Pt. 2 Tarzan And The Madman By Edgar Rice Burroughs

May 26, 2010

A Review

Themes And Variations

The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs #23

Tarzan And The Madman

Part II


R.E. Prindle

ERB And Florence Bid Goodby To LA

     Tarzan novels seem more complex after repeated readings and just sitting and thinking about them.  When I first read Tarzan And The Madman I Thought it was a throwaway.  In the interim between that first reading and the present I’ve spent a fair amount of time in the Tarzan oeuvre and the Burroughs corpus while having written several hundred pages.  One would think it would get easier but it doesn’t.

     This novel was written by Burroughs in exile in Hawaii.  He’d been run out of LA a couple years previously.  Once the possessor of a magnificent collection of cars and planes and a vast estate becoming of  the creator of Tarzan he was now living on 250.00 a month in the island paradise.  He had returned to his poverty days at Sears, Roebuck in Chicago.  Life’s like that.

     On one level then Madman can be interpreted as a record of his feud with MGM and subsequent exile.  Just look at the disdain on his and Florence’s faces as they board the plane for the last outpost of America.  Tells a story in itself.

     The MGM feud began with the release of Trader Horn.  The book Trader Horn itself can be traced back to the Cave Girl.  The movie of Trader Horn led to MGM’s first sound Tarzan.  Thus Rand, the false Tarzan of the novel, can be seen as the Weissmuller portrayal of Tarzan in the MGM films.  ERB was greatly offended by MGM’s notion of Tarzan hence this novel’s hero Rand is The-Man-Who-Thought-He-Was-Tarzan, a false god made to seem insignficant by the real literary Tarzan.

     One should note that the real Tarzan is an intruder in the make believe Tarzanic world of MGM.  The Mutia Escarpment on which the action takes place first came into existence in Trader Horn then was perpetuated through five MGM Tarzan films.  The sixth MGM movie took place in New York City, of course.  That one hadn’t been released as yet.

     The opening sequence is even a parody of MGM’s Tarzan, The Ape Man in which an old coot shows up in Africa with his beauteous daughter who is then abducted by Tarzan who doesn’t know any better.  There’s a certain amount of humor then when the real Tarzan of Mad Man wants to know who’s been abducting women in his name besmirching his reputation.

     The false Tarzan who we may as well designate as Rand to make things easier, after a false start abducts the White woman, Sandra Pickerall, of the Scots Ale fortune taking her to the Mutia Escarpment.  The ascent to the Escarpment is nearly identical to the ascent in both Trader Horn and Tarzan, The Ape Man.  Burroughs adds his usual lion hoopla having a menagerie of them at the base of the Escarpment who are fed human flesh.

     Once on the Escarpment Burroughs fleshes out his story with the usual Lost Civilization theme.  In this instance the civilization is derived from Medieval Portuguese invaders of Moslem lands who were defeated in battle retreating to the Escarpment where they built their castle and established their life while becoming a milk chocolate hue.  At one point Burroughs says they were part of a seventh century contingent, again Crusaders and yet again having been there four hundred years.  So take your pick.

     Rand has been there believing himself Tarzan for two years.  He, of course, is suffering from amnesia caused when he was parachuting into the castle having been slammed against a wall causing his trauma.  He and friend Bolton-Chilton were flying into Africa when in a replication of the MGM movies they entered a clowd bank to find themselves face to face with a mountain wall.  In the ascent the plane malfunctioned so having cleared the Escarpment the men were compelled to bail out.  Bolton-Chilton was captured by the Moslem/Galla rivals of the men of the Portuguese city of Alemtejo and enslaved.  So, is this novel all roads lead to Alemtejo.

     Since Rand descended from the sky Christoforo Da Gama, the king of Alemtejo, takes him for a god.  I will deal with the religious aspect in the next section.  If Rand is a god then Da Gama insists that Rand must have a goddess sending him forth to find one.  Hence Rand abducts a number of Black women who prove unsatisfactory to Da Gama who insists on a White Goddess leading Rand to abduct the only possible candidate, Sandra thus besmirching Tarzan’s hitherto unsullied reputation.

