Celebrating Tarzan’s 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin’s Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.
Edgar Rice Burroughs was fast approaching the age of 60 when he started writing the story that would become known as Tarzan’s Quest. In a supplemental chapter called “Tarzan Immortal,” Griffin notices that immortality and a fear of old age were becoming recurring themes in the novels Burroughs wrote in his 50s. From The Master Mind of Mars to Lost on Venus, characters looked for ways to beat aging and death, with one heroine thinking, “How ghastly! Oh, I should rather die than be like that. Old age! Oh, how terrible!”
While Burroughs wrote Tarzan’s Quest, he divorced his wife (they’d been married for 34 years and had been childhood sweethearts before that) and announced his engagement to a 30-year-old woman a couple of weeks later. He was late to his mid-life crisis, but he made the most of it.
That’s all important, because the themes of youth and immortality are major ones in Tarzan’s Quest. Originally titled “Tarzan and Jane,” the book is actually two stories that merge at the end. Tarzan and the Waziri tribe are investigating a series of disappearances of young women, while Jane is traveling with some friends in a plane that crashes. Jane’s friends are looking into rumors of an eternal youth forumla that’s supposed to be held by a lost tribe deep in the jungle, but they aren’t all on the same page about it. Though Jane proves herself a capable guide through the jungle, the party fights among itself and there’s eventually a murder.
When the story was serialized by Blue Book starting in 1935, it was called “Tarzan and the Immortal Men,” but Burroughs’ secretary suggested Tarzan’s Quest for the hardback collection and he took her advice.
It’s never been directly adapted for film, but two movies have borrowed elements from it. Tarzan’s Magic Fountain features outsiders who come to Africa looking for a youth-elixer, while Tarzan and the Lost Safari features a diverse group of travelers who crash in the jungle and have to be led out (though by Tarzan, of course; not Jane).
Tarzan’s Quest wouldn’t be the last time that the ape man was exposed to an eternal youth formula. Just to be sure, Burroughs gave Tarzan a second dose a few books later in Tarzan and the Foreign Legion.