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ERB’S GREAT IMPOSTERS:
FLORA HAWKES AND ESTEBAN MIRANDA IN
TARZAN AND THE GOLDEN LION
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Well, now for what you all have been waiting for: a return to Opar and that great femme fatale, La, High Priestess of the Flaming God, Queen of Opar, forgotten outpost storage city for the Lost Continent of Atlantis. The first time ERB wrote of Opar, he only suggested its Atlantean roots, but by the time of this novel he fully embraced it. And on another point, the Minoan civilization used to transport metals in ingots that strongly resemble the ones stored in the vaults of Opar, giving some real authentic history to the narrative, since the Minoans could have been Atlanteans or one of the colonies at one time in the distant past. So, let us return to our story and more fun with mis-identification.
Chapter Six: Death Steals Behind
During the afternoon of the day that Tarzan discovered the camp of the conspirators, a watcher upon the crumbling outer wall of the ruined city of Opar descried a party of men moving downward into the valley from the summit of the encircling cliff, Tarzan, Jane Clayton, and the Waziri were the only strangers that the denizens of Opar had ever seen within their valley during the lifetime of the oldest among them, and only in half-forgotten legends of a bygone past was there any suggestion that strangers other than these had ever visited Opar. Yet from time immemorial a guard had always remained upon the summit of the outer wall. Now a single knurled and crippled manlike creature was all that recalled the numerous, lithe warriors of lost Atlantis. For down through the long ages the race had deteriorated and finally, through occasional mating with the great apes, the men had become the beast-like things of modern Opar. Strange and inexplicable had been the providence of nature that confined the deterioration almost solely to the males, leaving the females straight, well-formed, often of comely and even beautiful features, a condition that might be largely attributable to the fact that female infants possessing ape-like characteristics were immediately destroyed, while, on the other hand, boy babies who possessed purely human attributes were also done away with.
Typical indeed of the male inhabitants of Opar was the lone watcher upon the outer city wall, a short, stocky man with matted hair and beard, his tangled locks growing low upon a low, receding forehead; small, close-set eyes and fang-like teeth bore evidence of his simian ancestry, as did his short, crooked legs and long, muscular apelike arms, all scantily hair-covered as was his torso.
As his wicked, blood-rimmed eyes watched the progress of the party across the valley toward Opar, evidences of his growing excitement were manifested in the increased rapidity of his breathing, and low, almost inaudible growls that issued from his throat. The strangers were too far distant to be recognizable only as human beings, and their number roughly to be approximated as between two and three score. Having assured himself of these two facts the watcher descended from the outer wall, crossed the space between it and the inner wall, through which he passed, and at a rapid trot crossed the broad avenue beyond and disappeared within the crumbling but still magnificent temple beyond.
Cadj, the High Priest of Opar, squatted beneath the shade of the giant trees which now overgrew what had once been one of the gardens of the ancient temple. With him were a dozen members of the lesser priesthood, the intimate cronies of the High Priest, who were startled by the sudden advent of one of the inferior members of the clan of Opar. The fellow hurried breathlessly to Cadj.
“Cadj,” he cried, “strange men descend upon Opar! From the northwest they have come into the valley from beyond the barrier cliffs – fifty of them at least, perhaps half again that number. I saw them as I watched from the summit of the outer wall, but further than they are men I cannot say, for they are still a great distance away. Not since the great Tarmangani came among us last have there been strangers with Opar.”
“It has been many moons since the great Tarmangani who called himself Tarzan of the Apes was among us,” said Cadj. “He promised to return before the rain to see that no harm had befallen La, but he did not come back and La has always insisted that he is dead. Have you told any other of what you have seen?” he demanded, turning suddenly upon the messenger.
“No,” replied the latter.
“Good!” exclaimed Cadj. “Come, we will all go to the outer wall and see who it is who dares enter forbidden Opar, and let no one breathe a word if what Blagh had told us until I give permission.”
“The word of Cadj is law until La speaks,” murmured one of the priests.
Cadj turned a scowling face upon the speaker. “I am High Priest of Opar,” he growled. “Who dares disobey me?”
“But La is High Priestess,” said one, “and the High Priestess is the queen of Opar.”
“But the High Priest can offer whom he will as sacrifice in the Chamber of the Dead or to the Flaming God,” Cadj reminded the other menacingly.
“We shall keep silence, Cadj,” replied the priest, cringing.
