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"The master of imaginative fantasy adventure...
...the creator of Tarzan and...
...the 'grandfather of science-fiction'"
ERB COMPENDIUM T7
TARZAN THE UNTAMED
Tarzan the Untamed
David Arthur Adams (Nkima)
[This article appeared in a slightly different form in The Burroughs
Bulletin (New Series) #26, Spring, 1996 and in ERBapa #47, Fall 1995.]
"From the edge of
the roof he looked down upon the night
life of the mad city. He saw men and women and children and lions,and
of all that he saw it was quite evident to him that
only the lions were sane."
Tarzan and the Huns
Tarzan the Untamed is one of ERB’s strongest Tarzan efforts.
Lupoff ranks it the first of a group of related novels called "Tarzan's
Greatest Adventures." It was a controversial book in Germany in 1925,
but despite Burroughs' own disclaimer that he was influenced by the war
propaganda of the time, it is not, under careful scrutiny, unduly unfair.
Untamed is a sectional book. Many of the chapters first
appeared as separate stories, but they all fit together quite well, the
seams filled with the tight-packed, desert sand of structural
interludes. If "Tarzan and the Huns" (ERB’s working title) is not your
preferred tag for the book, you might call it "Tarzan's Misadventures
with Bertha Kircher", for she is the one character who ties all the
Here is the basic form of Tarzan the Untamed:Burroughs opens this novel with a series of splendid episodes,
Part One: Chapters 1-6 (Tarzan and the Huns in WWI)
some of the strongest Tarzan adventures he ever wrote. Hauptmann Fritz
Schneider is the villainous Hun whom Tarzan tracks through pages that
fairly crackle with red-hot excitement. Tarzan is bent on revenge for
the death of Jane, and he follows his prey relentlessly with his grisly,
grim humor at full ferocity. This is strong stuff indeed, not for the
fainthearted, yet the brand of justice Tarzan metes out to the Hun is
entirely within character, war propaganda or no.
In the cycle of the hero, Tarzan is at the point that Joseph
Campbell in his The Hero With A Thousand Faces calls "The Road of
Trials". This is usually the reader's favorite phase of the
myth-adventure, filled with miraculous tests and ordeals. In this
novel, and in its sequel, Tarzan the Terrible, Tarzan descends into the
"crooked lanes of his own spiritual labyrinth" filled with "a landscape
of symbolical figures" (Campbell, Hero 101). He carries four of the
five proscribed symbolical weapons - - the way of a good mythic hero.
"The hunting knife of his father hung at his left hip, his bow
and his quiver of arrows were slung across his shoulders, while around
his chest over one shoulder and beneath the opposite arm was coiled the
long grass rope without which Tarzan would have felt quite as naked as
would you should you be suddenly thrust upon a busy highway clad only in
a union suit. A heavy war spear which he sometimes carried in one hand
and again slung by a thong about his neck so that it hung down his back
completed his armament and his apparel. The diamond-studded locket with
the pictures of his mother and father that he had worn always until he
had given it as a token of his highest devotion to Jane Clayton before
their marriage was missing" (9).
This missing diamond locket works as a double symbol of his lost
mate and his lost parents. The knife of his father demonstrates his
present potency while reminding the reader of his personal history.
Burroughs often refers to this famous blade as “the knife of his
father,” so that it takes on a legendary quality like King Arthur’s
After losing Jane and his civilized home to the German terror,
Tarzan is immediately thrown into his former condition as a creature of
the jungle. Burroughs highlights this state by having him defend his
first evening lair from a leopard. It’s fitting that this kill is
Sheeta, for he is on a psychosexual quest for his lost mate. This
ordeal happens during a violently romantic thunderstorm that symbolizes
the passionate feelings of the angry, frustrated ape-man.
In Tarzan the Untamed two male lions are introduced which take a major
part in the action in a novel that is filled with lions. These two
lions might be properly called prototypes for Jad-bal-ja, for this is
the first time that Tarzan sought to tame lions for his own purposes
rather than simply killing them as mortal enemies. The first lion is
forcibly engaged to hunt the German soldiers who have invaded his land,
destroying his African estate and ostensibly killing his beloved mate,
Jane. The second lion is the black Numa of the Wamabo pit who is
rescued by Tarzan, and who later befriends him by his own will.
The strong image of the lion becomes a strange, gaunt one --
starving, bagged so we cannot see his face. Later, we encounter a lion
that behaves much like a large dog, (a true proto-Jad-bal-ja) who whines
and does not act the part of a normal lion at all. The lion symbol is
hurt and confused by war; he reflects both Tarzan’s and ERB's soul under
dire conditions. Somehow the lions in Tarzan the Untamed are incredibly
sad and reach out for our sympathy if not outright for our human pity.
