The Beasts of Tarzan: Raw lion steaks, anyone?

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Beasts of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs fantasy book reviewsThe Beasts of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

To celebrate the centennial of Tarzan of the Apes in October 2012 — Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ first Tarzan novel was released in the October 1912 issue of All-Story Magazine — I  have been compulsively reading the first novels in what eventually became a series of some two dozen books. Book #2, The Return of Tarzan (1913), was a fairly direct sequel to the initial classic outing, while book #3, The Beasts of Tarzan, picks up the tale several years later. This novel originally appeared in serial form in the pages of All-Story Cavalier magazine in 1914 (the popular pulp had debuted in 1905 and would end its run in 1916), with a cover price of … 10 cents. It made its first book appearance two years later. The shortest of the first four Tarzan books, coming in at a mere 159 pages (I refer here to the popular series of Ballantine paperbacks of the 1960s, which introduced Tarzan to a whole new generation of readers), it is a relentlessly fast-paced and compact affair, and fairly gripping from its very first page.

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On that page, Tarzan — now the father, with his bride Jane Portman, of an infant son, Jack — learns that his archenemy from book #2, Nikolas Rokoff, has just busted out from a French jail. And on page 2, he discovers that Rokoff has wasted little time in wreaking his vengeance on the noble Lord Greystoke. Jack has been kidnapped, and Tarzan and Jane are soon captured and brought by ship to the deserted “Jungle Island,” off the coast of west Africa. Tarzan is marooned and left to his fate, Jack is to be handed over to a tribe of cannibals, while the devilish and lustful Rokoff has other plans for the nubile Lady Greystoke. All this, in just the first 13 pages! Ere long, Tarzan explores his desert island, becomes friendly with an ape tribe headed by the intelligent anthropoid Akut, tames a vicious panther named Sheeta (Tarzan’s rescue of Sheeta and subsequent bonding with the jungle cat may recall to some readers the Biblical story of Daniel and the lion), and finds his very own Friday: Mugambi, chief of the Wagambi of Ugambi (!), a black native who, ultimately, also bonds with the Ape Man. And so, with this motley crew of man and beasts, Tarzan attempts to make it to the mainland and rescue his son and wife…

The Beasts of Tarzan, as mentioned, is absolutely relentless in its pace — indeed, the entire novel is essentially one long chase sequence — and wastes zero time whatsoever in setting things up. Bang, right out of the gate, we are off and running, and the thrills just never let up! Action highlights of this entry are Tarzan’s underwater fight with a crocodile, Tarzan and his crew invading a ship full of cutthroat mutineers, Tarzan’s escape from the clutches of a cannibal sacrifice, and Jane’s solo flight through the jungle, the crazed Rokoff at her heels. As usual, the book’s chapters are arranged in cliffhanger fashion, with Burroughs practically daring his audience to stop reading. Also, as usual, the novel is presented with overlapping and concurrent story lines alternating for our attention, a device that is a tad confusing in some instances. Still, it all ultimately manages to hang together. The character of Tarzan here is very much the savage we have come to love from book #1 (he was a man of civilization for at least half of book #2), killing his animal prey and cutting out bloody steaks to devour raw. In a fascinating early segment, Burroughs shows us how remarkably proficient the Ape Man is at staying alive in the wild and at woodcraft, as Tarzan, on his first day on his desert isle, makes himself a stone knife, a bow and arrows, a loincloth, an arboreal shelter and a fire; no one on CBS’ Survivor has ever done better, to put it mildly! The novel is an excellent showcase for Jane, also, who has not previously seemed nearly as brave and resourceful; likewise, the villainous Rokoff is presented as more diabolical, vicious and cravenly than ever, and his comeuppance toward the novel’s conclusion is a satisfying one.

The Beasts of Tarzan, in short, is a highly successful, extremely exciting entry in the Tarzan series, if not a perfect one. Par for the course, Burroughs makes a few flubs here and there (such as when he refers to Rokoff’s lieutenant, Alexis Paulvitch, as “Alexander,” and when he writes that Tarzan had, in book #1, given the ape Kerchak a chance to escape, rather than Terkoz), but most readers will be too caught up in the fast-moving sweep of events to care, or even notice. As I’ve written elsewhere, even after almost 100 years, these books can prove highly addictive. For example, in Beasts, Paulvitch manages to escape Tarzan’s clutches and flee into the jungle. Guess I’m going to HAVE to proceed on to book #4 now, The Son of Tarzan, to see what happens next…


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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3 comments

  1. Great review, Sandy!

  2. Sandy Ferber /

    Why, thanks so much, Marion! I, and Mugambi, chief of the Wagambi of Ugambi, appreciate your kind words!

  3. You gave yourself a very difficult alias there, sir!

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