Tarzan and an Unexpected Jane

I’ve read over 40 books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, so it’s really saying something when I say that he managed to surprise me in Tarzan’s Quest, my most recent foray into his world.

Tarzan’s Quest is the 19th book in the Tarzan series, and as you might guess, by that point (a lot earlier, actually) they were all starting to look alike.  Burroughs’ usual plotline is “girl gets kidnapped or is otherwise in distress, hero rushes to her rescue.”  The Tarzan books often like to also throw in an element of “questing through the wilderness, usually to find a lost civilization.”  To some extent, this is another book of the usual pattern.

It opens with Jane in London.  She and Tarzan are married, but currently apart–he’s off in Africa, and she’s about to fly to meet him.  She ends up traveling with friends, a delightfully flighty society woman and her nasty husband.  They’re caught in a storm and forced to make an emergency landing in the African jungle.  Meanwhile, Tarzan is out swinging through the trees with his pet monkey, Nkima, looking for a mysterious tribe who has reportedly been kidnapping girls–and who may have the secret to eternal life.

Tarzan’s story is pretty much the usual Burroughs fare.  It’s Jane’s story that surprised me–and Jane herself.  This was #19, and as far as I know Jane had dropped out of sight since #8 or thereabouts.  We only knew she was still alive because Tarzan heroically resisted the advances of all the beautiful princesses from lost civilizations who fell in love with him.  Suddenly Jane’s back, and as a very different character.  This Jane is actually capable.

Burroughs sets Jane up as a contrast to her flighty society friend, Kitty, who screams and moans and can’t handle anything at all in the jungle (and to be fair to her, it’s probably a more realistic reaction to the situation!)  Jane takes charge of her lost band, goes clambering about in trees, makes a bow and arrow out of the materials at hand, tracks prey by scent, and shoots down a leopard.  It’s all kind of amazing.

Admittedly, in some ways it’s bad storytelling because this is never how Jane was before.  She’s been lost in the jungle in previous stories and survived, but she seemed to be subsisting rather than excelling.  She’s been married to Tarzan for 18 books, but in all the previous books she’s been very much the fine Lady Greystoke, whose husband happens to have this odd thing for the jungle.  I probably should object to her sudden metamorphosis into the jungle girl–except that it’s so fun!  The Jane in this book is actually an appropriate match for Tarzan, able to embrace the jungle-side of his personality, not just the Lord Greystoke part.  Plus, it’s so hard to find a capable heroine in Burroughs that I will applaud whatever I can get.

Jane’s story also involves a quite brutal murder which is not something I expect in Burroughs.  Blood, yes, always, but the victim and the circumstances here are very different than the usual Burroughs swordplay.

The serum for prolonging life is also an interesting element here.  It’s treated fairly lightly by the characters, but seems to be Burroughs’ rather belated solution to Tarzan and Jane never aging.  They have a grown son by book 4, but then go on seeming no older than 30 for the next twenty books.  Perhaps we shouldn’t assume the books take place chronologically in the same order they were written.  Very few give any indications re: time period, and placing this one early on would certainly explain that age issue.

On the whole, it was a fun Burroughs adventure, and Jane’s character made it stand out from some of the others.  If you’re curious about it, don’t feel obliged to read the previous 18 books first.  The first five are best read in order, and after that it doesn’t much matter–and once you’ve read the first two, I think you could jump to any book from #6 on.

Other reviews:
Not surprisingly, not many out there.  Let me know if you find another!

8 thoughts on “Tarzan and an Unexpected Jane

  1. I have read a few of the John Carter books (love ’em, fun stuff) and one or two of his non-series stuff but have yet to read any of the Tarzan books, which I have no doubt is a real shame. I’m not sure why either of these series escaped my childhood interest but as much fun as I’ve had exploring Burroughs’ stuff as an adult, Tarzan should really be on my list.

    1. The Mars series is my favorite, and I’ve enjoyed a lot of Burroughs non-series books too. But definitely put Tarzan on your list! 🙂 By the upper numbers they get very repetitive, but the first two are among his best, and they’re quite good up until at least number ten or so.

  2. dianem57

    Who knew Burroughs was a secret feminist? Was something going on in his life at this time to cause this sudden about-face in his portrayal of Jane? Sounds like she’s more interesting as a character in this story than in others he wrote.

    1. Oh, I am pretty sure Burroughs was not a secret feminist, despite a couple of stronger female characters. No idea if anything in particular influenced the portrayal of Jane in this one. It was five years after Fighting Man of Mars, with his other strong female character, so not sure if there’s any connection.

  3. Ahhh, synchronicity. Or serendipity. Or both. This weekend, we took a trip to south Louisiana and spent the night in Morgan City, where, unknown to me, the first Tarzan movie was filmed in 1917. I found this fascinating…Tarzan filmed in Morgan City, LA.

    When we got home, my husband was getting his tires changed, and while waiting picked up a magazine with an article about the making of a documentary on the filming of Tarzan of the Apes in Morgan City. From there to a web site, with an interview with the man who is filming the the documentary and who lives, in all places, Bossier City–where we live. And then I find your review of Tarzan’s Quest.

    I posted the trailer of the documentary on my quilting blog, not my book blog. Really interesting! http://bayouquilts.blogspot.com/2012/04/home-again.html

  4. “Burroughs’ usual plotline is “girl gets kidnapped or is otherwise in distress, hero rushes to her rescue.””

    ^^I started reading “A Princess of Mars” and that’s a very accurate description, lol. 🙂

    1. Hooray for reading Princess of Mars! I hope you’re enjoying it. 🙂 Of those over forty Burroughs books I’ve read, only two haven’t been (or at least featured) his usual plotline!

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