Part 4, Tarzan And The Lion Man: A Review

May 17, 2008


A Review

Themes And Variations

The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs

#18 Tarzan And The Lion Man

Part 4 of 10 parts


R.E. Prindle

First published on the ezine, ERBzine


The Safari To The Capture Of Stanley Obroski


     I consider this novel to be the magnum opus of the Tarzan series.  If it doesn’t have everything it’s not lacking anything essential.  Like most of Burroughs’ stuff the story expands in the transition from the page to the mind.  This one blossoms into a giant bouquet.  The enormous spectacular story is condensed into a hundred eighty-five pages.  As always the pace is astonishingly rapid while entirely coherent; nothing is left our nor is the story jumpy.

     Do the critics condemn ERB?  Well, he was somewhat of the same mind as H.G. Wells of whom it was said:

“…he…had a horror of being ambushed in the grove of academe.  ‘Better the wild rush of the Boomster and the Quack,’  he told Henry James in 1912, ‘than the cold politeness of the established thing.’

As quoted by W. Warren Wagar, H.G. Wells:

Jouranlism and Prophecy 1893-1946, Houghton Mifflin Co. 1964, p. 12

     ERB put it a little differently when he explained that every once and a while an important novel came along but that those were few and far between.  Even time erases that significance except for the specialist.  Burroughs is still read both by the specialist and the hoi polloi.

     That this book was important for the author is evident by the extended period of time of writing, for him, of 110 days that he took to write the novel.  He wanted it to be his major best seller in which hope he was disappointed.

     After a very amusing, even funny, first chapter ERB got his story rolling in the chapter titled ‘Mud’ in which in a masterful five and a half pages he introduces his story in media res, places the scene and introduces several key characters.  The atmosphere is terrific.  In just five and a half pages!

     The amount of content in the first paragraph is actually astonishing.  p. 11:

     Sheykh Ab El-Ghrennem and his swarthy followers sat in silence on their ponies and watched the mad Nasara sweating and cursing as they urged on two hundred blacks in an effort to drag a nine-ton generator truck through the muddy bottom of a small stream.

     The quote features a unique spelling of Sheykh which ERB didn’t use again reverting to the usual Sheik  An oddity.  Plus he couldn’t have gotten more letters into the Sheykh’s title.  That the Sheik and his followers are not good guys is indicated by the word ‘swarthy.’  If you’re swarthy you’re bad.  ERB confirms this as he contrasts the idle Arabs on their ponies with the ‘mad Nasara sweating and cursing.’

     Arabs don’t do the work of the world, they get others to do it for them.  Thus for a thousand years they had depopulated Africa in the search for slaves to fetch and hew.  Their contempt for the mad Nasara, or White people, who are working alongside the Blacks is apparent and accurate.  ERB is a superb multi-culturalist who has studied cultural attitudes, in fact, he could have invented the term.  He is not of either the utopian or sentimental multi-cultural schools however but of the factual kind.

     In the next two pages ERB instroduces the female leads Naomi Madison and Rhonda Terry while quickly establishing their characters.  Then he quickly brings attention back to the Arabs.  p. 12:

     Naomi: …It is no more your fault that you can’t act than it is the fault of that sheik over there that he was not born a white man.”

     “What a disillusionment that sheik was!”  exclaimed Rhonda.

     “How so?”  asked Blaine.

     “When I was a little girl I saw Rudolph Valentino on the screen, ah, brothers, sheiks was sheiks in them days!”

     “This bird doesn’t look much like Valentino,” agreed Blaine.

     “Imagine being carried off into the desert by that bunch of whiskers and dirt!  And here I’ve been waiting all these years to be carried off.”

      Once again we are advised of the unsavoriness of the Arabs while ERB evokes the sentimental memory of Valentino, the female hearthrob whose funeral in 1926 was swamped by adoring admirers.

     He contrasts the film variety to the real thing by portraying the real thing as ‘whiskers and dirt.’  In the novelistic manner he also gives the premonition that Rhonda will be carried off by this repulsive speciment.  We are alerted to watch for when.

     Then the spotlight is turned on the Sheik who explains the Arab presence:

“Which of the benat, Atewy, is she who holds the secret of the valley of diamonds?”

     Thus we are advised again what to expect but not when.  The secret is, of course, a map of doubtful authenicity.  The map serves the function of the Jewels Of Opar, the locket of Ant Men and Kali Bwana of Leopard Men.  It is full of astonishing surprises not least of which is that it is an authentic map.  Working all that out must be part of the reason the book took 110 days to write.

     ERB then once again denotes cultural differences between the Arabs and Whites.  Not in any sense derogatory to the Arabs but merely noting cultural differences in interpretation.  Once again this novel will be an exploration in multi-culturalism

     ERB then introduces the director, Tom Orman.  p. 14:

Sweating, mud covered, Mr. Thomas Orman stood near the line of natives straining on the ropes attached to a heavy truck.  In one hand he carred a long whip.  At his elbow stood a bearer, but in lieu of a rifle he carried a bottle of Scotch.

     Well, that’s quite a description.  Orman is down in the mud ‘working’ which might be commendable by Western standards but not Arab and the long whip indicates he is a cruel taskmaster, once again by Western standards, and the bottle of Scotch gives the reason why.  After some quick but comprehensive scene setting and character sketching the safari gets underway.  By now we know everything we have to know to get a complete image of the story in our minds.

