Celebrating Tarzan’s 101st anniversary by walking through Scott Tracy Griffin’s Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration.
As I mentioned yesterday, Tarzan and the Castaways is made up of three different stories: two short stories and a novella. The novella is the title story and was originally called “The Quest of Tarzan.” In it, Tarzan receives a head injury and yet another round of amnesia (and muteness), leading to his capture and being sold to an animal show as a wild man.
In a supplemental chapter called “Tarzan the Aphasic,” Griffin points out that Burroughs himself had taken a nasty blow to the head during a fight in Toronto in his 20s. Burroughs suffered migrane headaches and mild amnesia later in life, which he attributed to the incident. That may have also have inspired his use of amnesia in Tarzan’s adventures, but there’s no denying that it was an easy way to prolong tension by preventing Tarzan from taking action and saving the day too soon. Burroughs used it often.
Back to “The Quest of Tarzan,” the animal show is shipwrecked while crossing the Pacific and Tarzan has to protect the diverse group from a tribe of lost Mayans who inhabit a South Seas island. The story was serialized in Argosy in 1943, but wasn’t printed in book form until it was renamed and collected with two short stories in 1965.
The short stories are “Tarzan and the Jungle Murders” and “Tarzan and the Champion.” In “Champion,” Tarzan tries to stop a couple of big game hunters who are using a machine gun to kill their prey. One of them is the world champion heavyweight boxer who challenges Tarzan to a match just before all three characters are captured by a returning character from Tarzan and the Forbidden City.
“Jungle Murders” is especially interesting because Burroughs was trying to take the series in a new direction inspired by Sherlock Holmes. His idea was to make Tarzan into a jungle detective who could use his abilities to solve murders or find missing people and items. In “Jungle Murders” he gets involved with a couple of groups of competing spies who infiltrate a safari and start killing people. Burroughs sold the story, but publishers weren’t too excited about the detective angle as a permanent direction, so he dropped it.
That concludes the original, canonical Tarzan stories written by Burroughs. Starting next week, we’ll follow as Griffin looks at Tarzan in other media, beginning with children’s books, then working our way into comics, movies, TV, and beyond.