Tarzan the Untamed

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Tarzan the Untamed
First edition cover
Dust-jacket illustration of Tarzan the Untamed
Author Edgar Rice Burroughs
Illustrator J. Allen St. John
Country United States
Language English
Series Tarzan series
Genre Novel
Publisher A. C. McClurg
Publication date
1920
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 428 pp
ISBN NA
Preceded by Jungle Tales of Tarzan
Followed by Tarzan the Terrible

Tarzan the Untamed is a book written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the seventh in his series of books about the title character Tarzan. It was originally published as two separate stories serialized in different pulp magazines; "Tarzan the Untamed" (AKA "Tarzan and the Huns") in Redbook from March to August, 1919, and "Tarzan and the Valley of Luna" in All-Story Weekly from March to April 1920. The two stories were combined under the title of the first in the first book edition, published in 1920 by A. C. McClurg. In order of writing, the book follows Jungle Tales of Tarzan, a collection of short stories about the ape-man's youth. Chronologically, it follows Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar.

Plot summary[edit]

The action is set during World War I. While John Clayton, Lord Greystoke (Tarzan) is away from his plantation home in British East Africa, it is destroyed by invading German troops from Tanganyika. On his return he discovers among many burned bodies one that appears to be the corpse of his wife, Jane Porter Clayton. Another fatality is the Waziri warrior Wasimbu, left crucified by the Germans. (Wasimbu's father Muviro, first mentioned in this story, goes on to play a prominent role in later Tarzan novels.)

Maddened, the ape-man seeks revenge not only on the perpetrators of the tragedy but all Germans, and sets out for the battle front of the war in east Africa. On the way he has a run-in with a lion (or Numa, as it is called by the apes among whom Tarzan was raised), which he traps in a gulch by blocking the entrance. At the front he infiltrates the German headquarters and seizes Major Schneider, the officer he believes led the raid on his estate. Returning to the gulch, he throws his captive to the lion. Tarzan goes on to help the British in the battle in various ways, including setting the lion loose in the enemy trenches, and kills von Goss, another German officer involved in the attack on the Greystoke estate.

He then becomes embroiled in the affairs of Bertha Kircher, a woman he has seen in both the German and British camps, and believes to be a German spy, particularly after he learns she possesses his mother's locket, which he had given as a gift to Jane. His efforts to retrieve it lead him to a rendezvous between Kircher and Captain Fritz Schneider, brother of the major Tarzan threw to the lion previously, and the actual commander of the force that burned the estate. Killing Schneider, Tarzan believes his vengeance complete. Abandoning his vendetta against the Germans he departs for the jungle, swearing off all company with mankind.

Seeking a band of Mangani, the apes among whom he had been raised, Tarzan crosses a desert, undergoing great privations. Indeed, the desert is almost his undoing. He only survives by feigning death to lure a vulture (Ska in the ape language) following him into his reach; he then catches and devours the vulture, which gives him the strength to go on. The scene is a powerful one, a highlight both of the novel and of the Tarzan series as a whole.

On the other side of the desert Tarzan locates the ape band. While with them he once again encounters Bertha Kircher, who has just escaped from Sergeant Usanga, leader a troop of native deserters from the German army, by whom she had been taken captive. Despite his suspicion of Bertha, Tarzan's natural chivalry leads him to grant her shelter and protection among the apes. Later he himself falls captive to the tribe of cannibals the deserters have sheltered among, along with Harold Percy Smith-Oldwick, a British aviator who has been forced down in the jungle. Learning of Tarzan's plight, Bertha heroically leads the apes against the natives and frees them both.

Smith-Oldwick becomes infatuated with Bertha, and they search for his downed plane. They find it, but are captured again by Usanga, who attempts to fly off in it with Bertha. Tarzan arrives in time to board the plane as it takes off and throw Usanga from the plane. Smith-Oldwick and Bertha Kircher then try to pilot it back across the desert to civilization, but fail to make it. Seeing the plane go down, Tarzan once more sets out to rescue them. On the way he encounters another Numa, this one an unusual black lion caught in a pit trap, and frees it.

