Themes And Variations
The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs
#14 Tarzan The Invincible
Parts 1 & 2 of an 9-part 60,000-word analysis
By 1930 ERB was fifty-six years old. An age when many or even most people have hardened into unchangeable forms. Burroughs seems to have been an exception to this rule. His ability to evolve with the times is remarkable. Some can, some can't. The problem isn't one of merely attempting to mimic the style of the period but to adapt one's mental outlook so that one thinks in the current idiom.
The post-Civil War period into which Burroughs had been born had disappeared long ago. There might have been a couple survivors of the GAR but not many. The Indian Wars of his childhood were over. The plains had been swept clean of the buffalo. Even the buffalo robe that could easily be found during the first two decades of the century became difficult to find in the twenties and impossible to find in the thirties.
So that past which must still have been vivid in ERB's memory was no more. Frank James and Cole Younger had died as late as 1915 and 1916 respectively. Buffalo Bill in 1917. TR in 1919. Charlie Siringo who had been present at the shootout with Billy The Kid was giving advice to authenticate Western movies even as he passed away in 1928. Heck, Burroughs could claim to be an authentic cowboy. He was out on the Idaho range in 1890, the heyday of the cowboy, Johnson County war and all that. His Western novels are about as authentic as you can get, maybe even more so than one of ERB's heroes, Owen Wister.
The guy was carrying impressive baggage from the past to the present and into the future. The era of the first two decades had come and gone disappearing into the Roaring Twenties, the New Era. The twenties were a major transitional period for ERB. He picked up on the new trends by such writers as F. Scott Fitzgerald and kept on hoofing it down the highways and byways. The Shaggy Man of Tarzana.
There was a hiatus of four years between Tarzan And The Ant Men, which may be considered the last of the Tarzan novels of the first period and 1927's Tarzan, Lord Of the Jungle. The latter may be considered a transitional work between the first and the later period.
Tarzan And The Lost Empire of 1928 shows him saying goodbye to the Lost Empire of his early dreams. By this time he had begun his affair with Florence Gilbert Dearholt that would result in the end of his marriage of thirty-four years to the lovely Emma.
Also a new political element entered his writing competing with the love element of Emma and Florence. Tarzan novels fairly gushed from his pen over the next seven years. Tarzan At The Earth's Core of 1928-29, Tarzan The Invincible of 1930, Tarzan Triumphant of 1931, Tarzan And The Leopard Man also of 1931, Tarzan And The City Of Gold of 1931-32, Tarzan And The Lion Man of 1933 and Tarzan's Quest of 1934-35. With the divorce his fecundity ended; he had severed his connection with his origins.
Politics had entered his life in earnest with the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He had always been involved with politics to some extent. In his youth his basic attitudes had been formed by immigration while he watched immigrant German socialists parade through the streets of Chicago under the red flag shouting down with America. The Russian situation had troubled him too. The villains of the Russian Quartet had been Russians. A very great many of his villains were Russians. The Communist leaders of Tarzan The Invincible are Russian.
In 1919 he rushed his political tract Under The Red Flag denouncing the Russian Revolution to his publishers. Haven't read it but I suspect it was much too polemical for the pulp fiction magazines for which he wrote. If it was anything like The Little Door I can understand why it was rejected on literary grounds. I don't doubt the novel was rejected for political reasons also as Reds and Fellow Travelers had already worked themselves into the cultural edifices of the US.
Certainly he was flagged as a counterrevolutionary to be watched and interfered with. It is now becoming apparent that ERB was more widely read in the new Soviet union than previously thought. Josef Stalin may even have followed the Tarzan series. We know for certain that Tarzan novels were read to workers on the job.
It appears that H.G. Wells was appointed to harass Burroughs in print. His 1923 novel Men Like Gods seems to reference Burroughs in a negative way. The means of communication between Wells, The Reds and ERB remains to be discovered bu there appears to be novelistic warfare between the two. Wells seemingly was the Soviet hatchet man attacking other notable counterrevolutionaries such as Aldous Huxley.
ERB refined his approach getting his condemnatory novel of Bolshevism, The Moon Maid, published in 1926. The Moon Maid wasn't that satisfactory although Wells replied to it in 1928 with Mr. Blettsworthy Of Rampole Island.
