Part 2 Tarzan And The Lion Man A Review

May 16, 2008

Part 2 Tarzan And The Lion Man


Themes And Variations

The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs

#18 Tarzan And The Lion Man

Part 2 of 10 parts

by R.E. Prindle

Doubles And Insanity

First published on the ezine- ERBzine


Sometimes I feel like I’m dreaming.


Penguin Dictionary Of Symbols p. 306

Doubles:  In every culture artists have depicted double-headed creatures, SERPENTS, DRAGONS, BIRDS, LIONS, BEARS and so on.  This is due neither to mere love of ornamentation nor to some Manichean influence, the creatures so depicted all have a bipolarity, both benign and malign, and this is described in their individual entries in this dictionary.  It is very likely that it is this double aspect of the live creature which is suggested by its depiction with two heads. For example, the lions strength symboizes both sovereign power and a consuming lust, whether it be for justice, or for the exercise of absolute authroity in a bloodthirsty tyrant.  Similarly, ribbons or wreaths depicted round a person’s head may symbolize, if they form a CLOSED circle, confinement in difficulty and misfortune, but if broken, release.

Sometimes duplication serves merely to re enforce and redouble the meaning attached to one of the POLES of the symbol.

Traditonal religions generally thought of the soul as being the double of the living owner, able to leave the body at death, in dreams or through magical practices, and to return to the same or some other body.  Mankind thus provided its own self-portrait in duplicate.  In any case, instances of hysterical or schizophrenic duplication of personality are well known to psychotherapy.

German Romanticism endowed this notion of a person’s double (Doppelganger)  with tragic and fatal overtones….It may sometimes be our complement, but it is more often the foe with whom we are lured to fight….In some ancient traditons, meeting one’s double is an unlucky occurrence, and is sometimes even a presage of death.



Edgar Rice Burroughs

Lion Man is overwhelmingly a novel of doubles or duplicity.  The number of things doubled is bewildering.  I deal only with the most obvious here.  The reason Burroughs concentrates on doubling, I believe is because he discovered the double meaning of the terms of the contract he signed with MGM.  He was stunned by the duplicity.

On p. 154 Burroughs comments on duplicity such as he found at MGM.  Remember he names them BO or Stinky studios in the novel.

Tarzan was suspicious.  He saw a trap, he saw duplicity in every thing conceived by the mind of man.

Thus having been betrayed Burroughs is now alert seeing doubling or duplicitness everywhere.

St. John, the illustrator of the book also picked up on the aspect of doubling.  This novel was so extremely important to Burroughs, he even issued it on his birthday, September 1st, 1934, that he asked St. John for something different for a jacket illustration.  St. John concentrated on the Obraoski/Tarzan doubling, producing a Janus like cameo of Tarzan/Obroski facing in opposte directions.  As in the Penguin definition representing both characters of the Lion Men Tarzan and Obroski.

In this case the two faces represent the earlier cowardly Bureroughs who has to die and the strong masterly Tarzan figure Burroughs wishes to be.

Thus, before considering the story it would be fruitful to examine ERB’s use of doubling and confusion of reality, or in other words craziness, madness or insanity.

It is obvious that when ERB is passing rhough a period of extreme stress Tarzan loses his memory and/or doubles- that is to say splits his personality in a hysterical or schizophrenic way.  At this point in his life Burroughs is enduring the stress of sexual conflict – the change in affections from Emma to Florence- as well as the extreme stress of having lost control of his creation and actual alter ego to MGM as representatives of his Judaeo-Communist enemies.  In point of fact, as Burroughs may have realized, the battle, even the war, was lost.  As MGM’s 1936 movie Tarzan Escapes, indicates Tarzan/Burroughs had been captured.  Hence the tenuous grasp on sanity in this book.

In Burroughs’ mind and in fact he had been trapped by duplicity, itself a form of doubling.  When Tarzan, having climbed the Stairway To Heaven finds the front door standing open he scents a trap but as his intention was to enter anyway he enters.  He is now only in the antechamber of fate, he could still back out.  He notices six doors of which Door #3 is standing open.  He does try the other five doors but they are locked.  Entering Door #3 he begins the descent down a dark stairwell.  He encounters another door.  Rather than checking the door first he merely enters to have the door click shut behind him.  The wall is smooth, there is now no way out.