“Good!” growled the High Priest and led the way from the garden through the corridors of the temple back toward the outer wall of Opar. From here they watched the approaching party that was in plain view of them, far out across the valley. The watchers conversed in low gutterals in the language of the great apes, interspersed with which were occasional words and phrases of a strange tongue that were doubtless corrupted forms of the ancient language of Atlantis handed down through countless generations from their human progenitors – that now extinct race whose cities and civilization lie buried deep beneath the tossing waves of the Atlantic, and whose adventurous spirit had, in remote ages, caused them to penetrate into the heart of Africa in search of gold and to build there, in duplication of their far home cities, the magnificent city of Opar.
As Cadj and his followers watched from beneath shaggy brows the strangers plodding laboriously beneath the now declining equatorial sun across the rocky, barren valley, a gray little monkey eyed them from amidst the foliage of one of the giant trees that had forced its way through the pavement of the ancient avenue behind them. A solemn, sad-faced little monkey it was, but like all his kind overcome by curiosity, and finally to such an extent that his fear of the fierce males of Opar was so considerably overcome that he at last swung lightly from the tree to the pavement, made his way through the inner wall and up the inside of the outer wall to a position in their rear where he could hide behind one of the massive granite blocks of the crumbling wall in comparative safety from detection, the while he might overhear the conversation of the Oparians, all of which that was carried on in the language of the great apes he could understand perfectly.
The afternoon was drawing to a close before the slowly moving company approaching Opar was close enough for individuals to be recognizable in any way, and then presently one of the younger priests exclaimed excitedly:
“It is he, Cadj. It is the great Tarmangani who calls himself Tarzan of the Apes. I can see him plainly; the others are all black men. He is urging them on, prodding them with his spear. They act as though they were afraid and very tired, but he is forcing them forward.”
“You are sure,” demanded Cadj, “you are sure that it is Tarzan of the Apes?”
“I am positive,” replied the speaker, and then another of the priests joined his assurances to that of his fellow. At last they were close enough so that Cadj himself, whose eyesight was not as good as that of the younger members of the company, realized that it was indeed Tarzan of the Apes who was returning to Opar. The High Priest scowled angrily in thought. Suddenly he turned upon the others.
“He must not come,” he cried; “he must not enter Opar. Hasten and fetch a hundred fighting men. We will meet them as they come through the outer wall and slay them one by one.”
“But La,” cried he who had aroused Cadj’s anger in the garden, “I distinctly recall that La offered the friendship of Opar to Tarzan of the Apes upon that time, many moons ago, that he saved her from the tusks of infuriated Tantor.”
Again, the ERB editors have inserted a footnote after this last sentence: “See Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, now available in the Edgar Rice Burroughs Authorized Library.” I readily agree that all readers should read or reread this classic. This rescue took place after La’s licentious pole dance, a fan favorite. It is also a scene of bizarre comedy. Well, back to Opar.
“Silence,” growled Cadj, “he shall not enter; we shall slay them all, though we need not know their identity until it is too late. Do you understand? And know, too, that whosoever attempts to thwart my purpose shall die – and he die not as a sacrifice, he shall die at my hands, but die he shall. You hear me?” And he pointed an unclean finger at the trembling priest.
Manu, the monkey, hearing all this, was almost bursting with excitement. He knew Tarzan of the Apes – as all the migratory monkeys the length and breadth of Africa knew him – he knew him for a friend and protector. To Manu the males of Opar were neither beast, nor man, nor friend. He knew them as cruel and surly creatures who ate the flesh of his kind, and he hated them accordingly. He was therefore greatly exercised at the plot he had heard discussed which was aimed at the life of the great Tarmangani. He scratched his little gray head, and the root of his tail, and his belly, as he attempted mentally to digest what he had heard, and bring forth from the dim recesses of his little brain a plan to foil the priests and save Tarzan of the Apes. He made grotesque grimaces that were aimed at the unsuspecting Cadj and his followers, but which failed to perturb them, possibly because a huge granite block hid the little monkey from them. This was quite the most momentous thing that had occurred in the life of Manu. He wanted to jump up and down and dance and scratch and jabber – to scold and threaten the hated Oparians, but something told him that nothing would be gained by this, other than, perhaps, to launch in his direction a shower of granite missiles, which the priests knew only too well how to throw with accuracy. Now Manu is not a deep thinker, but upon this occasion he quite outdid himself, and managed to concentrate his mind upon the thing at hand rather than permit its being distracted by each falling leaf or buzzing insect. He even permitted a succulent caterpillar to crawl within his reach and out again with impunity.
