This ninth book in the Tarzan series was first published in serialized form in the pages of Argosy All-Story Weekly (1922-1923) and follows the adventures that took place in Tarzan the Terrible, dealing with the rescue of Jane and Tarzan’s discovery of lost valley of Pal-ul-don. Tarzan shares the title of this book with Jad-bal-ja, which means “The Golden Lion” in the language of Pal-ul-don, and this character becomes one of the more beloved additions to the series. The lions of Africa had always been one of Tarzan’s greater animal enemies, he’d certainly killed enough of them, but in Tarzan the Untamed he managed to tame and befriend not one but two of the noble beasts. So it’s not too farfetched that Tarzan would again ally himself with Numa, the king of the jungle.
The book begins with Tarzan, Jane, and Korak returning from Pal-ul-don when they come across a lion cub whose parents had been killed, and much to Korak and Jane’s shock the Ape Man adopts the little guy. He begins an intensive training routine with the little lion, and as it grows it learns how to attack man by going for the throat (Tarzan ties meat to the neck of man-shaped dummies), fetch a victim without killing him, and to stealthily move through the jungle as only one trained by Tarzan can. Things do seem idyllic for a while, the Waziri had rebuilt the destroyed Greystoke Estate, but much of Tarzan and Jane’s money was given to the war effort and thus Tarzan decides another trip to the vaults of Opar is necessary. Jane is against this, as nothing but trouble has ever come from his ventures to the lost outpost of Atlantis, but Tarzan pooh-poohs her fears and heads out with fifty Waziri warriors to retrieve the gold. Jane is left at home with Korak and Jad-bal-ja. Needless to say Jane was right to be worried.
Tarzan and the Golden Lion has two plots that are only loosely connected by Tarzan’s involvement in them, and to be perfectly frank he doesn’t really have much an involvement in the second one. The first plot has to do with Tarzan’s trip to Opar to get the gold to replenish the Greystoke coffers. Since his last encounter with the lost outpost of Atlantis things haven’t been going so well for the High Priestess La, her history of letting Tarzan escape the sacrificial knife of the Sun God has angered many of her people, and none more so than High Priest Cadji. This villainous priest does not want to share power with a woman, he is constantly working to stage a coup, and when Tarzan once again falls into the clutches of the Oparians this adds the perfect fuel for La’s overthrowing. Cadji tries to frame La in plot to free Tarzan, which would lead to her being overthrown, but instead of falling for Cadji’s schemes La decides to basically say “Screw it” to the job of High Priestess, and not only does she help Tarzan escape but she goes with him. This leads to a slight complication when the only safe way out of Opar is through a passageway that leads to a lost valley (people in Africa apparently have a terrible time keeping track of their valleys), and a land populated with natives that seem to have ape-like characteristics of an even lower evolutionary scale than the Waz-don and Ho-don of Pal-ul-don. These natives are ruled over by a cruel race of intelligent gorillas that enslave these poor blacks, selecting women and children from each village to be slaves, and marching many of them to their deaths in the Palace of Diamonds before their Emperor, Numa.
The other plot introduces one of my least favorite characters in the series, Esteban Miranda, a Spanish-born silent film actor and Tarzan look-alike. Burroughs had already done a look-a-like story with his book The Mad King, which is one of my favorite books of his, but the character of Esteban Miranda is just so bland and unlikable that every time the stories shifts away from Tarzan and the High Priestess La to this idiot character I outwardly groan. Worse is that this carbon copy Tarzan survives this adventure and makes an appearance in the following book Tarzan and the Ant Men. “Oh, the humanity!”
In this book he is hired by Flora Hawkes, a former maid of the Greystokes, to help steal gold from the vaults of Opar. The timing of their theft and Tarzan’s trip to Opar is one of Burroughs standard “What a coincidence!” plot elements. I’m not overly a fan of this element, as its bad enough that Burroughs has people constantly running into each other, as if Africa is smaller than Adventureland at Disney World, without making the issue even more contrived. The need for a Tarzan imposter is pretty thin and the mission only really requires it for plot convenience. That the Great Apes, the Waziri, and even briefly Jane, are fooled by this imposter has always irked me.
The parts of this book that dealt with Tarzan helping to overthrow the Palace of Diamonds is great pulpy adventurous stuff, Tarzan is allowed to kick some serious ass, and when we first learn that these people worship an actual lion as emperor we immediately know that Jad-bal-ja is going to show up and make things really interesting. If ever you want to overthrow a civilization Tarzan is your man as in these books he could be almost be called Mister Revolution. The amount of cities and lost civilization Tarzan helps overthrow is staggering, which makes his stopping a coup d’état in Opar kind of ironic. This amazing stuff, and what we want in our Tarzan stories, and this is what makes cutting back to the French Farce of everyone thinking lunkhead Miranda is Tarzan so off-putting. I just didn’t care. Give me more of Tarzan and his Golden Lion taking on hordes of diamond encrusted gorillas, not a group of idiot thieves bickering amongst themselves.
Idiot look-alike plot aside Tarzan and the Golden Lion is still a fun read, Jane continues to grow as a character as she becomes less and less the damsel in distress. The addition of Jad-bal-ja is certainly a bonus to the Tarzan cast of characters, and it’s nice to see that Korak is still hanging around. Though we aren’t told what the hell his wife Meriem is up to while her husband is traipsing all over Africa. This ninth installment in the world of Tarzan may be a little uneven but still worth the read.