Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Tarzan 101 | Tarzan the Invincible

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

Burroughs went political again (like in the anti-German Tarzan the Untamed) for Tarzan the Invincible. This time the villains are an international gang of communists from the Soviet Union, Mexico, and East India. They're taking advantage of Tarzan's still being away in Pellucidar (from the preceding novel, Tarzan at the Earth's Core) to pillage Opar in order to fund their revolutions. Fortunately, Tarzan doesn't spend the entire novel absent, but the question is whether he'll arrive in time to figure out what's going on and stop the commies.

Burroughs was a devout capitalist anyway, but his feelings on communism were likely also fueled by Soviet disrespect for copyright. Griffin notes that Russian bootlegs of Burroughs' work robbed the author of an estimated million dollars. The story's focus on economic ideology makes it appropriate that starting with this book, the Tarzan series was self-published by Burroughs. They were already wildly popular books by then, but it was still a bit of a gamble and Burroughs was warned that the economy of the early '30s wouldn't support the endeavor. It did though, and - boosted by the release of MGM's Tarzan the Ape Man starring Johnny Weissmuller - the book made a profit. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. stayed the publisher of Burroughs novels until 1948.

Invincible is the last appearance of Opar and Queen La in Burroughs' novels. A lot has happened since their previous appearance in Tarzan and the Golden Lion, so in addition to saving La from the communists, Tarzan also has to help her regain power from the rival priest and priestess who've overthrown her and taken control of the city.

Griffin's supplemental chapter for Invincible is on Opar, tracing Burroughs' influences for it and its appearances in the novels and on screen. The city owes a lot to H. Rider Haggard, starting with its beautiful and mercurial (and white) Queen La, who's so similar to Ayesha from Haggard's She. The city itself was likely named after the Biblical Ophir, a place of great wealth in Africa that was the source of many of King Solomon's riches (1 Kings 9:28; 10:11, among others). The African origins of Solomon's wealth was of course also the basis for Haggard's most famous novel, King Solomon's Mines.

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