Friday, March 20, 2009

Tarzan and the Ant Men

Having had such a good time reading Tarzan and the Lost Empire, I decided to re-read Tarzan and the Ant Men, another Edgar Rice Burroughs novel that I hadn't read since I was a kid. The plot of Ant Men is perhaps the most fantastic of the Tarzan novels (Discounting Tarzan at the Earth's Core, but that's a cross-over with another ERB series.) because not only does Tarzan run into a race of 18 inch tall warriors, but he ends up being miniaturized and has all sorts of adventures in the cities of the Ant Men. This is Burroughs letting his not inconsiderable imagination run free and Tarzan and the Ant Men is almost an overdose of ERB's concepts.
It begins with Tarzan taking an ill advised solo flight in his son Jack's (Korak) bi-plane. Being Tarzan he gets a bit reckless as he approaches a forest of impenetrable thorn trees and ends up crashing the plane in an open area deep with the forest. Here he is initially captured by a member of a race of Cro-Magnon amazons before escaping to meet the titular Ant Men. That's what I meant by and overdose of ERB. Before you get to the main course, Burroughs serves up a mini adventure with yet another lost race. Basically the Amazon cave women have complete control over their wimpy males, but once the cave boys get a load of Tarzan they decide it's time to fight back and re-establish the natural order with men in charge. Not too politically correct a plotline these days but hey, the book came out in 1925.
Once he's free of the amazons, Tarzan wanders into the land of the Minunians. Burroughs goes to great lengths setting up the comparisons between ants and these tiny warriors. They live in great stone domes like ant hills, and Tarzan sees lines of workers coming and going, carrying supplies and materials as they build yet another dome. When the city is attacked by another group of ant men, Burroughs draws more comparisons between ants and ant men, stressing the tenacity and utter fearlessness of the small warriors.
The rival group of ant men manage to overwhelm even the mighty ape man with their vast numbers. though he kills man of them. Tarzan is rendered unconscious and when he wakes he is a prisoner of people who, while looking like the ant men in form and dress, are the same size as Tarzan. It's a while before he learns that these are indeed the ant men and that their greatest scientist has found a way to shrink Tarzan down to the size of a Minunian. Tarzan is made a slave and taken to the underground quarries to work, but this is Tarzan we're talking about and soon he escapes and turns the tables on his captors. Fortunately for the lord of the jungle, the miniaturization process isn't permanent and he eventually returns to his normal size but not before he has a sword swinging good time among the ant men.
It's funny because in many ways, Tarzan and the Ant Men is a lot like one of ERB's Mars or Venus books. Once Tarzan is shrunk down and can interact with the Minunians, the adventure becomes much like a sword and planet story, with Burroughs' usual romance subplot and lots of derring-do. The culture of the Minunians is exotic, barbaric, and war like, as is most of that of Barsoom in the John Carter novels. Of course having Tarzan in the mix just makes things even more fun.
Obviously I had a good time with Tarzan and the Ant Men. I remember really liking the Gold Key Comic adaptation of the story well before I read the novel itself, and in fact, while re-reading the book last night, I imagined most of the scenery, costumes, and such pretty much as they had been illustrated by comics artist Russ Manning. It left that kind of impression on me.
Anyway, for mile a minute story telling, it's hard to beat Edgar Rice Burroughs when he was writing at his peak, and in Tarzan and the Ant Men, he definitely was at the top of his game.

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