Showing posts with label Edgar Rice Burroughs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Edgar Rice Burroughs. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Tarzan #05 - Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar

In 1916, the November and December issues of All-Story Cavalier Weekly featured the fifth Tarzan serial, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. It was later published as a novel by McClurg in 1918. The book marks the return of the jungle hero to the treasure city of Opar, a lost colony of Atlantis that first appeared in The Return of Tarzan (1913).

In Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure, author Richard A. Lupoff suggests that Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar may be considered the last novel in the original Tarzan chronology. He states, “The quality is not very great, the plot is still a continuation of the original elements introduced in earlier books.” 

Based on this warning, and my displeasure with the fourth Tarzan novel, The Son of Tarzan, I'm not sure why I pursued the series more. Partially, I was hoping that this novel would have a bit of fantasy or sci-fi elements in providing more emphasis on Opar and Tarzan's presence there. But, I quickly learned that isn't the case. This is another chase-the-chaser that is chasing Jane and her kidnapper.

In this novel, Tarzan's investments have dwindled and he needs more capital. He journeys back to the city of Opar to steal gold. While there, he is knocked unconscious by a boulder and awakens with amnesia. This leaves him roaming the jungle in a primitive state similar to his boyhood. Only he says silly things repeatedly like “pretty pebbles”. He also denies Opar's high-priestess La once again. She's in love with Tarzan and he wants nothing to do with her. At this point she's one of the few characters that can successfully remain in one place for five books. I'm just saying...I would at least entertain the decision.

Meanwhile, Burroughs has to have Jane kidnapped. It's apparently what his readers desire in every Tarzan novel. So, Jane is captured this time by ivory and slave traders led by Achmet Zek. Thrown into the mix is a disgraced Belgian officer named Albert Werper. He spends his time attempting to grab a bag of jewels – pretty pebbles – from whoever and whatever chapter they are in. 

The narrative is like the old film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World. People chasing people who are chasing money. Werper chases the jewels, Tarzan chases the jewels, La chases Tarzan, Mugambi chases Tarzan and Jane, and the slave traders chase after the Opar gold, the pretty pebbles, and the reader's attention – which is in serious jeopardy if you make it to page 100. None of this would be dull and lifeless if Burroughs didn't recycle the plot. But, he does and this is an absolute mess. 

Seriously, just skip this book and jump ahead to Tarzan the Untamed and its military-themed narrative amidst World War I.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Barsoom #02 - The Gods of Mars

The second of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom series of sword-and-planet novels is The Gods of Mars. It was originally published as a five-part serial in The All-Story between January to May, 1913. In September, 1918 the serial was compiled into a full-length novel and published by A.C. McClurg. I thoroughly enjoyed the series debut, A Princess of Mars, and I encourage you to read my review of that novel HERE.

In events that aren't particularly clear, John Carter is transported back to Mars after his ten year absence from the Red Planet. The hero apparently died on Earth, and when he awakens it is in the afterlife area of Mars known as the Valley Dor. Think of this place as a sort of purgatory. When Carter arrives here, he witnesses a race of Green Martians savagely attacked by flesh-sucking “Plant Men”. If this purgatory isn't horrible enough, any survivors of the Plant Men vampire-like monstrosities are then consumed by the “gods” of the place, a white-skinned race called Therns, which also eat their victims. 

These opening chapters depicting the events associated with Carter's arrival in Valley Dor are similar to  the horrifying descriptions found in Dante's Inferno. Burroughs' pulls no punches submerging these opening segments into a nightmarish not-so-traditional horror setting. Even in 2023, Burroughs proves to be quite the impactful horror writer (intentional or not). The descriptions of the howls from the cliffs and the “sucking” of blood and flesh were just so memorable. These chapters are amazing. 

This descent into “Hell” continues when Carter, and his old friend Tars Tarkas (Tars is here searching for Carter) escape the Thurns (with a slave girl). However, their escape is short-lived when they run into another race of Gods populating this part of Mars. The Black Pirates of Barsoom, referred to as “First Born” are an ancient race of Martians that feed off of the Therns. Carter and Tars are transported to the underground caves of Omean, a giant prison empire controlled by a “goddess” calling herself Iss. 

There is more action, horror, swashbuckling, science-fiction, sword-and-planet, fantasy, and genre-defying literature in this 190 page paperback than countless other genre novels combined. The Gods of Mars is a more superior work than A Princess of Mars and takes into consideration a lot of religious theory. Valley Dor is a self-indulgent scam created by self-proclaimed Gods to further their own interests. The concept of multiple races in combat over religion is parallel to our own culture now. Burroughs uses aspects of religion, politics, and world history to create Mars' culture, lineage, and all of the various empires, races, and competitors vying for superiority through aggression. It's really a mesmerizing mix that is equally entertaining as it is clever. 