This scene may well be a fictionalized account of his negotiations with MGM.  The Studio, perhaps representing Door #3 was offering him a contract which no other studio, doors 1,2,4,,5,6 was willing to do.  Granted not everyone can spot a sterling opportunity that is staring them in the face but it does seem odd that no other studio was interested in a proven character.  After all Twentieth Century-Fox was working Charlie Chan movies hard and doing well.  But all doors were closed to Burroughs/Tarzan except Door #3, MGM.  Not a bad thing on the surface of it as MGM was far and away the best studio in Hollywood.

So Burroughs entered into negotiations with MGM in the same manner as Tarzan descended the dark staircase in which he couldn’t see very well, i.e. Burroughs didn’t understand the clauses.  Like Tarzan ERB didn’t exercise caution and while the door snapped shut trapping Tarzan so Burroughs signed the contract which he represented as the prison Tarzan found himself in.

The reader may find the above farfetched but remember the first third of the story is an account of MGM’s Trader Horn expedition that he ridicules.  This book is about MGM.

Before dealing with the main doubles of the story let’s consider the story within the story- a form of doubling itself.  We have God on Earth doubling God in Heaven.  This becomes the source of many jokes.  Stress or no stress Burroughs doesn’t lose his sense of humor.  God’s castle is known as Heaven thus doubling Heaven.  The Stairway to Heaven doubles Jacob’s Ladder thus calling to mind the biblical story.  Tarzan then doubles Jacob.  That’s just part of sly old Burroughs’s humor.

God himself has created a parallel universe doubling England, London and the Thames.  Thus the gorilla plateau is called England while they live in London on the Thames River.  Thus a doubling of Africa and an island off the coast of Europe.

Just as God in Heaven in the biblical story created Man so God in this story has hybridized gorillas into a new species of gorilla men.  The hybrid gorillas are doubles of both gorillas and men while God is a double of man and Gorilla.

In this dizzying array of doubles the gorillas are not just a doubling of men but a doubling of the fifteenth century court of Henry VIII of England.  They have been altered by the use of deathless genes  or, atually, DNA, which was unknown to Burroughs at the time but the nature of which he dimly perceives.  The DNA has been inserted or spliced into the genes of the gorillas, thus the gorilla Henry VIII is actually, Henry VIII.  The Fifteenth century is doubled in the twentieth century while the political scene of the twentieth duplicates that of the fifteenth.  ERB may here be influenced by Mark Twain’s The Mysterious Stanger with his notion of ascending and descending staircases of time.

During this phase of the story within the story Tarzan is actually himself while posing as, or doubling, Stanley Obroski thus actually being self contained twins; in other words the personality formerly split between he and Stanley Obroski is reunited with Tarzan dominant.  Thus Tarzan redeems Burroughs’ former shamed self.  At this moment Stanley is dying of fever and when he does the double disappears leaving Tarzan or Burroughs then undivided.  The dead body of Obroski is shipped back to the States while Tarzan remains in the jungle.

The story within the story is a stunning achievement whose genius has gone unrecognized.


The most obvious examples of doubling is in the main characters.  As incredible as it may seem not only are Tarzan and Stanley Obroski so close they can’t be told apart but so are the female leads Naomi Madison and Rhonda Terry.

I’m sure there are doubles I’m missing here but even Tom Orman, the Dirctor, is a double of himself when he’s under the influence of alcohol.  Drunk he becomes a different Tom Orman than when sober.  Obroski himself is two people.  An errant coward when he has time to think he become ferociously brave when his back is against the wall and there is no time for reflection.

Naomi Madison who has become a prima donna or an artiste was at one time a waitress in a cheap restaurant which role she is forced to assume again which is another form of doubling.  In this joke Naomi is an insult to Irving Thalberg’s wife, Norma Shearer, whose early career is duplicated.

