Men of great deeds and action who, with noble purposes at heart, let none stand in their way as their mighty physiques carve a path to victory; this best describes your standard Edgar Rice Burroughs protagonist and is what really sets The Cave Girl apart from most of Burroughs’s books as the hero of this story does not start out all that heroic. Originally published as two stories; the first entitled “The Cave Girl” saw print in 1913 in the magazine All-Story and its sequel entitled “The Cave Man” was printed 1917 in the pages of All-Story Weekly and the tale of hapless Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones is a fascinating departure for Burroughs…well a little departure.
Our story begins on the storm swept beach of a jungle island where Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones finds himself after being swept overboard during a storm. Due to his failing health, and advice from his doctor, he took an ocean voyage in the hopes of turning around his lifelong ill health. Things did not go as planned. Now poor Waldo isn’t your typical castaway of romantic fiction, no this gentleman is of Boston Blue Blood and hasn’t worked a day in his life, spending most his time nose buried in books of esoteric learning and nothing with much practical application. Also Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones is a coward. These are not ideal characteristic for survival in a danger infested jungle.
Yet Waldo does survive, even though he spends his first days cowering in fear and racked by his ever persistent cough. Then one day, eyes red from crying, he reaches the end of his emotional tether and chargers screaming into the jungle hoping that the dark figure that was been spying on him will end his pitiful existence. Its then that Waldo discovers that the inhabitants of the island are Neanderthalic throwbacks to a bygone age. With luck, and a little help from a beautiful cave girl, Waldo survives his first encounter with the cruel and brutal savages. Later he learns that the girl, Nadara, believes Waldo to be great hero because he openly slept on the beach without fear of the great panther Nagoola (he of course had no idea he was in danger from local wildlife) and misinterpreted his panicked screaming charge of terror for war cries. It’s Nadara’s woodcraft and knowledge of the island that keeps Waldo alive but when he finds out that she is bringing him back to her village so that he can kill the two fearsome cavemen, who rule her people through savage brutality, he balks and makes a run for it.
As I said this is not your typical Burroughs protagonist; Waldo is a weak, sniveling coward that lets a sweet primitive girl believe him to be some great badass when he is quite the opposite, and then ditches her when things get scary. But this is of course a pulp adventure story so Waldo will eventually step up and do the right thing. Living on his own Waldo quickly finds himself feeling physically better than he has even been in his life and with his cough is gone he proceeds to start a physical regimen that will get him into shape that will allow him to return to Nadara and somehow make his earlier cowardice right.
With the new name of Thandor, meaning Brave One, Waldo starts to turn things around and becomes the hero he never thought he would be. He fights and kills many of the cave dwellers as well as the deadly panther, and soon the name Thandor becomes one to be reckoned with.
So The Cave Girl is kind of like Robinson Crusoe and his Girl Friday only Waldo was in much worse starting position than what Mister Crusoe was in. This is a fun and entertaining read as we make the heroes journey along with Waldo and his lovely cave girl; filled with headhunters, pirates and earthquakes The Cave Girl earns a top spot on in the Burroughs archives.
Note: There is one disappointing aspect and this is in Waldo deciding to marry a primitive cave girl, despite the problems this may cause him with his family back home, but then at the end of the book they learn the cave girl is the daughter of Eugenie Marie Celeste de la Valois, Countess of Crecy. It kind of undoes a little of the nobility of his love if now their is no conflict. Not sure why Burroughs added that.