Like the Tarzan novels, Burroughs does fall into his own literary traps with events that are cyclical. In the Tarzan series, Tarzan eventually has a son that displays all of the same heroic characteristics. The same can be said for this series as Carter discovers he has a son on Mars that is an expert swordsman. Tarzan's love interest is often captured by various bad guys and the story revolves around her rescue. The same is found here as Carter jaunts from place to place freeing his enslaved lover and friends. Often, I found that the story was an endless cycle of “capture and rescue”, which I've come to accept as the signature of Burroughs writing style. Love it or leave it. 

The Gods of Mars is extraordinary even with the above-mentioned flaws. It is a high water mark  of Burroughs literary legacy and one that may not be topped with future series installments. I'll be the judge of that as I continue my journey through Barsoom. However, this novel is a mandatory read.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, September 25, 2023

Tarzan #04 - The Son of Tarzan

On page 196 of the 1963 Ballantine paperback of The Son of Tarzan, two characters discuss and recap the major plot points of the novel. Nothing orchestrates the ultimate mess Edgar Rice Burroughs created than the conversation these two characters have. 

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. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Friday, September 1, 2023

Tarzan #03 - Beasts of Tarzan

Just one year after the series' second installment, The Return of Tarzan, author Edgar Rice Burroughs saw his third Tarzan installment, The Beasts of Tarzan, serialized in All-Story Cavalier in 1914. The story was published in book format (with additional text) by A.C. McClurg in 1916, and has since been published in numerous formats and re-imagined on countless media platforms. 

Like the publishing history, the events in this novel take place about a year after The Return of Tarzan. In the early portion of the novel, readers learn that Tarzan has built an estate home in Uziri, Africa and spends part of his time at another estate in London. Tarzan and Jane also have an infant son named Jack, who was first introduced in the Burroughs novel The Eternal Savage (serialized as The Eternal Lover), which isn't a necessary read to enjoy this Tarzan installment. Jack plays a prominent role in The Beasts of Tarzan, but more as a concept than an actual character. 

The book's narrative revolves around two of Tarzan's fiercest enemies, Russian men named Nikolas Rokoff and Alexis Paulvitch. The duo first appeared in The Return of Tarzan, where they were caught and jailed for numerous criminal offenses, including attempts to kill Countess Olga de Coude, Lord Greystroke and his wife. In The Beasts of Tarzan, the two men escape prison (off page), a fact that Paris policeman Paul D'Arnot conveys to Tarzan in an apartment building. These two men manage to trap and kidnap Tarzan, Jane, and a baby (a surprise twist on the Jack kidnapping). Separately, the three are imprisoned on a ship called the Kincaid.

Later, Rokoff transports Tarzan to the isolated Jungle Island where he takes his clothes from him and ultimately leaves him there to die. He tells Tarzan that he will take Jane to be his lover and that Jack will be raised by a tribe of cannibals (harsh!). Thankfully, Tarzan is at home in this sort of savage wilderness. He quickly dispatches a king ape and befriends another ape called Akut. Tarzan also befriends a giant cat (panther?) called Sheeta and a Wagambi warrior named Mugambi. Together, these heroes lead a band of apes against Rokoff, Paulvitch, and their hired henchman. The propulsive plot features these heroes chasing the villains through the jungle and various tribes of savages. 

I can't reveal too much in this review, but The Beasts of Tarzan was better than The Return of Tarzan in my opinion. Burroughs' injects so much primitive violence and brutality into his writing, from Sheeta disemboweling enemies to Tarzan's fatal strikes of vengeance. As one would expect, the jungle tribes are filled with nefarious characters ranging from mercenaries to flesh-eating cannibals. I wish the book was slightly shorter, but the events at the end of the book concerning Paulvitch are important elements that set the table for the fourth series installment, The Son of Tarzan. As unnecessary as they may seem, the author had a grand design at work here. 

The Tarzan series is quickly becoming one of my favorites, and I'm anxious to read more of what horror, violence, and awe-inspiring adventures await this jungle family. In the meantime, Tarzan of the Apes, The Return of Tarzan, and this novel, The Beasts of Tarzan, are darn-near perfect. If you haven't read these books, you are in for one heck of a ride. Highest recommendation.

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, April 3, 2023

Barsoom #01 - A Princess of Mars

In the same year that he created and authored Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs also introduced readers to John Carter of Mars, an equally adored and respected character that would surface in the author's bibliography from 1912 through 1941. The first appearance of Carter is in A Princess of Mars, originally published in All-Story Magazine from February through July, 1912. This novel-length adventure is an original tale that cornerstones the Barsoom series.

