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Issue 0671

The Many Worlds of
Edgar Rice Burroughs Signature

Nkima's Chattering From The Shoulder #32
A Little Monkey Solemnly Surveying Them
Jungle Tales of Tarzan
A Novelistic Reading (continued)
By David Adams

Part III:
The Twelve Lunar Labors


When we are through indulging in realms of magic and are ready to get down to the serious business of literary criticism, we find that Edgar Rice Burroughs has presented us with a unique set of epic tales of a sun-god in his youthful lunar phase.  For whatever other reasons one may present for the stories numbering twelve, make no mistake in thinking that Burroughs was not completely aware that he was rewriting the classical twelve labors for his ape-man with the model of Hercules clearly in mind.

Each of the labors of course refers to a specific sign of the zodiac, and a deeper study than this one may show them to match the cycle point for point.  If they do not fit neatly into the Hercules myth with equal ease, it is only because Burroughs was interested in developing his larger symbolic theme of showing how the young Tarzan was in the process of discovering his totem animal, Numa, the male lion.  (A more complete treatment of these themes can be found in my article, "The Soul of the Lion", a study of the lion symbol throughout all of the books in the Tarzan series.)

If my theory is correct, we should expect to find Sabor and Sheeta stories before the Numa ones in this series of Tarzan's initiation tales written just after the great account of the initiation of a hero in The Son of Tarzan.  Sabor is a female lion, which represents the feminine side of the symbol complex, and overcoming the Magna Mater necessary for the young man as a stepping stone to his eventual full hero status.

1.  In the first story, Tarzan saves Teeka, his first ape love, from Sheeta, the leopard (a classic symbol of unbridled sexual passion) --  and given the nature of the story -- a  perfect symbolistic fit.  (As in The Son of Tarzan  there are other big issues happening, but for sake of brevity this article must stay focused on the lion.)

2.  A Tantor story - -  the elephant is a symbol of strength, axis of the universe, clouds, wisdom, moderation, eternity, pity  (Cirlot, A Dictionary of Symbols, 92).  The aspect is more relaxed, or more ethereal; it is an eternal friendship Burroughs employs over and over to express peace and contentment - - quiet moments before the storm.

3.  Tarzan saves Teeka's balu from a leopard - - the old passionate attachment is vindicated.

4.  The God of Tarzan - - Tarzan, "muscled like Numa, the lion" (82) slays the Buffalo-headed witch-doctor "god," then  running and growling like Numa himself (89-90) he spares Mbonga out of pity  (91) and saves Teeka from a snake in the garden of Eden.

5.  Tarzan and the Black Boy - - Visions of Numa struggling in his rope thrilled the ape-man (101).  This is true because Numa's capture or death would signal the coming of his manhood.  Tarzan viewed the suffering of Sabor and her dead cubs (127) which  confirms the waning Magna Mater image.  Burroughs gets involved with an "association of ideas" (128) around motherhood, but we have to read the dead lion cub as the ending of Tarzan's youth to get the complete picture.  Is Tarzan to have a balu, like a woman?  He saves his mock-child (Tibo) from Numa, killing a male lion with his spear & knife. Was this his first kill of Numa?  Well, it's the earliest recorded if we read Tarzan's life as history rather than fiction, thus the first related to his male-hero symbolism.

6.  Tarzan drinks water with Numa - - reflecting the great scene in Jewels  (142).  It is a scene of confirmation of his male-hero status.  He returns to his balu's mother, but leaves without slaying her.  A lion coughs and moans under his tree all night long.  There is no going back now.  He is a male-lion-hero.  (A comic kitty cat meowing at Lord Greystoke's estate in far-off England mirrors the situation) (146)  Then, he saves little lost Tibo from the witch-doctor Bukawai's hyenas.

7.  The End of Bukawai - - A jungle storm is convincingly compared to lions on the hunt (179).  Tarzan ties Bukawai to feed his own hyenas - - like the infamous Untamed scene with the starving lion and the German.

8.  Numa kills a female mangani, and Tarzan and the apes steal the body back (204).  They post sentries.  Tarzan is almost killed by the apes when he (Hercules-like) dresses in a lion-pelt.  He was not yet the lord of the jungle, king of the apes (196).

9.  The Nightmare - - Tarzan eats bad elephant meat, (devouring the symbol of friendship and peace becomes taboo) then dreams of a climbing lion (219).  He  sees a real lion to make a comparison between dream symbols and reality (222).  Tarzan had dreamed his first dream - - and Burroughs takes advantage of the situation to ask many questions, which demonstrates that some of the lion sequences in the Tarzan Series are to be considered dream sequences.   He dreams of Histah (226).  Tarzan thinks he is dreaming of an attack by Bolgani, the gorilla, but it is real.

