TARZAN AND THE LOST EMPIRE
A Review Submitted by Doc Hermes
From BLUE BOOK, where it was published
in five parts from October 1928 to February 1929, this is pretty good stuff.
The book has the same basic premise as the one before it, TARZAN LORD OF
THE JUNGLE (two eternally warring cities of white people deep inside Africa,
Tarzan getting tangling up in local politics, a struggling romance between
a local couple), but Edgar Rice Burroughs tells his tale with such energy,
attention to detail and broad characterization, that it`s a lot of fun.
The action n the gladiator scenes is brisk and bloody, the melodrama of
the scheming conspirators works well, and there`s even some humour that`s
not overdone as one villain tries to impress the ingenue with an unsuccessful
dive into the public baths.
I don`t think much of Burroughs` theory
that crime is entirely hereditary and that if you simply kill all criminals
and their families (!?), there won`t be any more lawbreakers. Good thing
he didn`t have a brother convicted of manslaughter, he`d come up with a
new philosophy in a hurry.
This is a sort of transitional book in
the series. My favorite group of stories start around TARZAN THE UNTAMED
and end around TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN. The Apeman as portrayed there is
a complicated mixture of wild beast and English lord, he has a supporting
cast and family he loves, and there is enough action and surprises in each
book to make them enjoyable even if you had never heard of Tarzan. By TARZAN
AND THE LOST EMPIRE, our hero is starting to drift down into a simpler
characterization. He still patrols his territory with the fighting Waziri
and his friend Muviro, there is a reference to his bungalow home and estates...
but his wife and son (and grandson) are not even mentioned in a passing
thought. Some sort of marital difficulties there, Lord Greystoke?
After TARZAN AT THE EARTH`S CORE, the Apeman
seems to decisively abandon his family and estates to wander carefree through
the jungle with only his chums Jad-Bal-Ja and Nkima (who don`t place any
responsibilities on him). He also seems much more sour and unpleasant in
the later stories, with ongoing sermons about how awful the human race
is. In this book, though, Tarzan still likes people enough to have friends
he is glad to see, to go on a dangerous quest to rescue Erich von Harben,
a young man he doesn`t know, and he is perfectly happy to stay with a family
in the Lost Empire for weeks while learning the language and history. His
strong curiosity is one of the things I llike best about the early Tarzan;
he is always asking questions and snooping around for its own sake. We
find that he went to the trouble on his own to learn how to read Latin
and has read Virgil and Caesar`s Commnentaries. Pretty impressive, considering
no one was making him do it.
Yet the British peer who sat up at night
in his srtudy with dictionaries and reference books about Roman history
is the same man who kills yet another full-grown lion with only a knife.
"The savage personal combat, the blood, the contact with the mighty body
of the carnivore, had stripped from him the last vestige of the thin veneer
of civilization. It was no English lord who stood there with one foot upon
his kill and through narrowed lids glared about him at the roaring populace.
It was no man, but a wild beast, that raised its head and voiced the savage
victory cry of the bull ape, a cry that stilled the multitude and froze
There`s that dual nature that makes Tarzan
so interesting. He`s not a literal split personality; the wild beast side
is much stronger and more the "real" Tarzan, but the sophisticated aristocrat
who sat in the House of Lords and enjoyed Parisan art galleries and museums
is not just an empty pose either.
Oddly, there`s some talk at the beginning
of the mysterious city as being a survival of the fabled lost tribes of
Biblical history but this is quickly dropped. Instead, we`re dealing here
with the surviving outpost of a Roman incursion into Africa, still keeping
its society and customs amost completely unchanged after a thousand years
with only slight influences from the native cultures (prettty darn unlikely,
if you ask me). They still think there`s a Caesar ruling in Rome, they
still have senators and patricians and all that. In effect, this is Tarzan
dropping into a gladiator movie for an adventure. (Of COURSE, he ends up
fighting in the Colisseum, it`s mandatory for an action hero to have at
least on a Coliseeum scene in his career.) Long ago, a civil war resulted
in a breakaway faction founding its own city, and now there is ongoing
feuding between Castrum Mare and Castrum Sanguinarus.
The pair of enemy outposts is part of the
successful formula but it seriously weakens this particular story. There`s
really no reason why Erich von Harben couldn`t be trapped in the same city
as Tarzan without running into him, and the hopping back and forth between
two very similar settings (complete with two pairs of struggling young
lovers) is a bit confusing. Also, the exciting climax (which is vividly
presented) with the oppressed populace marching in a bloody uprising, grim
legionnaires slaughtering crowds, half a dozen of Tarzan`s great apes as
a hairy commando squad (despite "their disposition to attack friend as
well as foe"), the heroic Waziri doing their calvary charge... whew. All
that big finale is diffused by having to then go back to the other city
and see how von Harben is doing with his own lesser troubles.
TARZAN AND THE LOST EMPIRE introduces
Nkima, the little monkey who takes on the traditional sidekick role for
the remainder of the series. (Does Tarzan ever mention that he, like the
rest of the great apes, used to eat tailed monkeys when they could catch
them? Might dampen the friendship.) I like Nkima, he`s as much of a troublemaker
as he is a help but he saves the day enough times to make his simpleminded
chatter forgiveable. Every hero can use a bumbling pal to help with the
plotting now and then. It`s interesting that except for Jad-Bal-Ja and
NKima (and good ol` Tantor when they run into each other), Tarzan isn`t
really friends with the wild animals. Despite his speeches about how admirable
and noble the beasts are, he pretty much ignores them until he`s hungry.