     After a series of adventures Tarzan arrives before the gates of Alemtejo.  Both he and Rand are of the same general build and resemble each other enough to cause confusion but on closer examination their faces were not alike.  As it chances when Tarzan arrives Rand and Sandra have absented themselves in the pursuit of freedom.

     Interestingly Tarzan’s entrance into Alemtejo parodies the arrival of the Greek hero, Theseus into Athens.  As Burroughs thought he invented the name Numa for lion, not realizing he had retrieved from memory the name of the Roman king, in all likelihood he didn’t realize that he was basing the entry of Tarzan on the entry of Theseus.

     In the Greek myth Theseus dressed as a woman, don’t ask me, the scene is reminsicent of the Gilgamesh epic of Sumer in which a temple prostitute entices the wild man Enkidu into joining civilization who tears her garment in half giving half to the man, anyway as a transvestite, Theseus draws the jeers of observing workmen.  To put them in their place Theseus picks up a bull and throws it over his shoulder.  Like I say, I’m working on it but without the semblance of a clue.

     Tarzan by replicating the feat wins the admiration of the Alemtejo general who proclaims Tarzan the true god, they overthrow the old order, march on the Moslem Gallas using new tactics devised by the new god and overthrow the Moslems.

     The victory scatters all the protagonists who then have to come together.

     As with the MGM movies there is a huge gold mine involved.  In the movies there is a great seam of gold with huge nuggets lying on the surface so that all you have to do is pick them up.  So in Mad Man the two villains Crump and Minsky in company with Rand discover the mine.

     Here Burroughs depicts the worthlessness of gold in the manner in which he disparaged the Father of Diamonds in Tarzan And The Forbidden City.  Overcome by their greed the starving and dehydrated Crump and Minsky gather more gold than they can carry killing themselves in the process.

     Tarzan, Rand, Sandra and Bolton-Chilton as surviving Europeans come together.  Sandra convinces Tarzan, who had vowed to kill Rand on sight, that he is merely deluded having lost his memory.  Bolton-Chilton turns out to be the buddy who having parachuted from the same plane as Rand had been enslaved by the Gallas.

     It turns out that Rand was so entranced by the story of Tarzan that he bet Bolton-Chilton he could live as Tarzan in the wilds of Africa for a month.  He was on the way to do so when the two had to bail.

     In their seach for the easy way down from the Escarpment the foursome come across Rand’s plane that had landed and coasted to a stop rather than crashing.  Rand pumps up the the tires, fixes the carburetor and all four of them fly away.  Thus Burroughs rewrites the MGM movie in a more plausible and entertaining way retrieving Tarzan from MGM in a sense.

     As in real life Burroughs was exiled from LA so Rand, Sandra and Tarzan are exiled from Africa.  Tarzan’s African adventures cease.  Just as the Communists had driven Tarzan from Opar so now MGM drives Tarzan from Africa.  The next adventure would take place on a mysterious island in the Indian Ocean while the last Tarzan adventure takes place in Indonesia during WWII.  A sad ending for the Big Bwana.

     Of course the Africa of Livingstone and Stanley on which the Tarzan series was based was also a thing of the past.  The Tarzan stories couldn’t have continued to have been wirtten without becoming retrospective.  Even the Lesser Tarzan films that succeeded MGM became exotic fantasies rather than African adventure.  It was the end of an era.

     Beginning in 1932 with the first MGM talkie the Big Ape man began to slip away from ERB’s control.  Mad Man records the sad fact that the pale MGM imitation of the ape man had supplanted the real thing.  It must have been a bitter moment for ERB writing in Hawaii.

     We don’t know why he didn’t publish Mad Man.  He placed the story in his safe where it remained until the early sixties when it was discovered and published.  It seems likely that as of this date but few have even read it.  Of those who have, most probably discuss it as a tired rehash of the themes of doppelganger, amnesia and perhaps the last of terrestrial lost civilizations.

     I found it the culmination of those themes.  ERB’s long examination of the nature of psychological doubles was drawn to a satisfying conclusion as the false Tarzan awoke from a long sleep  to realization.  Perhaps the same was true of Burroughs as he viewed his lost hero in the lost land of LA from his place of exile in Hawaii just beforfe the bombs from those airplanes began to fall.

     Next an examination of the religious aspects of this amazing novel.

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