     There may be people who say ERB can’t write but I defy anyone to do a better job in as few pages.  Henry James would have taken a hundred fifty and accomplished no more.

     In the next seven pages ‘Poisoned Arrows’ ERB rings the story to a crux, even a mini-climax.

     ERB once said that he learned Greek and Latin almost before English and that it affected his writing.  I found that difficult to understand until I recently read Erling Holtsmark’s  Tarzan And Tradition.  Holtsmark points out that Burroughs used the ring construction of the Iliad and the Odyssey  of Homer rather than the current construction of a sequence of events leading up to a grand climax and out.  As one is used to the modern usage of the climax the ring construction makes Burroughs read awkwardly.   If one bears in mind the ring construction the stories become more comprehensible.

     In Lion Man ERB constructs a perfect ring novel.

     The opening and closing Hollywood scenes form the outer ring.  Thus once Burroughs wrote The Conference he was obligated to write a closing Hollywood scene.  The safari sequence is balanced by the story of God.  The story of the twin Lion Men is balanced by the story of the twins Naomi and Rhonda just before the story of God.  The inner ring of the concentric circles is the transition from Bansuto territory to the Omwamwi Falls.  If one reads the novel with this construction in mind it reads very smoothly.

     In addition it appears that ERB was writing a movie scenario as each chapter represents a scene in a movie.  After all ERB appears to be telling MGM how to write a truly imaginative movie quite superior to the rather commonplace story of Cyril Hume.  Hume essentially wrote an H. Rider Haggard story based on The  Ivory Child leaving out the imagination.  ERB even supplies snappy dialogue that would come across well on the screen.

     So, in this scene the Bansuto of Rungula begin a series of guerilla attacks to set up the next scene ‘Dissension’ while allowing ERB to develop characters and internal tensions.  In Dissension the porters warn that they will desert if Orman doesn’t retreat and take the longer way around.  Also ERB develops the relationship between Obroski and Naomi while once again contrasting the characters of Naomi and Rhonda.

     ERB makes an interesting comment in this chapter.  On p. 26 he says:

     “No,” (Naomi) acquiesced thoughtfully, “that wouldn’t be good.  He’s (Orman) got a nasty temper, and there’s lots of things a director can do if he gets sore.”

     “In a piture like this he could get a guy killed and make it look like an accident.”  said Obroski.

     She nodded.  “Yes.  I saw it done once.  The director and the leading man were both stuck on the same girl.  The director had the wrong command given to a trained elephant.”

     Here ERB must be alluding to Kamuela Searle who appeared in the 1921 film Son Of Tarzan.  Accounts vary but according to Porges, Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan, p.20:

     Kamuela Searle, handled roughly by the elephant that was carrying him, sustained injuries which resulted in his death.

     If that is true ERB is explaining why Searle, bound to a pole, was dropped.  ERB may be giving us some very pertinent inside information.

     The chapter also shows Obroski and Naomi in the girl’s tent when the drunken Orman bursts in.  Naomi is shown as cowering while Rhonda with presence of mind orders Orman out of the tent.

     Chapter 5, Death, introduces Tarzan into the story in a rather unusual way for the Big Bwana.  p. 20:

     While the camp slept, a bronzed white giant, naked but for a loin cloth, surveyed – sometimes from the branch of overhanging trees, again from the ground inside the circle of sentries.  Then, he moved among the tents of the whites and the shelters of the natives as soundlessly as a shadow.  He saw everything, he heard much.  With the coming of dawn, he melted away into the mist that enveloped the forest.

      This seems more like a movie stunt than the real Tarzan.

     A number of porters desert and the column is attacked once again.

     In Chapter 6, Remorse, in three and a half pages the Arabs learn the whereabouts of the treasure map, setting up the abduction of both Rhonda and Naomi because the two are identical in appearance.  Orman gives up drinking.

     In chapter 7, ‘Disaster’, the next to worst thing that could happen happens, the porters all desert during the night.  The company slogs on with tensions increasing.  They leave the forest into a grassy area in which they feel safe.  This corresponds to the scene in Trader Horn when the Blacks chase Horn’s party after they leave the village with Nina T.  Instead the safari is attacked by the Bansuto in force.  Fearing the grass might be fired they push on into the forest.  Here they discover that Stanley Obroski is missing.

     This is the transition point from the second ring into the third ring.  Chapter 8, The Coward, is devoted to examining Obroski’s state of mind which we will consider in a moment.  While in Chapter 9 the Arabs abscond abducting Naomi and Rhonda while stealing the treasure map.

     Thus Chapter 8 sets up the third ring dealing with the adventures of Stanley Obroski and Tarzan while Chapter 9 leads into the inner ring or center of the story.

      Up to this point following the classical ring model ERB has ordered Ring 1:  The conference in Hollywood, 2.  Brought the safari to the center of Africa, set the stage for Ring 3 and the center of the ring, all in thirty-eight pages.

     Further he has created a viable movie scenario with both story and dialogue.  It was apparently common usage for one writer to create the story and another to write the dialogue.  So in Tarzan, The Ape Man Cyril Hume had written a commonplace story while Ivor Novello wrote some limp dialogue.  Here Burroughs has written an exciting story with much snappier dialogue than Novello.  He seems to be taking MGM by the hand to show them how.

Now to part 5, the story of Stanley Obroski and Tarzan.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s