The Tarzan Twins:
A Story for Children of All Ages:
(Chat #40 ~ A revision of an article that first appeared in The Burroughs Bulletin No. #38)
This is the tale of two boys, Dick and Doc. One of them is a dark child, the other is fair and light. They are not really twins. There is a good deal of confusion from the very inception of this story, but there are good reasons for the tangled web.
The thing I found surprising about The Tarzan Twins is the fact that it really isn't any worse than any other Burroughs effort. From my reading of criticism about this story, I had been led to believe that it would be poorly written, however, for the most part it moves right along like a typical Burroughsian jungle tale.
It has been pointed out by virtually all of his biographers that Burroughs never had high literary intentions for his prosaic adventures. Thus, analytical studies that propose symbolic meanings or psychological depths to his stories are problematical from the start. We have the writer's word that nothing more is there than what appears upon the surface, and so his stories are normally accepted by his readers as mere escapist entertainment and nothing more.
However, the search for underlying messages hidden beneath the surface of folk or fairy tales is a worthy undertaking, and ERB's little effort reveals an abundance of riches to the ardent investigator. The story seems all surface, easy enough for a child to understand, yet there is more to it than meets the eye.
To begin, one probably should mention that the villainous cannibals are portrayed as ignorant and superstitious, and according to Numa, the lion, they even smell different. Throughout the tale, there are other racist comments and asides, which ERB, according to the standards of the day, considered to be comic. These offenses were later removed in the later Canaveral edition, and Richard Lupoff remarks (with a degree of compunction at changing Burroughs' published words) that he is the one responsible for the deletion of the racial slurs. (Lupoff, 192). In the Canaveral story, the blacks are no longer called "great black apes," or "boys," and the objectionable references to "Big Boy" and "Uncle Tom" have been removed. The "worthless specimens of the Northern States" become "unfortunate victims of limited opportunity," and Tarzan calls his Waziri, "my champions," rather than "my children."
At the end of the original story, two of the natives, Ukundo and Bulala, had "gone down on their hands and knees before the Lord of the Jungle," whereas Lupoff has them "engaged in conversation with the Waziri." This bowing and scraping scene is one that Douglas Grant saw fit to illustrate with a rather nice perspective drawing, even though the servile suggestion is startling and offensive to our sensibilities today. One can't blame Lupoff for his deletions and changes to the original text. The hard core ERB fan already knows the score on his so called "racist" texts, and can read the original with a more balanced understanding.
The Tarzan Twins may have its origins in a 1890 novel by Harry Prentice called, Captured by the Zulus; A Story of Trapping in Africa. Prentice's 1892 novel, Captured By Apes, or, How Philip Garland Became King of Apeland is described by Krakus Books of Vancouver, BC, Canada as the "said to be inspiration for ERB's Tarzan." Whether this is true or not, it's interesting to speculate that Burroughs had indeed read these books. In the later story, Philip Garland is shipwrecked off the coast of Borneo and captured by apes that rule the island under the leadership of a gigantic baboon, Goliah, who puts the animal trainer through the grueling training he had previously suffered at his hand -- a rather far cry from the plot of Tarzan of the Apes. However, it is a similar twist of fate that ERB describes in his early Minidoka.
Dick and Doc, the heroes of The Tarzan Twins, are brash and smart alicky. There is a casual wisecracking between the two that upon first reading seems rather disconcerting. Porges notes that this dialogue is a "serious shortcoming" because it "remains bantering even as they encounter fearful dangers. Because of this, the 'perils' create neither interest nor excitement for the reader" (Porges, 429).
One might observe that this type of lighthearted dialogue can be very successful in an adventure story, creating in the protagonists a natural, unforced bravery that comes off in an engagingly admirable way, as demonstrated by movie heroes from John Wayne to Indiana Jones. Burroughs later confessed that "he had 'unconsciously' been guilty of 'writing down' for a juvenile market" (Porges, 429) yet this was probably no more than second-guessing himself since the story has real merits. While we may not be in the presence of an immortal, children's classic, The Tarzan Twins is a well-told story as befits the old master storyteller. Let's take a look at what is in this little story to admire.
