Many long-time Tarzan fans remember this story as the one where Tarzan gets amnesia and forgets about everything in his life except for his early years among the Great Apes. Of course, they also may remember this story as one of the most erotically charged of all his stories, for not only does it entail a return to Opar and the seductive La, High Priestess of the Faming God, but also heightens its erotic nature by playing it against the lust of a male elephant, called “must” or “musth”. I have to admit this was a new word to my vocabulary and I thought it may now be obsolete, but my dictionary had a definition for it:
RETURN TO LA LA LAND“MUSTH, also must: An animal period of heightened aggressiveness and sexual activity in male elephants, during which violent frenzies occur.”Yes, leave it to ERB to expand one’s vocabulary in the most enjoyable way. There is also a bit of game-manship in the story, for the jewels in the title are hard to keep track of. Like an expert at 3 card monte, ERB keeps shifting the attention of the reader away from the true movement of the treasure until by the end the reader raises his hands in defeat, making the conclusion sweet indeed. ERB wrote this novel from September to October 1915, while Europe was experiencing the hell of WWI, the war to end all wars.
– American Heritage Dictionary, 3d ed., 1992, p. 1992.
I am using for my text the Ballantine pocket edition, fifteenth printing, June 1984. The cover by Neal Adams depicts Tarzan approaching the altar of the Flaming God. According to a handy booklet distributed at the 2012 Centennial Dum Dum, it appears that very little censorship took place between the hardback version of 1916 and the Ballantine edition. In fact, “[t]he word negro is not capitalized in the hardcover editions, but is in the Ballantine version. No other apparent changes in the text.” (Tarzan the Censored, by Jerry L. Schneider, © 2000-2012 Jerry L. Schneider.) So, let’s start reading.
Lieutenant Albert Werper had only the prestige of the name he had dishonored to thank for his narrow escape from being cashiered. At first he had been humbly thankful too, that they had sent him to this Godforsaken Congo post instead of court-martialing him, as he had so justly deserved; but now six months of the monotony, the frightful isolation and loneliness had wrought a change. The young man brooded continually over his fate. His days were filled with morbid self-pity, which eventually engendered in his weak and vacillating mind a hatred for those who had sent him here – for the very men he had at first inwardly thanked for saving him from the ignonimy of degradation.
I: Belgian and Arab
He regretted the gay life of Brussels as he never had regretted the sins which had snatched him from that gayest of capitals, and as the days passed he came to center his resentment upon the representative in Congo land of the authority which had exiled him – his captain and immediate superior.
This officer was a cold, taciturn man, inspiring little love in those directly beneath him, yet respected and feared by the black soldiers of his little command.Werper was accustomed to sit for hours glaring at his superior as the two sat upon the veranda of their common quarters, smoking their evening cigarets in a silence which neither seemed desirous of breaking. Then senseless hatred of the lieutenant grew at last into a form of mania. The captain’s natural taciturnity he distorted into a studied attempt to insult him because of his past shortcomings. He imagined that his superior held him in contempt, and so he chafed and fumed inwardly until one evening his madness became suddenly homicidal. He fingered the butt of the revolver at his hip, his eyes narrowed and his brows contracted. At last he spoke.
ERB returns to the horror show of late European imperialism, the Belgian hold on the Congo being one of the most brutal and damaging to the reputation of capitalism. ERB could show a cold face to this kind of imperialism, but he was a capitalist to the core and a champion of American dominance in the world. This dualism is what makes the early Tarzan novels so gripping and semi-realistic. Tarzan has been civilized but still craves the animalistic joy of living among the Great Apes. It is no coincidence that some of the bloodiest European battles of WWI and WWII were fought in Belgium. After all, that is where Waterloo is located. Anyway, ERB knew there was no love lost for Belgians in this period. They made an excellent foil.
“You have insulted me for the last time!” he cried, springing to his feet. “I am an officer and a gentleman, and I shall put up with it no longer without an accounting from you, you pig.”