Also this movie Tarzan is a doubling of the literary Tarzan so both Obroski and Tarzan are doubles of Johnny Weissmuller who played the MGM Tarzan.  As Burroughs suggests in this novel he was half out of his mind from the terrific stresses.  The stress did produce however a terrific novel.

It would seem that Burroughs was Tarzan and Obroski as twin aspects of his own Animus while Naomi and Rhonda represented the twin aspects of his Anima.  Naomi obviously represents Emma while Rhonda is an extension of La of Opar combined with Florence.  Naomi disappears from the story apparently replaced by Balza, The Golden Girl, while Burroughs marries Rhonda to Orman.

As regards the doubling of Tarzan who is actually a double of Burroughs himself, Bibliophile David Adams has emphasized that Tarzan usually views from above so that it might be the time to look into this aspect of the character.  In Lion Man Obroski is captured and held prisoner by Rungula, chief of the Bansuto.  this whole scene of Obroski with the Bansuto is one of the numerous variations of the theme of Burroughs humiliation by John the Bully.

Burroughs was plagued with the dream, as he notes the dream frequent among dreamers, of going naked in public.  It is a frequent dream because multitudes of people have suffered similar humiliation as his.

ERB has Obroski stand before Rungula who demands his clothes, in other words his defensive and offensive armor, that without which Obroski is exposed defenseless to the world, he loses his ‘front.’  John had symbolically stripped young ERB.  Burrughs describes his humiliation in excruciating detail as Obroski does a virtual striptease.  First his shirt on down until Burroughs makes a joke of his gaily printed boxer shorts.  While the Bansuto would not have understood the signficance of the shorts ERB takes a certain pleasure in humiliating himself further.  To cover rhis nakedness Obroski pleads for the proverbial fig leaf and is given a skimpy dirty g-string.  Thus when he is led out for torture he fights the Bansuto naked but in a Tarzan guise.  Heck, Tarzan, who is not civilized in the jungle, walks around naked anyway.  Although the natives themselves are naked Obroski is civilized while they are savages.  Having been subdued Obroski is lain before Rungula.  By this time Tarzan is in a tree, apparently planted there for his convenience.  He looks down on Obroski in amazement to see a replica of himself.  p. 104:

In the light of a new day Tarzan of the Apes stood looking down upon the man who resembled him so closely that the ape-man experienced the uncanny sensation of standing apart, like a disembodied spirit, viewing his corporeal self.

What Burroughs is describing here is the splitting of the personality.  He may have the correct psychologically sequence, first the stripping of the armor- i.e. emasculation, and then the disembodiment, the dissociation of the mind and body.  The mind unable to deal with the reality seems to leave the body rising above and looking down on the humiliation of his poor self.  This theme runs all through Burroughs work although this is his most exact and detailed description.

Obroski has been led out to be tortured to death and eaten by Rungula the cannibal chief.  Usually Tarzan is placed in an arena to fight one or more wild beasts.  In a normal confrontation Obroski is a coward which is to say he is unable to defend himself.  In other words his subconscious mind has been conditioned to accept the dominance and authority of hte oppressor.  In still other words in a state of terror his subconscious had been accessed to accept certain hypnotic suggestions.  But, with his back to the wall his instinct of self-preservation overrules the hypnotic suggestion and he fights like the proverbial cornered rat.

In this instance he used his full potential to fell a whole battalion of Rungula’s men, performing authentic Tarzanic feats like lifting men above his head casting them among his foes.  At the time Tarzan is looking down at him he has finally been subdued lying at Rungula’s feet.

You know whre I’m going , don’t you?  Right.  that street corner in Chicago where John the Bully confronted young ERB.  Burroughs didn’t fight like a berserker though, he ran.  (Chief Run-gu-la?) But that was when he split his personality being able to look down on his corporeal self like a disembodied spirit.

As the Penguin Dictionary says:  Instances of hysterical or schizophrenic duplication of personality are well know to psychotherpy.  There are many examples of this phenomenon.  Here are a couple to show how it works.

When a person is enduring an unbearable situation in which he is powerless to resist, rather than believe the situation is happening to him he does split off a psychological projection of himself as a disembodied spirit who sympathetically views his now alter ego’s humiliation.