"If this was a sleep adventure, what then was reality?  How was he to know the one from the other?  How much of all that had happened in his life had been real and how much unreal? (233)
We might read the situation as the division between the real and the unreal being presented to Tarzan for the first time, whereas, he actually is coming to a sense of the real.  His life before this was all in dream-time.  He is actually on the brink of leaving his Edenic state into a new world of reality rather than the other way around.  His status as an Adam who lives in perfect harmony with Nature and the animals is being challenged.

10.  Battle for Teeka - - It is a fight with an ape; no lions are involved.  Another lion here would have been simply amazing and great support to the lion symbol theory, but enough is enough.  What is happening here?  Even my second paper does not make it clear to me.

11.  Jungle Joke - -  Tarzan puts Rabba Kega, a witch doctor, into lion-cage-trap where he is killed by a Numa.  He performs the hiding under a lion skin trick again, (as in story # 8) but pulls a switch and frees a real lion in the village.  Lion tricks are initiation rites made up by Tarzan to fix his lion totem.  Burroughs' comment placed into the mouth of one of the natives proves the point .

"'He changed himself from a lion to a man, and back again into a lion,"' whispered another" (292).
(By the way, the witch doctor, Rabba Kega, quite obviously got his name from Kabba Rega, the king of Unyoro mentioned by Henry M. Stanley in his Through the Dark Continent . (Stanley 346)

12.  Tarzan Rescues the Moon - - The lion is a jungle night hunter in ERB (295).  While lions surround a group of natives huddled behind a boma at night,  Burroughs paints a great picture of his lion symbol.  We see the lion's eyes, a constellation of fierce stars in the jungle night, and they are compared with the stars overhead, as the flashing torches of the frightened natives whirl and spin through the great darkness that lies in between.  Eventually, the lions feed upon the blacks, but Tarzan is bored.  It is he who finally recognizes the stars as lions eyes (303).  Numa hunts above the trees (304).  And in a crowning moment, "a meteor fell, blazing a flaming way through the sky.  "Look!" cried Tarzan.  "Goro has thrown a burning branch at Numa" (304).   It is after this revelation that Tarzan speaks his "it is good to be alive" credo, and it is most appropriately spoken to Tantor, the symbol of eternal peace.

"Tantor, " he said, "it is good to be alive.  It is good to lie in the cool shadows.  It is good to look upon the green trees and the bright colors of the flowers - - upon everything which Bulamutumumo has put here for us  .  .  .  All that He asks is that we be strong enough or cunning enough to go forth and take it.  Yes, Tantor, it is good to live.  I should hate to die" (308).
Numa, the lion does not approach Tantor/Tarzan, for they are etched in eternity now.  He spares a black - - a sign of his man-pity to come (315).  Then the great Numa of the skies is slain by Tarzan, a great scene that rounds out the series of stories and the lion symbol in epic proportions (318).
"Raising his face to the moon, Tarzan shrilled forth his hideous challenge.  Faintly and from afar came the roar of an answering lion.  The apes shivered.  Numa of the skies had answered Tarzan" (318).
An eclipse of the moon is turned into an occasion of symbolistic epiphany.  When one finally sees what Burroughs was doing with this powerful series of twelve stories, it raises his stature as a writer of great literature as well as entertaining tales.
"At last came a cry from Taug.'Look!  Look!' he screamed.  'Numa is killed.  Tarzan has killed Numa" (319).
In the tenth labor of Hercules, the hero shoots an arrow at the sun.
"Helius beamed down upon Heracles who, finding it impossible to work in such heat, strung his bow and let fly an arrow at the god"  (Graves, Greek Myths 133).
Graves tells us in one of his copious footnotes that:
"The arrow which Heracles shot at the noon-day sun will have been one discharged at the zenith during his coronation ceremony" (Graves, Greek Myths 144).
Although the lion is a solar symbol, these are the night tales of Tarzan, dream-like memories of youth, so the Moon-Lion at the end is entirely suitable.  Tarzan has performed the twelve lunar labors, overcoming both the Magna Mater and her symbolic planet.  And although he does not achieve final unity with his totem lion until the opening chapters of Tarzan and the Golden Lion, these stories provide us with the arcana of Tarzan's youth in the most spectacular fashion.  There is really nothing else like it in all of Burroughs.