The captain, an expression of surprise upon his features, turned toward his junior. He had seen men before with the jungle madness upon them – the madness of solitude and unrestrained brooding, and perhaps a touch of fever.
He rose and extended his hand to lay it upon the other’s shoulder. Quiet words of counsel were upon his lips; but they were never spoken. Werper construed his superior’s action into an attempt to close with him. His revolver was on a level with the captain’s heart, and the latter had taken but a step when Werper pulled the trigger. Without a moan the man sunk in the rough planking of the veranda, and as he fell the mists that had clouded Werper’s brain lifted, so that he saw himself and the deed that he had done in the same light that those who must judge him would see them.
He heard excited exclamations from the quarters of the soldiers and he heard men running in his direction. They would seize him, and if they didn’t kill him they would take him down the Congo to a point where the properly ordered military tribunal would do so just as effectively , though in a more regular manner.
Werper had no desire to die. Never before had he so yearned for life as in this moment that he had so effectively forfeited his right to live. Then men were nearing him. What was he to do? He glanced about as though searching for the tangible form of a legitimate excuse for his crime; but he could find only the body of the man he had so causelessly shot down.
In despair, he turned and fled from the oncoming soldiery. Across the compound he ran, his revolver still clutched tightly in his hand. At the gates a sentry halted him. Werper did not pause to parley or to exert the influence of his commission – he merely raised his weapon and shot down the innocent black. A moment later the fugitive had torn open the gates and vanished into the blackness of the jungle, but not before he had transferred the rifle and ammunition belts of the dead sentry to his own person.
All that night Werper fled farther and farther into the heart of the wilderness. Now and again the voice of a lion brought him to a listening halt; but with cocked and ready rifle he pushed ahead again, more fearful of the human huntsmen in the rear than of the wild carnivores ahead.
Dawn came at last, but still the man plodded on. All sense of hunger and fatigue were lost in the terrors of contemplated capture. He could think only of escape. He dared not pause to rest or eat until there was no further danger from pusuit, and so he staggered on until at last he fell and could rise no more. How long he had fled he did not know, or try to know. When he could flee no longer the knowledge that he had reached his limit was hidden from him in the unconsciousness of utter exhaustion.
And thus it was that Achmet Zek, the Arab, found him. Achmet’s followers were for running a spear through the body of their hereditary enemy; but Achmet would have it otherwise. First he would question the Belgian. It were easier to question a man first and kill him afterward, than kill him first and then question him.
So he had Lieutenant Albert Werper carried to his own tent, and there slaves administered wine and food in small quantities until at last the prisoner regained consciousness. As he opened his eyes he saw the faces of strange black men about him, and just outside his tent the figure of an Arab. Nowhere was the uniform of his soldiers to be seen.
The Arab turned and seeing the open eyes of the prisoner upon him, entered the tent.
“I am Achmet Zek,” he announced. “Who are you, and what were you doing in my country? Where are your soldiers?”
Achmet Zek! Werper’s eyes went wide, and his heart sank. He was in the clutches of the most notorious of cut-throats – a hater of all Europeans, especially those who word the uniform of Belgium. For years the military forces of Belgian Congo had waged a fruitless war upon this man and his followers – a war in which quarter had never been asked nor expected by either side.
But presently in the very hatred of the man for Belgians, Werper saw a faint ray of hope for himself. He, too, was an outcast and an outlaw. So far, at least, they possessed a common interest, and Werper decided to play upon it for all that it might yield.
“I have heard of you,” he replied, “and was searching for you. My people have turned against me. I hate them. Even now their soldiers are searching for me, to kill me. I knew that you would protect me from them, for you, too, hate them. In return I will take service with you. I am a trained soldier. I can fight, and your enemies are my enemies.”
Achmet Zek eyed the European in silence. In his mind he revolved many thoughts, chief among which was that the unbeliever lied. Of course there was the chance that he did not lie, and if he told the truth then his proposition was one well worthy of consideration, since fighting men were never over plentiful – especially white men with the training and knowledge of military matters that a European officer must possess.