Wells unmistakably alludes to Burroughs in this novel calling him insane. Tarzan At The Earth's Core which is an attack on some core beliefs of the revolutionaries may possibly have been a rushed response to Blettsworthy.
In Tarzan The Invincible which may be incontrovertibly considered his third attack on the Revolution and an answer to Wells ERB succeeded in the grand manner. He shed the nineteenth century trappings of The Moon Maid that was written in the style of Wells' First Men In The Moon to write a thoroughly modern novel. The book might be considered a prototype of the modern spy thriller, one of the first of the genre. Not only a prototype of the genre but as David Adams points out in ERBzine 0199 a superb blending of fact and fiction:Fictional author: Burroughs pulls off a tour de force by narrating an introduction in his own voice, then slipping into the story so smoothly one is deceived into believing it is part of a newspaper story in an historical setting.By which David means current events occurring almost as we speak. Tour de force is correct. David got the handle on that one. Tarzan is actually integrated into a current political situation as an actual historical figure. He interacts with fictional agents of Stalin who are represented as real acting under orders from Moscow. Incredibly Opar devolves from a mere fantasy of Burroughs into an actual geographic location somewhere in Southern Abyssinia. The Soviet agent Dorsky tells Tarzan that they know that he knows where the gold of Opar is hidden and that he is going to tell him.
Thus Stalin has apparently kept up on Tarzan's adventures which he thinks are real being aware of the source of Tarzan's wealth and his earlier expeditions to Opar. In fact, one knows that Tarzan's adventures are common knowledge which they should be as several millions of copies had been sold worldwide. Tarzan's amanuensis Burroughs had seen to that.
The Soviets had located Kitembo of the Basembos who knew where Opar was and had actually seen it. The Basembos were native to the area of the railhead at Lake Victoria. One assumes that Kitembo must have known one of the faithful Waziri who showed him the ruins. As ERB explains only Tarzan and some of the Waziri had been to Opar. That overlooks Ozawa, who probably bore Tarzan a little grudge for the gold taken from him, and the bearers of Esteban Miranda of Tarzan And The Golden Lion but possibly the well-known Curse Of Atlantis had carried them all off. Haven't heard of the Curse Of Atlantis? Well, you've heard of the Curse Of The Pharaohs haven't you? Same thing only different.
The Reds trying to loot Opar isn't all that far-fetched. As has been mentioned elsewhere Stalin actually ordered his scientists at about this time to cross an ape and a human in an attempt to create a new super warrior that could run on regular. We know that Stalin was a fan of the Tarzan series, both books and movies, possibly even an admirer of our favorite author. The possibility of Stalin thinking a eugenic hybrid of ape and human possible from reading Burroughs seems to have a high degree of probability. The Oparian males were believed to have some ape blood in them. If word of the experiments had reached Burroughs, Tarzan The Invincible could be in part a spoof on Moscow. So, in a way, the blending of fact and fiction David notes could on the other hand be a blending of fiction and science by Stalin. Amusing to think about. I'm sure more information will surface in the future. At any rate this story does read as unreported behind the scenes actual event.
Let's take a look at how Burroughs sets it up.I am no historian, no chronicler of facts...OK, so we're warned that we're about to put on.Had the story I am about to tell you broken in the newspapers of two certain European powers, it might have precipitated another and a more terrible world war. But with that I am not particularly concerned. What interests me is that it is a good story that is particularly well adapted to my requirements through the fact that Tarzan of the Apes was intimately connected with many of its most thrilling episodes.Ah, so Tarzan really exists.
That passage is reminiscent of both the first framing story of Tarzan of the Apes and any number of story introductions of Dr. Watson for Sherlock Holmes. The echoes are very strong. An overlooked fact is that Burroughs actually plays Dr. Watson's role for Tarzan. Burroughs is in fact the chronicler of Tarzan's adventures as Watson was of Holmes'.
Burroughs goes on to establish his story's authenticity:Take the story simply as another Tarzan story, in which, it is hoped, you will find entertainment and relaxation. If you find food for thought so much the better.That seems like it covers all the bases of what a story should have. It is also pure Dr. Watson or, rather, Arthur Conan Doyle; let's not fail to differentiate between fact and fiction. So far what Burroughs has posited could well be true. After all few read and fewer remembered the news item which appeared inconspicuously sometime in the not too distant past. Now Burroughs removes the story from the news item another step and quietly slips into fiction.
