Monday, May 12, 2008

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle

The latest entry in my re-reading of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels is Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle. In this one, Tarzan finds yet another lost civilization, this time populated by the descendants of shipwrecked crusaders who were washed up on the shores of Africa in the 1100s. Two ships worth of knights and, rather inexplicably, their wives, ended up setting up two cities at opposite ends of a hidden valley. By the logic created by author H. Rider Haggard (King Solomon's Mines, She) the descendants of the crusaders are still living exactly as their ancestors had, and thus the valley is a medieval time capsule filled with castles and knights and the like. (Hey, it was easier to believe stuff like this in 1928 when the book was originally published.)
The book is a little odd in that Tarzan is almost a guest star in his own novel. The middle section of the book is taken up with the adventures of James Hunter Blake, a young American who becomes separated from his safari and wanders into the lost valley of the Sepulcher, where he is taken prisoner by the knights of the city of Nimmr. Blake soon wins his freedom by convincing the locals that he is a wandering knight templar from a far off land and then gets down to some Connecticut Yankee style adventures, winning a tourney with his knowledge of modern fencing and impressing the other knights with his chivalrous behavior. He also falls immediately in love with the princess Guinalda, daughter of the ruler of Nimmr. Burroughs loved a good romantic sub plot. There are actually two in this book.
Meanwhile, Tarzan, who is searching for the missing Blake, has run afoul of a band of shiftas, (Arab slave traders) and has the usual Tarzan style adventures, fighting lions and rogue apes as well. It's only in the last 50 or so pages that the ape-man actually catches up with Blake in the Valley of the Sepulcher and gets in on the jousting and the riding and the swordfighting and the nice lady. A word here about the cover illo pictured with this review. I chose the cover to the Gold Key Comics adaptation of LotJ because that's the first place I ever encountered the story and because it gives a better feel for the color and excitement of the novel than the cover of the 1963 paperback edition I own, which is rather subdued. No scene exactly like this appears in the book. Tarzan does fight knights on horseback but he's wearing armor and he wins his only joust in a method a bit different than shown here. But isn't it a nifty cover?
The title is sort of a triple pun, because Tarzan is actually an English Lord as well as being the Lord of the Jungle and when the knights of Nimmr ask him his rank, he replies, "A viscount," and is thereafter known as Lord Tarzan in the valley of the Sepulcher.
Anyway, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle is one of the best of the mid range Tarzan novels. It is absolutely jammed full of excitement and adventure. Burroughs really seemed to enjoy writing about the knightly milieu and goes to great lengths describing the clothing and armor and the pomp and pageantry of the medieval tournaments. There are battles galore and rescues and escapes and true love and the triumph of good over evil and even a guest appearance by Jad-bal-ja, the Golden Lion. And of course, Tarzan of the Apes. What more could you want?

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