Saturday, June 22, 2013

Tarzan and the Foreign Legion

  I was having a restless evening last night. I wanted to read something but I couldn't settle on anything. Finally I decided to go for a re-read of one of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan novels. I went with Tarzan and the Foreign Legion since it had been a while since I'd read that one, and I remembered it as being not only fun, but a departure from the more standard books that ERB had written in the last half of Tarzan's career.
   I remembered correctly. This one, written in 1944, while Burroughs was living in Hawaii, takes place, not in Africa, but in Japanese occupied Sumatra during the closing days of World War Two. RAF Col John Clayton is serving as an observer on board a US aircraft in the Dutch East Indies. The plane is shot down and crashes in the jungle. For the first quarter of the book, the crew of the plane marvels at the jungle survival skills of Clayton, who has discarded his clothing and wears only a loincloth made from parachute silk. It's only after Clayton kills a tiger with nothing but a hunting knife that the commanding officer makes the connection. John Clayton is Lord Greystoke is Tarzan of the Apes.
   I get the idea that Burroughs really enjoyed writing this. The book has a lot more humor than previous Tarzan novels and there's a lot of flag waving, old fashioned patriotism on view. Also quite a bit of anti-Japanese propaganda, but during WWI that was fairly typical. Ever see the Popeye cartoon You're a Sap, Mr. Jap? Like that.
   While trying to lead the US servicemen (and a lovely Dutch girl who they find a prisoner of the invaders) to the coast, Tarzan fights tigers, pythons, a rhinoceros, and orangutangs. He also learns that the animal denizens of Sumatra understand the language of the great apes, so Tarzan can communicate with the monkeys and elephants on the island. Most animals seem to understand this language though not all can speak it.
   There are the usual series of unlikely coincidences, the romantic subplot (two really) and all the other things one expects from Burroughs, but they seem less tired here, perhaps because Burroughs was acting as a war corespondent when he wrote this book. Writing about the war and using a new setting seems to have regenerated his interest in writing Tarzan. Sadly, this would be the last new work ERB published in his lifetime. Tarzan and the Foreign Legion came out in 1947 and Burroughs passed away in 1950. As Tarzan books go, this was a good one to go out on.
   There's an interesting bit toward the end of the book where Tarzan explains why he still appears to be in his twenties though he is much older. He had been exposed to not one but two methods of gaining eternal youth and so he is for all intents and purposes, immortal. But we knew that. Anyway this is a fast paced book with plenty of action, and it was just what I needed just when I needed it.


Heath Lowrance said...

Great review. It's been waaay too long since I read any of the Tarzan books; this makes me want to pick them up again.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

Thanks, Heath. The books got a little uneven after Tarzan at the Earth's Core, I think, but there are still some gems.

Paul R. McNamee said...

I've heard good things about this one. I'll need to check it out.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

I think you'll enjoy it, Paul.