Doubtless, very few of you saw, and still fewer will remember having seen, an news dispatch that appeared inconspicuously (how inconspicuously?) in the papers some time since, reporting a rumor that French colonial troops stationed in Somaliland, on the northeast coast of Africa, had invaded an Italian African colony. Back of that news item is a story of conspiracy, intrigue, adventure, and love-- a story of scoundrels and of fools, of brave men, of beautiful women, a story of the beasts of the forest and the jungle.If there were few who saw the newspaper account of the invasion of Italian Somaliland upon the northeast coast of Africa, it is equally a fact that none of you saw a harrowing incident that occurred in the interior some time previous to the affair.Um, yes, if there were few...then it's a fact there were none. It seems ERB has established an incontestable 'fact'. So if you let that sophistry slip by you he's going to tell you pure fiction. If you know the difference you won't care. Anyway his intro was a perfect synthesis of nineteenth century humbug brought completely up to date.
Burroughs' writing style is even close to reportorial. Tarzan, La and Opar become 'real' as 'real life' Reds make their assault on the ancient Atlantian colony. So, in a way, Atlantis becomes an established fact rather than an hypothesis.
Burroughs uses clear, concise sentences developing his story news style. Fore once his story is evenly paced with a well developed beginning, middle and unrushed end. He doesn't cram a hundred page ending into ten as usual.
While one hesitates to call the book his best Tarzan novel it may be his best written. Thoroughly modern in its swift and pleasant reading with wonderful detailing I certainly can't consider the novel hack work or inferior to any of the Tarzan novels in any way. The characters are entirely plausible, the premise doesn't seem far fetched. There are historical antecedents that we will examine. The novel could easily take its place among the major spy thrillers written in the last fifty or sixty years. David is right. The novel is a major tour de force.
Time On His Hands
I pair this novel with Tarzan At The Earth's Core. Burroughs could have titled that novel Tarzan In Pellucidar but he didn't. Why not? Probably because he was trying to avoid as much confusion between his two imaginary worlds as possible. Earth's Core isn't merely a story in which Tarzan makes a guest shot in another of Burroughs' worlds. Rather ERB is making a serious exploration of Einstein's Theory of Time and Space. The novel is written to disprove the objective existence of Time. Burroughs' conclusion is that time is merely a human construct for mankind's own convenience but not substantial. I think he's right.
The nature of Time was a topic of serious discussion during the late nineteenth century, into the twentieth, still going on today. Indeed the Pellucidar series as a whole is a discussion on the aspects of Time. Of course Burroughs was familiar also with H.G. Wells' Time Machine.
Perhaps one of the more interesting notions of Time and Space and time travel was one advanced by Mark Twain in 1916 in his interesting novel The Mysterious Stranger. In his story Twain imagines that space and time are assembled like a multi-storied building with each diorama of time and space continuing in replay eternally. Thus his hero, #44, scoots around in time and space in what is apparently a system of chutes and ladders.
It is possible in this system to visit ancient Egypt to watch the Pyramids being built, climb through the years to discover the head of the Sphinx sticking out of the sand with Napoleon in 1798, climb once again to watch the first Aswan dam being built, move up a story to two to watch the High Dam being built and off to Troy to stand in the front ranks with poor maligned Ajax.
The Time Machine, Einstein's Theory and The Mysterious Stranger, now add Tarzan At The Earth's Core. There are more similarities than dissimilarities.
ERB apparently didn't think he made his point in At The Earth's Core or perhaps he received some criticism from someone so he carries the discussion over into Invincible. While incongruous for this story ERB works it in.
As there are no books on Einstein in his library one may ask what evidence there is that ERB had ever thought of Relativity. Well, I've got the evidence right here: p. 104...but though Time and space go on forever, whether in curves or straight lines...One can't mention curved space and Time without being familiar with Einstein. And then, Einstein absurdly claimed that a nonexistent mental contruct like Time forms a Fourth Dimension which somehow interacts with the other three. We are still waiting for a demonstration of that but we'll let it pass. I'm sure he picked that up from H.G. Wells' Time Machine which was a very fine piece of imaginative literature but reflected no known physics then or now. Someone ought to pin a big red bozo nose on Einstein but, back to the future.
