Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Review - The Return of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Short review: Tarzan steps aside so Jane can be wooed by another man, and then gets pulled into a series of eclectic intrigues that all improbably involve the villain Rokloff.

Tarzan in Paris
Then he becomes a French spy
And in the end, Jane!

Full review: The Return of Tarzan starts up where Tarzan of the Apes left off. Having concealed his true identity so as to allow Jane Porter to marry the wealthy Lord William Clayton as opposed to the destitute not-Lord William Clayton, Tarzan sails for France. On the way, the wheels of adventure begin to turn. He comes to the aid of a gentleman cheated at cards, and then to the aid of Olga de Coude a beautiful woman accosted by miscreants (who turn out to be husband and wife), incurring the wrath of Rokloff, their tormentor. Back in Paris, he becomes Rokloff's target, and de Coude's close friend. A complicated plot of Rokloff's results in Olga's reputation being potentially compromised, but Tarzan is such an honorable individual that Olga's husband becomes his friend and ally (apparently having a noble bloodline gives one a fully developed sense of honor and propriety without the benefit of any kind of education in such matters).

Tarzan, despite his incredible physical talents and seemingly genius level intellect has been unable to secure employment in Paris, and when de Coude offers him a job working as a spy for France he accepts and travels to Algeria to spy on an army lieutenant suspected of passing secrets. It turns out that the lieutenant's contact is none other than Rokloff, who once again tries to take revenge on Tarzan. On the way, Tarzan rescues a beautiful Arab princess, becomes friends with her sheikh father before evading Rokloff's attempts on his life. He is abruptly called away to carry some papers for the government, and when he arrives on his ship, none other than Rokloff is there to steal them from him and toss him overboard.

And we haven't even gotten to the part where Tarzan swims to shore, finds himself near the cabin he was born in, becomes king of a tribe of Africans, defeats a gang of slavers who attack his village, journeys to the fabled city of Opar, gets captured, escapes, and then rescues Jane.

In a parallel storyline, Jane has been sailing about with Clayton, her father, her best friend, and, of course, Rokloff. They are shipwrecked right off the coast where Tarzan's cabin is, and wind up right under his nose. Clayton turns out to have known all along that Tarzan was actually Lord Greystoke, and proves to be less than successful at braving the wilds, causing Jane to finally tell him she doesn't want to marry him. Clayton then gets sick right after Jane is captured by the simian inhabitants of Opar, and eventually dies.

Most of the book is simply an excuse to move Tarzan from place to place so he can foil Rokloff in a variety of settings, or otherwise show how smart, strong, and brave he is. Every beautiful woman who crosses his path is smitten with him, and of course, he chivalrously declines them all while pining for Jane (who for all but the last ten pages of the book he believes is going to marry Clayton) because, apparently, fidelity is something that is instinctual for those of noble birth (or maybe he learned it during the years he was living with the apes). For a man who lived in the wilds until he was twenty-three or so, by the time he is twenty-four Tarzan is improbably well-spoken and cultured: Sipping absinthe, smoking cigars, and spending his nights at the opera. The most hilarious episode takes place in Opar, where he has a detailed and poetic conversation with La, the high-priestess of the human-ape hybrids that inhabit the city - all in the language of the apes.

The adventures in the book are all, individually decent enough, but the book as a whole is disjointed and there is simply too much serendipity for the overall story to hold up at all. Tarzan's character is simply too much of a Mary Sue wish-fulfillment vehicle to really be taken seriously, and Jane is too dimwitted through most of the book to believe she could be the object to Tarzan's undying devotion. Even when regarded as nothing more than a pulp adventure, it never rises much above average in quality.

Previous book in the series: Tarzan of the Apes
Subsequent book in the series: The Beasts of Tarzan

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