The Son of Tarzan

The Son of Tarzan is probably one of the most awesome books I’ve read.  Tarzan of the Apes is great and all, but The Son of Tarzan completely blew it out of the water, and was superior in nearly every way.

Like Tarzan, it’s protagonist, Jack Clayton, aka Korak, the Killer, is unapologetically badass.

The Son of Tarzan has even bigger thrills, more actiony twists and turns, over half a dozen colorful and vivid villains, a better love triangle, and an infinitely better love interest.

Let’s face it, as great as Tarzan of the  Apes was, things kinda take a slump when the Porters, Philander and Clayton show up, and Jane doesn’t really have a lot going for her as a love interest other than “first white woman Tarzan rescues”. While she does have a few moments of delicious snark, the fact that Tarzan loses her in the first book to a rather disagreeable ponce like Cecil Clayton does little to endear us to her.  Meriem is everything Jane Porter is not.

Really, The Son of Tarzan could’ve just as easily been called The Daughter-in-Law of Tarzan.  Though the narratives’ focus on Meriem doesn’t ratchet up into high gear until the middle of the novel, Burroughs has given us something that the first book lacked – a co-protagonist who is genuinely worthy of the affections of the badass male lead and who is awesome in her own right. Meriem, a French girl who was kidnapped by a Sheik to avenge the death of his nephew, is rescued from her abusive “father” by Korak; rather than be a load who’s always in need of rescuing, Jungle-life turns her into a badass. During a fight in which an evil ape-king tries to kidnap her, it’s Meriem who delivers the killing blow as Korak and the ape wrestle. When the evil Swede tries to rape her, she manages to grab his pistol off him and, when she finds out it’s not loaded, pistolwhips him senseless with it so she can make a break for it.

During the time she spends with Big Bwana (who is later revealed to be Tarzan) following circumstances that led both her and Korak to believe one another dead, Meriem transforms into an awesome hybrid of beautiful, sophisticated young woman of culture and jungle-princess who talks with monkeys, hunt and swing through the trees.  Part of the twist ending is that her father, though he refused to use the title as a staunch republican, was a prince, so Meriem is LITERALLY a jungle-princess.

Also, Morison Baynes is far superior to Cecil Clayton as the romantic false lead. Clayton’s kind of a flat boring ‘nice guy’ who’s jealous that the girl he likes keeps getting rescued by a mighty Adonis.  Baynes, on the other hand, is a real heel, though a) he hides it from Meriem early on and b)it means he gets to have a great heel-face-turn. Baynes wants Meriem cuz she’s hot, and he plans on running away with her, but his big secret is he doesn’t plan on marrying her because he thinks she’s just an Arab. When his plan to get her out from under Bwana/Tarzan’s roof goes awry, and he realizes that whatever the Swede has in store for Meriem is not much better than what he was doing, he’s faced with a choice – cry about it or fight his way through countless miles of jungle to become awesome and rescue her.

His face and hands were scratched and smeared with dried blood from the wounds he had come by in thorn and thicket. His clothes were tatters. But through the blood and the dirt and the rags a new Baynes shone forth-a handsomer Baynes than the dandy and the fop of yore.

In the heart and soul of every son of woman lies the germ of manhood and honor. Remorse for a scurvy act, and an honorable desire to right the wrong he had done to the woman he now knew he really loved had excited these germs to rapid growht in Morison Baynes-and the metamorphosis had taken place.

So, by the end, we have Baynes and Korak trying to rescue Meriem, Korak rescuing Baynes, Meriem and Baynes trying to rescue Korak, and Tarzan coming in with his army of loyal natives to rescue everybody. Of course, Meriem still has to make her choice between the man she loved and had thought was dead and the man she considered running away with, who had changed who he was, confessing his crimes against her.

Rather than the ending with the poor vexed Jane Porter letting her doubts and fears lead her to promising her hand to that weenie Clayton, this is what we get: Tarzan sends Meriem off with the injured Baynes – he’s going off into the jungle to look for Korak, who’d taken on an entire village of blacks and Arabs to buy Meriem and Baynes time to escape, been subdued and tied to stake to be burned alive, rescued by Tantor the elephant and taken into the jungle but still unable to break his bonds, slowly dying of thirst. Tarzan shows up to find Meriem, having tried to cut Korak’s bonds, facing off with a confused and angry Tantor!  Tarzan asks her what the hell she was doing there.

