Master of Adventure: The Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs

By Richard A. Lupoff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XIV
And Returns and Returns

In the first two Tarzan books Burroughs had presumably accomplished all he had set out to do. Above all he had created a magnificent fictional personality. Despite the gross over-simplifications of later adaptations— the Weissmuller-era motion pictures in particular rise again and again, but other motion pictures and other adapted versions share the blame—Tarzan is a very complex character.

He was of the finest tradition of English aristocracy by his heredity and heritage, and Burroughs' strong belief in the effects of innate quality is apparent in all his works. By virtue of Tarzan's natural intelligence he could never feel fully comfortable living the primitive bestial existence of his boyhood and youth. And yet those jungle years, for all their ferocity, had taught the Ape Man a different code, a more honest and simpler code than that of man. A code and an outlook that would prevent him from fully acclimating himself to human society.

Thus we see the mature man-beast, at once John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, yet, despite the implication at the close of The Return of Tarzan, still Tarzan of the Apes, mighty hunter, mighty killer. Partaking of two worlds, never fully at home in either, the melancholy figure of Tarzan stands far above the simple jungle adventurer of screen and cartoon page.

Further, in terms of his own development as a writer, Burroughs had largely perfected a narrative structure new for him, although very old in the development of the novel. For the Tarzan tales Burroughs used a technique of introducing several sets of characters—Tarzan alone, the Porter party elsewhere, D'Arnot in the clutches of cannibals—starting each upon a separate course of action and then “cutting” from sequence to sequence in a style very like that used in motion pictures. Gradually drawing his characters together, Burroughs would finally reveal the grand pattern in which each element played its part, however humble or exalted that might be.

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