Pt. I: Tarzan And The River

April 14, 2011

Tarzan And The River


R.E. Prindle & Dr. Anton Polarion

I know those ideas;

In my boyhood days I read Shelley

and dreamed of Liberty.

There is no Liberty save wisdom and self-control.

Liberty is within-

not without.

It is each man’s own affair.

–H.G. Wells, When The Sleeper Wakes

The River don’t stop here anymore.

–Carly Simon, Let The River Run

     Dr. Polarion and I have undertaken to write this essay together:  He to handle the psychological aspects while I deal with the literary parts.  As he has been called away on business I write his ideas from personal coversations and notes he has given me.

     The reference to the river in the title is not to the Congo as one might suspect but to the river of life in the psychological sense and to the roman a fleuve or River Novel in the literary sense.

     In the psychological sense the River refers to the Flood on which we are all borne heedlessly to the sea of oblivion unless we somehow free ourselves  of the current.  That is the meaning of the quote from Carly Simon.  She thought she had gained control of her life and emotions; reclaimed herself from the vast irresistable flow of the River, so to speak.

     As Dr. Polarion has explained in the other essays, ERB was working out his psychological difficulties through his writing.  He first integrated his personality and then rectified his Animus concluding with reconciling his Anima and Animus.  As in all lives ERB’s early life was an accumulation of fixations that had to be exorcised in later life.  One either succumbs to one’s psychology in the sense of Hamlet’s complaint: To be or not to be…whether ’tis nobler, in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them,’ or, in other words, one confronts the psychological issues and resolves them.

     Understanding, that is the problem.  For ERB’s first thirty-seven years he suffered the slings and arrows in his mind, but then at age thirty-seven a glimmer of understanding appeared in his mind and he chose to take arms to end his sea of troubles.

     One can only guess at the pricks and prods that drove him on his way.  Fortunately ERB left a very wide and detailed paper trail of the workings of his mind.  For the first thirty-seven years of his life the subliminal pressures built and built until with a mighty roar they rose to the surface in a terrific eruption not unlike the fabled gusher Spindletop.

     Title after title spewed forth from ERB’s pen in an impetuous irresistible flow.  From 1912 to 1915 no less than seventeen novels were unleashed on the world.  Included in those novels was the creation of one of the great mythological figures of world literature- Tarzan Of  The Apes.

     It was through these novels that Burroughs took up arms against that sea of troubles to end them.

     Dr. Polarion who is a Depth psychologist, believes and demonstrates to my satisfaction that as a result of ‘talking’ his way through his fixations  ERB integreted his personality in 1915.

     The integration of the personality is a major desideratum although, while a blessing, the integration is much less of a blessing than many Depth psychologists believe.  When one eliminates one thing one must replace it with another.  An empty self cannot be allowed to exist, nor will the self tolerate it.  I have had to fill the void left left when with Dr. Polarion’s assistance I integrated my personality.

     For ERB who had little understanding and no guidance, the integration of his personality was as much a curse as a blessing.  But more on that in Part II.

     Following Dr. Polarion: the disintegration of the personality occurs when  the individual is presented with challenges to which he cannot satisfactorily respond.  The most serious reactions occur in one’s youthful years when one’s understanding is least developed. Quite minor incidents cause the most serious fixations as the child or youth has not the intellectual means to understand and respond to them successfully.

     Each failure of response causes a fixation in the subconsious mind.  At this point Dr. Polarion discards the Freudian notion of the Unconscious in favor of the subconscious.  He believes that there is no such thing as the Unconscious.  Each psychological fixation has a corresponding psychological or physical affect.  These are what Freud identified as neuroses and psychoses or what were later recognized as psychosomatic reactions.  Thus a neurosis may interfere with one’s basic responses while a psychosis has a debilitating effect.  An example of a neurosis might be a nervous twitch while the most debilitating of psychoses might be manic-depression or schizophrenia.  The less severe the cause, the easier to reach.

     It is here that Freud’s ‘talking cure’ comes into effect.  Freud discovered, or learned from his colleague, Breuer, that when a person recognized his fixation and discussed it the physical or psychological manifestations disappeared.  In many cases such affects appear only in certain circumstances.

     Let me give you three quick examples:  The modern pop singer Meatloaf,, the nineteenth century explorer Richard Francis Burton and ERB himself.

