A Review Submitted by Doc
From the October 1935 to March
1936 issues of BLUE BOOK, where it appeared as "Tarzan and the Immortal
Men", this is surprisingly lively and enjoyable. The Tarzan series peaked
about halfway through; after TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN, Burroughs dropped
our hero`s family as though they had never existed and grudgingly cranked
out a repetitive number of books where the Apeman stumbled upon paired
warring cities of lost civilizations. None of these books are completely
hopeless or unreadable*, but compared to, say, TARZAN THE TERRIBLE or TARZAN
AND THE JEWELS OF OPAR, they are limp and unexciting.
The best thing about TARZAN`S
QUEST is the unexpected return of Jane, Lady Greystoke. We haven`t seen
her since TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION and she hasn`t even been mentioned
for the past ten years. For all a new reader would know, the Apeman is
a solitary creature meandering through Africa with only a monkey and a
lion as companions. Not only does Jane turn up on the very first page,
she actually gets more time onstage than Lord Greystoke himself.
Jane is a delight, as always.
She is so resourceful, competent, thoughtful and good-natured that she
could carry the book by herself. Stranded in the jungle with a motley crew
of people totally unsuited for survival there, she takes charge as well
as Tarzan himself might and with much more patience. Jane can fashion a
bow and arrows, leap lightly up into the trees and come back with game
for everyone. At one point, she stubbornly refuses to give up her kill
to a challenging leopard and promptly sends three arrows into the big cat`s
We are told early on that
Jane has chartered a plane to go see what mischief her old man is getting
into. ("You see, Lord Greystoke spends a great deal of time in Africa.
I am planning on joining him there.") So evidently the previous eight books
have been misleading, only showing us Tarzan when he`s on vacation and
lumbering around the jungle. The rest of the time, he`s still taking care
of his huge estate and spending time with his wife. (Still no sign of Korak,
Miriem or little Jackie, though.)
Now, this is an obvious observation
but it seems significant that, while Burroughs` marriage to Emma was going
sour, his alter-ego`s wife and family vanished from the stories. When he
wrote this book, Burroughs was getting his divorce and solidifying a new
relationship. In TARZAN`S QUEST, the crash survivors are burdened by the
totally useless and whiny Princess Sborov. An old friend of Jane`s, this
woman is a wealthy widow who remarried a much younger social climber with
a title (much is made of this royalty scam). It`s just conjecture, but
it seems likely that Burroughs was acting out his conflicts on the page
with Jane representing his new love and the princess standing in for the
wife he wishes to be rid of. (The fact that the princess abruptly ends
up with a hatchet in her head might be a slight case of wish fulfilment.)
Half the book follows the
troubles of Jane`s party as they deal with the situation by the usual bickering
and sniping we can expect in stories about survivors of shipwrecks or plane
crashes. Buroughs lays it on pretty thick with the characterization,
but then this IS pulp adventure where we want broad strokes and bright
colors; we`re not dealing with Arthur Miller here. The stoic English butler
Tibbs and the rough street-jive American pilot Brown are exaggerated
stereoypes but at least they are distinct.
One thing that I don`t like
about Burroughs` villains is that he gives them such a comprehensive range
of vileness. They are not men with a weakness for the flesh or uncontrolled
greed or a violent temper. No, ever since Rokoff way back in RETURN OF
TARZAN, the typical bad guy contains every possible evil trait you can
name. The prince is this story shifts from cowardice to greed to lust to
homicide at the blink of an eye. He`s so thoroughly despicable that it`s
hard to give him any credence. Even one redeeming trait or a hint of remorse
would have made him come to life on the page; as it is, he might as well
have little horns and a barbed tail.
The other half of the storyline
follows Tarzan leading a squad of his intrepid Waziri to rescue Muviro`s
kidnapped young daughter. There are these guys called the Kavuru living
out there in the wilderness, and for hundreds of years they have been abducting
nubile wenches for some mysterious purpose. It turns out the Kavuru are
a sect of white barbarians who have discovered a longevity serum. They
can stay young and robust indefinitely but, since the serum requires the
glands and blood of young women..... well, (ahem) there are no Kavuru women
left by this point and the Immortal Men must obtain the needed ingredients
any way they can.
The high priest of this cult
is a buff blond guy named Kavandavanda, one of the better supervillains
in Burroughs. Although he looks like a Malibu surfer, the necklace made
of human teeth is a good clue to his real nature. He has lost track of
exactly how old he is (maybe a thousand years old, maybe more), he heads
a murderous cult that has killed who knows how many women to stay young
(the last neophyte joined the order a hundred years earlier) and he has
started developing psychic powers (the Kavuru put their victims in a compliant
trance with a weird whistling call).
Kavandavanda also has serious
gender issues ("Man may only attain godliness alone. Woman weakens and
destroys him.... How have we attained this deathlessness? Through women.
We are all celibate. Our vows of celibacy were sealed in the blood of women....")
Well, it`s true a vow of celibacy will make your life SEEM much longer.
Despite all this rhetoric,
Kavandavanda is (like just about every man in the books) immediately smitten
with Jane Clayton and lusts for her bod. ("I`ll keep you; I`ll tame you
- and I`ll start now.") Jane must be quite the babe. Everyone from shieks
to aristocrats to gorillas gets one look at her and starts to pant and
stamp one foot on the ground. The moment I read about the Kavuru, I would
have bet money that Jane would end up their defiant prisoner, trading sassy
remarks with the cult leader.
Much has been made by Philip
Jose Farmer and fans of the Kavuru pills. True, Tarzan divides a large
supply of the longevity pills among the surviving members of the party.
(Typically, Burroughs has a character remark the monkey Nkima deserves
a share since "He`s sure a lot more use in the world than most people".
Nice attitude. How about a few pills for good old Muviro, the lifelong
friend who has come to Tarzan`s rescue so often? Or maybe Korak, his wife
or their child. It`s hard to respect a man who would give extended life
to his pet monkey rather than his own grandson.)
Where was I? Oh, yes. Since
a main ingredient of the Kavuru pills are the body parts of murdered young
women, you might expect Jane and her friends to have a little misgiving
about taking them. True, if you just had to swallow a single pill to get
extended life, most people would be tempted enough to pop one. But it`s
clearly stated that the pills have to be taken regularly to work, so this
means once a month ("...each time that the moon comes full...") ingesting
something made out of slaughtered human beings. Also, since the pills have
only a temporary effect, and there is a large but finite supply divvied
up here among five people (six, if they really give a share to Nkima),
the pills are going to run out at some point. It has been a long time since
1934, and I think it`s safe to say the last Kavuru pill went down the hatch
some time ago. If Tarzan is still running around looking like a thirty
young old, it must be due to something else. (That witch doctor potion,
TARZAN`S QUEST has a lot
going for it, especially when compared to the slack entries preceding and
followng it. The two storylines move along fairly briskly and connect naturally.
There is a great sinister menace in the Kavuru cult, Muviro and the Waziri
are as bold and noble as you could ask. Even Nkima, whose antics can get
tiresome quickly, has some nice episodes. It`s interesting to see Burroughs
mention several times how uncomfortable the jungle is at best, with the
insects and mud and steamy heat alternating with chilling thunderstorms.
Even Tarzan, who has grown up here and who loves the place, isn`t comfortable
in the jungle, he`s just hardened to it. Mostly, it`s great to see Jane
onstage again, and although after this she again drops out of sight, we
can assume she`s alive, healthy and still married to her bronzed giant
of the forest.