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Issue 0670

The Many Worlds of
Edgar Rice Burroughs Signature

Nkima's Chattering From The Shoulder #31
A Little Monkey Solemnly Surveying Them
Jungle Tales of Tarzan
A Novelistic Reading
By David Adams

Nkima's Foreword

I feel this piece is being abandoned rather than completed - that I have not said everything I want to say. But I’m used to the feeling. In fact, I expect it as I feel this way about everything I write as I realize that this is the nature of writing.  One can never say EVERYTHING. I put a LOT of time into this piece, and I’m not doing any more on it because life must move on.

 I know there are rough sections that could be polished, but sometimes the roughness shows my methods of thinking in an interesting way.  I follow false leads on some topics and later turn to other ones, but I decided to leave this method of thinking in parts the article.  (There is a rather large TANTOR piece here that I clipped somewhat because it was leading me in another article.)

I have integrated my Burroughs Bulletin Jungle Tales article into this piece.  Part I of that article serves as an introduction and   Part II kind of goes through the same stuff as the new article but from a slightly different angle.  There are different thoughts here - - so I'm sending it along. I might suggest that you read Part 1 of my BB article for MOOD, read my new article for IDEAS on THEME & STRUCTURE and read Part II of my BB article as another view of the whole novel.

 I think the MOST interesting fact is that I can come back to these stories again and again and always find something NEW in them.


Large-sized versions of the St. John illustrations featured below may be found at:
ERBzine  0492 C.H.A.S.E.R. Jungle Tales of Tarzan

A Meditation and Symbolic Clippings of the Mane
(This version is somewhat revised and improved from the original
Burroughs Bulletin article published  in  BB New Series  #23, July 1995)

Part I
Edenic Peace

"The cry is not yours.  It is not you talking, but innumerable ancestors talking with your mouth.  It is not you who desire, but innumerable generations of descendants longing with your heart."

~ Kazantzakis, Spiritual Exercises

Headpiece from the original appearance of Tarzan of the Apes in All-Story
JUNGLE TALES OF TARZAN is the book of Genesis.  It takes place in the Garden of Eden before the flood of civilization pours over the world of a naked ape-boy, who lives free as Usha the wind in a land where mythology is as common as green grass and forest leaves.  It is a series of little tales as important as legend.  It is filled with long summer days and warm, lazy nights where the sounds of jungle insects hum and whir upon a dew-drenched landscape painted by Hogarth in riots of red and gold, covering the skin of an ancient landscape in blessing, wonder, and immortal grace.  If a leopard steps forth from the verdure, you can talk to it directly, face to face; you stand eye to eye with Numa the lion; the gibbering of the apes is filled with meaning since you are one of them in a brotherhood that is bathed in the gentle wash of time predating time.  It is the song of Tarzan of the Apes, the same lonesome lullaby that rocked the cradle at Olduvai Gorge.

There's nothing else like it in Edgar Rice Burroughs.

"Just to have seen him there,
Lolling upon the swaying bough
of the jungle-forest giant,
His brown skin mottled
by the brilliant equatorial sunlight
Which percolated through
the leafy canopy of green above him,
His shapely head partly turned
in contemplative absorption
And his intelligent, gray eyes
dreamily devouring
the object of their devotion,
You would have thought him
the reincarnation
of some demigod of old."  (JT, 1)

We are captivated by the scene.  A grass rope surrounds our sun-bronzed shoulders.  We drop to the soft jungle floor without a sound, hearing only the rapid beating of our own hearts.  The knife at our side is the one left us by our fathers.  We are in love with this world, in love with Teeka, in love with the slow passing of our own youth.  Everything that happens now is a treasure to remember:  the cruel innocence of the patriarchs, the easy gaming with the gods.

However savage and unfeeling the ape-child seems to the sophisticated mind, he cannot be gainsaid, for these are the feelings of youth, not the musings of a grey-haired philosopher.  Burroughs fell into his own child's soul to write these tales; he fell deep and found himself swimming easily in the unconscious tidepools where apedom and humanity still touch each other with glancing paws.

The stories all long for something, something old, something wild.  It's like a being before being itself.  All familiar selfhoods drop off like useless rags.

