Celebrating Tarzan’s 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin’s Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.
I’ve never read all the Tarzan novels completely through and I blame Jungle Tales. I tried to read the entire series once, but my OCD kicked in when I hit Burroughs’ collection of short stories from early in Tarzan’s life. One of the best things about reading a series is watching the characters grow and it was getting frustrating to deal with an aged Tarzan in Son of Tarzan, jump back to young Tarzan in Jewels of Opar, and then regress all the way to childhood and teenage years in Jungle Tales. I wasn’t keeping in mind that Burroughs didn’t create the series as a series, but was simply trying to sell stories where he could on a schedule that worked for him.
In 1916, Burroughs was planning to spend several months travelling. Scott Tracy Griffin speculates that Burroughs realized he wouldn’t be able to complete a full novel under those circumstances and that may be why he pitched the idea of a series of short stories. The result is twelve tales of Tarzan from his time growing up among the apes.
1. “Tarzan’s First Love” gets uncomfortable when Tarzan falls into unrequited love with a female ape named Teeka. It’s icky, but an important step in Tarzan’s distancing himself from the apes.
2. In “The Capture of Tarzan,” young Tarzan is captured by a village of cannibals and rescued by an elephant, building the foundation of his long friendship with those animals.
3. “The Fight for the Balu” is sort of a sequel to “Tarzan’s First Love” when Teeka and her husband’s new baby raises new emotions and challenges for the ape man.
4. In “The God of Tarzan,” Tarzan discovers the concept of deity in the books of his parents’ cabin. He investigates further, trying to understand the idea in the context of jungle life.
5. “Tarzan and the Black Boy” continues the ideas of “Tarzan’s First Love” and “Fight for the Balu,” while also starting a new trilogy of short stories. Tarzan wants a child of his own and kidnaps one from the neighboring village. That doesn’t go over well with the boy’s real mother, of course, who solicits the help of an exiled witch-doctor named Bukawai. The old man’s price is too high, so Mom goes away disappointed, but Tarzan sees her distress and returns the child to her.
6. That story continues in “The Witch-Doctor Seeks Vengeance” when Bukawai tries to claim credit for the boy’s return and extort payment from Mom. He fails and plans his revenge, but Tarzan interferes with his scheme.
7. The title is a spoiler in “The End of Bukawai.”
8. In “The Lion,” Tarzan tries to teach his ape tribe to defend themselves by foolishly disguising himself as a lion and attacking them. Turns out, they’re not as defenseless as he thought.
9. Tarzan steals some rotten elephant meat from the nearby village and experiences “The Nightmare.” It’s an awful fever dream that makes it tough for him to separate fantasy and reality. He swears off elephant meat immediately after.
10. Tarzan joins forces with Teeka’s husband to rescue her from another ape tribe in “The Battle for Teeka.” Interestingly, this story was reprinted in the May 1964 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine as “Tarzan, Jungle Detective.”
11. “A Jungle Joke” takes place after the death of Tarzan’s adopted mother Kala. As part of his revenge against the tribe of the man who killed her, Tarzan uses his wits to pit the village against a lion.
12. The final story is “Tarzan Rescues the Moon,” in which Tarzan is temporarily shunned by the apes for freeing a particularly brave warrior from them. Tarzan gets back in their good graces during an eclipse when he convinces them that he’s responsible for the moon’s return.
Though I got frustrated with these stories’ place in the series the first time I read them, they’re worthwhile not only for enriching Tarzan’s life among the apes, but also for humanizing the native villagers in a way Burroughs hadn’t done before.
Since a lot of these stories feature Tarzan’s using his wits against much stronger people and creatures, Griffin includes a related chapter called “Tarzan the Trickster.” He goes over the history of the trickster character in folklore, then shows how Tarzan fits the archetype, not only as a child, but also into adulthood in other stories like Tarzan and the Lion Man and Tarzan and the Leopard Men.