ERB had discussed the notion of Time throughly in Tarzan At The Earth's Core. Actually that's a contradiction of terms as a hollow earth obviates the notion of core. The key fact at the Earth's Core is that it is always high noon. The central sun knows only endless day withut a contrasting night to give the appearance of Time. Without the contrast between day and night and the revolution of the Earth around the Sun the concept of Time disappears; there is nothing to measure.
In Invincible Burroughs explains it this way, if you didn't catch it in At The Earth's Core. P. 104 again, same paragraph:The beasts of the jungle acknowledge no master, least of all the cruel tyrant that drives civilized man thrughout his headlong race from the cradle to the grave-- Time, the master of countless millions of slaves. Time, the measurable aspect of duration, was meaningless to Tarzan and Tantor.Not only is Time meaningless to Tarzan and Tantor but Time is meaningless to the the Universe itself. Nothing that occurs in the Universe is dependent on Time not can Time change any occurrence. The so-called Fourth Dimension is totally ineffective. Everything will happen just as it does now and has always without any reference to Time. The progress of a physical action will progress in scientifically dtermined steps from inception to completion without any interference from that clown Einstein's 'fabric of Time and Space.'
That is the import of timelessness at the Earth's core. The inhabitants live and die without the ability to know they are getting older as there is no night, day or year. The organism merely comes into existence, behaving according to physical laws determined by genes and other micro-organisms progressing through all the changes until the final change which change no longer has any conscious meaning.
The same is true of suns and galaxies. It is virtually meaninless to say the Sun is several billions of years old. It is only a mental construct that lets us grasp a concept of duration. It is much more relevant to say, for instance, that the changes in the Sun's development are, say, 30% completed. You see, it's all quantatative not qualitative. Barring accidents and diseases, at twenty the average human life span in the US is 25% consumed. The changes relative to that portion of development in the organism have occurred and will not occur again. On that basis I have used up about 85% of the physical changes allotted my organism. The nature of future changes are predictable. They cannot be changed. This has no reference to Time no matter what state of development an organism is in.
While in a state of depletion I become 'old' only if my psychology is affected by the concept of 'age.' While my physical capabilities are not what they were at twenty, that phase of development having been passed through, my mental capabilities have developed accordingly. As my body has decreased in powers my mind has increased. The beginning has compensated the end. If I die today or tomorrow that is as it must be. Everything has its end. There is no tragedy involved.
Life and death are completed unaffected by Time. If time 'stopped' as people imagine it can, everything would continue as it is now. Organisms merely run their physical course. That is the point Burroughs is trying to make. He is repudiating Einstein.
As a young man I had been conditioned to reverence Einstein. I did this unquestioningly and, boy, was I sincere. I disgust myself in memory. But then, somewhere along the line the hypnotic spell wore off. Einstein began to unravel before my eyes. It wasn't that I questioned his reputation it was just that a mist began to lift. I began to have doubts; sort of religious doubts. I blinked once and Einstein was no longer the archetype of genius. At the second blink I began to ask questions. I tripped over the notion of the physical reality of Time just as Burroughs did.
When I read the ancient historian Josephus I began to sense the specious nature of the problem. According to Josephus Abraham was the greatest astrologer cum astronomer of his time just as Einstein is thought to be the greatest of ours. At the time of the transition between the Age of Taurus and the Age of Aries Abraham had an astrological/astronomical dispute with the academy.
You see, at that stage of the evolution of human consciousness astronomy and astrology were united into one discipline. The magical element of astrology wouldn't be separated from the scientific element of astronomy until the scientific consciousness of humanity had separated itself from the magical or religious which two systems are synonymous. The concept of god functions only in a magical sense as his presence is even less noticeable than that of Time.
However magic and astrology are still part of human consciousness although with a proto-scientific basis so that systems organized perhaps tens of thousands of years ago continue to function through inertia. I have been accused of being New Age. Quite frankly as New Age in my view rejects the scientific consciousness as much as any other religious system, Fundamentalist Christianity for instance, hint hint, I cannot be New Age. But, I sure like the way they talk.
What I discuss is scientific history. Facts which religious people reject because they disavow the ideas behind them but accept as real, i.e. Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live. Why bother worrying about it; witches do not exist except in the imagination.
So whether you 'believe' in astrology, the Zodiac or whatever is irrelevant. The fact is at one time in history people universally did and they acted on their beliefs.
