Originally published as a six part serial called Tarzan and the Immortal Men, and released in Blue Book Magazine through 1935 and 1936, this book would be the last time we see Jane as a major character. We hadn’t seen much of Jane since her appearance in Tarzan and the Ant Man, and like many of her appearances they often come across as glorified cameos, but in what would later be titled Tarzan’s Quest this book is more about Jane’s adventures than it is her husband’s. Tarzan may be on a quest but its Jane’s plot thread that is easily the more fun.
The book opens with Jane and her old friend Lady Hazel Tennington, who we’d first encountered way back in The Return of Tarzan, running into another old friend of theirs, Kitty Krause. Only their friend no longer goes by Kitty as she is now Princess Sborov because she has recently married Prince Alexis Sborov, and it becomes quite clear that Kitty married him for the title while Alexis married Kitty for her millions. Kitty is worried about her age, Alexis is quite a bit younger than her, and when she learns from American gangster about a witch-doctor in Africa who has secret formula of youth and longevity, she decides to bankroll an expedition. As Jane is intending to meet Lord Greystoke/Tarzan in Nairobi she agrees to accompany them to Africa.
This expedition consists of the Neal Brown, the American gangster and pilot for the trip, the vapid Kitty and her gigolo husband Alexis, and along with them is Kitty’s maid Annette and Alexis’s personal valet Tibbs. Jane would have been better off joining the crew of the Minnow for a three hour tour than to spend any time with these misfits. While on route to Nairobi their plane encounters a ferocious storm and due to the extra weight, provided by the Sborov’s extensive luggage, the plane is unable to get above the storm and Brown is forced to crash it on top of the forest canopy. This is the point in the series that Jane finally really gets to shine as, much to the shock of her fellow passengers, Jane nimbly exits the plane and proceeds to move through the treetops with surprising agility. You don’t spend that much time living with Tarzan and not pick up a few things. Not only is Jane shown here to be an amazing athlete and survivalist, but she is also incredibly clever.
She tells the group that their best bet is to march into the jungle until they can come across a local tribe that could aid them in finding civilization, and that it would be best if a man was to lead the group. When I first read that my reaction was, “Are you bloody kidding me, just because she is a woman Jane can’t lead?” But Jane was actually using clever psychology for when the group discuss which of the men should take the job it’s clear that it can’t be either Brown or Alexis because these two had been snarking each other since they first met. Alexis blames Brown for their current predicament, even though Jane informs them that without Brown’s incredible piloting skills they’d most likely be dead, and Brown hate’s the arrogance and basic dickishness of this supposed prince. When Tibbs is offered the position he quickly declines and suggests that Jane seems to be the most capable person to get them out of this predicament, and they all agree. Jane’s response is basically, “I was hoping you’d all see it that way.” Jane knew that if she just took charge the two alpha males would have had their noses bent out of shape, so she let them come to the only proper conclusion on their own. Jane is just damn awesome in this book. Not only do we see her travelling through the treetops with a skill only rivaled by Tarzan, but she also fashions weapons, hunts and provides the party food, and even holds her ground against a charging leopard. It was at this point I wanted to read a Jane solo adventure, but alas Tarzan does make an appearance in this book.
While Jane and company are trying to find their way through the treacherous dangers of the African jungle Tarzan is on a quest to find a mysterious tribe of savage white men known as the Kavuru. This much feared tribe is known for stealing young women from several different native tribes, and their grasp has finally reached the home territory of Tarzan’s Waziri warriors. It’s while investigating these rash disappearances that Tarzan and Nkima encounter Muviro and nine Waziri warriors, and it’s from them that Tarzan learns that Muviro’s daughter is the latest victim of these jungle kidnappers. The key problem with this investigation is that the local tribes are so terrified of the Kavuru that they won’t even give the Ape Man a hint as to what direction the Kavuru village could be in.
What follows is a lot of the standard Tarzan stuff with the Ape Man entering a hostile native village, getting into a fight, getting knocked unconscious, tied up and held captive until eventually being freed or escaping. The biggest departure here is that upon “escaping” the natives he comes across one of the mysterious Kavuru and saves him from a lion, but unlike passed times when Tarzan saves a person this man is grateful, but he does not befriend Tarzan and lead him to his village. His idea of gratitude is in not killing Tarzan…as if he could, though to be fair this guy does eventually aid Tarzan and company when it comes to them escaping the Temple of the Kavuru high priest.
And just who are these mysterious white savages that steal women, who wear human teeth as accessories, and apparently have the secret to immortality. Well Burroughs doesn’t really get into the origins of these people; they aren’t some lost outpost of Rome or England, but just a group of fanatical priests who believe women were put on Earth to tempt and corrupt men, and they also have the ability to hypnotize their victims into walking straight into their clutches. So maybe they are a lost outpost of Franciscan monks.
When Jane is captured by them, of course she’s captured because even as badass as she is in this book she is destined at some point to become a damsel in distress, she is shocked to learn that the leader has led this cult of celibate priests for a thousand yeas, a cult who have achieved immortality with an elixir made from pollen, spinal fluid of leopards, and the glands and blood of young women. Though things get shaken up when Jane’s beauty stirs the loins of the High Priest, her being so hot that he decides that a thousand years of celibacy has been enough, and he will now take Jane as his mate. Needless to say things don’t go all that well for him.
Tarzan’s Quest is top notch adventure storytelling, and seeing Jane as this awesome jungle girl makes this a standout book in the series. The Tarzan stuff is fun, and Nkima’s antics are always worth a laugh or two, but it’s Jane’s story that really grabs you. There is danger, murder, love and mystery in the jungle and Jane can handle it all. That this was the last book to feature Jane as a primary character is sad for if given the chance she could have become an equal to Tarzan in the jungle hero category.
Note: Our heroes do acquire a jar of pills that will give the user immortality, and the survivors of the book divvy them up amongst themselves, but whether Tarzan and Jane take them is never divulged. This certainly would have allowed Burroughs to never have to worry about his hero getting old and feeble, but as the series only went on for five more books he never had to use it.
Burroughs’s depiction of women has never been what one could call progressive, but in Tarzan’s Quest we finally see a woman become a true leader and not just some one to be rescued. Jane is a true jungle adventure spirit and her story-line here makes this one of the more enjoyable books in the series.