Just before darkness fell, Cadj saw a little gray monkey disappear over the summit of the outer wall fifty paces from where he crouched with his fellows, waiting for the coming of the fighting men. But so numerous were the monkeys about the ruins of Opar that the occurrence left Cadj’s mind almost as quickly as the monkey disappeared from his view, and in the gathering gloom he did not see the little gray figure scampering off across the valley toward the band of intruders who now appeared to have stopped to rest at the foot of a large kopje that stood alone out in the valley, about a mile from the city.
Little Manu was very much afraid out there alone in the growing dusk, and he scampered very fast with his tail bowed up and out behind him. All the time he cast affrighted glances to the right and left. The moment he reached the kopje he scampered up its face as fast as he could. It was really a huge, precipitous granite rock with almost perpendicular sides, but sufficiently weather-worn to make its ascent easy to little Manu. He paused a moment at the summit to get his breath and still the beatings of his frightened little heart, and then he made his way around to a point where he could look down upon the party beneath.
There, indeed, was the great Tarmangani Tarzan, and with him were some fifty Gomangani. The latter were splicing together a number of long, straight poles, which they had laid upon the ground in two parallel lines. Across these two, at intervals of a foot or more, they were lashing smaller straight branches about eighteen inches in length, the whole forming a crude but substantial ladder. The purpose of all this Manu, of course, did not understand, nor did he know that it had been evolved from the fertile brain of Flora Hawkes as a means of scaling the precipitous kopje, at the summit of which lay the outer entrance to the treasure vaults of Opar. Nor did Manu know that the party had no intention of entering the city of Opar and were therefore in no danger of becoming victims of Cadj’s hidden assassins. To him, the danger to Tarzan of the Apes was very real, and so, having regained his breath, he lost no time in delivering the warning to the friend of his people.
“Tarzan,” he cried, in the language that was common to both.
The white man and the blacks looked up at the sound of his chattering voice.
“It is Manu, Tarzan,” continued the little monkey,” who has come to tell you not to go to Opar. Cadj and his people await within the outer wall to slay you.”
The blacks, having discovered that the author of the disturbance was nothing but a little gray monkey, returned immediately to their work, while the white man similarly ignored his words of warning. Manu was not surprised at the lack of interest displayed by the blacks, for he knew that they did not understand his language, but he could not comprehend why Tarzan failed to pay any attention whatsoever to him. Again and again he called Tarzan by name. Again and again he shrieked his warning to the ape-man, but without eliciting any reply or any information that the great Tarmangani had either heard or understood him. Manu was mystified. What had occurred to render Tarzan of the Apes so indifferent to the warnings of his old friend?
At last the little monkey gave it up and looked longingly back in the direction of the trees within the walled city of Opar. It was now very dark and he trembled at the thought of recrossing the valley, where he knew enemies might prowl by night. He scratched his head and hugged his knees, then sat there whimpering, a very forlorn and unhappy little ball of a monkey. But however uncomfortable he was upon the high kopje, he was comparatively safe, and so he decided to remain there during the night rather than venture the terrifying return trip through the darkness. Thus it was that he saw the ladder completed and erected against the side of the kopje; and when the moon rose at last and lighted the scene, he saw Tarzan of the Apes urging his men to mount the ladder. He had never seen Tarzan thus rough and cruel with the blacks who accompanied him. Manu knew how ferocious the great Tarmangani could be with an enemy, whether man or beast, but he had never seen him accord such treatment to the blacks who were his friends.
One by one and with evident reluctance the blacks ascended the ladder, continually urged forward to greater speed by the sharp spear of the white man; when they had all ascended Tarzan followed, and Manu saw them disappear apparently into the heart of the great rock.
It was only a short time later that they commenced to reappear, and now each was burdened by two heavy objects which appeared to Manu to be very similar to some of the smaller stone blocks that had been used in the construction of the buildings in Opar. He saw them take the blocks to the edge of the kopje and cast them over to the ground beneath, and when the last of the blacks had emerged with his load and cast it to the valley below, one by one the party descended the ladder to the foot of the kopje. But this time Tarzan of the Apes went first. Then they lowered the ladder, and took it apart and laid its pieces close to the foot of the cliff, after which they took up the blocks which they had brought from the heart of the kopje, and following Tarzan, who set out in the lead, they commenced to retrace their steps toward the rim of the valley.
