NOTES ON SONG OF OPAR
If you ask me to name the female character who has created
the most interest in me in all the fiction I have read over the years,
it would have to be Edgar Rice Burroughs’ femme fatale — La.
I think ERB did not flesh out the character of La to possibly
keep her mysterious and an enigma. I always hoped that ERB would
have gone back to La and told her whole story making her the center of
attention – not Tarzan. Wishful thinking, he never did.
So Song of Opar is my attempt to enlarge
upon my favorite of ERB’s creations. I am attempting to fill in all
the missing pieces, as well as revising some of the shortcomings (in my
way of thinking) of the novels in which La appeared.
I really don’t believe ERB knew the effect this woman
would have on the psyche of pre-teenage boys who read the stories.
When it came to creating a woman for male readers to lust
over, ERB probably did a better job than even he anticipated. La
exudes sex in every scene in which she appears and gives hints of her innocent
sexuality. There is always the insinuation of nudity about her.
She is always topless and uses bits of bangles and animal skins to
gird her loins. She seems to be unaware of her effect on Tarzan.
However, as Tarzan is the first man she has ever been attracted to, she
is quite capable of flaunting her charms to capture his attention.
There was always a tremendous mystique and surrounding
La. Despite her brief appearances in ERB’s stories she was totally
fascinating and always dominated the scene. I felt, strongly,
the desire to know more about her – to have more of her secrets revealed.
My personal wish was to have her appear in more Tarzan epics (not
just cameo appearances), and perhaps her own novel. The way ERB presented
her was as a fill-in character playing the ultimate tease.
Perhaps ERB did not realize the power he had infused into La by giving
her the ability to beguile men in the few words written about her.
I chose to offer a plausible story of the origins of Opar
in the dim past. I began what I call the modern period of Opar’s
history by starting with Waziri, as a young man, traveling to Opar to seek
his fortune. With pressures coming upon Opar and its residents in
the build-up to the second world war, I wanted to document it’s demise
and narrate the fate of the remaining inhabitants.
About fifteen years ago I developed a fascination for
the history of Egypt. I have a shelf with books covering most of
the facets of that civilization’s ancient beginnings. My wife and
I made trips to Egypt in 2009 and 2011. We left Cairo just weeks
before the Arab Spring uprising. During those visits, we traveled
the country from North to South, including a boat trip south on the Nile.
So we experienced (in a more civilized manner) the colonization voyage
that is described in Song of Opar.
My opinion is that Egypt was the foundation of the civilization
we know today. Many of the religious beliefs were founded thousands
of years ago in the cities along the Nile. The civilization of Ancient
Egypt is the only one in history that totally collapsed twice and resurrected
itself after the falls. Interestingly enough after both devastations,
the new leaders chose to recreate the same type of government that had
The fall of ancient Egypt at the end of the sixth dynasty
stranding and isolating the people of Opar is a historical fact.
The ruler at the time of the collapse was Pepi II. He ruled for 94
years. The drying up of the Nile was historical fact. This
drought and many more that occurred for shorter periods of time were regional
and seemed to affect many ancient countries bordering the Mediterranean.
These years known as the First Intermediate period, meaning
the 150 years that passed between the collapse of the Old Kingdom and the
rise of the Middle Kingdom. I left out of Song of Opar mentions,
in carvings, of people depicted as starving and eating their own children.
These events are recorded in northern and central Egypt.
The names of the characters introduced in the first 75
pages of the book are actual popular names used in that period of time
for men and women.
The location of the colonies of Opar takes place where
it does because there is gold in those mountains. There is
where (historically) the people of Kush (Nubia) minded the gold they paid
to the Pharaohs in the form of protection money.
Worship of the sun began in ancient Egypt prior to the
third dynasty (about 2600 BC). Human sacrifice goes back to what
is called Dynasty Zero (about 3000 BC). Large numbers of bodies were
found buried alongside the leader at his interment. One of these
burials contained over 600 corpses. Human sacrifice seemed to die
out in Egypt around the third or fourth dynasty. The sun worshipers
who helped establish the Opar colonies found reasons to bring back the
ideas of human sacrifice to placate the sun god Ra. It is easy to
see how human sacrifice became linked to worship of Ra, the sun god in
the colony of Opar. I chose three generations of Opar’s women rulers
because that is, I believe, as far as non-written histories would have
survived as memories.
Direction from the London Tube Station to the British
Museum is accurate. Sir Frederic Kenyon is a historical figure.
The Silver Mines in London exist exactly where I have placed them, and
can be visited today. The Tube Stations mentioned exist where I say
they are located.
Obviously, the dates of the two World Wars are accurate.
The conditions as listed speak of the fate of the wealthy landowners and
the facts about the heads of state in Europe are as described.
