TARZAN AND THE LION MAN
Review contributed by Doc
Hermes ERB Reviews
From 1933, where it was first serialized in LIBERTY (a
bit more prestigious a magazine than the usual ALL-STORY pulp), this is
one of the weaker entries in the series. It gets off to a dreary start,
detailing a bunch of unlikeable characters entering Africa to film a movie,
and it`s almost half over before things start to perk up. On the other
hand, it does have the wild concept of a lost city of talking gorillas
who till fields and build stone castles, and who are named after 16th century
figures from English history like Henry the VIII and the Duke of Buckingham.
There`s also a great mad scientist villain who calls himself God, and some
amusing if heavy-handed satire as Tarzan reacts to Hollywood and its denizens.
The Lion Man of the title is not, as one might expect,
a genuine rival for Tarzan like Kaspa or Ka-Zar might be, but a character
in a proposed film to be shot deep in Darkest Africa. This feral hero is
to be played y Stanley Obroski, a hunky tower of beef who, strangely enough,
resembles Tarzan enough that the two can impersonate each other without
being detected. (There seems to be a lot of these guys. It`d be interesting
if Tarzan got this Stanley and Esteban Miranda in the same room and gave
Jane something to fantasize about.) Although Stanley looks the part, he`s
a rather dim guy without much courage.
The rest of the movie crew are basically unpleasant specimens
whose struggles to get their massive equipment through the jungle make
for some dismal reading ("Oh well, you got to treat these niggers rough"
says one of the crew as the drunken director is using a whip on the natives
hired to do the hard work.) A stunt woman named Rhonda Terry, however,
is down to earth, resourceful and good natured, and although the movie
star Naomi Madison starts out as a grotesque caricature of a diva, she
starts to see the light as they`re hunted by cannibals, kidnapped by Arab
slavers, chased by lions... you know, the usual stuff.
One thing about Burroughs that never fails to irritate
me is his attitude toward human beings. He fills his books with the worst
examples of people available and then compares them with the allegedly
pure, noble animals of the jungle who don`t have any vices. Of course,
the fact that he doesn`t seem to know much about wildlife really stacks
the deck. In fact, most animals who live in groups are constantly scheming
and struggling for status and dominance, trying to challenge the alpha
males or push out dominant females as soon as they feel up to it, and animals
which are weak or getting old are in constant danger of being mauled or
abandoned by their own kind. It sure doesn`t sound like they have any moral
superiority over humans. Sometimes it seems that Burroughs didn`t so much
glamorize other beasts so much as he disliked his own species.
Anyway, the mastermind behind the Gorilla City which is
called "London" turns out to be a one hundred year old Briton who did research
with early geneticists like Mendel and actually discovered a way to implant
"germ cells" from humans into gorillas and vice versa. Settling in Africa,
he began basically transferring human DNA (although of course neither he
nor Burroughs uses that term) into gorillas. Sure enough, in a few generations,
the great apes began to start speaking and grasping the rudiments of agriculture.
If that`s not wild enough, the cells which the mad scientist
used had been taken from the dead interred at Westminster Abbey! So these
talking gorillas have a natural affinity to English culture and are an
odd lot indeed. As if a settlement of these critters isn`t enough to deal
with, not far away is a colony of their outcasts... offspring which look
partly gorilla and partly human or else resemble California surfers but
have ape brains. These mutants are not much fun to visit, either, although
the gorgeous and completely uninhibited Balza might be a fun date if she
didn`t drop a rock on your head.
As for "God" himself, once he started getting all creaky
and aged, he reversed his genetic process and started injecting cells from
healthy young gorillas into himself. So now he`s a bizarre hybrid of both
species, piebald black and white skinned, with patches of fur and fangs
in a human face. This is the stuff of classic pulp horror of this era,
and I wouldn`t be surprised if this guy wouldn`t eventually have made his
way to Harrisonville, New Jersey and found himself being shot by Jules
de Grandin. "God" intends to regain his complete human physiology by simply
eating his prisoners, which works faster than all that cell implant business
and he implies that before he eats the beautiful Rhonda, he might have
something else on his agenda.
There is a lot of humour in this book, much of which is
rather obvious but there are some genuinely amusing moments. When Tarzan
meets one of the talking gorillas, he growls at him in the mangani speech.
The gorilla answers in perfect English, and this reversal of the expected
stuns both of them. It`s also a nice touch that the Apeman blithely allows
everyone to think he`s the cowardly Stanley, purely for his amusement.
Tarzan`s mischievous trickster nature is one of the more appealing sides
of his complex personality. (Stanley`s unhappy fate seems unnecessary but
it also keeps the reader from being too sure about which way the story
is going to go.)
Hollywood and its inhabitants come in for severe thrashing
by the author, reflecting Burroughs` unhappy experiences with the Tarzan
films. And in an epilogue set a year after the main story, the Apeman travels
to California as John Clayton to see what this mythical place is like.
Just as a goof, he decides to audition for the lead role
in a Tarzan movie and is flatly turned down as being the wrong type. (Hey,
wait a minute.... doesn`t he look exactly like Stanley Obrosky, who was
chosen as the perfect type by the same company?) And when a supposedly
tame lion gets rowdy and seems about to devour the genuine star, Tarzan
leaps upon the beast in his long practiced routine and stabs it to death.
("My God, you`ve killed our best lion. He was worth ten thousand dollars
if he was worth a cent. You`re fired!")
You might think he`d take Jane with him to hobnob in Hollwood
but in fact she`s not even mentioned in the book, and for all a new reader
could tell, Tarzan is just a happy Apeman lounging around the jungle with
his big golden lion buddy. Having Tarzan married but with his wife offstage
meant that he could never really have any romantic adventures and that
he lost the benefit of his supporting cast.. one reason why the second
half of the series seems a bit downhill.