The Jungle Tales of Tarzan is the sixth book in the Tarzan series but chronologically it actually takes place during the first Tarzan novel, Tarzan of the Apes. This book consists of twelve short stories that deal with Tarzan’s days prior to meeting Jane but after the death of his foster mother Kala. These twelve short stories ran monthly in Blue Book magazine before eventually be published in book form in 1919, and though each chapter can be considered as individual stories they as a collection are connected with one major theme, Tarzan realizing that though he is surrounded by numerous jungle residents he is in fact quite alone.
It’s in the opening story “Tarzan’s First Love” that the sticky topic of bestiality is danced around. Tarzan has been raised by apes since he was but an infant and so his views on beauty are a tad different than what most English Lords would have had. The young female ape Teeka catches Tarzan’s eye for she is quite beautiful, by ape standards, and Tarzan does his best to win her love. Clearly love is in the eye of the beholder and to Tarzan, this she-ape is everything one could want in a mate, but unfortunately, the feeling isn’t actually mutual. Tarzan may have grown-up thinking the Great Apes of the Tribe of Kerchak bestial appearances are normal but that also means Tarzan’s appearance is not the norm. Tarzan is a hairless ape and without even a decent set of fighting fangs. That Teeka would prefer fellow ape Taug over Tarzan is no surprise, but then when Tarzan saves Teeka, from the savage claws of Numa the lion, Teeka chooses Tarzan. Sadly fickle is the heart of a she-ape for when Tarzan roams off into the jungle to hunt he later returns to find Teeka grooming Taug. You can practically hear Tarzan’s heartbreaking.
When Tarzan finds Taug trapped by the local natives he at first thinks finally Teeka will be his, but when he breaks the news of Taug’s capture he notices Teeka’s wistful expression of sorrow, and when the sad Teeka snuggles up to Tarzan he puts his arm around her he finally notices, “The strange incongruity of that smooth, brown arm against the black and hairy coat of his lady-love.” This causes an epiphany within Tarzan as he realizes that all the other species of the jungle have matching mates but him, that even though, “The males and the females differed it was true; but not with such differences as existed between Tarzan and Teeka.” Tarzan screams at the heavens, beating his fists against his breast, railing against the unfairness of his life.
Tarzan eventually rescues Taug from the natives, and later he becomes godfather to Teeka and Taug’s child, but still, Tarzan is alone. It’s seeing the bond between Teeka and her baby that leads Tarzan to one of his more questionable decisions, the kidnapping of a ten-year-old native boy. He quickly realizes that taking care of a child that is constantly terrified of the creatures in the jungle may have been a mistake, as even Tarzan’s ape companions want this kid dead. In the end, Tarzan comes to grips with the fact that Kala loved him, Teeka loves her baby, and that the mother of this poor snatched kid is now living in grief because of his actions. So Tarzan returns the child.
“For Teeka there is Teek’s balu,” he soliloquized; “for Sabor there are balus, and for the she-Gomangani, and for Bara, and for Manu, and even Pamba, the rat; but for Tarzan, there can be none – neither a she nor a balu. Tarzan of the Apes is a man, and it must be that man walks alone.”
The central theme of these stories focuses on how even though Tarzan may be “Lord of the Jungle” he is still a lonely figure, aching for someone to share his life with, but that’s not all on offer here; Tarzan is no tragic figure moping around the jungle like a half-naked Hamlet, we still get plenty of jungle fun. Tarzan hangs with his pal Tantor, the elephant, murders the shit out of anyone or anything that stands in his way, hunts for god, plays practical jokes, and even rescues the moon.
The Jungle Tales of Tarzan give us a great glimpse into the youthful days of Tarzan and really shows us that this creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs was a lot more deep and complicated than many people thought. A man raised by apes would certainly have a different set of morals, and his personal code was something he developed over time. Tarzan is one cruel bastard, many of his practical jokes involve killing some hapless sap, but you can see in these stories the seed of the man that Jane will eventually meet and fall in love with.
Jungle Tales of Tarzan
In Jungle Tales of Tarzan Edgar Rice Burroughs fleshes out the history of his greatest creation, delving wonderfully into the psyche of a man living alone in the jungle.