He, the two lovers and the lion are soon reunited, but attacked by warriors from the lost city of Xuja, hidden in a secret desert valley. Tarzan is left for dead and Bertha and Smith-Oldwick taken prisoner. The Xujans are masters of the local lions and worshippers of parrots and monkeys. They are also completely insane as a consequence of long inbreeding. Recovering, Tarzan once more comes to the rescue of his companions, aided by the lion he had saved earlier. But the Xujans pursue them and they turn at bay to make one last stand. The day is saved by a search party from Smith-Oldwick's unit, who turn the tide.

Afterward, Tarzan and Smith-Oldwick find out that Bertha is a double agent who has actually been working for the British. Tarzan also learns from the diary of the deceased Fritz Schneider that Jane might still be alive.

Controversy[edit]

Tarzan the Untamed was one of Burroughs’ most controversial novels. The controversy stemmed from his blanket portrayal of Germans as stereotypical, unredeemable villains, one that was also extended to his contemporary science fiction novel The Land That Time Forgot. This portrayal, while perhaps understandable in wartime, ultimately ruined the market for his writing in Germany, where the character of Tarzan had formerly been quite popular. Burroughs’ later introduction of heroic Germans into his subsequent novels Tarzan and the Lost Empire, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core and Back to the Stone Age did little to repair the damage to his reputation there.

Importance[edit]

Tarzan the Untamed has a sprawling, almost incoherent plot atypical of the author's early Tarzan novels, an artifact of its origin as two separate tales. The initial savage campaign of retribution, once it has run its course, gives way to a complete withdrawal and rejection of humanity, which is succeeded in turn by a fantastic adventure in a lost city. Only the continuing presence of the enigmatic figure of Bertha Kircher serves to unite the disparate story elements.

Tarzan himself, unusually, is recast from his typical role as a noble and high-minded hero into that of a very human being so unhinged by grief as to blame a whole nation for the crimes of a few of its people, and to commit atrocities in consequence. His simple, direct and savage campaign against the enemy comes across as crude in comparison with Bertha's espionage, with which it ironically interferes. Tarzan's recovery of something approaching his normal status is attained only gradually. The parallel encounters with the two lions highlight his dual role; in the first, the lion is treated with cruelty, as an enemy and a tool against other enemies; in the second compassion prevails, and the lion is befriended and becomes a willing ally.

Regardless of its flaws, Tarzan the Untamed is an important work in the Tarzan series. It begins a sequence continuing with Tarzan the Terrible, Tarzan and the Golden Lion and Tarzan and the Ant Men in which Burroughs' vivid imagination and storytelling abilities hit their peak, and which is generally considered a highlight of the series.

The book is also a transitional one for the series. The hero's acts of vengeance against the Germans look back to his malicious baiting of a native tribe in Tarzan of the Apes, the first Tarzan novel, a campaign also motivated by grief, on that occasion for the death of his ape mother Kala at the hands of a villager. The taming of the lions recalls Tarzan’s enlistment of a whole menagerie to his cause in the early The Beasts of Tarzan, while looking ahead to his recruiting of his ultimate lion ally, Jad-bal-ja, in Tarzan and the Golden Lion.

Tarzan the Untamed is a pivotal work in that it heralds two basic shifts in plot-type for the Tarzan series. The first is a shift in focus away from Tarzan himself and towards secondary characters. Previous novels had dealt primarily with the ape-man’s own affairs, while most later ones (beginning with Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle) would cast him as a savior and enabler of others, following the example set in his dealings with Bertha Kircher and Harold Percy Smith-Oldwick.

The second shift is marked by the appearance of the lost civilization of Xuja, which brings to the fore a plot element that would dominate the later Tarzan novels. Prior to Tarzan the Untamed the series centered on Tarzan’s natural environment and activities among the animals and natives of Africa. The only element comparable to Xuja had been the lost city of Opar, which had been used sparingly, appearing only twice over the course of six novels. After Tarzan the Untamed lost cities, races and lands would be encountered in almost every book, usually in pairs at war with each other.

Comic adaptations[edit]

The book has been adapted into comic form on a number of occasions.

References[edit]

  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. p. 68. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Jungle Tales of Tarzan
Tarzan series
Tarzan the Untamed
Succeeded by
Tarzan the Terrible