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ERB’S APOCALYPSE NOW:
TARZAN AND "THE FOREIGN LEGION"
A Commentary By
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Well here we are, back on the trail to the southwest coast where our band of survivors hope to catch a boat to Australia. We left them at the foot of a cliff in a green, verdant valley, with two dead animals to prepare and cook. Let’s join them.
They were now well supplied with meat – too well. A deer and a rhinoceros for five people seemed more than ample. Tarzan had taken some choice cuts from the young buck and cut the hump from the rhino. Now, beside the river, he had built a fire in a hole that he had dug. Over another fire, the others were grilling bits of venison.
“You ain’t goin’ to eat that are you?” asked Shrimp, pointing to the big hunk of rhino meat with the skin still attached.
“In a couple of hours you’ll eat it,” said Tarzan. “You’ll like it.”
When he had a bed of hot coals in the bottom of the hole he had dug, he laid the hump in with the skin side down, covered it with leaves and then with the dirt he had excavated.
Taking a piece of venison, he withdrew a little from the others, squatted down on his haunches and tore off pieces of the raw flesh with his strong teeth. The others had long since ceased to pay attention to this seeming idiosyncrasy. They had, on occasion, eaten their meat raw; but they still preferred it cooked – usually charred on the outside, raw on the inside, and covered with dirt. They were no longer fastidious.
“What was on your mind, Shrimp, while you were legging it in front of Rhinoceros Dicerohinus sumatrensis?” asked Bubonovitch. “You sure hit nothing but the high spots. I’ll bet you did the hundred yards in under eight seconds.”
“I’ll tell you wot I was thinkin’. I’d started on Ave Maria w’en I seen it was nothin’ less than ‘n Whirlaway on my tail. I was thinkin’ if I could just finish that one Ave Maria before it caught up with me, I might have a chance. Then I stumbled. But the Blessed Mary heard me and saved me.”
“I thought it was Tarzan,” said Bubonovitch.
“Of course it was Tarzan; but whoinell do you suppose got him there in time, you dope?”
“There are no atheists at the business end of a rhinoceros,” said Jerry.
“I prayed, too,” said Corrie. “I prayed that God would not let anything happen to you who were risking your life to save ours. You are a very brave man, Sergeant, for you must have known that you didn’t have one chance in a million.”
Rosetti was very unhappy. He wished that they would talk about something else. “You got me all wrong,” he said. “I just ain’t got no sense. If I had, I’d a run the other way; but I didn’t think of it in time. The guy who had the guts was the colonel. Think of killin’ a deer an’ dat rhino wit nothin’ but a knife.” This gave him an idea for changing the subject. “An’ think of all dat meat lyin’ out there an’ the poor suckers back home got to have ration coupons an’ then they can’t get enough.”
“Think of the starving Armenians,” said Bubonovitch.
This had become a popular saying among Americans after the Turks committed genocide on the Armenians. I live in a community with lots of Armenians and the Armenian Holocaust is still ripe in the minds of many. Thus, Bubonovitch did not say this for humor. There were really millions who were starved to death.
“All the Armenians I ever seen could starve as far as I’m concerned,” said Shrimp. He took another piece of venison and lapsed into silence.
Jerry had been watching Corrie when he could snatch a quick look without actually staring at her. He saw her tearing at the meat with her fine, white teeth. He recalled what she had said about hating Japs: “I want to hate them. I often reproach myself because I think I am not hating bitterly enough.” He thought, what kind of a woman will she be after the war – after all that she has gone through?
He looked at Tarzan tearing at raw meat. He looked at the others, their hands and faces smeared with the juices of the venison, dirty with the char of the burned portions.
“I wonder what sort of a world this will be after peace comes,” he said. “What kind of people will we be? Most of us are so young that we will be able to remember little else than war – killing, hate, blood. I wonder if we can ever settle down to the humdrum existence of civilian life.”
“Say! If I ever get my feet under a desk again,” said Bubonovitch, “I hope God strikes me dead if I ever take them out again.”
“That’s what you think now, Bum. And I hope you’re right. For myself, I don’t know. Sometimes I hate flying, but it’s in my blood by now. Maybe it just isn’t the flying – it’s the thrill and excitement, possibly. And if that is true, then it’s the fighting and the killing that I like. I don’t know. I hope not. It will be a hell of a world if a great many young fellows feel that way.
“And take Corrie. She has learned to hate. She was never made for that. That is what war and the Japs have done to her. I wonder if hate twists a person’s soul out of shape, so that he’s never the same as he was before – if, like an incipient cancer, it eats at the roots of character without one’s being aware that one has a cancer.”
“I think you need not worry,” said Tarzan. “Man readily adapts himself to changed conditions. The young, especially, react quickly to changes of environment and circumstance. You will take your proper places in life when peace comes. Only the weak and the warped will be changed for the worse.”
“Wit all de different ways of killin’ and maimin’ wot we’ve learnt, like sneakin’ up behind a guy and cuttin’ his throat or garrotin’ him an’ a lot of worse t’ings than dat even, they’s goin’ to be a lot of bozos startin’ Murder Incorporateds all over de U.S., take it from me,” said Shrimp. “I knows dem guys. I didn’t live all my life in Chi fer nuttin’.”
