The Eternal Savage could be considered one of the more “out there” stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs as although it has many of the elements and tropes of his other books, this one comes across more Twilight Zone-ish than one might expect. The story was originally published in 1913 as a two part serial with the first titled “The Eternal Lover” and the second part “Sweetheart Primeval.” Once again Burroughs has characters crossing over from other books and for this one we have Barney Custer from The Mad King and Tarzan, because if you are going to visit Africa you’re bound to run into him.
In the first section of the book we are introduced to Nu, son of Nu, a troglodyte living a hundred thousand years ago. He is hunting for a trophy to prove his prowess and win him the fair hand of Nat-ul, daughter of Tha. He must single handily hunt and kill a sabre-toothed tiger and place its head before Nat-ul’s cave. Hee successfully accomplishes this because he’s even more impressive than Tarzan. On his way back home he is alarmed by the onset of an earthquake and goes to hide in a cave. Nu, clearly unfamiliar with the fact that earthquakes and caves don’t mix, is trapped when the cave collapses.
The story then jumps to modern times, where Victoria and Barney Custer are visiting with Lady and Lord Greystoke in Africa so as to go big game hunting with Tarzan and his Waziri warriors. A fellow by the name of Curtis has followed them to Africa so that he can profess his love to Victoria and ask her to be his wife. Victoria has never been able to take any man seriously because she has a dream avatar who is her ideal man; handsome, strong and insanely brave. So far no man she has met in the real world can match up to this. But just as she is about to give in and accept Curtis’s marriage proposal there is an earthquake that causes her to flee and faint in her brother’s arms.
The earthquake opens the cave that Nu had been trapped in and this noble cavemen steps out into a much changed world. Meanwhile, Victoria has awoken from her faint with the realization that she cannot marry Curtis, as her dream man is out there somewhere. Nu eventually comes across the Greystoke plantation and saves Victoria, who is the spitting image of his lovely Nat-ul, from a vicious lion, but he catches a bullet for his troubles from Curtis. Victoria, with the aid of one of Tarzan’s hounds tracks the wounded cavemen down and is able to nurse him back to health, but before he awakens she is kidnapped by Arab slavers. Does this shock anyone? Nu is able to rescue her and the two of them flee into the jungle with Victoria wondering if she can give up civilization to be with the literal embodiment of the man of her dreams. Another quake strikes while Nu and Victoria are asleep in a cave and the world is in upheaval again.
The second part of the story begins with Nat-ul waking up amongst her cave dwelling family with the fading memories from her strange dream about white men who wear strange garments, while her father talks of his dream of how they all died when the restless sea poured in and drown them. (So Nat-ul and her father are both gifted with the ability to see the future). This second half is your standard jungle adventure where the hero and the heroine are constantly separated while being plagued by either savage creatures or savage people. They come so close to finding each other, but then just missing one another that it becomes kind of frustrating, and then Burroughs has to throw in a misunderstanding that has Nat-ul thinking Nu loves another. I’ve seen this plot point one too many times. Of course all will end well…or will it?
When once again Nu heads out to get his promised trophy for Nat-ul, but while she waits for his return there is an immense quake, the cliffs fall and the restless sea rushes in and all are killed. The story then jumps back to the present day where we find Victoria waking up from her original faint to find that she had dreamed everything, but when out on one final outing before going home she insists they check out the nearby cliffside and find a boulder dislodged and the skeleton of Nu and his sabretooth cat trophy that he had promised Nat-ul/Victoria.
This is clearly a fun pulp adventure story and not supposed to be an accurate representation of early man, but that Burroughs describes Nu as a handsome Adonis is a bit off as I doubt most modern girls would call the low browed hairy troglodytes, and that our characters are plagued by great monsters of the deep and pterodactyls that were clearly extinct long before man climbed out of the trees is even more wildly wrong. I’d say this would have maybe worked better as a Pellucidar cross-over than a story across time. The “It was all a dream…or was it?” aspect of the story is interesting and the reincarnation/past life memories was cleverly handled if not making complete sense. Overall this is a fun, if extremely odd, book.
The Eternal Savage
The Eternal Savage will go down as one of the stranger tales told by Burroughs and structurally even stranger. It’s like he wanted to tell a caveman story and at the last minute decided to add this modern day reincarnation stuff. Some of it worked, some of it didn’t.