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Volume 0104

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Some Thoughts on the Structure of
"Tarzan, the Terrible"
David Arthur Adams

       Tarzan the Terrible  is a stunning achievement.  Acting as a
sequel to Tarzan the Untamed, it surpasses that spectacular tale in its
well thought-out overall form and in the creation of a marvelous,
timeless world called, Pal-ul-don.  Here ERB is at the very height of
his powers as a story teller and as a creator of strange beings who
inhabit richly imaginative worlds.

       The form of the story is logically arranged by Tarzan's
adventures in four separate areas of Pal-ul-don as he moves through the
land in search of his wife, who was abducted by German soldiers in the
previous novel.

       I.  In the Kor-ul-ja

       The first area Tarzan visits is Kor-ul-ja, the Gorge-of-lions,
the home of the Waz-don, the hairy black men of Pal-ul-don.  The
humanoid creatures of Pal-ul-don are unique beings, pithecanthropi with
long thumbs, toes that protrude at right angles from the foot, and
glorious tails, which help them to climb, especially in the case of the
Waz-don, who live in caves on forbidding, sheer, white chalk cliffs.
The Waz-don gain entrance to their homes by climbing pegs set in holes
in the cliff face.  The pegs are carried along as they climb to foil the
access of enemies, and the descriptions of the climbing and battles on
the cliff walls are without peer in adventure literature.

       The reader is completely entranced in this strong opening of
Tarzan the Terrible.  Here, Tarzan gains the title, Tarzan-jad-guru,
(Tarzan the Terrible) and one can barely think of him without this
designation for the rest of the series.  Burroughs was simply on fire
with red-hot inspiration when he wrote these pages; they are surely
among his very best.  I've had dreams of climbing this cliff wall,
hand-over-hand-over tail, and I think ERB hit on something ancient in
the race of man when he discovered this lost kingdom in his subconscious
mind.  Pal-ul-don is not just another lost-city story; it lies at the
mythic core of archetypical creativity - - of this I have not the
slightest doubt.

       It's curious that Burroughs never used this land again in his
many novels, although it may be noted that his earlier inner world
Pellucidar contains prehistoric elements which fill  a similar psychic
environment.  Tarzan's further adventures in Pal-ul-don were covered
extensively in the early Dell comics, which were my first introduction
to Tarzan, so finding this wonderful land again in Tarzan the Terrible
when I finally discovered the book was my greatest delight as a young

       Needless to say, I love this book without reservation.  Tarzan is
completely himself throughout the whole.  He has not lost his memory; he
is savage and cunning with his full powers and his grim sense of humor;
he is impulsive at times, yet the nature of his quest provides the
framework for his actions.  The reader is never disappointed with this
Tarzan, and I think Burroughs was having the time of his life, feeling
the creative juices flowing, knowing that he was writing a truly great
story for all time.  Even the bizarre twists of fate common to Burroughs
seem to fall into place as inevitabilities rather than wrenching devices
of a plot gotten out of hand.

     II.  In the Kor-ul-gryf

           Part two of the story takes place in the Kor-ul-gryf,  the
Gorge-of-gryfs.  I have a great fondness of Tarzan riding on the back of
a Triceratops.   Of course, Burroughs' gryf is a flesh-eating dinosaur
rather than the herbivorous Triceratops, and somehow Tarzan seems to
belong upon the back of a gryf even more than upon the back of Tantor,
the elephant.  Tarzan's quiet moments with Tantor are the very soul of
peace and contentment, idyllic spring-times that belong to his youth.
If the mature Tarzan if he must ride upon anything at all, let it be
upon a gryf, bloodthirsty, relentless, terrible as his master.