The first Numa of the story is starving and androphagous, a
man-eater, who traps Tarzan up a tree in a gorge. This Numa becomes a
half-hearted helper figure who devours the brother of the villain in one
of Tarzan's grim games, and who is later employed in another clever,
Tarzan-trickster ruse in the German trenches. Furthermore, Tarzan saves
the suggestively disheveled Bertha from this same lion, which Tarzan
describes as his unwilling partner. He "knows me, that is why he fears
me" (68). Yet a few pages later this Numa saves Tarzan from a Sheeta,
and the deliverer becomes at least a momentary friend. However, this
helper Numa disappears, and Tarzan must continue his quest alone.
Part One ends with a desert "Interlude", chapter 7, the famous
battle with Ska (illustrated magnificently by St. John) and chapter 8,
a particularly grim chapter of black-baiting, ending at a Dum Dum.
Part Two, Chapters 9-14 or 15
Part Two introduces a new character, Harold Percy Smith-Oldwick,
a British pilot, who remains until the end of the book.
Burroughs inserts previously written short stories, including
"The Black Flyer", and episodes filled with the usual capture and
escape. But we suddenly come upon a human head impaled upon a branch.
It is a head without a body, but it speaks to us through grisly, broken
lips. It speaks of the barbarism of war. It whispers a reminder of the
crucifixion of the son of Muviro.
Part Three, Chapters 16-24
Part Three might be called “Tarzan and the
Lunatics,” or perhaps more to the point, "Burroughs' Nightmare of War."
In chapter 15, Tarzan enters the Interlude of the desert again,
which neatly ties the novel to chapter 7. This time instead of crossing
the eight gorges, the characters go up the length of a fatal gorge and
run into a lost city filled with maniacs.
Some critics have simply read this off as simply another lost
city adventure, but it is so bizarre that it should be included among
the gut-level endings Burroughs is able to create for the closing
sections of his greatest works. Yes, Tarzan is trying to rescue the
damsel in distress, but this time it is Bertha Kircher, his hated enemy,
a German spy whom he would be happy to see dead. Yes, he is traveling
with a lion and a human friend, Smith-Oldwick, but the lion is a so
called "normal forest lion" and the man, well, he's just a noble English
type. It's the mad city that makes the gears of this machine scream.
The second lion helper is a black lion saved from a native pit
by Tarzan in an Androcles-like gesture. This black lion of the pit must
certainly be considered to be the dark shadow of things to come when
Tarzan forms his abiding friendship with Jad-Bal-ja, the golden lion.
Tarzan and the black lion kill a pair of lions together in a team
effort, thus locking their relationship in ERB’s typical, symbolic,
lion-slaying bond. Later, this lion chases Tarzan into the mad city of
Xuja, but upon discovering his mistake he searches for his friend and
helps in the penultimate escape.
The citizens of Xuja are crazy, but they have lucid moments.
Where did they come from? Why are they mad? We never know. They are
simply unpredictable maniacs. They live with trained lions, a type we
meet again in Tarzan and the City of Gold. Tarzan does not think much
of these lions, calling them, “Cowards . . . Numa with a heart of
Bara, the deer” (212).
When Smith-Oldwick lags behind on the way to the city (weakened
by a bad mauling received by one of their tame lions) one of the guards
just goes berserk, choking and beating him to the ground. When you read
this scene, you know Burroughs had not cut his novel in two. It was not
"Tarzan and the Huns" followed by a predictable lost city story - - he
had in reality come to the crux of the matter with the German war
machine. ERB was revealing the total madness of the horrible war still
raging in Europe, a land completely unpredictable, a city of madmen
where rage ruled an insane world. It is a Burroughsian nightmare where
you are chased by maniacs, lions, and, if you can believe it, parrots!
Tarzan squeezes a guard by the neck until his eyes pop out of their
sockets! "Only the lions are sane." Doors and trap doors spring open
and shut again, you eat the same lions you yesterday treated like big,
black-maned German shepherd dogs. Orders are screamed; in fact, screams
and death are so common that most of the time no one even bothers to
check on the body count. The hounds of this war are the hounds of
Hell. It is not at all light-weight Burroughs.
We “discover” that Bertha Kircher is really a double-agent,
although readers familiar with ERB surmised that from the first. Only
Tarzan seemed unaware, but he was on a mission of revenge, and
ultimately, headed toward his father's cabin on the land-locked harbor.
The thing about Tarzan in "The Valley of Luna" is that he moves
through the city like a ghost, dressed in a yellow robe of the maniacs.
We never fear for his safety because he always has everything under
control. The nightmare slips away like the bad dream it is; the brutal
kills are easy by Tarzan the ultimate avenger. This is the only
weakness of the book. The City of Xuja is just a mad city like so many
of our mad cities today. The horror is taken for granted. The bodies
are simply thrown out the window. Maniacs, lions, and parrots, O my!
Yet, when we finally leave this nightmare, it is sadness that makes us
grateful we have awakened. Tarzan himself was at the point of giving up
hope in the final battle scene, even through he kept on saying, "We
still live!" Never did a story need a sequel like this one.
"One must die sometime . . . What difference does it make which it
is, or whether it comes tonight or next year or in ten years?"
Both Tarzan and ERB had their teeth clenched all the way through.
The war was hard on everyone.
BILL HILLMAN .
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