After the Civil War ends, Virginia Confederate veteran John Carter heads west to prospect for gold. With his partner, Carter finds a gold vein in the dry rocky desert of Arizona. When his partner agrees to head to town for supplies, Carter suspects that the Apache tribe of Native Americans will attack him. Riding in pursuit, Carter discovers his friend has been killed by the warriors. Hoping to avoid death himself, Carter stumbles upon a sacred cave that is actually a “stargate” portal. In a blink, Carter is surprised when he looks around at his surroundings. He is on Mars!

Burroughs spends some time for world building, but the short version is that Mars, called Barsoom, is inhabited by various races of intelligence that wage war with each other. Carter finds himself a prisoner of green, tusked Martians known as Tharks. Carter wants to locate other humans, and is shocked to find Dejah Thoris, a captured princess from Helium, a red “humanoid” Martian race.

The narrative is a bit clunky, but the premise is that Carter rises through the ranks of the Tharks while falling in love with Dejah and befriending a Thark warrior named Tars Tarkas. Eventually, Carter leads the Tharks against Helium's enemy Zodanga to achieve peace between the red and green. As the book closes, readers learn that Carter spent nine years on Mars, but it ends with the character unexpectedly back on Earth wondering what befell his friends on the red planet.

I'm motivated enough by Princess of Mars to pursue reading more installments. I much prefer Burroughs' Tarzan novels thus far, but this first Barsoom novel was entertaining enough. The story is a showpiece for science-fiction fantasy, inspiring countless authors and filmmakers. One can journey down any pop-culture or literary rabbit hole to learn more about the series and its legacy. If you love science-fiction, the Barsoom series is probably already on your shelves. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Tarzan #02 - Return of Tarzan

I really enjoyed the Tarzan debut, Tarzan of the Apes, authored by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was first published in 1912 in The All-Story and then later published as a novel in 1914. The book ended in what I would consider a cliff-hanger with a lot of loose ends requiring a resolution. The series second installment, The Return of Tarzan, does just that. It was first published in New Story Magazine from June through December of 1913. Later, it was published as a hardcover in 1915.

In this installment, Tarzan has an impromptu meeting with a French leader named Count Raoul. This leader assigns Tarzan the role of secret agent, working in Algeria to out two Russian criminals. This portion of the novel really surprised me, as the narrative explodes into a Nick Carter-esque adventure as Tarzan tangles with the criminals. After the skirmish, and the assignment, Tarzan joins a ship headed to Cape Town and creates a friendship with Hazel Strong, a friend of Tarzan's love interest, Jane Porter. Unfortunately, the two Russians joined the ship's passage and throw Tarzan overboard. He washes up on the same coastline he called home in the series debut. Through a wild sequence of events, Tarzan becomes the new chief of the Waziri, a fictional African tribe.

Coincidentally, Jane and her fiance, William Clayton (Tarzan's cousin) are also in route to the west coast of Africa. Ironically, their ship sinks and Clayton and Jane join a lifeboat with one of the Russian criminals. It's this part of Burrough's story that is absolute agony to behold. These characters are left to die without food and water. The extreme circumstances lead to a coin toss to determine which living person will be eaten by the others to survive. This is written with an emotional touch and also places William Clayton into a respectable light as protector and caregiver for Jane (albeit short lived).

Eventually, Jane and William wash up on the coastline shared by Tarzan, and the loose ends are all neatly tied up. William and Jane's proposed marriage ends (no spoilers on how) and Tarzan and Jane are reunited. More importantly, Jane also learns that Tarzan is a Greystoke and the sacrifice he made to keep that fact a secret from her.

The Return of Tarzan also introduces a mainstay of the series, the Lost City of Opar. Tarzan is taken prisoner there and first meets the villain La. It is here that Tarzan discovers a wealth of gold, fortunes that he will eventually return to again and again. There is a brief backstory on Opar's history, but Philip Jose Farmer fleshes this out in his own Tarzan stories and two non-Tarzan novels, Hadon of Ancient Opar (1974) and Flight to Opar (1976).

As an adventure novel, ERB offers so much for the reader in this one book. Shipwrecks, castaways, espionage, desert chases, seemingly endless fights, treasure hunts, survival horror, jungle adventure, and heaps of action. This is really a perfect novel by a fantastic author. As good as Tarzan of the Apes was, this sequel might be just as good. A must-read vintage novel! 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Monday, May 30, 2022

Tarzan #01 - Tarzan of the Apes

Many of the classic, more mainstream series titles or novels we discuss here at Paperback Warrior are presented from the perspective of a brand new reader. Novels from the likes of Ian Fleming, Jack London, Robert E. Howard, etc. have been devoured by millions of readers through many generations. However, for the most part they remain brand new to us. Aside from various media – comics, movies, television, non-fiction analysis – these classic literary works are a paradise of undiscovered gems. Slowly, we pull these classics from the rainy day stash to read and review. Thus, I've now arrived at Edgar Rice Burroughs' acclaimed 24 book series of novels starring the iconic Tarzan.