     The pop singer, Meatloaf acquired a deep inferiority complex during his childhood.  He had been made to believe that he was worthless.  When he became a pop star he felt unworthy of his success.  Hence, having a subconscious fixation or need to reject his success for which he felt unworthy, he one day lost his singing voice.  In orther words, his subconscious fixation blocked his ability to vocalize and continue to be a success.  The physical manifestation of his fixation was the loss of his singing voice.

     Meatloaf sought the advice of a psychologist who was both astutue and honest.  After talking to Meatloaf for a few minutes in his first session, the psychologist had his client figured.  he simply asked Meatloaf to admit out loud that he was a Star.  Meatloaf resisted as one might expect, but on the psychologist’s insistence he reluctantly said:  ‘Oh, all right, I’m a star.’

   That’s all it took.  That is the ‘talking cure’.  From that moment on, Meatloaf exorcised his fixation and regained his singing voice.  Of course, that only eliminated the symptom but not the underlying cause.  Meatloaf just shifted his psychosomatic affect to another manifestation of it.

     Not all fixations are that easy to reach.  The more painful the fixation the harder it is to reach.  Thus while Meatloaf’s symptom was relieved the fixation of unworthiness remained intact. The explorer Richard Burton (Richard Francis Burton, not to be confused with the late actor husband of the late Elizabeth Taylor.) sought the source of the Nile in the eighteen-sixties.  If he had succeeded, he would have been made for life as well as having a secure place in history.

     Burton was however severely conflicted on the Animus while have a debilitating central childhood fixation in his subconscious, a killer combination.  Actually, he was a latent homosexual.

     There was only one way to travel in Africa and that was on foot.  Hence his subconscious placed a psychosomatic affect on his legs making it impossible to walk!  Burton naturally failed in his quest but regained the full use of his legs when failure was irremediable.  He never had trouble with his legs again.

     While suffering from fever in Africa, Burton had the remarkably vivid vision of himself as two different personalities, the one always defeating the ambitions of the other.  The two personalities were visions of his conscious and subconscious minds  Thus the fixation symbolically represented itself to him, but Burton was unable to penetrate the symbol.  Had he been able to do so he would immediately have been able to get on his feet as nimble as ever.

     The true natue of Burton’s conflict was that he couldn’t acknowledge his homosexual reaction to his fixation.  His youthful sexual violation or molestation was his central childhood fixation, but we’ll let that pass.  The central childhood fixation is the most fearful of all.

     Edgar Rice Burroughs had a fixation from his father.  He believed his dad to be a great man, probably one that could never be equaled or surpassed.  ERB’s early failures may have been a fear of challenging his father’s image.  His father had been a military success in the War Between The States.  ERB probably joined the Army to emulate his father.  He was sent to Apache territory.  However, the fear of failing to measure up to his father or exceed him caused a psychological reaction or psycho-somatic affect.

     For the length of his service, which was cut short by his appeal to his father, he contracted a case of diarrhea which didn’t leave him until he gave up the military, thus ending any fear of equaling of surpassing his father.  ERB’s diarrhea was purely a defensive psychological reaction to his fixation.

      ERB began his writing career in desperation.  It probably never occurred to him that his writing would make him not only as successful as his father but more successful, else he mgiht not have been able to write.  Judging from the context of the Tarzan novels,  I would say that this conflict with his father was resolved between the writing of The Son Of Tarzan and The Jewels Of Opar.  There is a decided change of direction from the one to the other.

     The Russian Quartet of the first four novels therefor forms a sort of prolegomena or introduction to the rest of the oeuvre  There is a fair amount of indecision in the four novels as ERB seeks for the handle of his great works

     In his tradition of Tarzan doppelgangers the two novels of Tarzan Of The Apes and Son Of Tarzan may be considered near duplicates of each other; in fact, Father and Son as the titles indicate.

     Two other novels separate from but related to the Tarzan oeuvre may be counted as part of it due to their role in the development of ERB’s psychology.  These two are The Mad King and The Eternal Lover.  The MadKing is a preliminary attempt by ERB to rectify the conflicting aspects of his Anima through the doppelgangers of the Mad King and Barney Custer, while the Eternal Lover is a precocious attempt to reconcile his Animus and Anima.  Not surprisingly, Barney Custer is prominent in both novels.  Custer then melds into the neo-Tarzan of Jewels Of Opar where the two conflicted aspects Burroughs’ Animus appear in one Tarzan, off set.

     The name Barney Custer as an alter ego for ERB is interesting, General George Custer who we all know was massacred at the Little Big Horn a year after ERB was born was amongst the greatest of American heroes for about seventy-five years.  After 1950 the luster was diminished and then turned completely around to the point that he is now the most prominent villain of American history and a symbol of shame to the Paleface.