The so called "Tarzan Twins" are really cousins (sons of mothers who were real twins) are fair and dark, loosely sketched-in as introverted and extroverted personalities, but both boys are courageous, red-blooded youths who are having a fling while being lost in the jungle. They wander away from a derailed train and are immediately swept up into a cannibal village just a few miles from the railroad line. That is: they are quickly swept into a magical world of the naive folk tale where one amazing thing happens after another in rapid succession of events.
While the plot is too fast-moving to allow more than a few concessions to plausibility, the story contains many familiar tensions we can recall from Tarzan's exploits in similar situations. The pace of the story carries the reader from chapter to chapter with ERB's gifted knack for spinning an appealing tale. We may not turn the pages with breathless anticipation at the outcome of some unbearable crisis, but we do turn the pages because the story speaks to us with a certain degree of power.
One may wonder why Burroughs decided to create a set of twins for this story rather than presenting a single hero. Even though his intention may not have been to give his young readers insights into two sides of a single personality, his story with its constant bantering arguments acts this way in a delightful manner. Burroughs suggests that he is presenting personality types in Dick and Doc. He gives one dark hair and the other light. He contrasts the extroverted and introverted characters, then takes it back by stating they are really alike."Perhaps Doc's eyes twinkled more and his mouth smiled more than Dick's for Dick did much of his twinkling and smiling inside and inside the boys were very much alike, indeed"However, throughout the story, the twins do show their unique personalities, and they do fit the dark and light pattern suggested by Burroughs. Perhaps ERB used twins instead of employing a single boy lost in the wilderness as away of holding a dialogue with an inner and outer nature. Again, it might just be his way of telling a simple story to his two sons, Hulbert and Jack. After all, the book was dedicated to them. Actually, it was dedicated "To Joan, Hulbert, and Jack, who were brought up on Tarzan stories." However, there are no girls in this story.
Porges notes that Burroughs thought of making one of twins a girl, but rejected the idea because "a girl would slow down the action" (Porges, 428). Brother and sister pairs are common enough in fairy tales, and it was Gretel who ultimately saved Hansel from the wicked witch. It is certain that ERB had the ability to write strong female characters, such as Nadara in The Cave Girl and La of Opar to mention but two of many memorable heroines. Perhaps there is no mystery here at all. Perhaps he simply wrote the story with twins so best friends could be together, sharing their life and adventures, which would be appealing to young readers.
The Tarzan Twins are cousins, but it is Dick's father who is distantly related to Lord Greystoke. And it is Dick who becomes the natural leader once they enter the jungle. He suggests that they press on into the wilderness until they get lost. He tells Doc to flee up a tree when the first Numa appears.* He is the one who later thinks of swinging through the trees to find their way back to the train. Dick, the dark-haired child, is the one who at the beginning of the story longs to see lions, and gets his wish, multiplied again and again.
Doc, the light-haired American, is more extroverted in character, kind of a trickster and quick to show off the surface of his personality. Whereas the dark-haired, English child, Dick is the intuitive one, who as previously noted, "did much of his twinkling and smiling inside."
Doc's magic tricks (from this child of light) are all surface glitter -- feats that bewilder the cannibals. They are a slight-of-hand that might take the reader's attention away from what is really happening in this story -- a taut drama in miniature created by the hand of a master storyteller. A haunting fairy tale lies hidden behind the banter of children on a lark.*
It is Dick, the young Tarzanic figure, who kills Numa with a spear. He takes just the tail of the lion as a prize, although he greatly desires the whole head. Both of the boys are surprisingly inept with bows and arrows, but this allows the "gruesome" kill of one of the cannibals to be made by Ukundo. The arrow "embedded itself deeply in the breast of a shouting Bagalla." (The Volland editors in an afterword note to their new Golden Youth Series promise that their books would never be gruesome.) Presumably, it was all right for one black man to kill another.
