Ah, the erotic instinct – I mean, who doesn’t like reading a good book that turns you on?
INTRODUCTION“The erotic instinct is something questionable, and will always be so whatever a future set of laws may have to say on the matter. It belongs, on the one hand, to the original animal nature of man, which will exist as long as man has an animal body. On the other hand, it is connected with the highest forms of the spirit. But it blooms only when spirit and instinct are in true harmony. If one or the other aspect is missing, then an injury occurs, or at least there is a one-sided lack of balance which easily slips into the pathological. Too much of the animal disfigures the civilized human being, too much culture makes a sick animal.”– Carl Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious.
The erotic instinct is after all an instinct shared by all humans. ERB was well aware of this and wrote some the greatest erotic novels of his time.
I don’t think most readers regard ERB as an author of erotic literature, but this is to ignore the theme of Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, which oozes eroticism as much as the pulp fiction censors would allow. According to ERBzine #0490, ERB wrote this book between September and October 1915, during one of the most incredible periods censorship in American history.
In fact, less than a year after ERB finished writing Jewels, his fellow Chicago author, Theodore Dreiser, was fighting the Comstock Act with tooth and claw over his most recent novel, The Genius. Anthony Comstock was America’s most notorious censor and some of the words and passages of Dreiser’s book drove him up the wall. After all, Dreiser had driven them all crazy at the turn of the century with the publication of Sister Carrie, the story of a young girl in the big city, who had sexual affairs, was the mistress of two wealthy men, became a chorus girl, and finally a successful actress. In other words, she did what were considered scandalous things and suffered no punishment for it. From the Wikipedia article on Sister Carrie, we read the following:“Dreiser fought against censorship of Sister Carrie, brought about because Carrie engaged in affairs and the ‘illicit sexual relationships’ without suffering consequences. The flouted prevailing norms that a character who practiced such sinful behaviou must be punished in the course of the plot in order to be taught a lesson.”A few years earlier ERB followed in Dreiser’s footsteps with his try of literary “realism,” by writing The Girl From Farris’s (ERBzine #0761) about a rural girl who comes to the big city under a bogus marriage to a tycoon, who then proceeded to board her in a bordello, where she ended up a prostitute once the tycoon died of a heart attack, an earler victim of Viagra Falls.
Except for an appearance in a pulp magazine the story was never published in his lifetime.
Comstock’s successor at the Society for the Suppression of Vice, John S. Summer, found that seventy-five pages of The Genius were obscene and seventeen were profane. The Genius had sold a modest 8500 copies and it contained elements of biographical material. The protagonist was a Eugene Witla, an artist who was handicapped by his own sensual nature which led him into several affairs with a succession of beautiful women. (The Erotic in Literature, by David Loth [NY: Dorset Press, 1961]. pp. 164-165.)
But on July 25, 1916, Summer called upon the publisher and threatened if the offending ninety-two pages were not changed then a prosecution would be brought against him. The publisher was given three days to make the corrections, thus he withdrew the book on July 28, and the Society gained another victory in censorship. (Id.) Summer’s final verdict on the work was amazing:“We are looking at this particular book from the standpoint of its effect on female readers of immature minds....There are very vivid descriptions of the activities of certain female delinquents who do not, apparently, suffer any ill consequences from their misconduct but, in the language of the day, ‘get away with it.’” (Id.)Even though ERB finished writing the story in October of the year before, the story didn’t start to get published until the November 18th edition of All-Story Weekly. His editors must have been sweating it out since the removal of Dreiser’s novel at the end of that July. ERB must have been going through some kind of fame at the time, and his characters were becoming American icons, so perhaps he wanted to see what he could get away with, for there are passages in Jewels and many other ERB stories that stretched what was allowed to the limits of tolerance.
And get away with he did – splendidly! Many of his fans regard Jewels as their favorite Tarzan story. For example, I remember viewing a television bio about a very successful New York African-American businessman who regarded part of his success to his love of reading.
When asked what was the first book he ever read, he stated that as a poor youth he discovered a coverless book in the gutter with a few of the beginning pages missing. He further stated that this book so inspired him that he couldn’t wait to read more books. The title was – you guessed it! – Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar.
Jewels also represents the height of ERB’s early writing style. And the fact that his publishers were able to look the other way when they published Jewels is something of a miracle, for some the passages equal the writing styles of some breakthrough authors of the Fifties and Sixties of the Twentieth Century, like Norman Mailer and Harold Robbins. This is likely due to the distinctions between high brow and low brow literature. The general assessment was that hack writers wrote pulp fiction whereas more serious writers avoided the pitfalls of cheap eroticism and violence in their literature.
Whatever the real differences, ERB wrote only to entertain his readers, revealing a real talent for describing adventure and horror, hardly ever equalled. So, as the jungle drums begin to beat in the background, let us begin our journey into darkest Africa with our favorite jungle guide.
"Let’s bungle in the jungle
that’s all right by me,
I’m a tiger when I want love
I’m a snake if we disagree."
– Jethro Tull, "Bungle in the Jungle."
Part Two :: ERBzine
Ch. III: The Call of the Jungle
Ch. IV: Prophecy and Fulfillment
Part Three :: ERBzine
Ch. V: The Altar of the Flaming God
Ch. VI: The Arab Raid
Part Four :: ERBzine
Ch. VII: The Jewel-Room of Opar
Ch. VIII: The Escape from Opar
Part Five :: ERBzine
Ch. IX: The Theft of the Jewels
Ch. X: Achmet Zek Sees the Jewels
Part Six :: ERBzine
Ch. XI: Tarzan Becomes a Beast Again
Ch. XII: La Seeks Vengeance
Part Seven :: ERBzine
Ch. XIII: Condemned to Torture and Death
Ch. XIV: A Priestess But Yet a Woman
Part Eight :: ERBzine
Ch. XV: The Flight of Werper
Ch. XVI: Tarzan Again Leads the Mangani
Part Nine :: ERBzine
Ch. XVII: The Deadly Peril of Jane Clayton
Ch. XVIII: The Fight for the Treasure
Part Ten :: ERBzine
Ch. XIX: Jane Clayton and the Beasts of the Jungle
Ch. XX: Jane Clayton Again a Prisoner
Part Eleven :: ERBzine
Ch. XXI: The Flight to the Jungle
Ch. XXII: Tarzan Recovers His Reason
Part Twelve :: ERBzine
Ch. XXIII: A Night of Terror
Ch. XXIV: Home
ERB'S JUNGLE LOVE :: TARZAN AND THE JEWELS OF OPAR
Read Along with Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
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