"Lost to Tarzan of the Apes was the truth of his origin.  That he was John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, with a seat in the House of Lords, he did not know, nor, knowing, would have understood"  (JT, 2).
It is a longing for the lost apehood humanity branched off from millions of years ago.  Burroughs says of the mangani, "the progenitors of man have, naturally, many human traits"  (JTT, 13) and although he has it wrong, for no living ape is a progenitor of man, we know what he means.  It is a longing for the lost Rampithecus-Adam we once were before the branches of the family tree began to snap under our reaching hands.  It is the lost kinship with the Australopithecus, whom no one knows for certain to be our cousin or our brother.  The only certain thing is that we once shared the green savannas of Africa, and anyone looking deep enough is certain to find the gaze of an ape looking back from the mirror of the hominid soul.

Part II is 

Pinnacle UK edition 1954

Frank Frazetta art: Ace 1963


I. Tarzan's First Love

II. The Capture of Tarzan

Eward Mortelmans art: Four Square 1961

Edward Mortelmans art: Four Square 1964

Richard Powers art: Ballantine 1963

III. The Fight for the Balu

Robert Abbett art: Ballantine 1969

Robert Abbett art: Ballantine 1972

IV. The God of Tarzan

V. Tarzan and the Black Boy

VI. The Witch-Doctor Seeks Vengeance

VII. The End of Bukawai

VIII. The Lion

New English Library UK edition 1967

IX. The Nightmare

X. The Battle for Teeka

XI. A Jungle Joke

Barclay Shaw art: Ballantine 1992

XII. Tarzan Rescues the Moon

J. Allen St. John adapted cover: Del Rey 1997

The 12 episodes of Jungle Tales of Tarzan  can be read as a remarkable questing novel.  The short story form employed in this book is somewhat misleading because even though the stories do stand alone upon their various merits, they are elaborately linked by the highest level of the novelist’s art.

One might list the major themes of this novel as follows:

  • Childhood innocence
  • Tarzan’s need for companionship with both men & beasts
  • Love rejected and subsequent loneliness
  • A search for an understanding of nature & God
  • The trickster God in many forms
  • The plot that unfolds these themes is marvelously intricate.  It is one that moves ever forward with assurance, employing the highest craft of the novelist.  The series of 12 stories can be read as novelistic episodes that explore all of the themes listed above in many ways through the use of many characters.

    Jungle Tales opens with chapter 1 - Tarzan’s First Love - an episode of childhood’s innocence with a search for companionship and love, a thematic element that informs the plot until chapter 8 in which Tarzan loses his naivete in the failed trickster episode.  It tells of Tarzan’s first love, which happens to be for an ape.  Burroughs handles the theme with a touch of humor rather than the shock of bestiality later employed by P.J. Farmer in his pastiches on this theme.  In a sense, this theme  continues in an underlying way throughout the search for God episodes until the final chapter in which Tarzan discovers that he is A MAN who has needs beyond the apes.

    Rather than continuing this chapter 1 story, Burroughs delays the thread until chapter 3 by interposing chapter 2 - The Capture of Tarzan - in which the author introduces a successful animal relationship with the ape-child Tarzan.  This Tantor the elephant theme will continue throughout the novel as a philosophical point of balance that Tarzan has already established with his surroundings.  This balance is dramatically upset  in chapter 9, but reestablished again in Tarzan’s musing to Tantor in chapter 12.

    Tantor as a Symbol

    Tantor themes in the novels of ERB are usually presented as areas of quiet rest in between more active and violent episodes.  Tantor is sometimes a rescuer, sometimes a mad beast in must, but his role is nearly always resolved in a manner that leaves Tarzan with contentment in the jungle, with a peace beyond human understanding.

    Tantor represents the spirit of the jungle itself in its huge, overwhelming form --  steady and sure as the enclosing leaves.  Tarzan often gets into philosophical moods while lolling upon the back of this patient, slow moving beast, as he does in the beautifully worded statement of his personal creed in chapter 12.  Tarzan is integrally linked to Tantor as a sort of totem that must not be harmed or eaten (as seen in chapter 9 - The Nightmare).

    One recalls Tarzan’s rescue of Korak and Meriem from Tantor in the final chapter of The Son of Tarzan.  This earlier novel developed the Tantor theme in a remarkable way that demonstrated Tarzan’s relationship with the elephant as a symbol of great power.  Only Tarzan was capable of such a complete unification with this jungle spirit.  Only Tarzan was able to command the unreasoning madness lurking in what could be for others a heart of darkness.  Korak, even though presented as Tarzan’s natural son for an entire novel, could only fulfill the role of his father to a limited degree when it came to this Tantor spirit.  Thus, Korak reflects in his famous statement, “There is but one Tarzan.  There can never be another.”

