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Volume 7491

A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.


“And there’s no mystery, and there’s nothing hidden,
And there’s no religion here today.”
– Van Morrison, “No Religion.”

            You can google “ERB reason vs. supersitition,” and receive a top level education into the religious beliefs of ERB, if any. He didn’t like religion and neither do I. But in the story we are about to comment upon, ERB offered his readers an insider’s view of a religious cult that was very accurate in cult dynamics. Unlike Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, the names from the Bible don’t signify biblical themes, like Ishmael, the wanderer, or Captain Ahab, the mad sea captain patterned after the crazy King of Israel and adversary of Elijah the interfering prophet.

            As a case in point, we only have to look to the character of Jezebel in the Land of Midian in this Tarzan story to see that her character is the opposite of the Bible Queen, the High Priestess of Asherah, consort of Baal – Canaanite gods and goddesses – who was evil to the core; whereas the Jezebel in our story is a tower of virtue. What I’m saying is that when we read this story the Bible names are just that, names from the Bible, without any deeper significance.

            What ERB is up to is the way the Bible has been used by religious cults to control the lives of its followers. Otherwise there is no Bible in the novel that concerns us in any way. ERB hands us a religious cult that has the outward appearance of a Christian cult that emerged in Roman Asia, to wit, modern Turkey, that was translated to Africa long ago by a follower of Paul the Apostle and a slave girl. This disciple’s memory of Paul and his teachings provides the authoritative foundation of the cult, and that was based on his memory of Hebrew and Greek scripture.

            I used to work as an investigative reporter for a group in Berkeley (the Spiritual Counterfeits Project) that studied and reported on dangerous Christian and pagan cults and I learned a lot about how they work, concluding in the end that all religious organizations were cults in one way or another.

            But once one grasps ERB’s view of God and Nature, one realizes that he had a transcendental view of Fate and Providence – he was in awe of evolution and it’s progressive direction, the arrow of time. For want of a better name, I call this ERB’s Bible Blues. And I find it fascinating the way ERB dealt with this theme.

            In a way, this story is a sequel to Tarzan the Invincible, for one of its subthemes has to do with Uncle Joe Stalin’s revenge for the death of Peter Zveri, where he sends a secret agent to Africa with instructions to kill the Lord of the Jungle. We all know that Tarzan didn’t kill Zveri; his consort and sex slave, Zora Drinov, shot him in the back while he was trying to murder Wayne Colt, the American secret agent. But Stalin blames Tarzan of the Apes anyway. While Tarzan manages to survive this assassination, Stalin’s hit on Leon Trotsky in 1940 in Mexico, was successful.

            I am using for my text another Barnes and Noble paperback edition, which is again a printout of the Project Gutenberg online offering, only this time in trade paperback size. And unlike the Gutenberg version, this paperback contains no Table of Contents, no illustrations – the Gutenberg contains illustrations by Studley Oldham Burroughs – and, contrary to its advertisement, contains zilch annotations, even though it does include a brief biography of ERB at the beginning.

            So let’s not waste any more time and get to the Prologue in which ERB expresses his view of history.


            Time is the warp of the tapestry which is life. It is eternal, constant, unchanging. But the woof is gathered together from the four corners of the earth and the twenty-eight seas and out of the air and the minds of men by that master artist, Fate, as she weaves the design that is never finished.

            A thread from here, a thread from there, another from out of the past that has waited years for the companion thread without which the picture must be incomplete.

            But Fate is patient. She waits a hundred or a thousand years to bring together two strands of thread whose union is essential to the fabrication of her tapestry, to the composition of the design that was without beginning and is without end.

            A matter of some one thousand eight hundred sixty-five years ago (scholars do not agree as to the exact year), Paul of Tarsus suffered martyrdom at Rome.

           Paul of Tarsus, the Apostle to the Gentiles, wrote most of the New Testament letters to believers, which were only accepted by the Roman Catholic Church as a compromise in order to incorporate the churches he founded based on these letters.

            That a tragedy so remote should seriously affect the lives and destinies of an English aviatrix and an American professor of geology, neither of whom was conscious of the existence of the other at the time this narrative begins – when it does begin, which is not yet, since Paul of Tarsus is merely by way of prologue – may seem remarkable to us, but not to Fate, who has been patiently waiting these nearly two thousand years for these very events I am about to chronicle.

            But there is a link between Paul and these two young people. It is Augustus the Ephesian. Augustus was a young man of moods and epilepsy, a nephew of the House of Onesiphorus. Numbered was he among the early converts to the new faith when Paul of Tarsus first visited the ancient Ionian city of Ephesus.

            Inclined to fanaticism, from early childhood an epileptic, and worshipping the apostle as the representative of the Master of earth, it is not strange that news of the martyrdom of Paul should so affected Augustus as to seriously imperil his mental balance.

            Conjuring delusions of persecution, he fled Ephesus, taking ship for Alexandria, and here we might leave him, wrapped in his robe, huddled, sick and frightened, on the deck of the little vessel, were it not for the fact that at the island of Rhodes, where the ship touched, Augustus, going ashore, acquired in some manner (whether by conversion or purchase we know not) a fair haired slave girl from some far northern barbarian tribe.

