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The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs
#19 Tarzan's Quest
by R. E Prindle
Before we begin let us continue our quest for the size of the 'bronze giant.' In an earlier discussion of the problem I maintained that Tarzan must be about six-five, say, 240-265 lbs as was, for instance, Mark Gastineau when he was sacking all those quarterbacks.
It has been quite rightly pointed out that in Tarzan Of The Apes Burroughs says that Tarzan was only six feet and slender. At that time Tarzan was only 17 or 18 years old. One correspondent suggested that perhaps he had a late growth surge. Indeed, this must have been the case for in Tarzan's Quest our biographer cum historian says this about Tarzan's stature:"As Sborov looked at (Tarzan) he realized that he was not really of gigantic proportions, yet he conveyed the impression of great size. Perhaps it was the suggestion of majesty and power in his mien (Tarzan apparently had a facial expression that looked tall and gigantic) that gave him the appearance of towering over other creatures. He stood, perhaps, a couple of inches over six feet..."It would seem that our historian had never come face to face with the Big Bwana nor is he consulting musty old accurate records of the Foreign Office. Obviously Tarzan's growth chart, should Kala have kept one, decayed rapidly in the humidity of West Africa and has since gone to the growth chart graveyard which is just adjacent to the Elephant's.
So, really, ERB is just guessing about Tarzan's real stature. I maintain that the 'suggestion of majesty and power' in Tarzan's mien was augmented by actually being a big man, broad at the shoulder, narrow at the hip, big boned. 'Perhaps a couple inches over six feet is mere guesswork. I think it is almost certain that those 'perhaps, couple inches' were actually five and that Tarzan was therefore six-five, 265 lbs. much as was Mark Gastineau but without the steroids. With steroids of course Tarzan would have been a true ape man weighing in at perhaps 350.
I just wanted to settle that point before tackling the nineteenth volume of Tarzan's roman a fleuve, if you're literary, or his biography if you're of the persuasion of Philip Jose Farmer.
Quest is also the first of the final three published in Burroughs' lifetime with the exception of Tarzan And The Foreign Legion. However Foreign Legion falls outside Burroughs' psychological continuity being more of an addendum chronicling Tarzan's wartime experiences.
Quest is also the first Tarzan novel written after Burroughs' break with his wife of thirty-four years, Emma. Tarzan's Quest, #20 Tarzan And The Forbidden City and #21 Tarzan The Magnificent all chronicle Burroughs' emerging problems with women. In Quest written from May of '34 to January of '35 he was in the first blush of his new marriage.
Perhaps not surprisingly a thread of the story concerns perpetual youth. Pills are required which allow the user to return to an earlier age and maintain it until he or she runs out of pills. It might appear that ERB felt the difference in age between himself and his new wife, Florence Gilbert, more keenly than is usually thought.
At any rate there is a significant difference in the characterization of the Jane of Quest and, say, the Jane of Ant Men. In fact Jane reappears in this story after an absence of some years.
In Burroughs' attempts to get placement in one of the big paying slicks this novel seems to be his last and best effort. Perhaps he patterned Quest after some of the novels of Zane Grey who was paid big money by the slicks. The Jane of Quest does bear some similarity to Grey's female heroines as, for instance, the school teacher in Under The Tonto Rim. Burroughs would certainly have been told that the key to the slicks was to appeal to the female reader. Women's magazines require a heroine.
I once wrote a love story which Cosmopolitan liked but they wanted me to rewrite it from the heroine's point of view rather than the hero. Perhaps I should have but it wasn't the heroine's story so I didn't. But that probably explains the concentration on Jane in the novel. It may, as has been suggested, have been because of ERB's new marriage but more likely it was an attempt to break into the Saturday Evening Post or Collier's. Maybe because of now having to support two expensive women ERB really needed the money.
The first 160 pages are perhaps as finely written as anything ERB ever did. This is not a bad Tarzan novel. If ERB had developed the character of Kavandavanda and the scenes in Kavuru City as well as he did that of Sborov ERB would have had himself a significant novel.
The story throughout on one level is a comedy of manners. One can imagine the opening scene with Jane, Hazel Strong and Kitty Sborov taking place in a restaurant on the old Rodeo Drive perhaps even the Luau. The conversation is bright and witty with the differences in character between Jane, Hazel and Kitty sharply drawn. Perhaps ERB had even sat at the same table in the Luau watching an identical scene. These are three distinct women.