    Tarzan and Tantor are one in spirit in the deepest regions of love, therefore when Burroughs presents us with a Tantor theme we can be sure we are entering the realm of the spiritual.  He tells us that “Of all jungle folk, Tantor commanded Tarzan’s greatest love since Kala had been taken from him.”  On a mystical level, one might view Tantor as a manifestation of the Hebrew Shekhinah, or in Christian terms, the Holy Spirit.  In the language of Pal-ul-don, which ERB devised later, Tan-tor means warrior-beast.  The name is one of power for ERB -- one reflected in the tandors (mammoths) of Pellucidar.  It is a beast that moves through the eons as an “Ancient of Days.”

    Tantor is the beast/being which represents the power of the earth and of the jungle (the Eden) that is Tarzan’s home.  It is a strangely masculine/feminine principle combined.  Tarzan does not call Tantor grandfather or grandmother, but it seems it would be appropriate if he would have used either designation.

    The Shekhinah is described by Scholem as a symbol of an eternal, weeping womanhood. Burroughs develops this theme in his Jungle Girl  with its “Weeping queens on misty elephants.”  Here, the hero, Gordon King, encounters the Shekhinah in a novel filled with mystical images in a state of high hallucination.  It is known that many of the themes in Jungle Girl  are based upon Robert J. Casey’s “Four Faces of Siva,” which links Tantor with  Hinduism, another form of ancient spirituality. (See: The Burroughs Bulletin New Series #46, Spring 2001 where two excellent articles on this topic may be found.  Especially curious in this respect is the one by Dr. Vishwas R. Gaitonde, who links Jungle Tales  to Jungle Girl  by way of a discussion of their common themes of leprosy.)

    As chapter 1 ended with rejection, chapter 3 - The Fight for the Balu - continues the thread and ends with a reconciliation.  However, this story only provides Tarzan of the Apes an acceptance in the animal world, while chapters 5, 6, and 7 expands this love and relationship theme into the human world as well.

    The enduring charm of these stories comes from ERB’s gifted ability to present the psychology of childhood and the animal friends of childhood in a unique way.  The reader can follow Tarzan’s line of naive reasoning in a believable fashion, and the animal characters react as real animals might rather than as types, as Kipling’s animals do in his Jungle Books.  Even Jack London’s dogs eventually fall into anthropomorphic types in his great novels, The Call of the Wild  and White Fang.  Somehow, Burroughs is able to keep the cutting edge of “a lion is always a lion” with his animals, even though they can and do  function on a higher plane of symbols for him as well.  It is indeed a precarious balance maintained with a unique genius for writing about beasts in many forms throughout most of his novels.

    I believe that Burroughs was able to maintain this amazing distance combined with uncanny depth because he was writing without pretense to high art or consciously calculated effects.  He wrote from his heart, and thus his human heart opened upon hidden mysteries quite naturally. It is easy to read Burroughs and smile at the obvious correctness (and directness) of his visions without the annoyance of metaphorical strings and wires moving his beasts and characters, as are sometimes noticeable in lesser writers.  If an ape speaks in a novel of Burroughs, it is as an ape might speak, rather than as a man putting words into the mouth of an ape.  These writing skills shine to their highest effect in Jungle Tales of Tarzan, which is his Edenic state par excellence.  Here, the animals and Tarzan-Adam walk and talk together in a garden before the Fall.  All questing occurs within this absolutely elemental arena in a timeless land of the mind where beasts and images of beasts roam in a universal place we all seem to vaguely remember from long ago.

    In chapter 4- Tarzan’s Search for God - Burroughs begins the second large thematic area, one that continues with ever increasing power until the end of the novel.  Tarzan’s search for God reflects and enhances his search for companionship.  The story ends with a half-comic question, “Who made Histah, the snake?”

    Burroughs got into the mind of the ape-child-Adam in a most remarkable way.  He was able to enter this child-mind, follow logical questions about the nature of the earth, of God, and of human psychology until he reaches the age-old conundrum of the origin of Evil.  Of course, Histah is the image of the serpent of Genesis, but it may reveal some of Burroughs’ own thoughts about this biblical story.  Also, one must not discount the abiding influence of Mark Twain upon Burroughs, especially from his Extracts from Adam’s Diary (published in many forms) and Eve’s Diary, published in 1906.

    In chapter 5 - Tarzan and the Black Boy - Tarzan kidnaps a black child to be his human companion, which is a continuation of the theme begun in chapters 1&3.  Tarzan seeks a balu (a baby) to be a part of something more than himself, however this quest also ends in failure.