At any rate the fact is at the time of the transition between the Age of Taurus and the Age of Aries Abraham had an astrological/astronomical dispute with the Chaldean astronomers of Ur. As I understand it they said the religious archetype was changing with the transition from Taurus to Aries. (I think of this as a form of set theory; it is so because everyone agrees it is so. No different than now.) Abraham argued that the archetype of the Ages was Eternal, Rock Of Ages to you religious types, Ages are the twelve zodiacal signs. (Hello, Central? Put me through to God.)
Now, this is astrologically impossible. The Earth wobbles on its axis visible at the North Pole so that every twenty-five thousand years or so it creates a Great Year then begins again. The ancients divided the Great Year into twelve periods, called Ages, to correspond with the months of the terrestrial year.
Apparently Abraham denied this and adamantly insisted on the Eternal. For this reason, according to Josephus, Abraham and his cult of Terahites were run out of town.
Lousy astronomers then, Abraham's descendants had learned little by the time Einstein stepped onto the world stage to give his oration. Just as Abraham had voiced foolishness four thousand years previously Einstein did the same in our time. There are those who seriously argue that time travel is possible in Einstein's universe. Well, maybe in his but not in this one.
Nothing is relative but one's point of view. The physical universe is one of absolutes; that is the nature of science. Science cannot be relative; in order for an experiment to be true it must replicate itself the same way in the same conditions. As unpleasant as that may be to some intellects there is in fact only one way in a given sent of circumstances. A+B will always equal A+B. In one switches to A+C then the result will always be A+C. There is nothing relative about it. You may religiously expect other results but you will be eternally disappointed. So Einstein said that the further out in Space his mind penetrated the closer he got to god. Who can say, but he never got close enough to touch God. Einstein was not a scientist. He was a Rabbi. There is no g-d to get closer to. I'm sure that a good Rabbi would find arguments in the Talmud almost identical to those of Einstein.
Burroughs saw through Einstein hence his arguments disproving the physical existence of Time and the futility of any supposed Fourth Dimension. These are religious matters requiring a belief in a supernatural being.
Having said that Time was measureless to Tarzan and Tantor which was not entirely true since the rotation of the Earth divides 'time' into night and day unlike at the Earth's core, Burroughs then goes on to say, p. 104, same paragraph:Of all the vast resources that Nature had placed at their disposal, she had been most profligate with Time, since she had awarded to each all that he could use during his lifetime, no matter how extravagant of it he might be. So great was the supply of it that it could not be wasted, since there is always more, even up to the moment of death, after which it ceased, with all things, to be essential to the individual. Tantor and Tarzan therefore were wasting no time as they communed together in silent meditation...A beautiful and nice piece of sophistry. Regardless of the Time involved, immutable physical changes continued to take place. What opportunities appropriate to that physical state were lost forever.
Apropos of which carrying his argument further, on p. 120 he says:Time is of the essence of many things to civilized man. He fumes and frets, and reduces his mental and physical efficiency if he is not accomplishing something concrete during the passage of every minute of that medium which seems to him like a flowing river, the waters of which are utterly wasted if they are not utilized as they pass by.I understand what ERB is saying, of course, I'm virtually a disciple. Tarzan lolling on the back of Tantor achieved his goal more easily than the frantic Colt. Still, one should remember: Work, for the hour grows late. Those irreversible physical changes are drawing one closer to the grave. Get it done now.
Imbued by some such insane conception of time, Wayne Colt sweated and stumbled through the jungle, seeking his companions as though the fate of the universe hung upon the slender chance that he could reach them without the loss of a second.
ERB displays a seeming peevishness over the issue which has little or no bearing on this story. It is an interesting aside but it does not illuminate the tale. Maybe somebody criticized the ideas expressed in At The Earth's Core and Burroughs is carrying on the argument. Nobody paid any attention, still I am charmed with the vision of Tantor and Tarzan suspended in space and time wandering blissfully through the jungle unaware of any impending doom.All pagination 1964 Ballantine Edition
Time On His Hands
Through The Dark Continent With ERB
Multi-Culturalism In Tarzan The Invincible
Six White Men In Search Of An African Empire
Inside the Gates of Opar
Outside the Gates of Opar
Red, White And Black
a. Politics: The Entertainer
b. Religion: Standing On Promises
c. Love is a Huring Game
Tarzan the Invincible
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