TARZAN AND THE LOST EMPIRE
A Review Submitted by Doc Hermes
From BLUE BOOK, where it
was published in five parts from October 1928 to February 1929, this is
pretty good stuff. The book has the same basic premise as the one before
it, TARZAN LORD OF THE JUNGLE (two eternally warring cities of white people
deep inside Africa, Tarzan getting tangling up in local politics, a struggling
romance between a local couple), but Edgar Rice Burroughs tells his tale
with such energy, attention to detail and broad characterization, that
it`s a lot of fun. The action n the gladiator scenes is brisk and bloody,
the melodrama of the scheming conspirators works well, and there`s even
some humour that`s not overdone as one villain tries to impress the ingenue
with an unsuccessful dive into the public baths.
I don`t think much of Burroughs`
theory that crime is entirely hereditary and that if you simply kill all
criminals and their families (!?), there won`t be any more lawbreakers.
Good thing he didn`t have a brother convicted of manslaughter, he`d come
up with a new philosophy in a hurry.
This is a sort of transitional
book in the series. My favorite group of stories start around TARZAN THE
UNTAMED and end around TARZAN AND THE ANT MEN. The Apeman as portrayed
there is a complicated mixture of wild beast and English lord, he has a
supporting cast and family he loves, and there is enough action and surprises
in each book to make them enjoyable even if you had never heard of Tarzan.
By TARZAN AND THE LOST EMPIRE, our hero is starting to drift down into
a simpler characterization. He still patrols his territory with the fighting
Waziri and his friend Muviro, there is a reference to his bungalow home
and estates... but his wife and son (and grandson) are not even mentioned
in a passing thought. Some sort of marital difficulties there, Lord Greystoke?
After TARZAN AT THE EARTH`S
CORE, the Apeman seems to decisively abandon his family and estates to
wander carefree through the jungle with only his chums Jad-Bal-Ja and Nkima
(who don`t place any responsibilities on him). He also seems much more
sour and unpleasant in the later stories, with ongoing sermons about how
awful the human race is. In this book, though, Tarzan still likes people
enough to have friends he is glad to see, to go on a dangerous quest to
rescue Erich von Harben, a young man he doesn`t know, and he is perfectly
happy to stay with a family in the Lost Empire for weeks while learning
the language and history. His strong curiosity is one of the things I llike
best about the early Tarzan; he is always asking questions and snooping
around for its own sake. We find that he went to the trouble on his own
to learn how to read Latin and has read Virgil and Caesar`s Commnentaries.
Pretty impressive, considering no one was making him do it.
Yet the British peer who
sat up at night in his srtudy with dictionaries and reference books about
Roman history is the same man who kills yet another full-grown lion with
only a knife. "The savage personal combat, the blood, the contact with
the mighty body of the carnivore, had stripped from him the last vestige
of the thin veneer of civilization. It was no English lord who stood there
with one foot upon his kill and through narrowed lids glared about him
at the roaring populace. It was no man, but a wild beast, that raised its
head and voiced the savage victory cry of the bull ape, a cry that stilled
the multitude and froze its blood."
There`s that dual nature
that makes Tarzan so interesting. He`s not a literal split personality;
the wild beast side is much stronger and more the "real" Tarzan, but the
sophisticated aristocrat who sat in the House of Lords and enjoyed Parisan
art galleries and museums is not just an empty pose either.
Oddly, there`s some talk
at the beginning of the mysterious city as being a survival of the fabled
lost tribes of Biblical history but this is quickly dropped. Instead, we`re
dealing here with the surviving outpost of a Roman incursion into Africa,
still keeping its society and customs amost completely unchanged after
a thousand years with only slight influences from the native cultures (prettty
darn unlikely, if you ask me). They still think there`s a Caesar ruling
in Rome, they still have senators and patricians and all that. In effect,
this is Tarzan dropping into a gladiator movie for an adventure. (Of COURSE,
he ends up fighting in the Colisseum, it`s mandatory for an action hero
to have at least on a Coliseeum scene in his career.) Long ago, a civil
war resulted in a breakaway faction founding its own city, and now there
is ongoing feuding between Castrum Mare and Castrum Sanguinarus.
The pair of enemy outposts
is part of the successful formula but it seriously weakens this particular
story. There`s really no reason why Erich von Harben couldn`t be trapped
in the same city as Tarzan without running into him, and the hopping back
and forth between two very similar settings (complete with two pairs of
struggling young lovers) is a bit confusing. Also, the exciting climax
(which is vividly presented) with the oppressed populace marching in a
bloody uprising, grim legionnaires slaughtering crowds, half a dozen of
Tarzan`s great apes as a hairy commando squad (despite "their disposition
to attack friend as well as foe"), the heroic Waziri doing their calvary
charge... whew. All that big finale is diffused by having to then go back
to the other city and see how von Harben is doing with his own lesser troubles.
TARZAN AND THE LOST
EMPIRE introduces Nkima, the little monkey who takes on the traditional
sidekick role for the remainder of the series. (Does Tarzan ever mention
that he, like the rest of the great apes, used to eat tailed monkeys when
they could catch them? Might dampen the friendship.) I like Nkima, he`s
as much of a troublemaker as he is a help but he saves the day enough times
to make his simpleminded chatter forgiveable. Every hero can use a bumbling
pal to help with the plotting now and then. It`s interesting that except
for Jad-Bal-Ja and NKima (and good ol` Tantor when they run into each other),
Tarzan isn`t really friends with the wild animals. Despite his speeches
about how admirable and noble the beasts are, he pretty much ignores them
until he`s hungry.