further reconciliation with the snake could not have been written; after all, the story is about Tarzan's saving a former enemy.
The serpent is an creature with a very complex symbolism. In most folklore it represents secret, underground power and wisdom rather than the simple connection with evil in the Garden of Eden. The serpent raised in the wilderness by Moses reveals this saving role. However, it is not necessary to fault Burroughs for not raising this tale to a higher spiritual level than it had already attained by Tarzan's tentative reconciliation with the gorilla. The division of the serpent serves as a reinforcing symbol of the sacrifice Tarzan has made in saving his former enemy.
Later, when Tarzan and the gorilla watch an approaching storm, Burroughs gives them a single, uncanny thought."Ara the lightning shot through the sky. To the two beasts it was a bolt from Pand’s bow and the great drops of rain that commenced to fall shortly after was Meeta, the blood of Usha the wind, pouring from many a wound."There is a psychic link between Tarzan and the beasts of the jungle that does touch upon a kind of numinous quality which makes ERB's writing a step beyond the easy fiction it sometimes seems to be. The situation of a reconciled man and gorilla sitting in a rain storm both thinking of the rain as blood pouring from wounds seems more than an ordinary situation in a simple story.
After this event, Tarzan divides the Blake/Stimbol safari with the same assurance and authority that he has just divided the snake. His word is law in the jungle. Blake is allowed to continue on with his photography. Stimbol is sent back to the railhead.
Tarzan is again struck unconscious in a storm and saved from death at the hands of Stimbol by the gorilla, thus his friendship is repaid in kind. He does not allow the gorilla to kill Stimbol but sends it off into the forest.
The dream sequences end with this encounter involving the most primal forces: a lightning bolt from heaven, the gorilla, which is much more of a brute than the near-human mangani and with the snake, the primal symbol of the dangers which lurk in the unconscious mind. One might also read the three sequences or dreams as examples of rituals: capture and rescue, reconciliation with the tribe and finally and most telling, sacrifice. On this foundation stands the larger story which remains to be uncovered.
Here, the novel begins to turn toward the lost cities theme, which has been set up in parallel sequences concerning members of the safari and the Arabs. The animal symbolism begins with lions, ERB's strongest tool of spiritual awakening.
Stimbol shoots an antelope (disobeying Tarzan’s warning not to kill any more) and his porters leave him. He goes back to rejoin Blake. He is attacked and treed over night by a lion who destroys all of his provisions. Thus Stimbol is humbled by this king of the jungle.
Blake is knocked unconscious by a lightning bolt, and his porters leave. He wakes to see seven lions, which turn and bolt away. These seven lions are powerful spiritual animals, one might say seven angels who appear to Blake before his meeting with the cross.
After three days Blake encounters a large white, stone cross at the entrance of a canyon. He crosses himself, even though he is not a catholic, entering the spirit of a religious encounter. He passes the cross and is captured by two black men, who take him down a winding tunnel. The remainder of this story is beyond the scope of this study.(This version finished at
2788 words - Feb 24, 2005)
Navigation Chart for the
Features in ERBzine
Visit our thousands of other sites at:
BILL AND SUE-ON HILLMAN ECLECTIC STUDIO
ERB Text, ERB Images and Tarzan® are ©Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.- All Rights Reserved.
All Original Work ©1996-2007/2010 by Bill Hillman and/or Contributing Authors/Owners
No part of this web site may be reproduced without permission from the respective owners.