TARZAN AND THE JEWELS
Review contributed by
Hermes ERB Reviews
From the November and
December 1916 issues of ALL-STORY WEEKLY, this is more like it! I started
these reviews with some of the lesser known books in the series and, well,
there`s a reason why those later books are not as well known. They`re not
very good, particularly when compared with the earlier entries. JEWELS
OF OPAR, on the other hand, is a lot of fun to breeze through. It doesn`t
have a linear plot as much as a tangle of threads weaving in and out (Burroughs
basically sets a dozen characters loose in the jungle and has them bounce
off each other for a hundred and fifty pages), but the writing itself has
much more energy and enthusiasm than the latter half of the series showed.
There is more description and detail, and plenty of vivid incidents which
may not be plausible but are still dramatic (a rhino in a trench fighting
seven lions may be something that wouldn`t happen in real life, but it`s
a wild image.) And the final paragraph is in effect a wonderful punchline
that leaves the reader knowing something which the puzzled characters will
For me at least, the most
interesting aspect of Tarzan is his duality. He`s unique in the world,
the only one of his kind. He can enjoy an art gallery in London with Jane,
while not being really happy in the constricting clothing and stuffy interiors.
Yet back among the great apes or his Waziri, he`s also somehow not fully
at home either. Tarzan is the classic misfit and outsider, living in two
worlds but not wholly of either. This is something that was lost after
the tenth book or so, where the Apeman apparently abandoned his family
and went back to a simplistic jungle life. In JEWELS OF OPAR, he comes
back on horseback "from a tour of inspection of his vast African estate"
and then spends "the afternoon in his study, reading and answering letters".
Yet the very next night, he`s droppng naked out of a tree onto a deer because
he just HAS to kill something himself and devour some blody flesh.
Tarzan is actually more savage
than his tribe of Waziri, since they will not eat some of the odd items
he enjoys and they prefer their meat cooked. The Apeman enjoys fresh meat,
uncooked and unspoiled (hey, Tarzan, how`s that trichinosis going lately?)
While in later books, our boy seems to live entirely on raw meat and river
water, here Burroughs is still taking time to mention that Tarzan eats
a wide variety of prey, including "beetles, rodents and caterpillars".
Once or twice, there is mention of fruit, which may not be as macho as
raw flesh but which is useful to prevent scurvy.
The tangled events in the
story spring from the misdeeds of a renegade Belgian officer, Albert Werper,
and his uneasy alliance with a vicious Arab cut-throat named Achmet Zek.
Werper is weak and greedy, more an opportunist than the outright predator
Zek is. Tarzan has returned to steal a hundred ingots of gold from the
hidden treasure vaults of Opar (hey, the Oparians don`t even know about
the gold and wouldn`t have any use for it if they did, so Tarzan feels
it might as well be put to good use on his plantation, right?). Werper
ends up with a pouch of incredibly valuable gems (thus, the book`s title).
Tarzan gets away with the sacred sacrificial knife of the Flaming God and
so has a steaming La chasing him with fifty of her brutish followers. Meanwhile,
Jane has been abducted by the Arabs, who think they can get a good price
for her in a harem somewhere, and a giant Waziri warrior named Mugambi*
is tracking that party with determination to rescue Jane and avenge his
slain tribesmen. So there are a lot of people chasing each other back and
forth through Afriica, and a lot of agita.
To complicate things just
a bit more, Tarzan has been conked on the head by falling rubble and suffered
one of his occasional amnesiac episodes, where he has forgotten all about
everything that happened since his puberty. More than a few commentaries
have wondered if, deep down, the Apeman doesn`t welcome these memory losses
and perhaps subconsciously cause them. It`s a great way to forget
all his responsibilities and problems, just being a hairless ape running
through the jungle for a while.
Opar itself is one of the
great lost civilizations in pulp fiction. Crumbling and nearly ruined,
the last surviving outpost of one of Atlantis` colonies, Opar has a population
of males who sound a lot like stereotyped Neanderthals. Short, stocky,
with long powerful arms and bent legs, the Oparians also have interbred
with the apes. In fact, they speak Mangani and have some of the apes living
with them. (I`d love to see National Geographic do a special on these guys.)
Yet, somehow through some real stretching of credulity, the females are
still gorgeous beauties "descended from a single priestess of the royal
house of Atlantis who had been in Opar at the time of the great catastrophe.
Such was La."
You have to like La, she`s
got such a hopeless life. Incredibly beautiful but condemned to eventually
have to choose a mate from the Opar galoots, she has spent her life sacrificing
people in cold blood on the altars of the Flaming God. As soon as she sees
Tarzan, she`s smitten with lust and becomes a "pulsing, throbbing volcano
of desire" (Yowza!). But of course, Tarzan isn`t interested in her in the
least and she decides to torture him to death. I think we`ve all had relationships
By the way, doesn`t it seem
odd that Tarzan doesn`t respond at all to La? Here`s this completely luscious
woman rubbing her body all over him for hours, kissing him all over, fervently
pleading with him to love her, they`re both essentially naked.. and yet
the Apeman just smiles and goes to sleep. What the heck? At this point,
Tarzan is going through one of his amnesiac periods where he has absolutely
no memory of Jane and yet he doesn`t react to La a bit. Maybe Burroughs
was just trying to tease the readers without having the editor reach that
old blue pencil...
Much of what seemed tired
and unexciting in the later books is here presented with real conviction.
When Tarzan leaps on a lion to kill it with only a knife, it seems as extremely
dangerous as it should be presented. The Apeman takes bruising punishment
as the furious cat rolls about and it`s not the ho-hum routine stunt it
seems to be later on. ("To have loosened for an instant his grip there,
would have been to bring him within reach of those tearing talons or rending
fangs, and have ended forever the grim career of this junglebred English
himself quickly tired of Jane Clayton (even intending to kill her off in
TARZAN THE UNTAMED), she brings a focus and center to the Apeman`s life
that he badly needs. Without her, he slips back into being a one-dimensional
character not much more complicated than his usual film persona. And frankly,
Jane is very likeable, a down to earth lady who can take care of herself
even when dealing with Arab slavers or hungry lions. Her presence is sorely
missed after the halfway point of the series.
*Mugambi is another character
who deserved to be used much more in the books. He first saved Tarzan`s
life in THE BEASTS OF TARZAN, became initiated into the Waziri tribe, and
seems to accompany the Apeman and Jane as a bodyguard and companion. "Now
Mugambi had been in London with his master. He was not the unsophisticated
savage that his apparel proclaimed him. He had mingled with the cosmopolitan
hordes of the greatest city in the world; he had visited museums and inspected
shop windows; and, besides, he was a shrewd and intelligent man." I would
have liked to see Burroughs do a story where Tarzan gets in trouble in
London and Mugambi has to go bail him out.