Review contributed by Doc
Hermes ERB Reviews
This was more
fun than you might expect. Although the books in the second half of the
series don't feature much of the creative enthusiasm or inventiveness Edgar
Rice Burroughs showed in the first dozen, each usually has a few good points
that make it worth reading at least once for a pulp fan. Two or three of
the books are completely hopeless drags, of course, and there is a LOT
of repetition from the early stories, hey, that's true of most any pulp
TARZAN TRIUMPHANT has a good deal of flowery, pretentious writing at
first about the strange ways of Fate but Burroughs drops it quickly for
his usual style.
"The Triumph of Tarzan" ran in six installments in BLUE BOOK from October
1931 to March 1932. Like most of the later entries, it doesn't exactly
have a linear plot as such. Burroughs basically throws half a dozen characters
into the African jungle, stirs in a lost city and some slavers, and lets
everyone run back and forth for two hundred pages until he drags them back
together for the resolution. Sometimes his writing reminds me a scoutmaster
trying to get an unruly troop of cub scouts lined up, with one or two always
wandering off and getting into mischief.
Like several other of the entries of this period, TARZAN TRIUMPHANT
takes place in Abyssinia (today called Ethiopa), which was much in the
news at the time as the new Emperor Haille Selassi was facing Italian aggression
and his country would eventually be invaded by Mussolini's forces in 1935.
So it was a natural setting for a writer who wanted to toss in a few European
spies and instigators to give Tarzan headaches. In the previous book TARZAN
THE INVINCIBLE (these generic titles are another uninspired aspect of the
later books), our hero had stopped a Communist expedition to stir up trouble
in Abyssinia and Egypt, causing the death of Red agent Peter Sveri in the
process. Back in Moscow, Stalin himself is annoyed enough to send an assassin
to avenge Sveri. Unfortunately for the story, it's not someone as awesome
as SMERSH's Red Grant but the rather drab and unimpressive Leon Staubich.
Back on his own turf, Tarzan is receiving a desperate plea for help
from the chief of the Bangalo people far to the north. They have been victimized
by shiftas, black raiders who take slaves to sell to the Arabs. Tarzan
says that's a shame but none of his business ("I do not interfere among
tribes beyond the boundaries of my own country, unless they commit some
depradations against my own people.") The chief answers that the shiftas
are led by a white man and "it is known among all men that you are the
enemy of bad white men." Oh well, that's different and Tarzan promptly
agrees to look into things.
This is an interesting point. Despite all the times we're told Tarzan
is a simple beast to whom all those awful humans are alike, he has a sense
of diplomacy. His personal kingdom is basically protected to provide safety
for his family (although they are not mentioned here) and his adopted tribe,
the Waziri (who are really flourishing with this guy as their overlord).
Beyond the rather large territory, he has staked out, Tarzan doesn't interfere
with what the natives do to each other, but he does step in when white
people show up and cause trouble. Maybe he feels their actions reflect
badly on himself; maybe he thinks the black Africans should be free to
kill and enslave each other their own way; and maybe as an English lord
with large business interests, he likes the situation as it is, and doesn't
welcome European agitators to disturb the status quo.
Be that as it may, the Apeman sets out to investigate. He poses as a
British traveller named Lord Passmore, with a full safari. This might have
been intended to be a big surprise at the end of the book, but Burroughs
pays so little attention to "Lord Passmore', who hardly makes an appearance,
that he might have skipped it and no one would notice. It does give Tarzan
an excuse to loll about in front of his tent, "faultlessly attired in evening
clothes", eating a good meal and sipping coffee. Maybe Jane had corrupted
him more than he admitted.
As you might expect if you've read a few of these books, Tarzan inevitably
finds a pair of warring lost cities full of white people deep inside Africa.
What the heck? How come Stanley and Burton and the other 19th Century explorers
didn't come back and mention Opar or the City of Gold or Pal-Ul-Don? It
would have made world history class more interesting. This time out, we're
dealing with Midian, an unattractive slum in the crate of an extinct volcano,
inhabited by epileptic religious fanatics descended from a follower of
the apostle Paul. These mangy mutts practice human sacrifice as part of
their distorted form of quasi-Christianity and are not much fun to visit,
being offended by anyone even smiling.
