Tarzan the Untamed: Edgar Rice Burroughs – Book Review

Tarzan_the_UntamedTarzan declares war on Germany. That could have been an alternate title to this book as a good portion of it has Tarzan go all Rambo on the invading German forces during World War I. This story was released in serialized form as two separate stories in two different pulp magazines; “Tarzan the Untamed” (AKA “Tarzan and the Huns“) for Redbook Magazine in 1919, and as “Tarzan and the Valley of Luna” in All-Story Weekly in 1920. This is a grimmer and more brutal Tarzan than we have seen in the past books, and for a very good reason, his wife is murdered. If one was to make a list of things not to do I’m betting killing Jane, Tarzan’s most beloved wife, would probably appear near the top. There are certainly easier ways of killing yourself.

The book begins with a group of German soldiers, and their native porters, approaching the Greystoke estate in British East Africa. The “War to End all Wars” has broken out but unfortunately that information had not yet reached Tarzan or Jane. Tarzan is away doing Tarzan stuff so it is Jane who welcomes these Germans in with open arms. Things do not go well. When Tarzan learns of the outbreak of war he ditches his civilian garb and races across the land with the speed and manner only Tarzan could accomplish, but he is too late. Much of the estate is burned to the ground; he finds one of his most trusted Waziri warriors crucified, but worst of all he finds the charred remains of Jane. Tarzan declares a silent oath that the men responsible for this will pay, and pay dearly.

The first half of the book is pretty much all about a wrath filled Ape Man wreaking holy hell on the German forces while he tries to locate the men directly responsible for the atrocities he found at his home. He would grab a native porter for interrogation, scarring the living crap out of him, and then once he has gained what information he can get Tarzan would then crush the life out of the man. One German officer is left stuck in a tree with a hungry lion waiting for a meal, while others meet brutal if not as sadistic ends. At one point Tarzan takes the aforementioned lion, which he has leashed and beaten into submission, and forced him into the German trenches. When the hapless German soldiers flee the trenches Tarzan is there waiting for them, with a machine gun, and he rakes them with a deadly hail of bullets.

His hunt for Captain Fritz Schneider runs into a few snags when he learns that the Schneider he left for lion chow in a tree was actually just the brother of the man who led the attack on the Greystoke estate. His continued hunt for the correct Schneider leads Tarzan to cross paths with Bertha Kircher, a woman he has seen in both the German and British camps, and who he believes to be a German spy. When Tarzan discovers that Kircher has in her possession his mother’s locket, which he had given as a gift to Jane, he is less than impressed with her. He decides to take her back to British headquarters, where he assumes that she will be executed for being a spy, but she manages to escape. This is not one of Tarzan’s finer moments. He basically told Bertha Kircher that he was going to personally escort her to her doom.   Yet for some unearthly reason he lets her walk behind him, and with her still in possession of her gun. I know grief can make you do stupid things but that is a bit ridiculous. The only reason she doesn’t shoot him in the back of the head as she can’t bear the idea of killing such a magnificent specimen of manhood. So she just coldcocks him with the butt of her pistol.

It’s at this point that Tarzan decides he has had about enough of civilization and will spend the remainder of his days deep in the jungle, living as he did as a young man, and far away from the supposed civilized world. What is strangely never mentioned is anything to do with John Clayton, Tarzan and Jane’s son. We know he went off to live with Miriam but wouldn’t it have been nice of Tarzan to maybe send his kid a letter, “Dear Son, going back to live with the apes. PS Your mom is dead.” I believe the death of Jane, and the lack of their son’s appearance in this book, has more to do with Burroughs’ desire to have Tarzan free to run off and have adventures than it is about his bestial nature. A tied down Lord of the Jungle isn’t as fun as one that can rush off to investigate the latest lost city.

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And this book does have a lost city. In the first six books we’ve only had a couple of short visits to Opar, the lost outpost of Atlantis, but following this book lost cities will become so numerous one will start to question if there is enough jungle in Africa to hide them all. The second half of the book has to do with Tarzan trying to make a life with a new group of Apes, and maybe venturing to the coast and the cabin his father built, but his attempt at ditching civilization is constantly interrupted by the Bertha Kircher, the German spy. She is captured by black deserters and Tarzan is forced to rescue her. He is complete and utter hatred of her wars with his inability to leave a white woman in danger. He even lets her live with him and the apes. Yeah, that’s swell of him. Eventually another character enters the picture in the form of downed British pilot Harold Percy Smith-Oldwick. One of the great moments in the book consists of Tarzan and Percy about to be burnt at the stake by a group of cannibals when Bertha leads a rescue attempt consisting of the Great Apes. Tarzan repeated tells himself that he hates Bertha with every fibre of his being, but he also can’t help but acknowledge his growing respect for her.

Poor Percy falls almost immediately in love with Bertha, even after Tarzan informs the British aviator that she is a German spy, but Berth does not return his love, she has eyes for another. You get three guesses as to who that person is, and the first two don’t count. This is a sprawling epic with Tarzan wiping out German soldiers, traveling desert wastes, battling cannibals, befriending lions (two of them in this book), and of course he finds a lost city. Only the inclusion of Bertha and Percy in the second half of the book, which is mostly jungle adventure and lost city finding, connects it to the first half, which is all about war and revenge.

As I’ve mentioned this book does have a lost city, and it’s a doozy. The lost city of Xuja, hidden in a secret desert valley, is populated by inbred madmen who use lions for cattle and security, and worship parrots and monkeys. Bertha and Percy are of course captured by Xujans so it is up to Tarzan to stage another rescue. Will the Ape Man be able to sneak into a city of madmen, can Percy win the love of Bertha, will Tarzan actually desert civilization for good, and most importantly of all, “Is Jane really dead?

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Tarzan the Untamed is bit lopsided at times and Tarzan constantly going on about how much he hates the German’s gets a bit grating. He did write this during the war so the anti-German sentiment is not surprising, but what he didn’t quite take into account was how sales of his books in Germany were going to suddenly plummet. I guess some people can’t handle being called cowardly, vile, despicable and evil. I mean seriously, who could possibly take that personally?

In the book The Beasts of Tarzan Burroughs allowed us to spend more time with characters other than Tarzan, and Tarzan the Untamed is really where that element of the series kicks into high gear. Following the adventures of people like Bertha and Percy bring a fresh to the story, and of course this allows Burroughs to get in some fresh love interests as it’s hard to make that work with a married Ape Man. Overall Tarzan the Untamed is a fun if uneven story, but made a little extra awesome by having Tarzan going on a rampage. Check it out, you won’t be disappointed.

Mike Brooks

Mike Brooks

Film grad who spends most his time trying to catch up on his "To Watch" pile of movies.