    Chapters 6 - The Witch-Doctor Seeks Vengeance - and chapter 7 - The End of Bukawai - deal with the complications that arose in the # 5 episode with the witch-doctor.  Thus, Chapters 5,6, and 7 read as a continuous episode and fit into the whole in a novelistic fashion.

    In chapter 8 - The Lion - Tarzan settles down to dealing with the apes in another way -- this time  as an intelligent leader rather than as a comfortable companion.   Tarzan as an unsuccessful trickster ties this episode to chapter 4 in which God is at least tangentially understood as a trickster who has planted the snake in this Garden of Eden.  This chapter is a turning point in the novel because Tarzan begins to turn away from innocence after he is almost killed acting the part of the lion-god, covered by the skin of Numa.

    The story of Tarzan disguised as a lion is a very complex theme that begins with Tarzan of the Apes  and continues through the entire Tarzan series of novels, as demonstrated by my “Soul of the Lion” published in ERBapa  #47, Fall 1995.  As I pointed out in an earlier article in the Burroughs Bulletin #23, July 1995, “Jungle Tales of Tarzan: A  Meditation and Symbolic  Clippings of the Mane,” the 12 stories of Jungle Tales  can be compared with the 12 labors of Hercules.  ( A lion-skin was worn by Hercules, and theme of Tarzan’s shooting arrows at the moon is related to the Hercules legend.)  However, ERB does take pains to disassociate Tarzan from Hercules (muscled more like Apollo than like Hercules) and this hero is not especially known for his tricks.

    The wily Odysseus is the famous classical trickster, and this wandering hero who engages in a series of adventures with women and strange beings seems to be the model ERB had in the back of his mind for his subsequent adventures of Tarzan.  Yet  Odysseus did not wear a lion skin -- not that ERB couldn’t have come up with something entirely original -- but the story is so good that it seems familiar -- perhaps because it is archtypal -- but archtypal of what?  Who dresses in the skin of an enemy to deceive and is himself deceived?  Satan?  That roaring lion - - the old deceiver?  Is Tarzan getting into the role of Histah?  Does he slither?  O yes, he does:  the natives fear him as the devil-god (205) and he does slink “the feared devil-god slunk noiselessly . . .”  Later he “curls himself . . .”   in the fork of a tree (208).  The theme is only tangential, but the hints are there.

    The theme of the human scapegoat described by Frazer in The Golden Bough  could have played a role in this episode.  He describes the Mamurius Veturius, that is, “the old Mars,” who is clad in skins and led in procession through the streets of Rome, beaten with long white rods, and driven out of the city.  It is probably only a coincidence that the ape who was killed in this chapter was named Mamka.  However, the purpose of the public scapegoat was to carry away the sins, misfortunes, and sorrows of the whole people.  Tarzan who assumed the role of protector of his people found himself bearing the full force of their wrath for the earlier crime of the death of one of their own.  The connection may be subtle, or turned on its ear by Burroughs.  He was capable of writing great puns into his work.  Manu the monkey uncovers Tarzan by pulling on the ear of the lion skin.

    Yet this scapegoat ritual does not seem to fit the situation.  Perhaps we should consider the lion skin episodes as a rite of passage, after all Tarzan is near puberty, and such a symbolic ritual would be in order.  Frazer mentions an Indian ritual of the Wolf clan in which members wearing wolf skins and masks of a wolf’s head  ritually kill the lad being initiated into the clan.  In this way he can be born anew as a wolf with the power of appearing in the shape of the totem with which he is sympathetically united.  Burroughs certainly works out this ritual in the two transformation-trickster stories of chapters 8 and 11.  The first transformation is aborted by the apes, but the second one that takes place before human beings is completely successful.   Tarzan is given credit for his transformation into a lion by superstitious men, and he retained this power in the eyes of the author who so often described him as this Numa-like being.

    Where else could have Burroughs found this image?  American Indian trickster tales?  I have not completely exhausted the meaning of this powerful event.

    In chapter 9 - The Nightmare -  the spiritual theme extends into a nightmare (oddly called Tarzan’s “first dream” whereas ERB probably meant his “primal dream” or “foremost dream” since the boy has certainly had dreams before this one).  Even story 2 is finally linked to the novel since Tarzan has eaten a food that is taboo to him, that of his companion, Tantor.  It is a great story in which the hero struggles with illusion and reality.

