It has been expressed that it might have been better if some of the Tarzan stories has never been written - - that ERBís stature as a writer was diminished by his weak showing in many of his later works - - especially the generally poor quality of the later Tarzan stories. If this view has validity, certainly the cobbling together of two tales to construct Tarzan the Magnificent would fall into this category of relative infirmity.
An investigation of the time-line of ERBís life from 1935-36 shows that he was going through a difficult season -- one that did affect the quality of his work. On December 6, 1934, Ed was granted a "quickie" divorce from Emma after 34 years of marriage. He then married Florence Dearholt in Las Vegas on April 4, 1935. During this time, Ed was writing Back to the Stone Age (Jan. 26 - Sept.11) another pieced together novel which has been criticized for the same lack of direction and cohesiveness. After a spring and summer honeymoon in Hawaii, Ed and Florence returned to Palm Springs, California where Ed turned 60 on September 1 and entered the hospital in November with a bladder obstruction requiring an operation and a long convalescence. Despite his plans for a new happiness and renewed youth, time was catching up with Tarzanís creator.
The first half of Tarzan the Magnificent called "Tarzan and the Magic Men" by Argosy when they finally agreed to publish it Sept. 19 - Oct. 3, 1936 was completed in March. The story was about two magicians (witch-doctors*) who possess two gems (a diamond and an emerald) with hypnotic-destructive powers that operate in mysterious ways, even at a great distance. It does not take great psychological acumen to recognize ERBís situation in this tale. The crabbed and twisted story reads like a nightmare, nothing really making any sense until it is given an interpretation.
From a psychological viewpoint, rather than ERBís weakest Tarzan novel, TM might be read as at least a fairly interesting one. Having reached a crisis in his life, his defenses were at their weakest as he plunged ahead with yet another Tarzan story, which seems like an effort to hack his way through the undergrowth to find a clearing where he could stand. As Taliaferro comments, "He himself was supporting two women at the time, and though his financial picture had improved markedly of late, he dared not let his guard down" (Taliaferro, 302).
Burroughs begins by saying "Truth is stranger than fiction," proposing to tell the truth about his life. He looks back over his entire existence and jokes about going back to the "first amoeba." He expresses his situation: a fallen man lying exposed in the sun about to be attacked by a lion.
Tarzan appears to ERB with a panther description (which we find echoed later in the story) to hear about the sexual encounters and woes he has recently experienced. The ape-man wears a rare doe-skin loincloth -- a female deer -- rather than his usual leopard skin -- the women in his life are that pervasive. Tarzan is ERBís guide, his Virgil. He knows "the entire text."
In this valley of bones, a message is found written in English about the Kaji women, amazons who capture white men by using their old black magic. They also have a huge magic diamond -- perhaps like the kind married women wear.
The characters in the story are rather transparent images of the people in ERBís life. Of course, he is not writing a one-to-one correspondence in every detail, but they are useful vehicles for what he wants to get off his chest.
ERB-Stanley Wood is saved by Tarzan, and he explains to him how he tried to woo Gonfala-Florence but now has ambivalent feelings toward her.
"She is a gorgeous creature, quite the most beautiful woman I have ever seen. I do not hesitate to say that she is the most beautiful woman in the world: but a creature of such radical contradictions as to cast a doubt upon her sanity. one moment she is all womanly compassion and sweetness, the next she is a she-devil" (TM, 32).
One might also surmise a Gonfala-Emma and ascribe her dual personality to the effects of alcoholism and arrive at an equally valid interpretation. Given his new marriage, one would hardly expect Ed to be expressing his doubts about his bride so blatantly. If Florence read his novels, I would expect that she read Gonfala-Emma, and ERB must have concurred. The evil influence of Mafka read as the old wife still drawing his memories and most naturally some lingering affection, yet there are two magicians and two stones to consider. ERB was thinking of both the women in his life -- balancing the diamond and the emerald -- judging how they are alike and how they differ.
The most powerful thing about these women was reflected in the hypnotic force of the gem stones. It was a force that could pull men this way and that as though they had no will of their own -- something that ERB obviously felt at the time.
Ed and Florence were married for six years until 1941.
* Witch Doctors
Tarzan had a hand in battling evil witch doctors over the years. The twin brothers, Mafka and Woora in this story are basically that, even though they are called magicians. Most of these characters seem to have been derived in some way from H. Rider Haggardís descriptions of Gagool in King Solomonís Mines.
" . . . I observed the wizened, monkey-like figure creeping up form the shadow of the hut. It crept on all fours, but when it reached the place where the king sat it rose upon its feet, and throwing the furry covering off its face, revealed a most extraordinary and weird countenance. It was (apparently) that of a woman of great age, so shrunken that in size it was no larger than that of a year-old child, and was made up of a collection of deep, yellow wrinkles. Set in the wrinkles was a sunken slit that represented the mouth, beneath which the chin curved outward to a point. There was no nose to speak of, indeed the whole countenance might have been taken for that of a sun-dried corpse had it not been for a pair of large black eyes, still full of fire and intelligence, which gleamed and played under the show-white eyebrows and the projecting parchment-colored skull, like jewels in a charnel-house. As for the skull itself, it was perfectly bare, and yellow in hue, while its wrinkled scalp moved and contracted like the hood of a cobra" (Haggard, 320-21).
Woora partakes of many of the Gagool characteristics:
"At first glance Tarzan saw only an enormous head thatched with scraggly grey hair; and then, below the head, a shriveled body that was mostly abdomen -- a hideously repulsive figure, naked but for a loin cloth. The skin of the face and head were drawn like a yellow parchment over the bones of the skill -- a living deathís head in which were set two deep, glowing eyes that smouldered and burned as twin pits of Hell." (60).
One might trace the repulsive witch-doctor figure back to Bukawai in Jungle Tales of Tarzan, an "unclean" leprous creature whose face was slowly being eaten away by "a loathsome disease. (121-22)
Works CitedBurroughs, Edgar Rice, Tarzan the Magnificent, and Jungle Tales of Tarzan
Haggard, H. Rider, King Solomonís Mines.
Taliaferro, John, Tarzan Forever.
Nkima's Chattering From the Shoulder Main Contents Page
ERB C.H.A.S.E.R. ENCYCLOPEDIA: The Tarzan Twins