Mamu would have been very much mystified had he been a man, but being only a monkey he saw only what he saw without attempting to reason very much about it. He knew that the ways of men were peculiar, and oftentimes unaccountable. For example, the Gomangani who could not travel through the jungle and the forest with the ease of any other of the animals which frequented them, added to their difficulties by loading themselves down with additional weights in the form of metal anklets and armlets, with necklaces and girdles, and with skins of animals, which did nothing more than impede their progress and render life much more complicated that that which the untrammeled beasts enjoyed. Manu, whenever he gave the matter a thought, congratulated himself that he was not a man – he pitied the foolish, unreasonable creatures.
Isn’t it amusing how ERB tells this portion of the story from the perspective of a tree monkey? Especially when it comes to its confusion over the realistic portrayal of Esteban Miranda, king of the jungle. I looked up “kopje” in my dictionary but there was no mention of the word. Finally I googled it, and got this unhelpful definition: “A small hill in a generally flat area.” This hill, of course, is a huge granite boulder that is almost impossible to climb, a natural barrier to hinder curiosity and hence safekeep the entrance to the treasure vaults.
Manu must have slept. He thought that he had only closed his eyes a moment, but when he opened them the rosy light of dawn had overspread the desolate vallley. Just disappearing over the cliffs to the northeast he could see the last of Tarzan’s party commencing the descent of the barrier, then Manu turned his face toward Opar and prepared to descend from the kopje, and scamper back to the safety of his trees within the walls of Opar. But first he would reconnoiter – Sheeta, the panther, might be still abroad, and so he scampered around the edge of the kopje to a point where he could see the entire valley floor below between himself and Opar. And there it was that he saw again that which filled him with greater excitement. For, debouching from the ruined outer wall of Opar was a large company of Opar’s frightful men – fully a hundred of them Manu could have counted had Manu been able to count.
They seemed to be coming toward the kopje, and he sat and watched them as they approached, deciding to defer his return to the city until the path was cleared of hated Oparians. It occurred to him that they were coming after him, for the egotism of the lesser animals is inordinate. Because he was a monkey, the idea did not seem at all ridiculous and so he hid behind a jutting rock, with only one little, bright eye exposed to the enemy. He saw them come closer, and he grew very much excited, though he was not all afraid, for he knew that if they ascended one side of the kopje he could descend the other and be halfway to Opar before they could possibly locate him again.
On and on they came, but they did not stop at the kopje – as a matter of fact they did not come very close to it, but continued on beyond it. Then it was that the truth of the matter flashed into the little brain of the monkey – Cadj and his people were pursuing Tarzan of the Apes to slay him. If Manu had been offended by Tarzan’s indifference to him upon the night before, he had evidently forgotten it, for now he was quite as excited about the danger which he saw menace the ape-man as he had been upon the afternoon previous. At first he thought of running ahead, and again warning Tarzan, but he feared to venture so far from the trees of Opar, even if the thought of having to pass the hated Oparians had not been sufficient to deter him from carrying out this plan. For a few minutes he sat watching them, until they had all passed the kopje, and then it became quite clear to him that they were heading directly for the spot at which the last of Tarzan’s party had disappeared from the valley – there could be no doubt that they were in pursuit of the ape-man.
Manu scanned the valley once more toward Opar. There was nothing in sight to deter him from an attempted return, and so, with the agility of his kind, he scampered down the vertical face of the kopje and was off at a great speed toward the city’s wall. Just when he formulated the plan that he eventually followed it is difficult to say. Perhaps he thought it all out as he sat upon the kopje, watching Cadj and his people upon the trail of the ape-man, or perhaps it had occurred to him while he was scampering across the barren waste toward Opar. It may have just popped into his mind from a clear sky after he had regained the leafy sanctuary of his own trees. Be that however as it may, the fact remains that as La, High Priestess and princess of Opar, in company with several of her priestesses, was bathing in a pool in one of the temple gardens, she was startled by the screaming of a monkey, swinging frantically by his tail from the branch of a great tree which overspread the pool – it was a little gray monkey with a face so wise and serious that one might easily have imagined that the fate of nations lay constantly upon the shoulders of its owner.
It must be made clear at this point that La and her company were totally naked when they were bathing in the pool. This will become apparent from the circumstances at the end of the chapter, but let’s hand it to ERB for not letting a story go by without some nudity.
“La, La,” it screamed, “they have gone to kill Tarzan. They have gone to kill Tarzan.”
At the sound of that name La was instantly all attention. Standing waist deep in the pool she looked up at the little monkey questioningly. “What do you mean, Manu?” she asked. “It has been many moons since Tarzan was at Opar. He is not here now. What are you talking about?”