Achmet Zek scowled and Werper’s heart sank; but Werper did not know Achmet Zek, who was quite apt to scowl where another would smile, and smile where another would scowl.
“And if you have lied to me,” said Achmet Zek, “I will kill you at any time. What return, other than your life, do you expect for your services?”
“My keep only, at first,” replied Werper. “Later, if I am worth more, we can easily reach an understanding.” Werper’s only desire at the moment was to preserve his life. And so the agreement was reached and Lieutenant Albert Werper became a member of the ivory and slave raiding band of the notorious Achmet Zek.
For months the renegade Belgian rode with the savage raiders. He fought with a savage abandon, and a vicious cruelty fully equal to that of his fellow desperadoes. Achmet Zek watched his recruit with eagle eye, and with a growing satisfaction which finally found expression in a greater confidence in the man, and resulted in an increased independence of action for Werper.
Achmet Zek took the Belgian into his confidence to a great extent, and at last unfolded to him a pet scheme which the Arab had long fostered, for which he never had found an opportunity to effect. With the aid of a European, however, the thing might be easily accomplished. He sounded Werper.
“You have heard of the man men call Tarzan?” he asked.
Werper nodded. “I have heard of him; but I do not know him.”
“But for him we might carry on our ‘trading’ in safety and with great profit,” continued the Arab. “For years he has fought us, driving us from the richest part of the country, harassing us, and arming the natives that they may repel us when we come to ‘trade.’ He is very rich. If we could find some way to make him pay us many pieces of gold we should not only be avenged upon him; but repaid for much that he had prevented us from winning from the natives under his protection.”
Werper withdrew a cigaret from a jeweled case and lighted it.
“And you have a plan to make him pay?” he asked.
“He has a wife,” replied Achmet Zek, “whom men say is very beautiful. She would bring a great price farther north, if we found it too difficult to collect ransom money from Tarzan.”
Werper bend his head in thought. Achmet Zek sood awaiting his reply. What good remained in Albert Werper revolted at the thought of selling a white woman into the slavery and degradation of a Moslem harem. He looked up at Achmet Zek. He saw the Arab’s eyes narrow, and he guessed that the other had sensed his antagonism to his plan. What would it mean to Werper to refuse? His life lay in the hands of this semi-barbarian, who esteemed the life of an unbeliever less highly than that of a dog. Werper loved life. What was this woman to him, anyway? She was a European, doubtless, a member of organized society. He was an outcast. The hand of every white man was against him. She was his natural enemy, and if he refused to lend himself to her undoing, Achmet Zek would have him killed.
“You hesitate,” murmured the Arab.
“I was just weighing the chances of success,’ lied Werper, “and my reward. As a European I can gain admittance to their home and table. You have no other with you who could do so much. The risk will be great. I should be well paid, Achmet Zek.” A smile of relief passed over the raider’s face.
“Well said, Werper,” and Achmet Zek slapped his lieutenant upon the shoulder. “You should be well paid and you shall. Now let us sit together and plan how best the thing may be done,” and the two men squatted upon a soft rug beneath the faded silks of Achmet’s once gorgeous tent, and talked together in low voices well into the night. Both were tall and bearded, and the exposure to sun and wind had given an almost Arab hue to the European’s complexion.
In every detail of dress, too, he copied the fashions of his chief, so that outwardly he was as much an Arab as the other. It was late when he arose and retired to his own tent.
The following day Werper spent in overhauling his Belgian uniform, removing from it every vestige of evidence that might indicate its military purposes. From a heterogeneous collection of loot, Achmet Zek procured a pith helmet and a European saddle, and from his black slaves and followers a party of porters, askaris and tent boys to make up a modest safari for a big game hunter. At the head of this party Werper set out from camp.
Thus ERB sets the stage. I don’t know when Lawrence of Arabia first donned his Arab garb, but when he did, I don’t believe he had Albert Werper in mind.
It was two weeks later that John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, riding in from a tour of inspection of his vast African estate, glimpsed the head of a column of men crossing the plain that lay between his bungalow and the forest to the north and west.