For instance when Jean Genet, the author and playwright was at the Mettray Reformatory he was caught out by a gang of homosexuals and gang raped.  As the rape progressed, escape being impossible while becoming so unbearable for him, to retain his sanity he split off a projection, a disembodied spirit, if you will, that floated above the scene.  Thus Genet was able to actually observe his rape without participating in it.  As he watched he muttered ‘Poor Jean, poor poor Jean.’  Thus the mind provides a somewhat feeble defense but one that allows one to keep one’s sanity after a fashion.  Of course the hypnotic suggestion  from this terrifically shameful event caused him to relinquish his will to the oppressor, part of the deal to keep one’s sanity.  Genet’s character was changed for life; he became a homosexual who had no will to resist that of men while becoming an active agent in his future degradation.  He was always able to rationalize his actions so that they seemed right.

I will use my own experience as a second example.  In kindergarten the elite group forced a confrontation with me in which they lost and looked bad.  Circumstances removed me to a different school before they had a chance to relaliate on me.   But then in second grade I was returned to that school.  At that point they were waiting for me.  This situation is more analogous to Burroughs than Genet but all three involve a rape of the mind which is what emasculation is.

The general conclusion is that my and Burroughs situations are normal, they happen to everyone.  Perhaps.  And everyone reacts in their individual way but everyone reacts.  A few years later and I would have been able to handle this situation without a problem as would have been true with Burroughs.  Remember with Burroughs however that while John the Bully only threatened him in 1884-85 fifteen years later in a similar to identical situation he had his head broken thus reinforcing the original situation.

In my case the situation formed my central childhood fixation as did Burroughs’.  My subconscious was opened to admit certain hypnotic suggestions which were fixed in my subconscious.  It then closed but refused to allow me to remember which of course is why the situation became a fixation, or suggestion I could not refuse to observe.

At recess in the second grade a group of, shall we say, twelve formed a semi-circle around me.  Like Burroughs I am compelled to make excuses for myself.  For the previous year I had been shuttled between foster homes and thus I had no support or defense.  I was alone.  In kindergarten the boy, the leaderof the pack, had ordered two new kids, the first Negroes in the school, to sit on the sandbox and not move during recess.  I took the Blacks’ side offering to fight the leader.  He, standing at point, declined combat stepping back into the support of his crowd gathered behind him.  That was his mistake.  He and his crowd had realized this.  Now in the second grade the boy still refused to challenge me individually.  Now they formed a semi-circle around me while their leader stood at keystone, still enveloped by his gang so that, I presume, they could fall on me if I resisted.

They all beamed hatred and contempt at me.  I was unable to resist the projected hatred of the boys and girls while at this date having only the vaguest or no notion of what I was guilty of, I was ordered to take a step forward which to my eternal shame I did.  In midstep I was ordered to stop and stay in that suspended step throughout recess.  To my shame, I did.  He said:  You’re going to have to be our nigger now.  The shame killed my personality, my identity, my ego.  I assumed the role of ‘nigger.’  Terror opened the way to the subconscious and the suggestion, you are a nigger, among others was entered.  Like Jean Genet a projection of myself arose above to say something like:  Poor kid, poor poor kid.’

The suggestion was so horrific to me that I immediately forgot it or, perhaps since that ego died the incident was not part of the life of the survivor.  The memory was accepted and encysted in my subconscious what Freud and Jung would call the unconscious.  I not only forgot the situation but I forgot the faces and names of the kids involved.  I could not remember them from that day forward although I could talk to them as though I did know them.

The consequence was that I had to do what I was told to do by nearly anyone.  Much the same as Burroughs who wrote a medieval story, of which he knew nothing, at the suggestion or command of Metcalf and wrote Son Of Tarzan which he later regretted, and Tarzan And The Ant Men at the suggestion or command of Bob Davis.  Buroughs became a variation of the dependent personality as did I.

On the one hand my conscious mind understood the proper means of defense but as I began to do so my subconscious mind overruled or shoved my conscious mind aside and obsequiously obeyed.