    This episode can be read on many levels, which will not be completely covered here.  Tarzan’s series of dreams might be read according to Freudian, Jungian, or other psychological methods.  The philosophical problem of the nature of reality can also be read on many levels.  For now I will but offer the suggestion that Tarzan in Jungle Tales  is presented as a representative of the childhood of mankind, a figure of Adam in the garden of Eden.  He is living in a mythical epoch where the lines between the real and the unreal are shadowy, so his basic struggle may have been more with the real rather than with the unreal.  ERB doesn’t see it this way, but the problem is so subtle that he may have lost track of his character’s true mind at this point. Tarzan is a being living daily in so-called “dream-time,” so dreams are already his natural element rather than any reality that may be posited by Western philosophy.  This is a subtly involving both human psychology and philosophy, one that could be argued back and forth for some time indeed.

    Chapter 10 - The Battle for Teeka -  returns to the Teeka/Gazan stories of numbers 1 & 3, yet it delays the inevitable wrapping up the spiritual threads.  One might question the placement of this episode so late in the twelve, yet the return to this early theme does tie the stories together in a novelistic way.  The weight of the two previous philosophical chapters are brought to earth by this diversion.  It is also tied to chapter 8 since the tragedy occurs because guards are not posted around the ape camp as Tarzan had requested.

    There are several thematic issues covered in this story besides the ones of capture and rescue.  One involves the bones of his parents which he does not recognize as such as he whiles away the time in the cabin by the sea.  Tarzan steps over the bones of his father and crawls under the bed that holds the bones of his mother, seeking a dropped gold coin, a lovely yellow piece -- an English sovereign.  I’m not going to make a Freudian issue out of this event -- it’s too easy.  Tarzan finds bullets under the bed that later prove to be the means of his salvation by “the dead father, reaching back out of the past across the span of twenty years.”  In a way, the short story is a little contrived.  The “surprise” ending does not really come as a surprise at all since Burroughs often telegraphed his endings rather than foreshadowing them.

    Chapter 11 - A Jungle Joke -  is a successful trickster story, again using a lion skin.  Many themes come together in this episode:  Tarzan tricks the gomangani in a very clever ruse.  His humor is broad but quite deadly for those on the end of his practical joke.  Burroughs is at his best when he combines a biting humor (pun intended) with Tarzan.  Tarzan does not establish a relationship with humans, but he is raised to a new level himself.  He in effect performs his own rite of initiation in a successful manner. Just as he taught himself to read, Tarzan performs the so-called rites of passage on his own.  (These acts of self-actualization, I believe, are deeds that make him an enormously popular hero, especially to adolescent boys. A close reading of his relationship with Jane in Tarzan of the Apes uncover the same sort of “do-it-yourself” attitude in his “engagement” scene with her.)  The penultimate scene shows Tarzan  transformed into a lion and thus he is ready for his final quest for God, which ends with an uncertain relationship with the deity.

    Chapter 12 - Tarzan Rescues the Moon  -  His spiritual quest is separating Tarzan from his ape companions, some of whom want to kill him for his religious aberrations.  He is defended by Taug, who has become his friend, giving him at least one companion within his own tribe, again effectively tying many the themes together.

    After expounding his jungle philosophy to Tantor, the spirit of the jungle, Tarzan shows compassion to a black man, thus ending the previous witch doctor episodes with a new, more understanding ape-man.  He realizes he is a MAN.

    Tarzan retreats into his father’s cabin away from the apes -- a spiritual retreat of a moon -- his forty days in the desert.  When he returns, Tarzan becomes a hero by saving the MOON from Numa.  He remains a religious skeptic, but he has become a superior being in the eyes of the apes.

    In conclusion:  Tarzan establishes new relationships within his peer group, the apes.  He moves from the role of a frustrated lover through one of protector of his tribe to that of becoming a superior being outside the tribe, yet retaining a few loyal friends.  His relationship with men moves from a frustrated and failed adoption through trickster rituals that lead him to a human and spiritual act of compassion.  His relationship with God continues as an on-going process and search for meaning.  The 12 short stories are all intimately linked through the use of many major and minor themes to form a satisfying novel.

    Jungle Tales of Tarzan: A Novelistic Reading is continued in Nkima Chat #32

    Frazer, Sir James George, The Golden Bough, Macmillan, 1975.
    Scholem, Gershom G.  Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Schocken, 1974.
    Jungle Tales of Tarzan ~ PD e-text
    ERBzine 0492 C.H.A.S.E.R. Jungle Tales of Tarzan
    ERBzine 1337: Men Like Gods: Tarzan Pays Homage To Heracles by R. E. Prindle
    David "Nkima" Adams' 
    ERBzine homepage
    ERBzine 0396
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