     But in 1914, by taking the name of Custer, ERB was identiying himself with America’s greatest contemporary hero.  The first name, Barney, undoubtedly refers to the daredevil auto racer Barney Oldfield.  This must be especially apparent in the Mad King in which Barney Custer is a daring, even wild auto driver.  It should be noted too that ERB had only recently become an auto owner and driver so he is probably projecting an ideal of what he wanted to be.  So the character of Barney Custer itself is a doppelganger rolled into one.

     The novel The Eternal Lover takes place either in the time between Return Of Tarzan and Beasts or between Beasts and Son.  In either case, Barney Custer is melded into either Tarzan or boy Jack, probably the latter as Tarzan repesents Burroughs’ father in Son.

     Son Of Tarzan is a charming coming of age novel in which boy Jack emulates his father, grows into his loin cloth, or g-string and is finally reunited with his dad in London.  Here the Russian Quartet is completed and the story logically comes to an end, as there are no loose ends for sequels.

     In real life during this three year period from 1912 to 1915 ERB has risen from a more or less abject failure to a towering success.  From a position of hapless inadequacy compared to his father as the novel Son Of Tarzan records, he has succeeded in his mind at least in equaling his father, athough as on the return to London Tarzan remains a patriarch and boy Jack recedes into the background it is fairly obvious that ERB did not really believe he surpassed his dad.  Lingering traces of diarrhea, no doubt.

     What ERB has done however is to eliminate the fixation in his subconscious.  By doing so he integrated his personality.

     Conflicted as he was, this rapid turnaround in financial status must have been a tremendous ego boost to a very frustrated man on the cusp of his mid-life crisis.

     One can argue the relative value of the dollar but I estimate the buying power of Burroughs’ earnings for the period in today’s dollars of least three to five million dollars.

     When one considers that he bought a house, which he turned into a country club with out buildings and enough land to build a city for one hundred thousand dollars which wouldn’t equal a single lot today the value of the dollar has no real comparison.   ERB chose to call his new estate Tarzana which gives some indication of the importance of Tarzan in his mind.

     Following the principles of Freud’s ‘talking cure’ somewhere in that great gush of writing ERB brought his central childhood fixation into the open where he resolved it so that the fixation’s mental and physical affects disappeared, uniting his conscious and subconscious minds into one interated personality.

     Following psychological roles ERB must then have resolved fixation after fixation until he was free of compusive behavior.

     Having united his conscious and subconscious minds, ERB was then given the psychological task of rectifying his Animus into one single directed sexual identity or Ego and then reconciling his Animus with his Anima.   ERB did this, placing him ahead of Freud and Jung as a psychologist, although he may not have known how to express his achievement in scientific terms.

     Dr. Polarion believes that ERB was aware of his achievement but as he had no scientific standing he must have thought it better to demonstrate his achievement in the Tarzan oeuvre while keeping his mouth shut.

     There can be no question that ERB was a very educated, even learned man, although without the Ivy League credentials for which he so obviously yearned.  The amount of learning evident in the Tarzan oeuvre is really quite astonishing.  His background n African studies alone is extensive.

     Having integrated his personality through the Russian Quartet, those four novels form a completed unit.  In order to keep writing Tarzan novels Burroughs had to shift his emphasis.  Then with the novel Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar he began a more extended roman a fleuve or River Novel.

     The subsequent novels are all involved with the problem of working out the rectification of the Animus and reconciliation with his Anima.

     I personally (Dr. Polarion concurs) do not consider Tarzan And The Foreign Legion part of the true Tarzan oeuvre.  The book was an afterthought written duing World War  II for propagandistic purposes, consequently being outside ERB’s psychological development.

     The last book apart from Foreign Legion published during his lifetime was Tarzan The Magnificent.  Richard A. Lupoff discovered three stories after Burroughs’ death which were combined into Tarzan And The Castaways and a completed manuscript, Tarzan And The Madman, which is the culminating value in ERB’s psychologcal development and may be genuinely considered part of the oeuvre.

     Thus the liberty of which H.G. Wells spoke in the introductory quote was achieved by ERB.  He had acquired wisdom and self-control.   One might say he was as ‘free’ as any man can be which, after all, as the mystics say, is merely uniting oneself with the ‘will of god’ or nature, in other words, integrating one’s personality.

     Having disposed of the Russian Quartet which forms a sort of prolegomena to the oeuvre, I will now turn to Part II to the explication of the Tarzan oeuvre as a roman a fleur.

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