This plight was only changed when I succeeded in integrating my personality in the year of around forty-two.  That is to say the subconscious contents of my mind centered around the cyst of my central childhood fixation was made manifest to my conscious mind allowing the subconscious to be integrated into consciousness.  Where the ‘Id’ was ‘Ego’ shall be, as Freud put it.

Burroughs in  Lion Man at fifty-eight is describing the same situation as that experienced by Genet and myself but in a different way.  Like myself and Genet he would have been easy to direct.  So at that age he had not yet exorcised that particular demon.  As ERB kills Obroski off in this novel assuming both identities while discarding that of Obroski, returning the corpse to Hollywood, becoming solely Tarzan of the Apes one wonders if he succeeded in integraing his personality at that point.  That is what he is describing.

His experiences with John The Bully, the splitting of his personality explains why Tarzan observes from above rather than as a participant on the ground. In Lion Man perhaps agitated by the movie duplicate of the literary Tarzan he brought the situation of John the Bully to consciousness. Rungula the Bansuto taking John’s place while the aspect of Tarzan or his split off alter ego watches from above while Obroski fought like a berserker on the ground but was overcome by numbers or in the John situation, size.

Thus Tarzan spies on the safari from the trees by day while walking rhough the camp at night.  Having dealt with his humiliation in some way in Rungula’s village, when Orman and West are threatened by a lion Tarzan plummets from his tree to kill the lion on the ground then without a word vaults back into the tree.  Orman and West mistake him for his lookalike Obroski.  Thus we have the beginning of the reuniting of the split personality which will continue in the Heaven of the gorilla god.

Burroughs was under such extreme stress from both his sexual desires and the MGM betrayal that he must have felt half mad.  While he and Rhonda are captive in Heaven he says:  Sometimes I think I must be dreaming.  A statement that seems to be out of character for the Big Bwana.  The scene might be interpreted as ERB’s Anima and Animus being imprisoned while on one level God might represent MGM.

Tarzan comes into contact with Stanley Obroski which Tarzan finds amusing and lets them do.  Both women pinch tmeselves to see if they are dreaming or mad as well they might.  Tarzan rejects Naomi which must have confused her as she and Obroski were in love with each other.  Having ditched Naomi Tarzan/Obroski goes back for the wise cracking Rhonda.

Then too Burroughs actually describes Tarzan as a madman at one point.  This would be tantamount to describing himself as mad.  Indeed the whole novel centers on mad or insane happenings.

The madness or insanity would be an aspect of Tarzan’s viewing from above as a disembodied spirit.  The splitting off of the aspect from his and ERB’s personality would be the result of the extreme stress of the moment that produced the feeling of dizzying  madness.

Burroughs handling of the stress in what I consider a very extraordinary novel is abolutely masterly.  I can’t think of a finer science fiction story that the story within the story of God’s in his Heaven and all’s wrong with the world.


David Adams who had an advance copy of this piece brought up the point that perhaps Tom Orman in his drunken state was a comment on Emma’s drinking problem.  A scenario instantly suggested itself.

Imagine Orman in his drunken state as a personification of John Barleycorn.  Imagine sweet sober Naomi as Emma in her sober state and Obroski as Burroughs in his non-Tarzan, actually Obroski state.

John Barleycorn claimed Emma as his own as Orman claimed Naomi.  Barleycorn is a jealous man and won’t tolerate Burroughs as a lover of Emma.  So the couple have to sneak a moment or two when John Barleycorn isn’t around.  In other words, when Emma is sober.

As Burroughs fictionally represents the situation Obroski/Burroughs is visiting Naomi/Emma in her tent.  they appear to be in love and accord.  Orman is drunk in his tent and isn’t expected to be abroad.  Then Obroski hears the drunken Orman approaching the tent.  Unable to stand up to Orman Obroski obsequiously flees.

So in real life Burroughs and Emma are getting along fine until Emma hits the bottle conjuring up John Barleycorn.  ERB can’t compete with the bottle while Emma becomes verbally abusive under the influence just as Orman used the lash on bearers while drunk.  ERB can’t take it so like the bearers he vanishes into the night.

I think it may be a viable scenario although obviously ERB’s version of the truth.

End of Part II.  Part III, The Source follows.