This direct sequel to Tarzan the Untamed was first published as a serial in the pulp magazine Argosy All-Story Weekly in 1921 and continues Tarzan’s adventures against Germany and his hunt for Jane. In the previous book WWI had broken out and a group of German soldiers had attacked the Greystoke Estate in British East Africa. Tarzan was led to believe that the burnt corpse he found in his home was Jane, causing him to go on a one-man war against Germany, but at the end of Tarzan Untamed, he discovered that the Germans had placed his wife’s wedding band on one of her maids and that was the body he had found not his wife’s. This does raise the question “Why did the German High Command want Jane as a hostage?” I certainly don’t see the British government surrendering their lands in Africa simply because they have Tarzan’s wife in custody, and all it does result in is the hundreds if not thousands of casualties, and the collapsing morale of their soldiers when Tarzan goes on his revenge killing spree. Once again making Tarzan believe you have killed his beloved Jane is not the smartest move. Tarzan the Terrible is all about the Ape Man’s search for his stolen wife. Mind you this book may be all about the search for his missing wife but Tarzan does tend to get distracted…a lot.
We learn that for months Tarzan has been working with British intelligence and his own resources in tracking down Jane, the Brits aren’t much help but eventually, Tarzan’s search leads him across a dangerous morass and into the lost valley of Pal-ul-don, a place that is chock full of strange and incredible creatures. In 1930 Burroughs will have Tarzan journey to the Earth’s Core where he will discover the prehistoric world of Pellucidar, but that was not Tarzan’s first encounter with dinosaurs for here in this lost valley Tarzan runs into many prehistoric creatures. This valley is very reminiscent of the Lost World‘s plateau located in the Amazon basin of South America where Arthur Conan Doyle’s Professor Challenger had his adventures with ape-like creatures as well as dinosaurs. That Tarzan encounters differing races of ape-like creatures that are at war with each other, as did Professor Challenger, one must consider much of this book to be if not outright theft at least guilty of heavy borrowing.
Tarzan first runs into a Pithecanthropus by the name of Ta-den, a mostly normal-looking white man except for the prehensile tail and ape-like feet and hands he sports. Ta-den is of the race called Ho-don, and later the two encounter and team up with Om-at, the Waz-don chief of the tribe of Kor-ul-ja. The Waz-don are a race of black-skinned men that are covered in fur, but they also have prehensile tails and ape-like feet much like the Ho-don. These two races are enemies, and it’s only the mutual friendship of Tarzan that keeps these two bitter enemies from each other throats. The big sticking point is of course religion. The Ho-don people believe God to be tailless while the Was-don disagrees on this point, and it’s only Tarzan’s force of personality that keeps these two from fighting about it.
While Burroughs will have Tarzan and Jane mention God on occasion it becomes clear after reading enough of Burroughs’s books that the author is clearly not big on religion. Burroughs did not believe in the Bible, and he considered himself if not an atheist at least clearly agnostic as he often expressed his dislike for any form of organized or sectarian religion. One could take his books as stealth attacks on organized religions. In this book, Tarzan pretends to be the son of the local god while the villainous German officer who kidnapped Jane claims to be the god himself. This story element is reminiscent of the plot of Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, at one point in both books a character is going to be exposed as a fraud by having bloodshed, and Kipling himself was considered by some to be a deist, one who believes in a God who created the world but has since become indifferent to the whole thing. Both The Man Who Would Be King and Tarzan the Terrible suppose that the masses are gullible, and will believe just about anything, that is until it becomes inconvenient or a threat to their current way of life.
Trivia Note: Blending a Tarzan story with “The Man Who Would Be King” reappeared in the 1948 Johnny Weissmuller movie Tarzan and the Mermaid.
When the story is not dealing with Tarzan impersonating the son of the local god, and trying to overthrow their sacrificial rituals to boot, the book would briefly cut to a mysterious character sporting nothing but a loincloth and carrying an Enfield rifle. In the previous book I found it odd that Jack Clayton, Jane and Tarzan’s son, was not contacted by his father when Jane was presumed murdered, but now Jack “Korak the Killer” is back. I’m not sure if Burroughs intended the final reveal of this “mysterious” character to be Tarzan’s son to be a surprise, but just how many loincloth-wearing jungle gods are out there?
We also eventually catch up with Jane and learn how she escaped the clutches of the nefarious German military. It’s in these moments we get a glimpse of the badass Jane to come, she is still a damsel in distress but she also manages to fend off the vile Lieutenant Obergatz, who was one of the three German officers responsible for the raid on the Greystoke estate. Jane is able to make weapons, build a secure treehouse, and survive alone in the wild for quite some time. I found the time spent with Jane, which doesn’t occur until the last third of the novel, to be more interesting than much of Tarzan’s adventures. And that includes him taming a triceratops.
Tarzan the Terrible is another fun and exciting romp through one of Burroughs’ more well-constructed lost worlds. The land and political make-up of Pal-ul-don is brilliantly realized and Burroughs does a great job at “world-building” here with corrupt kings, and even more corrupt religious leaders, all vying for power while the womenfolk were either enslaved or forced to marry some giant asshat (the 1920s were not a very progressive time). It’s truly a shame we never got a good dinosaur/Tarzan movie as an adaptation of this book would have been well worth the effort.
Trivia Note: Tarzan’s only cinematic encounter with dinosaurs was in Tarzan’s Desert Mystery, and that only had Tarzan watch some rear-screened giant lizards battle it out.
Tarzan the Terrible
Book Rank - 7/10
Borrowed plot elements aside Tarzan the Terrible is an excellent read, Burroughs creates one of his most realized lost world here, and he populates it with complex and fascinating characters. It also has Tarzan riding a bloody triceratops. What’s not to love?