The two boys are thrown into a nightmarish adventure, and their guide is fittingly a black man, a dark, shadow being who knows the hidden ways of the of the dangerous jungle. He leads them in their penultimate escape to the gate of the cannibal village and into the terrible night. This black man, a pygmy called Ukundo*, might be seen as a spiritual guide, the "little man" of fairy tales."Not infrequently, the supernatural helper is masculine in form. In fairy lore it may be some little fellow of the wood, some wizard, hermit, shepherd, or smith, who appears, to supply the amulets and advice that the hero will require" (Campbell, 72).Once the story is read and the not too clever jokes are forgotten, one seems to best recall the night scenes: the first night the boys spend in the jungle and later, the daring escape in the inky darkness that rushes to a conclusion -- both are real moments of nightmarish terror -- eerie creeping through tangles and vines into the steamy jungle night -- feeling for a tree to climb with fumbling hands as a lion slinks through the gloom . These are true "night-sea" journeys, turning points in the life of the heroes when they must pass through a great darkness such as Jonah in the belly of the whale or Hercules diving into the throat of a sea monster. Burroughs' prose always shines light into these dark places with an uncanny glow. We are forced to dive with the hero into these shadowy places, and we experience the terror in ways that make this writer a perennial favorite to stand with the most illustrious writers of fairy tales and myths.*
The Tarzan Twins deserves more than a quick brush-off by its critics. It has all the merits of an honest folk tale that might benefit from a closer reading than even ERB's dedicated fans usually give it. Never underestimate the old conjurer, Edgar Rice Burroughs, when he is weaving a spell.
Burroughs, Edgar Rice, The Tarzan Twins. Volland, 1927.
Campbell, Joseph: The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Princeton, 1973-
Eliade, Mircea: Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy. Princeton, 1974.
Lupoff, Richard A. Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure. Ace, 1968.
Porges, Irwin, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan. Brigham Young U. Press, 1975.
*Numa the lion hunts in the tangled jungle instead of the game-filled plains, but this is typical of Burroughs' African vision where more mystery lurks in the dense twisting of creepers and vines than upon a dusty savanna. In an early chapter he makes a point of mentioning that there are no tigers in Africa, which was perhaps a way of poking fun at his own early gaff in the magazine release of Tarzan of the Apes. (back)
*One might surmise that Ukundo's name was taken from Enkidu, Gilgamesh's wild-man double, but only as a subconscious felicity. ERB avidly devoured mythological tales and legends from his youth, and it would be hardly surprising to find such a happy transposition names while he was composing his own stories. (back)
*Burroughs conceived his twins as fourteen-year-old adolescents instead of the little ten-year-olds pictured by Grant on the cover of the Volland edition. (Porges, 428). The later drawings by Roy G. Krenkel in the Canaveral edition appear to be much closer to ERB's original intentions. (back)
* The climbing motifs found in the Tarzan stories tap into powerful images for us human descendants of simian ancestors. Mircea Eliade points out that "ascent by a tree, a liana, or a rope is a widespread mythical motif in shamanic initiation stories. (Eliade, 126). It is another reason this story "works" as a fantasy with mythic overtones - - why it has strength in spite of its slight stature. Fairy or folk tales may be brief, but they are always packed with this underlying psychic power. (back)
September 15, 2003
Dear JoN and Readers of My Chats:
This is far from a perfect article, but I am sending it anyway to get the "Chats" started again.
My Tarzan Twins article is radically revised from my BB submission, yet most of the main points remain intact. I fear that my return to the "Chats" may prove to be a disappointment to fans in that I am not a "new & improved" Nkima, but as I move through the rest of the Tarzan Series, I will have a few surprises in store.
For now, perhaps it is enough that I have reappeared from the jungle, even though the message I bear is an old one, blotted and erased in places. I hope that the days to come will bring a few things more worthwhile.
The original "Chat" idea was to bring forth some of my lighter musings on ERB and his works. It was I who turned it into a sheaf of more formal articles. As I continue, I hope to loosen the form more and more into the realm of speculation and dream.
I feel that I did not write my true mind with the Twins piece. I lost my way in a host of facts, missing the real message that it is about the essential duality of Burroughs that came out in every tale, even this lighter one for children. The light/dark aspects of Dick & Doc is the real theme of the story, and even ERB only toyed and hinted at this leitmotiv embedded in his fairy tale. I hope I have at least layed out some of these ideas as food for thought.
It's time, however, for me to get on with my project of writing about every Tarzan story, and this is the way t have chosen to do it for better or worse.
David Adams (Nkima)
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ERB C.H.A.S.E.R. ENCYCLOPEDIA: The Tarzan Twins