             The gryf part of Tarzan the Terrible  carries the action
forward in a logical manner, a well-written and exciting addition to the
canon of Tarzan adventures.  The taming of a ferocious, mythical beast
rather than simply slaying it is an interesting departure from the
classic mode of St. George and the dragon.  Of course, Tarzan lived with
Sheeta, the leopard, in Beasts, a wild Tantor saved him in Jungle Tales,
and the black-maned lion ran with him in Untamed,  but this taming
episode is pre-Jad-bal-ja and says something about the author's new
approach to monstrous, carnivorous beasts in relation to his Tarzan
character.  These great forces in the animal world are not always
enemies but sometimes act as symbols of bestial unification with a power
that enlarges the ape-man's personality.

       III.  At A-lur and Tu-lur

       The second half of the novel deals with political and religious
intrigue.  This type of convoluted plotting is dear to ERB, and in this
case it reminds one of the Mars trilogy in
that, like John Carter on Mars, Tarzan enters the fray to correct the
excesses of a false religion.  But here the struggle is played with a
great sense of humor when Tarzan is taken for their tailless Son of God,
Dor-ul-Otho.  The glories of the raw adventure of the first part of the
novel here sink into the quagmire of cities and civilization, which
gives Burroughs amply opportunity to expound and discuss his personal
philosophy of men and society.  One city is really as bad as the other,
but in the wilds of this fantastic Africa even these corruptions have
their appeal.

          "It was a beautiful picture upon which he looked - - a picture
of peace and harmony and quiet.  Nor anywhere a slightest suggestion of
the savage men and beasts that claimed this lovely landscape as their
own.  What a paradise!  And some day civilized men would come and - -
spoil it!  Ruthless axes would raze that age-old wood; black, sticky
smoke would rise from ugly chimneys against that azure sky:  grimy
little boats with wheels behind or upon either side would churn the mud
from the bottom of Jad-in-lul, turning its blue waters to a dirty brown;
hideous piers would project into the lake from squalid buildings of
corrugated iron, doubtless, for of such are the pioneer cities of the
world." (p. 320)

       Somehow the structure of Tarzan the Terrible  does not seem
sectional despite a studied movement throughout the various parts of
Pal-ul-don.  The strength of Tarzan's quest for Jane provides a
meaningful motive for his questing -- an odyssey-like search for his
beloved begun in Untamed  -- so the story travels smoothly and naturally
with a minor-parallel odyssey of Korak,which eventually concludes the
two novels with masterly skill.

       Burroughs brings the many threads of this sequel adventure
together by throwing Jane into a jungle crisis of her own with the
antagonist, the German officer, Obergatz.  Jane plays the jungle heroine
in chapter XIX "Diana of the Jungle" while Tarzan is busy with his
religio-political struggles in the lost cities. This chapter contains
the strongest argument in all of the Tarzan stories for the ape-man's
selection of Jane as his proper mate.  Her rather lack luster behavior
in some of the other novels has given rise to many unfavorable comments
over the years.  Critics have pointed out that Tarzan leaves Jane at
home most of the time when he goes on his adventures, especially after
Tarzan the Terrible, and some have even pointed out that La of Opar
would have made a more suitable savage mate for Tarzan.

      While it is perhaps an act of treachery to second guess Tarzan's
own judgment of his choice of a mate, it is true that Burroughs had some
second thoughts about his early binding of his strong character, Tarzan,
with such a plain-Jane personality.  Perhaps the "Diana of the Jungle"
episode was the author's attempt to balance the strength of his
characters.  Certainly by presenting Jane as a pagan divinity (at least
in name) she balances the extremely powerful Tarzan, Son of God, image.
However, one still has a hard time picturing Tarzan and Jane swinging
through the trees together throughout the rest of the novels.  The
beast-man needed a mate, but not a side-kick.  Jane was just not feral
enough to eat raw meat.

      The love between Tarzan and Jane is often touching,  a "heart of
my heart" sort of relationship that seems convincing and genuine, but
the mythic strength of Tarzan actually precludes a mate as an equal.  On
the bottom vine Tarzan is always a beast without peer, or human kin.  It
is the thing that makes him a mythic hero beyond compare.  Tarzan the
Terrible is "terrible", and it is this fascination with the uncanny that
brings readers back to him generation after generation.

The End

February 1999

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