            And here we bid Augustus and the days of the Caesars adieu, and not without some regrets upon my part for I can well imagine adventure, if not romance, in the flight of Augustus and the fair haired slave girl down into Africa from the storied port of Alexandria, through Memphis and Thebae into the great unknown.

“Parachute Woman,
Land on me tonight.”
– The Rolling Stones, “Parachute Woman.”

            Ask any old timer about the movie What’s New Pussycat, and he will tell you that one of the most unforgettable scenes in that movie is when Ursula Andress – “She” who must be obeyed – parachutes into Peter O’Toole’s moving sports car. I believe this was the origin of the song by the Stones, and be that as it may, our story begins with the same sort of scene. Let’s see how.

Chapter One: Gathering the Threads

            As far as I know the First Earl of Whimsey has nothing to do with this story, and so we are not particularly interested in the fact that it was not so much the fine grade of whiskey that he manufactured that won him his earldom as the generous contribution he made to the Liberal party at the time that it was in power a number of years ago.

            Being merely a simple historian and no prophet, I cannot say whether we shall see the Earl of Whimsey again or not. But if we do not find the Earl particularly interesting, I can assure you that the same may not be said of his fair daughter, Lady Barbara Collis.

            The African sun, still an hour high, was hidden from the face of the earth by solid cloud banks that enveloped the loftier peaks of the mysterious, impenetrable fastnesses of the forbidding Ghenzi Mountain range that frowned perpetually upon a thousand valleys little known to man.

            From far above this seeming solitude, out of the heart of the densely banked clouds, there came to whatever ears there might be to hear a strange and terrifying droning, suggesting the presence of a preposterous Gargantuan bumblebee circling far above the jagged peaks of Ghenzi. At times it grew in volume until it attained terrifying proportions; and then gradually it diminished until it was only a suggestion of a sound, only to grow once again in volume and to again retreat.

            For a long time, invisible and mysterious, it had been describing its great circles deep in the concealing vapors that hid it from the earth and hid the earth from it.

            Lady Barbara Collis was worried. Her petrol was running low. At the crucial moment her compass had failed her, and she had been flying blind through the clouds looking for an opening for what now seemed an eternity of hours to her.

            She had known that she must cross a lofty range of mountains, and she had kept at a considerable altitude above the clouds for this purpose, but presently they had risen to such heights that she could not surmount them; and, foolishly, rather than turn back and give up her projected non-stop flight from Cairo to the Cape, she had risked all in one effort to penetrate them.

            For an hour Lady Barbara had been indulging in considerable high powered thinking, intermingled with the regret that she had not started thinking a little more heavily before she had taken off, as she had, against the explicit command of her sire. To say that she was terrified in the sense that fear had impaired any of her faculties would not be true. However, she was a girl of keen intelligence, fully competent to understand the grave danger of her situation; and when there loomed suddenly close to the tip of her left wing a granite escarpment that was lost immediately above and below in the all enveloping vapor, it is no reflection upon her courage that she involuntarily caught her breath in a quick gasp and simultaneously turned the nose of her ship upwards until her altimiter registered an altitude that she knew must be far higher than the loftiest peak that reared its head above any part of Africa.

            Rising in a wide spiral, she was soon miles away from that terrifying menace that had seemingly leaped out of the clouds to seize her. Yet even so, her plight was still as utterly hopeless as it well could be. Her fuel was practically exhausted. To attempt to drop below the cloud banks, now that she knew positively that she was among lofty mountains, would be utter madness; and so she did the only thing that remained to her.

            Alone in the cold wet clouds, far above an unknown country, Lady Barbara Collis breathed a little prayer as she bailed out. With the utmost meticulosity she counted ten before she jerked the rip cord of her chute.

            At that same instant Fate was reaching out to gather other threads – far flung threads – for this tiny fragment of her tapestry.

            Kabariga, chief of the Bangalo people of Bungalo, knelt before Tarzan of the Apes many weary marches to the south of the Ghenzi Mountains.

            In Moscow, Leon Stabutch entered the office of Stalin, the dictator of Red Russia.

            Ignorant of the very existence of Kabariga, the black chief, or of Leon Stabutch or Lady Barbara Collis, Lafayette Smith, A.M., Ph. D., Sc. D., professor of geology at the Phil Sheridan Military Academy, boarded a steam ship in the harbor of New York.

            Mr. Smith was a quiet, modest, scholarly looking young man with horned rimmed spectacles, which he wore not because of any defect of eyesight but in the belief that they added a certain dignity and semblance of age to his appearance. That his spectacles were fitted with plain glass was known only to himself and his optician.

            Graduated from college at seventeen the young man had devoted four additional years to acquiring further degrees, during which time he optimistically expected the stamp of dignified maturity to make itself evident in his face and bearing; but, to his intense dismay, his appearance seemed quite as youthful at twenty-one as it had at seventeen.

