Pulp Corner: The Return Of Tarzan
I didn’t care about Tarzan a year ago. He seemed infinitely uninteresting to me. Some savage who swung through the jungle beating his chest and yelling? That’s the reason I never joined a frat. Why would I want to read about it? I had though picked up The Big Book Of Adventure stories, almost 900 pages of pure pulpy goodness. Mainly in the form of short stories, it also reprinted the entire Tarzan the Terrible novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs. After doing some research I found out that it was the 8th book in the Tarzan series. I was intrigued enough to want to look into it, but didn’t feel right starting that far into it. So of course I went back to the start.
After securing a book that contained the first two books (Tarzan of the Apes and The Return of Tarzan), I dove in. I didn’t really know anything about Tarzan other than the obvious, but I ended up really enjoying the first book. It was fascinating to learn the back story about his parents and their shipwreck. The best parts ended up being when he was virtually an ape man before he learned the ways of the civilized world with almost no dialogue. We watch him as he processes everything and slowly evolves yet we are always able understand his motivations. This lessens a bit however, once he gains the ability to talk.
Tarzan of the Apes ends on cliffhanger that makes it necessary to read the second book. It’s really one long story that could have all been one book but size wise it makes sense that they cut it into two parts. By the end of Tarzan of the Apes our title character finds out he’s actually Lord Greystroke but Jane is engaged to his cousin who presumes that he himself is the true heir. Tarzan chooses not tell Jane because he feels like he would be interfering. He then disappears into modern civilian life in Paris never to be heard from again.
We know that’s not the case though and The Return of Tarzan picks up a few months later. It starts with him as a refined gentleman in Paris and slowly turns into exactly what I want in a pulp book or movie. There’s a storyline that occupies the first 75 or so pages that moves the plot further until it can change into high gear resulting with Tarzan getting linked up with a guy in the War Department and basically being sent out as a spy to the Middle East.
I know what you’re thinking. It sounds absurd. Well who I am to argue with that? It does sound absurd because it IS absurd, but I promise you that it doesn’t matter. What follows next are desert caravans, Arabs, Mexican standoffs, lion wrestling, ship wrecks, pistol duels, human sacrifices and lost cities of gold. Yes, it has it all. (It’s what I thought I was going to be reading when I bought this 1922 book called Land Of Ophir by Charles Beadle but couldn’t get through the first 20 pages). This is like Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Not to mention, it exceeded all of my expectations for a sequel. I loved Burrough’s A Princess Of Mars but I just couldn’t get into the second one.
Burroughs has a way with action, situations may be absurd and have terrible dialogue but the adventure element is unparalleled. The storyline in this book is a little weak and thin, it mostly revolves around this Russian, Rokoff whom Tarzan has meddled in his affairs once too often. Now he’s spending his every waking moment trying to exact revenge on Tarzan and shows up pretty much in whatever country Tarzan happens to be in. There are a lot of coincidental situations that get Tarzan out of some pretty dire straits. None of that matters though, because no one is reading this for complicated plot twists or quote worthy dialogue. This is a fun, thrilling adventure book that never pretends to be anything more. Of course the story was serialized in multiple parts in magazines prior to the book being published which certainly works in its favor. Just about every chapter is a cliff hanger that makes you want drop whatever else you need to do so you can keep reading.
I’m not sure if this is the only book where Monsieur Tarzan is an urban sophisticate for a period of time. This beginning portion of the book is fascinating because it feels so wrong for the character and you can start to see him crack under the pressure of returning to his previous lifestyle. There’s even a part where he is tricked and ends up reverting to his savage self and unleashes the beast inside on some thugs. Once the police are called he escapes out of the roof of the building and makes his way into the night like Daredevil.
If you’ve ever been in the mood for fun old school, globe trotting adventure then I can’t recommend this enough. Or if Tazran has ever been a curiosity for you at all start with the first book and move right on through to it’s sequel.
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