In it, a dying villain advises Korak, the son of Tarzan (more on that later), that the girl he is searching for isn't with him. He then explains to Korak that he was hired to steal this girl by another guy, and he is the one that now has the girl. Bluntly, Korak responds that he just left that guy and was sent back here to gain the true wherabouts of the girl. The villain explains the girl was originally captured from a Sheik, who had captured her from a royal French family. The guy that hired him wanted to take the girl to London. After he captured her, the Sheik re-captured her and now she's in his village (soon to be owned by the Sheik's half-brother).
Can you follow this convoluted human-trafficking mess? It is a literary nightmare to follow.
For the record, I absolutely love the first three Tarzan novels, Tarzan of the Apes, The Return of Tarzan, and The Beasts of Tarzan, and you can read my energetic praise of those books here on the blog. I was really excited to jump into this fourth series installment, The Son of Tarzan. The novel was first published in All-Story Weekly as a six-part serial from December 4, 1915 through January 8, 1916. It was then packaged as a full-length novel and published by A.C. McClurg in 1917.
Let's unpack this. The son of Tarzan is a boy named Jack. He was the infant that was supposedly kidnapped by two villains in the last book (spoiler, he wasn't). Fast-forward ten years from the events of the prior novel, The Beasts of Tarzan, and the Clayton family – John/Jack/Jane - live in London while also managing a sprawling estate in Africa. Jack manages to run away from home in order to guide a familiar Ape named Akut back to Dover in Africa. Akut is the ape that Tarzan befriended in the last book, who now is being used unfairly as a showpiece for the paying public.
In an extraordinary series of events, Jack and Akut are left stranded in the African jungle. The author sort of recycles Tarzan of the Apes to fit the narrative of this book. The first-half of The Son of Tarzan is a coming-of-age tale as Jack transforms from London schoolboy to fierce and confident king of the jungle, Korak the Killer. Despite the over-utilized “fish out of water” formula, watching Korak become the second-coming of Tarzan was awesome. He's a strong, lethal, and intelligent lad that certainly embodies everything we love about his father. With a title of The Son of Tarzan, I was totally committed to a novel about Korak. However, Burroughs messes it all up.
The entire second-half is nothing short of a disaster. As I alluded to earlier, a young French girl named Meriem is snatched by human-traffickers and given to an evil Sheik. In his village, she's routinely beaten by both the Sheik and an old lady. Thankfully, she's captured from the Sheik, but soon finds that the duo who kidnap her are nearly as awful as the Sheik. I lost track of how many times Meriem is passed back and forth between these two guys, the Sheik, the Sheik's half-brother, Korak, and Tarzan and Jane. Ultimately, the best part of this whole fiasco is the time she spends with both Korak and Akut. Meriem falls in love with Korak (obviously) and becomes familiar with not only surviving in the jungle, but thriving. She is the embodiment of Tarzan's Jane. Easy to connect the dots.
As if Tarzan needed another name (he's already John Clayton, Tarzan, Lord Greystoke), he is referred to as Big Bwana in this book (Jane is My Dear). Burroughs disguises that Bwana is Tarzan until the book's climax,” but it isn't hard to figure it out.
The narrative spins its wheels with the “pass Meriem back and forth” sequence, but there were some emotional investments made into Meriem's relationship with Bwana and My Dar as well as the aforementioned chemistry with Korak. Beyond that, I really disliked the novel's flow and dependence on the human-trafficking plot. Burroughs spent a great deal of time passing Jane around in the last novel, and it seemed like this was just more of the same.
Hopefully, the series' fifth installment, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, takes more of a fantasy or science-fiction flavoring instead of human plight. But, the synopsis of the book suggests that Jane has been kidnapped again.