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Volume 6615

Waldo Goes to Tarzan Camp
by Alan Hanson
An “obscure work” is what writer Richard Lupoff called “The Cave Girl.” He placed the blame for the story’s lack of popularity in its day and through the years on the character Thandar’s similarity to Tarzan. In his 1965 book, “Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Master of Adventure,” Lupoff wrote, “‘The Cave Girl’ and ‘The Cave Man,’ beyond the change in Waldo’s character as he is gradually transformed into Thandar, offer little different from ‘Tarzan of the Apes.’ Perhaps this is why the reception of the stories was not too enthusiastic.”

If the discussion centers on the general question of the influence of heredity versus environment, then certainly “The Cave Girl” can be judged a variation of the Tarzan theme. On the character level, though, the similarity ends. Waldo, or Thandar, is no Tarzan. In fact, Waldo is Tarzan in reverse. Burroughs began work on “The Cave Girl” in early 1913, less than a year after finishing “Tarzan of the Apes,” and with Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones, the author seemed to be experimenting with the exact opposite premise he used in the story of the ape-man.

Examine the plots of the two stories. Tarzan is raised in the wild, embracing primitive values. For the first 20 years of his life, he is insulated from the effects of civilization. Finally, for the sake of a woman, Tarzan leaves the wild and attempts to cope with the civilized world. Forever a child of the wild, however, Tarzan must ultimately return to the jungle, the source of his values. Waldo is raised in civilization’s most prestigious strata in Back Bay Boston. For the first 20 years of his life, he is insulated from the vulgar and gross physical aspects of life. Cast into the primitive, he rejects it, until, for the sake of a woman, he resolves to cope with the wild. Forever a child of civilization, however, he must return not only to the place where he was born, but also to that same high stratum that spawned his values.


A Revision to the Primitive?

At times, Burroughs seemed to suggest Waldo had made a complete revision to the primitive, a fact, if it were true, would make Waldo very much a Tarzan-like character. Waldo’s civilized clothes were destroyed in the fight with Nagoola, the black panther, and he crawled into a cave to recover from his wounds. Burroughs portrayed the cave as a womb and Waldo’s emergence from it as a kind of rebirth into the primitive. “He might have been a reincarnation of some primeval hunter from whose loins had sprung the warriors and the strong men of the world.” Again, when Waldo faced the strong man Korth, he seemed to revert to the primitive. “There sloughed from the heart and mind and soul of Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones every particle of the civilization and culture and refinement that had required countless ages in the building, stripping him naked, age on age, down to the primordial beast that had begot his first human progenitor.” So much was civilization forgotten, that Waldo discarded his weapons and strangled Korth with his bare hands. A similar regression to the primitive occurs when Waldo killed the cave man king Big Fist by biting through his jugular.

However, in the context of the wider story, it is obvious that Waldo never transformed completely to a primitive man, but rather made only momentary revisions to meet the conditions at hand. For instance, when Waldo and Nadara were surprised by a cave man, Waldo savagely stepped forward and cudgeled the man. However, later, when Waldo had time to think about it, his nerves dissolved again. Certainly Waldo, although he killed several times, was never able to accept violence as a nature condition of life, as it was in Tarzan’s world.

Burroughs made it clear several times that Waldo never became a real cave man, but rather learned only “to cope primitively, with the primitive world.” Even late in the story, Waldo was portrayed as unable to make the decisions a lifetime in the wild would dictate. “Waldo was only practical and wise in the savage ways in the primitive life to which circumstances had forced him to revert,” Burroughs explained. Waldo’s decision to sail to civilization in a small boat is said to be “born of ignorance.” Then later, after rescuing Nadara from a head-hunters’ village, Waldo was unable to reckon the direction back to the coast. It fell to Nadara, who was raised in the wild, to unerringly lead the way to the coast over tangled jungle trails that she had traveled but once as a captive.


Not a Real Cave Man

Waldo seemed to know that he was not born to be a real cave man. The fact is, from the opening pages, when he stood at the water’s edge scanning the sea for a sail, to the end of the story, when he cast himself onto the ocean in a small boat, Waldo had no intention of living out his days as a cave man. At the end of part one, it appears he had decided to forsake civilization and live in the wild forever with Nadara. However, it didn’t take him long to change his mind. Returning to the beach to find the ship gone, he collapsed and buried his face in his hands to think he had lost his chance to return home to Boston. In fact, it was obvious that Waldo would rather die than live on that island. For Waldo, “The future held nothing but a life of discomfort and misery and constant mental anguish superinduced by the condition of awful fear under which he must drag out his existence in this strange and terrible land.” Even after Waldo learned to cope with the savage island, he indicated he would rather die than stay there. After believing he had lost Nadara in an earthquake, Waldo hated the island, reached “the pinnacle of loneliness,” and courted death by confronting the beasts that passed his way. Later, when his boat was tossed by high seas, Waldo saw his death, but there was no regret at having left the island, only regret that he would not see his parents or Nadara again.

