News Flash! Tarzan and Jane actually had sex. Sure this is something we all assume they did (how else were they passing all that time in their treehouse?), but the MGM movies of the 30s and 40s couldn’t obviously show us steamy jungle love so we just had to assume what went on in the dark. Yet in 1939 MGM released Tarzan Finds a Son where Jane and Tarzan find a little baby in a crashed plane who they adopt. So sex luckily averted.
Now back in 1915, Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote The Son of Tarzan and though we never got any explicit sex scenes between Jane and Tarzan it is clear in this fourth book that Jack Clayton is their biological son. Though unlike the MGM movies, where it kind of looks like Jane and her ape lover are living in sin, the books make it clear that Jane and Tarzan are married.
The Son of Tarzan begins with the return of the villainous Alexis Paulvitch who escaped death in The Beasts of Tarzan by running off into the jungle while his partner was being eaten by a leopard, but unfortunately, Paulvitch almost immediately ran into a local tribe that he and his partner Rokoff had not treated to fairly. So Paulvitch spends ten years as a captive of this tribe of cannibals who decided to spend years torturing him instead of eating him. Eventually, he either escapes or is freed and is found by the crew of “Marjorie W” and while laying over at a nearby island they come across Akut, the ape friend of Tarzan. Akut is looking for Tarzan and examines all the faces of the crew which he then joins for the voyage back to London to continue his search for his master.
While in London the tutor of Jack Clayton, the Son of Tarzan, is not having it easy as his young charge is more interested in reading about jungle adventures and pretending to be an ape than he is in studying. Young Jack has no knowledge of his father’s jungle life, Jane even forbids him from going to the zoo, so we are not sure just exactly where Jack got this love for the wild. Even Tarzan mentions to Jane that his jungle history is not hereditary but the author seems to write this book as if it were. When Jack hears of a super-intelligent ape at a London music hall he sneaks out of the house, Jane had refused his request to see the act and ends up befriending the ape who of course turns out to be Akut. Now Paulvitch is still in possession of the ape and when he learns that Jack is the son of his most hated enemy he plans his revenge, but his plan is sadly moronic as it entails killing Jack and framing the ape. All that happens is that Akut leaps to his friend’s aid and tears out Paulvitch’s throat. This plan would never have worked because even if he succeeded in killing the boy Tarzan could have asked the ape what actually happened and then Tarzan would have then murdered the hell out of Paulvitch. So unless this was a murder-suicide plan it was poorly planned.
Now ten-year-old boys are not brilliant thinkers so Jack decides that he and Akut must flee to Africa to escape his friend from being put down for killing Paulvitch, and with him disguising Akut as his wheelchair-bound grandmother they somehow pull it off. This first quarter of the novel is the least credulous. Not only do we have Jack Clayton inexplicably being a lover of jungle adventure but while spending afternoons visiting Akut at Paulvitch’s apartment he managed to learn to speak with the ape. Lost outposts of Atlantis I can buy but a small boy learning to speak the language of the apes in a matter of days is ridiculous. Burroughs clearly wants to make a second Tarzan but this origin story has more holes than a cheese grater.
When the two finally get to Africa a thief tries to rob and kill Jack and thus Akut must once again come to rescue and he kill the intruder, and once again Jack decides to flee instead of explaining to the authorities what actually happened. This I can understand as he’s just a stupid kid who has lived a rather sheltered life, and the glimpses we get of Jane we find out that she has done her best to make sure her son never gets jungle fever, so some of this is on her as forbidding a kid something is almost a sure-fire way to make them want it. After a few nights in the very inhospitable jungle Jack realizes that his parents are probably a bit destroyed by their missing son, but when he tries to return to civilization he encounters natives who upon seeing a naked white boy trying to talk to their women and children they chase after him with spears. From this, he concludes that all blacks are evil. Later he tries to contact white men in a safari but these turn out to be villainous ivory poachers who immediately fire upon the boy when he appears in their path. Jack decides to give up on mankind all together and he and Akut attempt to join a tribe of Great Apes, but this goes poorly as the newly elected king ape chases them away. Disgusted with everybody Jack decides that he and Akut are just fine by themselves, now going by the ape name Korak which means killer the boy and the ape strike out on their own. So like his father before him he spends his days running through the treetops while occasionally harassing the local natives.