Nkima's Chart of Hercules’ Labors 
Related to Jungle Tales
Nkima invites readers to 
study the Jungle Tales and Labors references scattered
throughout this webpage to try to discover his reasoning for these links
I.  Tarzan’s First Love = Labor 9 - Hippolyte’s Girdle
II.  The Capture of Tarzan = Labor 12 - The Capture of Cerberus
III.  The Fight for the Balu = Labor 10 - The Cattle of Geryon
IV.  The God of Tarzan = Labor 11 - The Apples of the Hesperides
V.  Tarzan and the Black Boy = Labor 3 - The Ceryneian Hind
VI.  The Witch-Doctor Seeks Vengeance = Labor 5 - The Stables of Augeias
VII.  The End of Bukawai = Labor 8 - The Mares of Diomedes
VIII.  The Lion = Labor 1 - The Nemean Lion
IX.  The Nightmare = Labor 2 - The Lernaean Hydra
X.  The Battle for Teeka = Labor 6 - The Stymphalian Birds
XI.  A Jungle Joke = Labor 4 - The Erymanthian Boar
XII.  Tarzan Rescues the Moon = Labor 7 - The Cretan Bull
I. Tarzan's First Love
II. The Capture of Tarzan
III. The Fight for the Balu
IV. The God of Tarzan
I. Tarzan's First Love
II. The Capture of Tarzan
III. The Fight for the Balu
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
V. Tarzan and the Black Boy
VI. The Witch-Doctor Seeks Vengeance
VII. The End of Bukawai
VIII. The Lion
IX. The Nightmare
X. The Battle for Teeka
XI. A Jungle Joke
XII. Tarzan Rescues the Moon
IX. The Nightmare
X. The Battle for Teeka
XI. A Jungle Joke
XII. Tarzan Rescues the Moon

The goddess Hera, determined to make trouble for Hercules, made him lose his mind. In a confused and angry state, he killed his own wife and children.  When he awakened from his "temporary insanity," Hercules was shocked and upset by what he'd done. He prayed to the god Apollo for guidance, and the god's oracle told him he would have to serve Eurystheus, the king of Tiryns and Mycenae, for twelve years, in punishment for the murders.  As part of his sentence, Hercules had to perform twelve Labors, feats so difficult that they seemed impossible. Fortunately, Hercules had the help of Hermes and Athena, sympathetic deities who showed up when he really needed help. By the end of these Labors, Hercules was, without a doubt, Greece's greatest hero.  His struggles made Hercules the perfect embodiment of an idea the Greeks called pathos, the experience of virtuous struggle and suffering which would lead to fame and, in Hercules' case, immortality.
I. Slaying the Nemean Lion
II. Destroying the Many-Headed Lernean Hydra
Hercules wrestling the Nemean lionHercules wearing the lion skin
Hercules and Iolaos in chariotHercules slaying the Lernean hydra
III. Capture of the Diana's Pet Cerynian Hind
IV. Bringing Home A Live Erymanthean Boar
Diana with a deerHercules with the hind of Ceryneia and the goddess Athena
Hercules and the centaur Pholos shaking handsHercules brings the boar to Eurstheus, carrying it on his shoulder. He rests his foot on the rim of the pithos, where Eurystheus cowers.
V. Hercules Cleans Up the Augean Stables
VI. The Stymphalian Birds
A bull drinking water from a basin.Hercules takes a break. The goddess Athena pours him a cup of wine.
Dancer with krotala, flute case, and walking stickHercules and the Stymphalian birds
VII. The Cretan Bull
VIII. The Horses of Diomedes
The Cretan BullTheseus fighting the Minotaur
Horse and groomFallen archer trampled by horses
IX. Belt of Hippolyte: Hercules Fights Amazons
X. Geryon's Cattle
An AmazonHercules battles the Amazons. The Amazon has fallen to one knee, supported  by the shield on her left arm. A wrapped object at her waist may represent the prized belt.
GeryonHercules, Geryon, the dog Orthros: copyright Staatl. Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, München
XI. The Apples of the Hesperides
XII. Cerberus
Hercules fighting KyknosHercules in the garden of the Hesperides.
CerberusHercules and Cerberus

Frazer, Sir James George, The Golden Bough, Macmillan, 1975.
Scholem, Gershom G.  Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Schocken, 1974.

Internet References
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
Latin Translations of Hercules and His Legends
Hercules: Greece's Greatest Hero
From which we have adapted reference thumbnail illlustrations adapted from  photographs by:
Maria Daniels ~ Staatl. Antikensammlungen und Glyptothek, München ~ Brooke Hammerle
From collections displayed at: Museum of Fine Arts, Boston ~ University Museums, University of Mississippi ~ J. Paul Getty Museum, Malibu, California ~ Harvard University Art Museums ~ Museum of Art, RISD, Providence, RI ~ British Museum, London ~ Mount Holyoke College Art Museum ~ University of Pennsylvania Museum ~ Tampa Museum of Art ~ Toledo Museum of Art ~ Musée du Louvre
Classical Myth: The Ancient Sources
The Ancient Greek World
Heracles and the Rulers of Greece
The Perseus Digital Library

David "Nkima' Adams' 
ERBzine homepage
ERBzine 0396
to see the navigation chart of all of his 
Chattering From the Shoulder columns 
and other appearances in the Hillman ERB Cosmos

Issue 0671

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