II: On the Road To Opar
He reined in his horse and watched the little party as it emerged from a concealing swale. His keep eyes caught the reflection of the sun upon the white helmet of a mounted man, and with the conviction that a wandering European hunter was seeking his hospitality, he wheeled his mount and rode slowly forward to meet the newcomer.
A half hour later he was mounting the steps leading to the veranda of his bungalow, and introducing M. Jules Frecoult to Lady Greystoke.
“I was completely lost,” M. Frecoult was explaining, “My head man had never before been in this part of the country and the guides who were to have accompanied me from the last village we passed knew even less of the country than we. They finally deserted us two days since. I am very fortunate indeed to have stumbled so providentially upon succor. I do not know what I should have done, had I not found you.
It was decided that Frecoult and his party should remain several days, or until they were thoroughly rested, when Lord Greystoke would furnish guides to lead them safely back into country with which Frecoult’s head man was supposedly familiar.
In his guise of a French gentleman of leisure, Werper found little difficulty in deceiving his host and in ingratiating himself with both Tarzan and Jane Clayton; but the longer he remained the less hopeful he became of an easy accomplishment of his designs.
Lady Greystoke never rode alone at any great distance from the bungalow, and the savage loyalty of the ferocious Waziri warriors who formed a great part of Tarzan’s followers seemed to preclude the possibility of a successful attempt at forcible abduction, or of the bribery of the Waziri themselves.
A week passed, and Werper was no nearer the fulfillment of his plan, in so far as he could judge, than upon the day of his arrival, but at that very moment something occurred which gave him renewed hope and set his mind upon an even greater reward than a woman’s ransom.
A runner had arrived at the bungalow with the weekly mail, and Lord Greystoke had spent the afternoon in his study reading and aswering letters. At dinner he seemed distraught, and early in the evening he excused himself and retired, Lady Greystoke following him very soon after. Werper, sitting upon the veranda, could hear their voices in earnest discussion, and having realized that something of unusual moment was afoot, he quietly rose from his chair, and keeping well in the shadow of the shrubbery growing profusely about the bungalow,
made his silent way to a point beneath the window of the room in which his host and hostess slept.
Here he listened, and not without result, for almost the first words he overheard filled him with excitement. Lady Greystoke was speaking as Werper came within hearing.
“I always feared for the stability of the company,” she was saying; “but it seems incredible that they should have failed for so enormous a sum – unless there has been some dishonest manipulation.”
“That is what I suspect,” replied Tarzan; “but whatever the cause, the fact remains that I have lost everything, and there is nothing for it but to return to Opar and get more.”“Oh, John,” cried Lady Greystoke, and Werper could feel the shudder through her voice, “is there no other way? I cannot bear to think of you returning to that frightful city. I would rather live in poverty always than to have you risk the hideous dangers of Opar.”
This is one area in which ERB had plenty of experience, especially after he moved to California. He could not look at a quick rich scheme in the eye without salivating, and lost a ton of money on, among other things, real estate. Whenever he lost a fortune, he always had his writing skills to fall back on, and ended up writing more stories than ever before. As R.E. Prindle once keenly observed in one of his ERBzine articles, the gold vaults of Opar were always open to ERB as long as he could spin a good yarn.
“You need have no fear,” replied Tarzan, laughing. “I am pretty well able to take care of myself, and were I not, the Waziri who will accompany me will see that no harm befalls me.’ “They ran away from Opar once, and left you to your fate,” she reminded him.
“They will not do it again,” he answered. “They were very much ashamed of themselves, and were coming back when I met them.”
“But they must be some other way,” insisted the woman.
“There is no other way half so easy to obtain another fortune, as to go to the treasure vaults of Opar and bring it away,” he replied. “I shall be very careful, Jane, and the chances are that the inhabitants of Opar will never know that I have been there again and despoiled them of another portion of the treasure, the very existence of which they are as ignorant of as they would be of its value.”