Tarzan of the Apes originally appeared in magazine format in the October, 1912 issue of All-Story. It was first published as a hardcover in 1914 and then later as a paperback by Ballantine in 1963 (with a cover painting by Dick Powers). It's a rather long novel at 220 pages of smaller paperback font size, making it a thorough and comprehensive origin story to kick off the series. 

The book begins with explanations that John Clayton (known as Lord Greystoke or Viscount Greystoke) is a British Lord that has accepted an assignment by the British Colonial Office to investigate racial relations in West Africa. While excited for his new career boost, Clayton also feels dismayed that he must bring his pregnant wife Alice to a harsh landscape. En route to their destination, the crew of their passenger ship overthrows the Captain and nearly kill Clayton and his wife. Thanks to crew leader Black Michael, the couple is spared. Instead of being thrown overboard, Black Michael leaves them on the shores of a dense coastal jungle. In essence, the Claytons are marooned on a dangerous, unfamiliar island in the middle of nowhere. Death seems inevitable.

Through the book's first chapters, the narrative highlights the Claytons early determination to beat the odds. As the months go by, and a rescue seems unlikely, the hopes and determination begin to fade. Enclosing their meager existence is the menacing jungle wildlife, complete with roaring lions, ferocious apes, and other predatory animals. After Alice is nearly killed by an ape, she becomes emotionally unhinged. One year after giving birth to the couple's son, she dies from emotional distress. With great difficulty carrying the immense, lonely burden, Clayton simply gives up and is soon killed by a tribal king ape named Kerchak. A motherly ape named Kala, who just lost her own child, rescues the baby boy and raises him as her own. Thus, his name becomes Tarzan, which means “White Skin” in  the ape language. 

As one would expect, the middle chapters are the proverbial coming-of-age narrative concerning Tarzan's childhood and transformation from the tribe's weakling to the savage “King of the Apes”. It's action-adventure focused as Tarzan becomes a skilled hunter, fighter, and leader of the tribe through various battles with other apes and wildlife. Tarzan spends his calm moments at his parents' small, makeshift cottage going through various trinkets and books, learning more about his own race and why he is different than the apes. He teaches himself to read and write based on the numerous baby books the Claytons had packed for their trip. Through these quiet moments, Tarzan takes the necessary steps to slowly evolve into a civilized man.

A couple of decades pass and then a new crew finds themselves marooned on this same island. This is how Tarzan meets young Jane Porter, his love interest and future wife. Ironically, Tarzan's cousin is one of the members of the party, William Clayton, son of Lord Greystoke (Tarzan's uncle). This portion of the narrative was really fragmented and uneven, with a number of characters involved in events in different locations on the island. Eventually, Jane is rescued by Tarzan after discovering his parents' cottage. She falls in love with him, but realizes he isn't civilized enough and would be unhappy anywhere other than the jungle. The book's finale concludes with Tarzan learning a modern way of existence through a French soldier named D'Arnot. The story's ending is a bit of a cliffhanger as Tarzan learns of his Clayton/Greystoke heritage, but withholds the information in an effort to allow Jane to marry William without complications.

Overall, Tarzan of the Apes was a fun reading experience, but I would be remiss if I didn't express that I was a little underwhelmed. After the lofty literary praise I've read about the book in my lifetime, I felt that the narrative was unnecessarily dense in spots. Further, there were way too many characters in the book's third act to enforce any sort of isolation or loneliness within the tight narrative. The action-adventure aspect was still intact, but only marginally so. I also felt that Tarzan's development from savage to civilized man was rushed too quickly. I really disliked the ending with the Wisconsin farm, Jane's economic situation, and the convenient forest fire. None of the elements conveyed the same enjoyment I experienced within the rural, dangerous jungle. Arguably, it was too cavalier, but I completely understand it is a product of the time. 

With both its racial awkwardness and dominant masculinity paired with Burroughs documented eugenics support, Tarzan of the Apes doesn't age particularly well. The misguided beliefs about African culture was uncomfortable at times, but again, I do understand this was a controversial era with bad choices and uneducated world views. To read any early to mid-20th century literature does require some patience in that regard. But, I was generally pleased with the book's pacing, the main character, and some of the early events with the mutiny of the ship. I liked it enough to want to read the second installment. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.