Hitler was obsessed with the supernatural and occult.
He was also fixated on money since his life was adversely affected by the
conditions placed on Germany at the end of World War I.
Tarzan’s concerns that Opar may be spotted from the air
by German recon aircraft, photographed and ransacked – were real fears.
Between the world wars, Germany began quietly building up a presence in
Africa. Hitler was smart enough to know of the mineral riches of
this vast group of fragmented nations. Tarzan’s concerns and the
growing threat of the Manyeuma provided a great reason for Opar to be stripped
and abandoned in order to provide money to the cash-starved Great Britain.
When I began reading the novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs
as a boy, there were several concepts he presented that bothered me.
These problems were plain to me even as a young person. I wanted,
in my Opar universe, to present different scenarios for the following issues:
In reviews of Song of Opar, I heard the following
the following comment a number of times – ‘you only have Tarzan visiting
Opar three times, when ERB had him visiting Opar five or six times.’
(Depending on your opinion of Tarzan Twins).
The sort of catch-all origin for Opar as Atlantis.
I wanted to base Opar on a real civilization that had vanished.
What better than Ancient Egypt? It was, in reality, a much more powerful
country than the theoretical Atlantis. Their armies were the most
feared and traveled, marauding, as far as Crete, Turkey and all many other
countries that bordered the Mediterranean. So Opar was not ten thousand
years old. The Egyptian civilization was more than five thousand
years old — close enough for me.
The horrible men of Opar.
The First Men, named in Return of Tarzan,
lived with the inhabitants of Opar. That coupled with the fact that
all the women were beautiful and the men horribly ugly made me wonder:
Why would the apes give up the freedom of the jungle to be
confined within the walls of the city?
The citizens of Opar spoke the language of the apes.
Why would the people of Opar give up their sophisticated
language in order to speak with the apes and use the apes very simplistic
As I remember in earlier Tarzan novels his conversations
with the tribe of Kerchak, the communication was quite primitive.
It was nothing like the sophisticated language La spoke to Tarzan (in Return
of Tarzan) when she explained the history of Opar.
I would like to have seen those teaching sessions.
There had to be a better solution to how Tarzan could communicate
with La. After all, Waziri had visited Opar years ago.
The women of Opar would mate with the First Men and produce
I remember asking my mother if women could have babies with
apes. That was almost the end of my reading career with ERB.
I later found in science class that apes and women could not produce children.
I chose to recreate three visits for a couple of reasons:
It is my story. Three visits fit into the storyline I chose
to create. Another thought is that ERB’s universe for Tarzan and
La is different from the one I chose to build, as Phil Farmer and Chris
Carey’s great novels of ancient Opar are a different universe. The
essays of Frank Brueckel and John Harwood are another example of speculations,
especially on Opar’s roots. Phil Farmer’s version of the end of Opar,
(in Tarzan Alive), is still another universe.
Song of Opar would have been a ‘cop-out’
if it just replicated the five or six visits from the ERB novels, then
gave no definitive conclusion to the city and inhabitants of Opar.
Other comments I heard were about ‘ killing off Jane.’
If anyone thinks Jane was killed off by me, they are mistaken, or their
own thoughts are creating a scenario that does not exist. I was very
careful in the plot and interaction between Tarzan and La. I have
inferred that Jane never fully recovered from her injuries (and most probably
never would). This was introduced to put Tarzan in a quandary of
what his relationship should/could be with La. Here obviously was
a woman who was infatuated with him, but she came to realize there was
an impediment to her dreams being fulfilled. Tarzan is clearly unsure
of his feelings and probably did not trust his own judgment when he brought
up the discussion with Father Martin. I purposely left the conclusions
to any possible relationship for the reader to speculate. There obviously
was a relationship because Tarzan was in La’s life until the end.
But once again it is up to the readers to define in their own minds the
extent of Tarzan and La’s bond.
The episode I described with Jane being struck nearly
happened, in that very spot, to someone I love very much. She, like
Jane, was headed to the Connaught Hotel for high tea. The private
hospital where Jane is taken is real. Wekbeck is the closest hospital
to where the accident occurred.
My thoughts concerning the illustrations for Song
of Opar. The women who posed for the images I created for
the pseudo-line drawings are all full-time professional models. All
illustrations are copyrighted by me as a photographer, and as part of the
copyright process to protect the book. I will discuss the process
I took to create these distinct looks in another discussion.
Two other inquiries I get are: Will there be a hardcover
edition and will there be another La/Opar novel? If there is a hardcover,
it will be severely limited and expensive. On the sequel issue —
never say never.
From the interest generated for Song of Opar, I
daresay there are more boys out there who are still fascinated by La and
her wonderfully mysterious city of Opar.