Now we come to a touchy subject. How does one properly pronounce “Chi.” According to the recent cable TV show on Showtime called “The Chi,” the announcer pronounces it as “shy,” but I have read elsewhere that it is sometimes pronounced as “chai,” and this seems more right to me, though I have no idea why.
“I think it will change us very much,” said Corrie. “We will not be the same people we would have been had we not gone through this. It has matured us rapidly, and that means we have lost a great deal of our youth. Jerry told me the other day that he is only twenty-three. I thought that he was well along in his thirties. He has lost ten years of his youth. Can he be the same man he would have been had he lived those ten years in peace and security? No. I believe he will be a better man.
“I believe I shall be a better woman for the very emotion which he and Tarzan deplore – hate. I do not mean petty hatreds. I mean a just hate – a grand hate that exalts. And for the compensations it entails, such as loyalty to one’s country and one’s comrades, the strong friendships and affections which are engendered by a common, holy hatred for a common enemy.”
For a while no one spoke. They seemed to be considering this unique eulogy of hate. It was Jerry who broke the silence. “That is a new angle,” he said. “I never thought of hate in that way before. As a matter of fact, fighting men don’t do a lot of hating. That seems to be the prerogative of non-combatants.”
“Both,” said Corrie. “That is just a heroic pose on the part of fighting men. When a Jap atrocity hits close to home, I’ll bet they hate – when a buddy is tortured, when they learn that allied prisoners of war have been beheaded. That has happened here, and I’ll warrant our Dutch fighting men learned then to hate, if they had not hated before. And furthermore,” said Corrie acidly, “I do not consider myself a noncombatant.”
Jerry smiled. “Forgive me. I didn’t mean that remark derogatorily. And anyway it wasn’t aimed at you. You are one of us, and we are all combatants.”
Corrie, mollified, smiled back at him. She may have been a good two-fisted hater, but that was not hate that shone from her eyes at the moment.
I’m sure many Americans in the war had thoughts such as these. ERB had first-hand experience, eating and drinking and reporting his way through the war with the very combatants who were fighting it, and even participating at times.
Shrimp interrupted the discussion, “Geeze!” he explained. “Get a load of dis. It smells like heaven.”
They looked, to see Tarzan removing the roast from the improvised oven. “Come an’ get it,” called Shrimp.
To their surprise, they found the rhino hump juicy, tender, and delicious. And as they ate, a pair of eyes watched them from the concealment of bushes that grew at the edge of the cliff beyond the river – watched them for a few minutes; then the owner of the eyes turned back into the forest.
That night, the wild dogs fought over the carcasses of Tarzan’s kills until, near dawn, a tiger came and drove them from their feast to stand in a dismal, growling circle until the lord of the jungle should depart.
Wars make words. World War II is no exception. Probably the most notorious word for which it is responsible is quisling. Wars also unmake words. Collaborationist formerly had a fair and honorable connotation, but I doubt that it ever will live down World War II. No one will ever again wish to be known as a collaborationist.
The term “quisling” comes from the Norwegian politician, Vidkun Quisling, who collaborated with the Nazi’s in World War II. It is a synonym for “traitor.”
They are to be found in every country where the enemy is to be found. There are collaborationists in Sumatra. Such was Amat. He was a miserable creature who bowed low to every Jap soldier and sought to curry favor with them. He was a human jackal that fed off the leavings of the arrogant invaders who slapped his face when he got underfoot.
So, when he saw the five white people camped by the river in the little valley, he licked his full lips as though in anticipation of a feast, and hurried back along the trail toward the village of his people where a detachment of Jap soldiers was temporarily billeted.
He had two reasons for hurrying. He was anxious to impart his information to the enemy. That was one reason. The other was terror. He had not realized how late it was. Darkness would fall before he could reach the village. It is then that my lord the tiger walks abroad in the forest.
He was still a couple of kilometers from home, and dusk was heralding the short equatorial twilight when Amat’s worst fear was realized. The hideous face of the lord of the jungle loomed directly in his path. The terrifying eyes, the wrinkled, snarling face of a tiger, between which and its intended victim there are no iron bars and only a few yards of lonely jungle trail, are probably as horrifying a sight as the eyes of man have ever envisaged.
The tiger did not for long leave Amat in any doubt at to its intention. It charged. Amat shrieked, and leaped for a tree. Still shrieking, he clawed his way upward. The tiger sprang for him; and, unfortunately, missed. Amat scrambled higher, sweating and panting. He clung there, trembling; and there we may leave him until morning.
Ah, another short chapter full of philosophical speculations and treachery. Well, we’ll just have to wait until morning to discover the outcome of Amat’s hero’s journey. Until then, happy trails!
Ch. 1_Ch. 2_Ch. 3_Ch. 4_Ch. 5
Ch. 6_Ch. 7_Ch. 8_Ch. 9_Ch. 10
Ch. 11_Ch. 12_Ch. 13_Ch. 14_Ch. 15
Ch. 16_Ch. 17_Ch. 18_Ch. 19_Ch. 20
Ch. 21_Ch. 22_Ch. 23_Ch. 24_Ch. 25
Ch. 26_Ch. 27_Ch. 28_Ch. 29_Ch. 30
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