The Dream Vaults of Opar

The Return of Tarzan

    I can't really say that The Return of Tarzan is one of my favorite books, but it is unique among Edgar Rice Burroughsí Tarzan stories in that so much of it is set in civilization. For this reason I was particularly intrigued when our O.E. announced it as the topic of the current symposium. I regret that in the nearly three months that have elapsed since that announcement, I havenít been able to find time to reread the book. . . .
    Itís been a busy quarter, and if I really had to, I could come up with at least a half-dozen decent excuses for such dereliction; but I wonít bother. Instead Iíll do the brash thing and participate in the symposium anyway, from memory. After all, Iíve read the book three or four times in the past and viewed with varying degrees of attention the original Rex Maxon daily newspaper comic strip adaption, the Russ Manning Gold Key comic book adaption, the DC comic book adaption, and the silent movie quasiadaption (Adventures of Tarzan)--and I may be overlooking one or two other versions that donít come as readily to mind.
    One notable thing about Return is that it contains a fair number of genuinely memorable scenes, such as:
    The sequence in the Rue Maule, where the youthful, naively trusting Tarzan is tricked into an ambush when he responds to a strange womanís terrified cries for help. What a marvelously gripping action sequence that is, and how wonderfully ERB conveys it--
As though it had been but a brittle shell, to break at the last rough usage, the thin veneer of his civilization fell from him, and ten burly villains found themselves penned in a small room with a wild and savage beast, against whose steel muscles their puny strength was less than futile.
That ďthin veneerĒ was getting the first of many workouts, and ERB certainly knew how to conjure up thrilling images for his readers.
  Or the sequence in which the evil Rokoff arranges to have Tarzan caught in a compromising situation with the Countess Olga de Coude by her husband:
. . . the ape-man turned just in time to ward with his arm a terrific blow that De Coude had aimed at his head. Once, twice, three times the heavy stick fell with lightning rapidity, and each blow aided in the transition of the ape-man back to the primordial.
. . . With the low, guttural snarl of the bull ape he sprang for the Frenchman. The great stick was torn from his grasp and broken in two as though it had been match wood, to be flung aside as the now infuriated beast charged for his adversaryís throat.
    Iíve always found Tarzan in civilization to be fascinating, and wonder why ERB didnít occasionally pursue the topic further in later stories. The opening chapters of Return certainly demonstrate the innate story potential of such locales, and itís surprising that ERB--always in search of usable story material--did not trot out this theme at regular intervals. I suspect that a lukewarm response on the part of his original All Story editor may be credited with convincing him that Tarzan belonged in the jungle.*
    I believe itís in Porges (though it might be in Moskowitzí Under the Moons of Mars) that we learn in detail the trials and tribulations ERB endured before getting this story accepted and published. As I recall, his Munsey editor was dissatisfied, considering the story too episodic and a less-than-inspired sequel to Apes. He requested first one rewrite, then another. ERB finally grew exasperated and submitted the book to New Story magazine, one of Munseyís competitors, where it was snapped up. His All Story editor had hoped to compel him to do his very best work; ERB, however, was more interested in feeding his family. It isnít unlikely, too, that poor ERB had any real idea what his persistent editor wanted from him. After all, he was new to writing fiction. Still, itís interesting to conjecture what a more carefully worked out Return might be like.

    I find the opening chapters--those set in Paris, in particular--most interesting, the later chapters less so. (Today, I mean; as a child, I loved it all!) Leaving civilization behind, Tarzan ventures first among the Arabs of North Africa, then is thrown overboard from an ocean liner and--incredibly--winds up on the West coast of Africa at the very spot where his parents were shipwrecked and he was born. Coincidences become even more pronounced when Jane Porter, Tarzanís cousin Cecil Clayton, and archvillains Rokoff and Paulvitch all wash ashore from their shipwrecked boat at very nearly that same spot.
    The cannibalism sequence struck me as terrifying as a child; now I find it rather crude and contrived. I still like the Waziri, and Tarzanís ascension to chief of the Waziri impresses me as well: 

Ah, if Olga de Coude had but seen him then. . . . And so Tarzan of the Apes came into a real kingship among men--slowly but surely was he following the evolution of his ancestors, for had he not started at the very bottom?
    In my most recent reading of the volume, I was amazed to discover how shallow and perfunctory the whole business with Opar actually is. My childís mind had amplified and glorified it out of all proportion to what ERB actually put down on paper. (Or perhaps, after all, that's part of Burroughs' genius.) In Return Opar is little more than an afterthought, a way to keep the story going another few chapters. It all happens very fast, and La doesnít really become a full-fledged character in this book.
    ERB claimed that he did not intend to write a sequel when he concluded Tarzan of the Apes. For all its many exciting moments, Returnís uncertain and episodic narrative is a strong argument in support of that claim.

    Certainly the 25th mailing was a milestone in ERB-APAís history. I find myself awestruck by its monumental proportions. Usually when a mailing arrives, I plunge in and finish it in a single evening. This one was so large that it wore me out--completely quenched my ERB appetite--with enough left over that I was able to come back to it again and again over a number of weeks before finishing.
    Iím particularly pleased by the various indexes, which will be useful to many of us. Thank you all for your hard work. It is appreciated.

    --June 24, 1990

*Porges makes clear that Burroughs came to believe that a successful Tarzan story had to be set in the jungle. Exactly how and why ERB arrived at this conclusion isn't obvious; and he violated his own rule often by introducing in the later books all those lost civilizations that kept Tarzan away from his natural habitat for prolonged periods. <back>

Edgar Rice Burroughs'
Tarzan Series

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Copyright © 1999 Patrick H. Adkins. All rights reserved.