“I saw him,” screamed Manu, “I saw him last night with many Gomangani. He came to the great rock that lies in the valley before Opar; with all his men he climbed to the top of it, went down into the heart of it, and came out with stones which they threw down into the valley. Afterward they descended from the rock, and picked up the stones again and left the valley – there,” and Manu pointed toward the northeast with one of his hairy little fingers.
“How do you know it was Tarzan of the Apes?” asked La.
“Does Manu not know his cousin and his friend?” demanded the monkey. “With my eyes I saw him – it was Tarzan of the Apes.”
La of Opar puckered her brows in thought. Deep in her heart smoldered the fires for her great love for Tarzan. Fires that had been quenched by the necessity that had compelled her marriage with Cadj since last she had seen the ape-man. For it is written among the laws of Opar that the high Priestess of the Flaming God must take a mate within a certain number of years after her consecration. For many moons La longed to make Tarzan that mate. The ape-man had not loved her, and finally she had come to a realization that he could never love her. Afterward she had bowed to the frightful fate that had placed her in the arms of Cadj.
As month after month had passed and Tarzan had not returned to Opar, as he had promised, to see that no harm befell La, she had come to accept the opinion of Cadj that the ape-man was dead, and though she hated the repulsive Cadj none the less, her love for Tarzan had gradually become little more than a sorrowful memory. Now to learn that he was alive and had been so near was like reopening an old wound. At first she comprehended little else than that Tarzan had been close to Opar, but presently the cries of Manu aroused her to a realization that the ape-man was in danger – just what the danger was, she did not know.
“Who had gone to kill Tarzan of the Apes?” she demanded suddenly.
“Cadj, Cadj!” shrieked Manu. “He has gone with many, many men, and is following upon the spoor of Tarzan.”
La sprang quickly from the pool, seized her girdle, and ornaments from her attendant and adjusting them hurriedly, sped through the garden and into the temple.
So ends Chapter Six. This scene reminded me of the movie, The Scorpion King, where the Rock crashes into the sorceress’s bathing pool and encounters a very naked sorceress. This movie was so like an ERB adventure that it is hard to believe that it wasn’t. Anyway, the girdle and ornaments she retrieved were not that much. Her breasts were still bare and the girdle itself was composed of a belt of golden rings, from which hung a single leopard skin. I will now return to the scene in The Return of Tarzan, where La and the priestesses were first described:The priestess led the victim to the altar steps. Again the galleries above filled with watchers, while from an arched doorway at the east end of the chamber a procession of females filed slowly into the room. They wore, like the men, only skins of wild animals caught about their wastes with rawhide belts or chains of gold; but the black masses of their hair was incrusted with golden headgear composed of many circular and oval pieces of gold ingeniously held together to form a metal cap from which depended, at each side of the head, long strings of oval pieces falling to the waist.
The females were more symmetrically proportioned than the males, their features were much more perfect, the shapes of their heads and their large, soft, black eyes denoting far greater intelligence and humanity than was possessed by their lords and masters.
Each priestess bore two golden cups, and as they formed in line along one side of the altar the men formed opposite them, advancing and taking each a cup from the female opposite. Then the chant began once more, and presently from a dark passageway beyond the altar another female emerged from the cavernous depths beneath the chamber.
The high priestess, thought Tarzan. She was a young woman with a rather intelligent and shapely face. Her ornaments were similar to those worn by her votaries, but much more elaborate, many being set with diamonds. Her bare arms and legs were almost concealed by the massive, bejeweled ornaments which covered them, while her single leopard skin was supported by a close-fitting girdle of golden rings set in strange designs with innumerable small diamonds. In the girdle she carried a long, jeweled knife, and in her hand a slender wand in lieu of a bludgeon. (Chapter 20, The Return of Tarzan.)
I know, it’s kind of a bummer visualizing La as the wife of the hairy monster Cadj, but perhaps ERB left the poor lady in this condition so we could have more pity for her character and make it easier to hate Cadj. I take the description of the priestesses literaly, meaning the strings of oval pieces depending from the golden caps were on the sides and would not have covered their fronts unless they swung from side to side through the movement of the priestess. Yes, these means their breasts were bare. Whatever, it will be interesting to see what happens when La attempts to rescue Tarzan from her husband. Until then, vaya con dios!
Tarzan and the Golden Lion: ERB C.H.A.S.E.R. Bibliography
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