Hazel Strong was brought back from Tarzan Of The Apes and The Return Of Tarzan as I think as a goodbye as ERB began the summing up of the series. A large part of his raison d'etre for writing was severed when he severed his relationship with Emma. He had cut the cords with his past closing off his earlier life.
Hazel is written out of the story and roman returning to Baltimore. Kitty Sborov and her husband ask Jane to fly back to Africa with them in their private plane. Jane accepts.
Burroughs then assembles a very interesting cast of characters on the plane. The pilot is Neal 'Chi' Brown. Brown is a Mucker type character from the tough streets of Chitown. The Name Brown undoubtedly refers to Brown School which Burroughs attended as a child. The Neal may be an allusion to the Irish character of John the Bully of those days.
An English valet is included for comic relief who reverts back to a cockney character as the story unfolds. At the time the story was written P.G. Wodehouse with his stories of Jeeves was reaching an apogee so that the character of Tibbs may reflect that of Jeeves. A title of Wodehouse's is listed in Burroughs' library so we may be certain that ERB was familiar with Wodehouse. Characteristically of Burroughs Tibbs becomes more self reliant and manly in the free atmosphere of the wild jungle.
Then there is the French servant girl Annette who along with Brown provides some love interest for the female readers.
Kitty and Alexis Sborov finish out the group with Jane. The Sborov's are helpless aristocrats who are there for ERB to abuse the European aristocracy. This is fairly uncharacteristic of Burroughs but perhaps he thought it would sell in the slicks. Returning in theme to his earlier novels Sborov is a Russian villain although not on a level with Nikolas Rokoff and Paulvitch.
Sborov is a mean fortune hunter who degenerates rather than is regenerated in the jungle.
Jane, as the heroine, is spunky and self reliant. Althogether the type of heroine one would expect in the pages of the Post and Colliers.
In addition to being a comedy of manners Burroughs has created a mystery within a series of mysteries. He is more adept at action than suspense but overall the mysteries are well handled. Apparently ERB's admiration for Sherlock Holmes is showing up.
The central mystery on which the plot hinges is the disappearance of native girls from 16 to 20 years of age. It is rumored that a mysterious group of White savages who live somewhere to the North is the guilty party. No one knows anything of these people, the Kavuru, nor has anyone ever seen one.
The Kavuru have traveled far to the East to abduct the daughter of Muviro Tarzan's sub-chief of the famed and feared Waziri from Uziri. All roads will lead to the city of the Kavuru and its even more mysterious chief, Kavandavanda.
Thus there are parallel stories; that of Tarzan and the Waziri, and Jane and her party. Burroughs rather masterfully tells all these stories replete with many characters concisely and neatly within the customary 192 pages. Many may say he was a hack writer but I always marvel at how much he gets into his pages without one trace of confusion.
Burroughs has not only a comedy of manners and a series of mysteries but a couple love stories also. In addition to that of Tarzan and Jane and Brown and Annette with the soured relationship between the Sborovs there is a rather charming little love story of Nkima the monkey and his lady love. ERB does not stint Nkima's love story. He is obviously trying to win those lady readers of the Post or Colliers if he can make the sale. The story of monkey love is a highlight of the novel almost being worth the reading alone.
While Tarzan concentrates on locating Kavandavanda being unaware that Jane is lost in the same jungle Jane and her companions are involved in their own murder mystery. It's not much of a mystery but Sborov murders his wife trying to pin the blame on Brown. The 'wait 'till we get back to civilization' exchange is amusing.
The Kavuru, Ydeni, has been cruising the jungle on the lookout for likely females to kidnap when he discovers the group of castaways. Even though the Kavuru require sixteen to twenty year olds for their requirements (am I reading ERB right here?) Ydeni first takes Annette who should be anywhere from twenty-five to thirty.
Ydeni, the Kavuru, uses a technique of hypnosis, carefully described by ERB, to capture the girls without resistance. He make some low cooing sounds which lull the girls into coming to him. One might dismiss the technique as a flight of imagination but for the fact that hypnotism is a serious topic in the writing of the time, one referred to by ERB frequently.
Read Huxley's description of hypnopaedic conditioning in Brave New World carefully. I suspect that Burroughs has read of this technique 'of clouding the minds of men' also practiced by the Shadow somewhere and that the technique is valid.
After Annette is abducted Sborov is accused of killing her and driven away. Ydeni then comes back for Jane. Jane at this time is a forty-seven year old 'girl' but still her beauty is undimmed by the years. Nor is she any the less desirable because she is somewhat beyond the 16-20 year olds necessary for the Kavuru.
