Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tarzan 101 | Tarzan the Untamed

Celebrating Tarzan's 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin's Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.

In 1918, World War I was nearing its conclusion, but anti-German sentiment was still running high in the United States. Edgar Rice Burroughs wasn't immune and let those feelings influence his books from that period, from The Land That Time Forgot to Tarzan the Untamed.

Tarzan the Untamed is actually two, shorter novels that were serialized in different magazines. Tarzan and the Huns showed up in Red Book in the spring and summer of 1919; Tarzan and the Valley of Luna came out in All-Story a year later. None of his editors were all that thrilled about his politicizing Tarzan, but by then no one was going to stop him either. I haven't read it, but reviews suggest that it's one of the weaker entries in the series, not only because it switches plots in the middle, but also because Tarzan loses something of his noble heroism.

The story begins with Tarzan's return to his jungle plantation after visiting British East Africa. He finds his home destroyed by German troops with the body of a woman he believes to be Jane burned in the wreckage. That sends the ape-man into a rage and he enters the war, helping the British defeat the Germans in Africa (something that didn't actually happen in the real war). Sort of Burroughs' version of Inglorious Basterds.

Like Marvel Comics and DC with Spider-Man and Superman, Burroughs had decided that it had been a mistake to marry off his hero and was attempting to undo that by killing off Jane in Tarzan and the Huns. By the time he was wrapping up Valley of Luna though, his editors and family had convinced him that that was a mistake, so he wrote himself a way out that leads into the next novel.

In Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration, Griffin includes a chapter on Jane after the one on Tarzan the Untamed, talking about her transformation in the novels from damsel-in-distress to self-reliant hero, but also how none of the movies or TV shows really wanted to mess with her for too long. In fact, she wasn't initially supposed to recover from that spear she got in the back in Tarzan Finds a Son, but Burroughs - perhaps thinking of Tarzan the Untamed - got the filmmakers to change their mind.

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