            Lafe Smith’s great handicap to the immediate fulfillment of his ambition (to occupy the chair of geology in some university of standing) lay in his possession of the unusual combination of brilliant intellect and retentive memory with robust health and a splendid physique. Do what he might he could not look sufficiently mature and scholarly to impress any college board. He tried whiskers, but the result was humiliating; and then he conceived the idea of horn rimmed specacles and pared his ambition down, temporarily, from a university to a prep school.

            For a school year, now, he had been an instructor in an inconspicuous western military academy, and now he was about to receive another of his cherished ambitions – he was going to Africa to study the great rift valleys of the Dark Continent, concerning the formation of which there are so many theories propounded and acclaimed by acknowledged authorities on the subject as to leave the layman with the impression that a fundamental requisite to success in the science of geology is identical to that required by weather forecasters.

            I remember when I took Geology at Fresno City College in 1967 that plate tectonics was still one of the minority theories about the formation of the earth. It now seems so obvious one wonders why it took so long for it to be accepted.

            But be that as it may, Lafayette Smith was on his way to Africa with the financial backing of a wealthy father and the wide experience that might be gained from a number of week-end field excursions into the back pastures of accommodating farmers, plus considerable ability as a tennis player and a swimmer.

            We may leave him now, with his note books and seasickness, in the hands of Fate, who is leading him inexorably toward sinister situations from which no amount of geological knowledge nor swimming nor tennis ability may extricate him.

            When it is two hours before noon in New York it is an hour before sunset in Moscow and so it was that as Lafayette Smith boarded the liner in the morning, Leon Stabutch, at the same moment, was closeted with Stalin late in the afternoon.

            “That is all,” said Stalin; “you understand?”

            “Perfectly,” replied Stabutch. “Peter Zveri shall be avenged, and the obstacle that thwarted our plans in Africa shall be removed.”

            “The latter is most essential,” emphasized Stalin, “but do not belittle the abilities of your obstacle. He may be, as you have said, naught but an ape-man; but he utterly routed a well-organized Red expedition that might have accomplished much in Abyssinia and Egypt but for his interference. And,” he added, “I may tell you, comrade, that we contemplate another attempt; but it will not be made until we have a report from you that – the obstacle has been removed.”

            Stabutch swelled his great chest. “Have I ever failed?” he asked.

            Stalin rose and laid a hand upon the other’s shoulder. “Red Russia does not look to the OGPU for failures,” he said. Only his lips smiled as he spoke.

           The OGPU – the Unified State Political Directorate – was the precursor to the KGB, the notorious and infamous secret police of the Soviet Union. Stalin used it as a personal tool in his adversarial role with other head party members. Stalin was a cold blooded, slit-throat killer, the perfect example of a communist in word and action. I know, What a guy!

            That same night Leon Stabutch left Moscow. He thought that he left secretly and alone, but Fate was at his side in the compartment of the railway carriage.

            As Lady Barbara Collis bailed out in the clouds above the Ghenzi range, and Lafayette Smith trod the gangplank leading aboard the liner, and Stabutch stood before Stalin, Tarzan, with knitted brows, looked down upon the black kneeling at his feet.

            “Rise!” he commanded, and then; “Who are you and why have you sought Tarzan of the Apes?”

            “I am Kabariga, O Great Bwana,” replied the black. “I am chief of the Bangolo people of Bungalo. I come to the Great Bwana because my people suffer much sorrow and fear and our neighbors, who are related to the Gallas, have told us that you are the friend of those who suffer wrongs at the hands of bad men.”

            “And what wrongs have your people suffered?” demanded Tarzan, “and at whose hands?”

            “For long we lived at peace with all men,” explained Kabariga; “we did not make war upon our neighbors. We wished only to plant and harvest in security. But one day there came into our country from Abyssinia a band of shiftas who had been driven from their own country. They raided some of our villages, stealing our grain, our goats and our people, and these they sold into slavery in far countries.

            “They do not take everything, they destroy nothing; but they do not go away out of our country. They remain in a village they have built in inaccessible mountains, and when they need more provisions or slaves they come again to other villages of my people.

            “And so they permit us to live and plant and harvest that they may continue to take toll of us.”

            “But why do you come to me?” demanded the ape-man. “I do not interfere among tribes beyond the boundaries of my own country, unless they commit some depredation among my own people.”

            “I come to you, Great Bwana,” replied the black chief, “because you are a white man and these shiftas are led by a white man. It is known among all men that you are the enemy of bad white men.”

            “That,” said Tarzan, “is different. I will return with you to your own country.”

            And thus Fate, enlisting the services of the black chief, Kabariga, led Tarzan of the Apes out of his own country, toward the north. Nor did many of his own people know whether he had gone nor why – not even little Nkima, the close friend and confident of the ape-man.

            Thus, Fate closes the curtain on the first chapter. So, we’ll be warping and woofing a lot in the coming chapters because we are going on safari once again into unexplored territory. 
26 Chapters


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