Dropping down into this hellhole are an intrepid British aviator, Lady
Barbara Collis; a sheltered geologist with good intentions but poor survival
skills, Lafayette Smith; and a ex-gangster from Chicago who has fled to
Africa because things got unhealthy back in his town, Danny "Gunner" Patrick.
The fourth member of the cast is a potential PLAYBOY Playmate of the Year
from Midian, the gorgeous blonde Jezebel. (Once again, Burroughs sets up
a colony of ugly brain-dead males and their beautiful oppressed females
- it would be nice just once if we found a lost city of homely hags and
buff young studs, but I think he was trying to win over women readers.)
All four outsiders become completely tangled up in each other's problems.
getting captured and freeing each other, fighting off the slavetakers and
wild animals, tangling with the vile Staubuch and and an Italian Comminist
he happens to meet and team up with, wandering through the jungle and running
into each other as if they were all at a small county fair instead of lost
in a vast wilderness. Meanwhile, Tarzan carries on as normal for him, dropping
out of trees and mugging lions, making daring rescues and pausing for an
occasional brief sermon about the evils of the human race and how wonderful
animals are ("Geeze! That guy ain't so crazy about men," the gangster observe
astutely.) Nothing new here, although it's handled well enough.
What I liked best about TARZAN TRIUMPHANT is that for once the comic
relief is actually amusing. "Gunner" speaks in an exaggerated big city
jargon, both Lady Barbara and Lafayette Smith speak upper class dialect
and poor Jezebel (who has been taught some English by Lady Barbara) only
catches parts of what Gunner is saying. Even Tarzan, who has travelled
around Europe and the States and who is fluent in French and Latin, sometimes
is baffled by what "Gunner" is saying. It's good-natured and inoffensive
(the characters themselves seem to enjoy the repartee), and it seems to
make these people more lifelike than the usual folks we meet in these stories.
"Gunner" also provides some crudely funny moments. He verbally mistreats
the Africans badly, calling them "smokes", "Cotton Ball here", and "tar
baby" but the natives don't seem to notice or care. Trying to trail the
villains, "Gunner" spots a footprint which is one of his own and starts
to follow it. "I guess I'm getting good," he thinks smugly, "Pretty soon
that Tarzan guy won't have any edge on me at all." All the time, he is
undergoing that character development Burroughs often put his people through,
where surviving a week in the jungle brings out the good in a person.
The inevitable romance which develops between "Gunner" and Jezebel is
surprisingly well-handled and not forced. They're an unlikely couple, a
thug who carries a Tommy gun around the African jungle and a girl brought
up in a colony of fanatics, but then we've all seen marriages where you
can't imagine how they ever got together. She seems a bit boy-crazy, too,
marvelling how every man she meets outside Midian is "beautiful" and frankly,
I think "Gunner" will have his hands full. Lafayette Smith and Lady Barbara
also hook up, but less convincingly, and I bet they didn't stay together
after the last page, err after they went to England.
(I like Lady Barbara's attitude. Captured by ignorant Midianites who
have already tried to drown her, she tricks the leader into staring down
the barrel of a revolver he has confiscated, and then tells him to pull
the trigger. "It will make a light in the little hole," she promises helpfully
ashe complies. It probaby did make a light for that split-second.)
TARZAN TRIUMPHANT is okay, not the memorable high adventure of TARZAN
THE TERRIBLE or TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN, but not the mean-spirited rants
of some of the later books, either. It has a light, cheerful feel to it,
with likeable characters who care about each other. The sharp little digs
at organized religion are perceptive and pretty bold for 1932, although
Burroughs prudently restrains from attacking mainstream churches. The holy
men of Midian "were intoning their senseless gibberish, meant to impress
the villagers with their erudition and cloak the real vacuity of their
minds, a practice not unknown to more civilized sects." Comments like that
must have slightly miffed or tickled many readers at the time.
The book is better than I had feared. It would have been nice if Burroughs
had dropped either the shiftas or the other colony of boring South MIdian,
so as to spend more time developing the Red plot to kill Tarzan. Stalin's
appearance is so brief and sketchily described as to make no impression;
I would have loved it if, at the end, Tarzan had somehow smuggled a package
into Moscow, maybe Staubuch's chewed up jacket or something, just to give
Stalin a jolt.