The finality in his tone seemed to assure Lady Greystoke that further argument was futile, and so she abandoned the subject.
Werper remained, listening, for a short time, and then, confident that he had overheard all that was necessary and fearing discovery, returned to the veranda, where he smoked numerous cigarets in rapid succession before retiring.
The following morning at breakfast, Werper announced his intention of making an early departure, and asked Tarzan’s permission to hunt big game in the Waziri country on his way out – permission which Lord Greystoke readily granted.
The Belgian consumed two days in completing his preparations, but finally got away with his safari, accompanied by a single Waziri guide whom Lord Greystoke had loaned him. The party made but a single short march when Werper simulated illness, and announced his intentions of remaining where he was until he fully recovered. As they had gone but a short distance from the Greystoke bungalow, Werper dismissed the Waziri guide, telling the warrior that he would send for him when he was able to proceed. The Waziri gone, the Belgian summoned one of Achmet Zek’s trusted blacks to his tent, and dispatched him to watch for the departure of Tarzan, returning immediately to advise Werper of the event and the direction taken by the Englishman.
The Belgian did not have long to wait, for the following day his emissary returned with word that Tarzan and a party of fifty Waziri warriors had set out toward the southeast early in the morning.
Werper called his head man to him, after writing a long letter to Achmet Zek. This letter he handed to the head man.
“Send a runner at once to Achmet Zek with this,” he instructed the head man. “Remain here in camp awaiting further instructions from him or from me. If any come from the bungalow of the Englishman, tell them that I am very ill within my tent and can see no one. Now, give me six porters and six askaris – the strongest and bravest of the safari – and I will march after the Englishman and discover where his gold is hidden.”
And so it was as Tarzan, stripped to the loin cloth and armed after the primitive fashion he best loved, led his loyal Waziri toward the dead city of Opar, Werper, the renegade, haunted his trail through the long, hot days, and camped close behind him by night.
And as they marched, Achmet Zek rode with the entire following southward toward the Greystoke farm.
To Tarzan of the Apes the expedition was in the nature of holiday outing. His civilization was at best but an outward veneer which he gladly peeled off with his uncomfortable European clothes whenever any reasonable pretext presented itself. It was a woman’s love which kept Tarzan even to the semblance of civilization – a condition for which familiarity had bred contempt. He hated the shams and hypocrisies of it and with the clear vision of an unspoiled mind he had penetrated to the rotten core of the heart of the thing – the cowardly greed for peace and ease and the safeguarding of property rights. That the fine things of life – art, music and literature – had thriven upon such enervating ideals he strenuously denied, insisting, rather, that they had endured in spite of civilization.“Show me the fat, opulent coward,” he was wont to say, “who ever originated a beautiful ideal. In the clash of arms, in the battle for survival, amid hunger and death and danger, in the face of God as manifested in the display of nature’s most terrific forces, is born all that is finest and best in the human heart and mind.”
The anarchist Bakunin couldn’t have given a better critique of European Imperialism.
And that’s not all ERB has to say on this matter for he adds a tinge of Nietzsche to the argument.
And so Tarzan always came back to Nature in the spirit of a lover keeping a long deferred tryst after a period behind prison walls. His Waziri, at marrow, were more civilized than he. They cooked their meat before they ate it and they shunned many articles of food as unclean that Tarzan had eaten with gusto all his life and so insidious is the virus of hypocrisy that even the stalwart ape-man hesitated to give rein to his natural longings before them. He ate burnt flesh when he would have preferred it raw and unspoiled, and he brought down game with arrow or spear when he would far rather have leaped upon it from ambush and sunk his strong teeth in its jugular; but at last the call of the milk of the savage mother that had suckled him in infancy rose to an insistent demand – he craved the hot blood of a fresh kill and his muscles yearned to pit themselves against the savage jungle in the battle for existence that had been his sole birthright for the first twenty years of his life.
I guess that it is no surprise that the next chapter is called “The Call of the Jungle.” So until then, start rehearsing your Tarzan yell.
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