Throughout his stay on the island, Waldo continually showed an unwillingness to break his ties with civilization. He was never able to adapt to the social practices of the cave people. Nadara’s scanty apparel scandalized Waldo, who provided her with a panther skin. He rejected primitive mating customs and declined to make Nadara his until they could be united in a civilized ceremony. Finally, Waldo was unwilling to ascend to the kingship of the tribe just because he killed the former king. He forced the bewildered cave men to “elect” him king.

Waldo was not rejecting the social practices on this primitive island. Instead, he was attempting to implant his own civilized social practices among its people. Simple leadership by a king was not enough for Waldo. He needed weekly tribe meetings. His civilized prejudices led him to create laws limiting the kinds of work women could do. The wandering ways of these primitive people were unacceptable to Waldo. He taught them how to build log houses, hoping to give them that civilized feeling of “home.” He introduced ceremonial functions to the tribe. “He knew that dancing and song and play marked in themselves a great step upward in the evolution of man from the lower orders, and so he meant to teach these things to his people.” He even introduced Nadara to his civilized God, part of his admitted plan to move the tribe toward civilization even after he had left. Burroughs provided a good summary of Waldo’s attitude about civilization. “To him a land without civilization … was beyond belief.”


Waldo vs. Tarzan

The different environments in which they were raised, then, make Waldo and Tarzan opposing characters. On the personality level, one major difference between the two characters is the degree of courage that each possessed. “Great tears rolled down his thin, white cheeks.” “He broke down and sobbed like a child, for loneliness and terror.” Is there any doubt which of the two men these lines described? Even after Waldo’s supposed transformation, he could not face with courage the sailing of the “Priscilla” without him. Instead, “He collapsed upon the beach, burying his face in his hands.” Tarzan may have had a lump in his throat now and then, but he never faced the future with the utter hopelessness that Waldo did several times.

Waldo seemingly developed into a courageous man from the “apparition of cowardice” described by Burroughs early on. And certainly, through a series of progressive events, Waldo did become capable of some courageous actions. He took the first step when the instinct of self-preservation took over and forced him to fight for the first time when cornered by cave men early in the story. When Waldo finally realized that he was a coward, it surely was another step in the right direction. Finally, killing his first man erased “the haunting fear within his soul that at heart he was a coward.”

Still, despite this transformation, Waldo continued to question his own courage. Pursued by a cave man, Waldo “felt that at the last moment he was about to lose his nerve — that, after all, his hard earned manliness was counterfeit.” Even in the fight with Flatfoot, in which Waldo was victorious, he “marveled that he was not afraid.”

The final test of Waldo’s courage, however, comes at the very end of the story, and, disappointingly to the reader, he fails miserably. Waldo put up absolutely no resistance when the pirates decided to kill not only him, but also Nadara and all those from the “Priscilla,” which included both his parents. In fact, Waldo was among the captives described by the pirates as “fear-sickened prisoners,” who were led sheep-like inland by the pirates for execution. Waldo even made no effort to protect himself when a pirate raised a parang to wack our cave man to pieces. Only the timely arrival of the pirate chief saved Waldo for his return to Boston. Surely Tarzan would never have accepted death so passively as Waldo was about to do then.


Waldo Learned Tarzan-like Skills

Waldo, then, was no Tarzan, not even for the year that he spent on Nadara’s island. How can his sojourn among the cave men be judged? Well, personally, I can almost hear Mrs. John Alden Smith-Jones, sitting in the living room of her Back Bay home with her lady friends in the fall of 1912, saying, “Waldo Emerson went to Tarzan Camp last year, don’t you know!”

And wasn’t Waldo’s experience just like going to camp? He built up his body and learned how to swim and climb trees. He learned practical things, like how to catch fish, how to build a tree house, and how to make things from scratch, like a spear, a shield, and a sword. He learned survival skills, like which foods are safe to eat and how to eat raw fish. He learned social skills. His kingship over the cave men gave him a chance to exercise the new-found sense of initiative he had developed. Surely Waldo would have qualified as an Eagle Scout after all this.

Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones, then, went, however unintentionally, to what might be termed “Tarzan Camp.” For a year he learned Tarzan-like skills and developed Tarzan-like muscles. He might even have pretended to be Tarzan from time to time. But when it was all over, Waldo returned to the “culture plus and ultra-intellectuality” of the exclusive Back Bay home of his ancestors. A Tarzan he never was, but one likely lasting result of his experience was the taking up of the sport of polo. And, no doubt, he became twice the polo player that Tarzan ever hoped to be.

— The End —


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