The big difference between this book and the preceding three novels is that much of this book deals with a secondary character, almost with equal time as the title character. Now Jane does take up a good portion of The Beasts of Tarzan but the love interest in The Son of Tarzan exceeds that by quite a wide margin, and is also a more fascinating and complicated character than Jane has been thus far. It’s in chapter five that we are introduced to Meriem, a little girl who is kidnapped by the cruel Sheik Amor ben Khatour. A French Foreign Legion officer had seen to the hanging of the Sheik’s nephew, who was a notorious desert marauder, and for revenge, the Sheik kidnap the officer’s child to raise as his own. The little girl is routinely beaten by Mabuno, who is kind of her evil nanny, and mentally and physically tortured by her abductor “father” Sheik Khatour. Meriem is not broken by the horrible life she is forced to suffer through, she instead gives all the love she wishes she had to an ugly doll named Geeka. She pours her heart and soul out to this little doll which will break the heart of most readers. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before she and Korak cross paths.
Though stronger than most men Korak is still just a young boy and when he does rescue Meriem from the Sheik they become like brother and sister, not young lovers. At first, Meriem is terrified of this new life of jungle survival, but soon she becomes accustomed to it, even to the point of being able to travel through the trees as well as Korak does. As years pass these two kids grow up at different rates of maturity and events will shift each of their perspectives of the other, but love is something neither of them fully understand. This section of the book is leaps and bounds better than the relationship we got between Tarzan and Jane. In Tarzan of the Apes, it is clear that Jane’s attraction was first purely physical and that a woman of High Society would actually marry a man who was a savage as the animals he lived with was always a bit of a stretch. But in the case of Korak and Merriam, their relationship is allowed to grow organically over time and though there will be circumstances that will alter aspects of this, mostly the belief that one or the other is dead, there is no doubt that they will end up together.
The book does have its fair share of villains; Sheik Amor ben Khatour who originally kidnapped Meriem, we have Kovodu a native chieftain who captures Meriam when he goes after Korak and Akut as a reprisal for all their raids, and then there is the two Swedes Carl Jenssen and Sven Malbihn, the ivory poachers who had chased off young Korak, they return and try and snatch Meriem for the reward her real father offers. Unfortunately, Meriem’s beauty has one of the Swedes thinking more of rape than he is of a reward. And it’s not just lascivious Swedes that endanger Meriem’s virtue as she meets Hon. Morison Baynes, a British aristocrat who promises to show her the world but really wants to get into her pants.
This story is mostly about Korak and Meriem but it is no surprise that Tarzan and Jane do show up eventually, and it is in this book that we learn that Tarzan aka John Clayton Lord Greystoke, has a massive estate in Africa. He enforces his own laws concerning hunting and the treatment of the natives. Safaris have to ask him permission before big game hunting in Tarzan’s territory, and heaven help them if they poach ivory or treat their native bearers properly. The weakest character unfortunately is Jane; she is relegated to the role of the disapproving housewife who wanted to keep her son far from the world that spawned her husband. In later books, Jane will a become badass jungle warrior in her own right but there is no evidence of that here. In fact, Meriem becomes almost an equal to Korak in jungle craft and tree running skills which should really shame Jane.
Will the fair maid Meriem ever be reunited with her real father? Will she see Korak as anything other than a fearless big brother? Can these two survive when so many people are out to kill, capture or rape them? What have Tarzan and Jane been doing all these years? These questions and more are all answered in The Son of Tarzan making it a fantastic read for fans of the genre, and only the clunky beginning keeps this from being one of Burroughs’s best books.
Son of Tarzan (1915)
Books Rank - 7/10
The Son of Tarzan may be the titular character but it is sweet and loving Meriem, with her ugly and beaten up doll, that makes this book stand out among the pulp adventures of its kind. Korak is just another version of Tarzan but Meriem is a beautiful and fantastic original creation.