“You told me,” she said, in a very small voice, “that my place was beside the man I loved,”

Jack is re-united with his mother and father, everyone goes back to England, Jack and Meriem get married, Jane’s thrilled that she has a real daughter, Meriem is re-united with her father, whom Tarzan meets through their mutual friend D’Arcot (his French buddy in the first book), Meriem turns out to be a princess, the huge reward for the safe return of Meriem is ostensibly their wedding gift, and everyone lives happily ever after until the next Tarzan book comes out a few months later!

I don’t know how many more Tarzan books I plan on reading; of course I’ll finish this omnibus, I’ve already got book 3, and I REALLY need to read the second book where Tarzan and Jane get things sorted out, but a part of me wants to read more adventures of Korak and Meriem than the old man himself. Unfortunately for me, Korak only shows up (as an adult, anyway) in three other Tarzan books (8-10) before being put on a bus with the rest of the extended cast.

16 responses to “The Son of Tarzan

  1. I’ve not read the Tarzan books myself, but have read the first 6 of the Barsoom books, and I am wondering if it was just ERBs growth as a writer that his later female characters get more awesome. In terms of agency and daring exploits, there’s sort of a range of Dejah Thoris < Thuvia of Ptarth < Tara of Helium. At least in the first few books, Dejah is mostly just there to be rescued, whereas Thuvia can command banths to protect her and others, and Tara tends to stab people that accost her.

    • Part of it could be that Burroughs started to feel that his awesome heroes needed to have awesome dames.

      The key dynamic I’ve seen in a lot of great romantic pulp adventures is to have a no-nonsense tough as nails dame who can normally handle things on her own in a situation so dire that only a dude who is even more awesome and capable can step in and help so that together they can overcome whatever the situation is.

      In a way, it’s kinda like the entire gender suffered from the Worf effect.

      One of the themes that Liana K’s piece in issue 4 touches on is the evolution of female power in Burroughs’ Barsoom stories.

  2. I’m just skimming this for now and will come back to it once I’ve delved into Tarzan (as I did for some of your and Jeffro’s writeups on Vance and the like), but it’s interesting to see how the tides ebb and flow. It seems like within our niche blogosphere, Tarzan is waxing at the moment (whereas I felt like there were a lot of John Carter posts a few months ago). Maybe it’s just me, though.

    Kinda funny, I had next to no interest in Tarzan even after loving the Mars books…until these kinds of posts started popping up and straightening out some of my misconceptions about the series.

    • I had my doubts, but the two I’ve read have been pretty rad. Also, I’m pretty sure all of Burroughs’ works are set in a shared universe; Tarzan visits Pellucidar, so that retroactively makes the others science fiction, right!?

      It’s hard to say how much is trend and how much is coincidence of what those of us in the ‘old book’ blogging community happen to be reading at the moment.

  3. One thing that Son of Tarzan has over Tarzan is the narrative growth of the main character favors a build up of action.

    Tarzan of the Apes and its sequel The Return of Tarzan is very much about Tarzan’s journey from savage to becoming civilized. There are great action bad ass moments such as Tarzan while in Paris’s red light district becoming a mad Hercules as he dismantles a mob of thugs then right after bludgeoning a gaggle of French police all in the same small Parisian apartment. None the less the narrative push is a decent from savagery to civilization while Son of Tarzan is the more climactic rise from civilization to savagery,

  4. I like the Son of Tarzan, but it is worth your while to eventually read the Return of Tarzan as well. It has great action, and it introduces the Waziri, Opar (Last Daughter colony of Atlantis, and one of the greatest of the Lost Cities of Fantasy) and the enigmatic La of Opar. La, Queen of Opar is one of the most popular characters Burrough ever created, and many of his fans wanted her and Tarzan to be a couple.

    Burroughs actually tried to kill Jane off in book 7, but discovered that his wife, Mrs. Burroughs, identified quite heavily with Jane, which led to an uxorial…conversation that caused Tarzan to find his mate alive and well in book 8, despite everything that jungle cats, dinosaurs and those dirty rat servants of the Kaiser could throw at her.

    Which made perfect sense to me when I first read that book. I mean, Jane has been running around with the King of the Jungle for twenty years by this time, and as Cirsova says, The Jungle makes you awesome, or you die.

  5. Thanks!

    My one nephew has read the 1st 3 Martian novels, but this looks like just the ticket to push him over the cliff into full blown ERBdom.

    Thanks again.

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