All this is as neatly done as anything Burroughs ever wrote. Obviously the extraordinary length of time he took writing it was put to good use. The way the details dovetail is quite clever.
The plot is now moved forward by Nkima, you have to reread the story to get the details straight. A message had been brought to Tarzan by a Waziri runner in a cleft stick. Nkima had grabbed the stick then run off with it to his lady love. He lost the original message paper so he came across the castaways abandoned boma where Jane had pinned a message explaining who and what they were.
Nkima, the clever little monkey, replaces the lost paper with that. Returning to Tarzan he then delivers the more important message.
Tarzan realizes that he and Jane are in the same jungle by the means of this jungle telegraph. He sets out in search coming on Brown and Tibbs after Jane has been abducted. On to the city of Kavandavanda.
Burroughs is going to need an airplane for the final sequence so providentially one runs out of gas over Kavuru City. See, ERB is thinking ahead. The aeronauts are killed in a fierce battle but the White savages are so intimidated by the plane that they don't touch it. Fortunately the plane still has a 'hat full' of gasoline. This will come in handy.
Burroughs has been following his H. Rider Haggard influence to the letter up to this point nor will he abandon it. Haggard almost invariably in his African novels describes a long trek to the scene of the action, a short burst of action and then out. Burroughs in his Tarzan series does the same.
Some few years before this Rudyard Kipling had written his marvelous short story The Man Who Would Be King. The story had a tremendous impact on the writers of the time. ERB was no less influenced. The denouement of Quest is his version of the story.
Now, Kipling and Haggard were quite close with Kipling assisting in a number of Haggard's plots. In point of fact the main story of The Man Who Would Be King was used by Haggard in his novel The People Of The Mist long before Kipling penned his version. Perhaps in Haggard's and Kipling's collaboration the plot was discussed leading to Kipling's version of the story.
Burroughs entire plot line follows Haggard's People Of The Mist closely.
Tarzan and Brown joined by Muviro who is, of course, seeking his daughter, have to get into the city. Tarzan and Brown fly the plane which thankfully has the 'hatfull' of gas, which is all they need over Kavuru City, bail out parachuting down while the plane crashes putting the city to the torch.
Up until this point Burroughs has written a carefully crafted well paced story with carefully delineated characters. He ought to have devoted the same care to Kavandavanda and the Kavuru. He should have taken a hundred pages to finish the story rather than cramming the ending through, weakening the story.
It isn't explained where these White savages came from but they are a mystic religious sect of misogynist 'monks' who have discovered immortality. As Vishwas Gaitonde pointed out in issue #59 of the BB Burroughs was probably influenced by the notoriety of Dr. 'Goat Glands' Brinkley of Kansas and Del Rio, Texas about this time. Brinkley was promising reinvigoration by injecting the gonads of goats if not immortality. The Kavurians use various animal parts and those of young women to achieve the same effect.
The similarity of this all male society to that of the Nazis who had come to power in 1933 is also evident. In predicting the result of Nazi rule in a sort of gotterdamerung Burroughs was certainly prescient. It will be remembered that Burroughs had a copy of Hitler's Mein Kampf in his library so that we may be certain that he was both interested and informed in such all male orders as the Storm Troopers and SS.
Kavandavanda who is himself both god and man not, perhaps, differently than Hitler was perceived by his followers, offers a very interesting view of religion. Before I quote this view Burroughs has a priceless line. The Kavuru idols 'grinning, leering upon the scene below, watching the silly antics of mortal men through the wisdom of eternity out of sightless eyes.'
The book is worth it for that line alone.Kavandavanda on God:A very interesting discussion in ERB's examination of religion. Perhaps he had been examining the Vedantists who were a Hindu sect in Los Angeles or any number of Hindu gurus who were practicing in LA and environs. Kavandavanda seems to have Hindu influences structured around Hitler, combined with the man who would be king and god this makes for a very interesting combination.
"I do not understand what you are talking about," said (Jane.)
"No, not now; but you will. Look at me closely. How old do you think I am?"
"In your twenties, perhaps."
"He leaned closer. "I do not know how old I am. I have lost all track. Perhaps a thousand years; perhaps a few hundred; perhaps much older. Do you believe in God?"
"Yes, most assuredly."
"Well, don't. There is no such thing - not yet, at least. That has been the trouble with the world. Men have imagined a god instead of seeking a god among themselves. They have been led astray by false prophets and charlatans. They have had no leader. God should be a leader, and a leader should be a tangible entity - something men can see and feel and touch. He must be mortal and yet immortal. He may not die. He must be omniscient. All the forces of nature have been seeking throughout all the ages to produce such a god that the world may be ruled justly and mercifully forever, a god who shall control the forces of nature as well as the minds and acts of men.
"Almost such am I, Kavandavanda, high priest of the priests of Kavuru. Already am I deathless; already am I omniscient; already, to some extent, can I direct the minds and acts of men. It is the forces of nature that yet defy me. When I have conquered them, I shall indeed be god."
Would that ERB had taken the time and effort to develop this whole scenario but he didn't, he rushed it through in hasty fire and destruction fashion. Thus what could have been a great novel is merely excellent.
Jane grabs some immortality pills Kavandavanda had shown her and the novel ends on a scene back at Tarzan's rancho.
Up to this point immortality does not seem to have been a problem with the happy-go-lucky jungle god. There are reasons why the problem should appear now. The topic has been one Burroughs has examined in his other work. John Carter of Mars had been alive so long it was probably his breath moving across the waters that separated the firmament. Martians voluntarily terminated their lives at a thousand. Ras Thavas, the Mastermind of Mars, had discovered 'the principle of life' which one would assume includes immortality.
If Burroughs had been able to make the transition from one woman to the other successfully instead of the pills which is pretty timeworn he might have been able to come up with an alternative like this:
Old Burroughs and Jason Gridley sitting back in Tarzana spot the flaw in Ydeni and Kavandavanda's perception. OB and Jason realize that while Jane is indeed still a beautiful woman it is the beauty of maturity and not youth. They also realize that the mighty rippling muscles of the Big Bwana are not responding quite as they used to.
Not only are they in touch with John Carter and Ras Thavas through the medium of the Gridley Wave but Jason has added several refinements improving the Wave from when it came out of Beta to 1.0 so that the Wave is in its 5.0.3 state which includes simple teleportation.
Realizing that it wouldn't be well for Tarzan and Jane to age, OB and Jason arrange to teleport J.C. and Ras to Africa via the Wave which, unlike the slow 4.0 model, is now instantaneous.
Thus through the good offices of OB and Jason J.C and The Mastermind singing lustily approach the boma of Tarzan and Jane:
We wandered through the boma fence
Bringing you at great expense
A treatment guaranteed to bring
Relief from all your suffering.
(apologies to Procol Harum)
Thus Ras who knowing the principle of life knows how with a few simple adjustments, one here, one there, to grant immortality to Tarzan and Jane. An advanced version of the laying on of hands. No actual potions, pills or powders, just a simple external manipulation. One twist lasts for eternity.
Having done their job J.C. and the Mastermind using the Gridley Wave 5.0.3 are then beamed back to the Red Planet. All in an afternoon's work.
ERB could have included Jack and Jackie and perhaps Jackelot thus creating the immortal Tarzan Bunch which could deal with the emerging problems as Guardians Of Africa.
ERB missed it while he wrestled with his woman problems. Wasted too much time on misogyny.
Now the Kavurans apparently in consultation with Dr. Brinkley, a tip of the hat to Vishwas Gaitonde, had mastered glandular physics so that with pills they could live for a millennium give or take a century.
Burroughs has already described the stunning beauty of Jane at 47 while at the same age Tarzan has shown no signs of advancing maturity. Unlike John Carter's birthdate which is lost in the mists of time we know for a fact that Tarzan was born in 1888. Both he and Jane should be showing some wear and tear soon.
So, one good reason for the pills is to stave off reader objections that fifty is fifty and beauty and strength fade. With the pills Tarzan and Jane can account for their youthful vigor.
Then, too, with these pills you can set the age at which you will appear. Kavandavanda looked in his twenties. Burroughs now at sixty had married a woman nearly half his age. If one assumes that the last pages of the novel were written in 1935 the difference in their ages may have been becoming more apparent to Old Burroughs. He was probably wishing that he could set his age at thirty and stay there.
Tibbs sitting modestly in the background refused his portion so Brown and Annette and Tarzan and Jane generously give his share to the little monkey Nkima. So while one assumes that this quartet is still roaming the world in youthful vigor there is a little monkey scampering through the jungle crying 'Oh, honey, here I am just as young as ever. Nkima probably has gone through ten or fifteen women by now. I wonder if he abandons them when they get old and crusty or if he loyally waits for them to die.
Nkima passes from the oeuvre with this story.
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