Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review - The Return of Tarzan

I read the first Tarzan novel 6 or 7 years ago and generally enjoyed it. It was a fun and interesting adventure novel with some dated "sexism" and "racism" but with some intriguing insights and contemplation about morality and the nature of what it means to be human. It was filled with wild adventures through the African jungles with exciting surprises and events.

(Minor plot Spoilers in the form of basic synopsis for the next 4 paragraphs)

This second novel, The Return of Tarzan, started out similar but also wildly different than its predecessor. We find that Jane is engaged but not yet married to William Clayton and that she seems to be continually postponing the marriage for 'some' reason. Dismayed at the loss of Jane, Tarzan travels to Europe. On the boat, he stumbles on a dangerous situation and helps both a Count and a Countess but earns the anger of a shady villain. Once in France, Tarzan entrenches himself into the life of a high class citizen. In spite of this new life being opened to him, he bored with wandering the streets, dining at clubs and visiting the theatre. He seeks opportunities to "stretch his legs" in the city and wanders again into troublesome situations where he finds himself torn between the vicious yet simple laws of the jungle and the rigid laws of man and justice.

Eventually, Tarzan's actions and connections earn him the job as an agent to the ministry of war. Essentially he has become a courier and a spy. He travels across the deserts of northern Africa, finding and helping people in various forms of trouble. He still has a very basic sense of right-and-wrong and tries to impose his will with the same impulsive tactics that worked back in the jungle. His strength and speed help him out of many situations but he continues finds himself conflicted between the laws of men and his own moral code. He also encounters villains who, although they are men, fight with sneaky underhanded means that make Tarzan despise them.

Tarzan's adventures in espionage continue to make him more and more disillusioned about the human race and the more he thinks about Jane, the more he decides that there may be nothing worthwhile for him in this new life he's discovered. A coincidental twist of fate gives Tarzan the opportunity to forsake his human world when he finds himself flung overboard and manages to make it to the shore of Africa and find his way into the jungle where he sheds the constraints of humanity and begins life as the ape man once again.

Back in the jungles of Africa, Tarzan has numerous other crazy adventures. Not only does he face off against wild animals but he also comes to the aid of a tribe (the Waziri) of natives being attacked by a group of ivory raiders. Seeking adventure and learning of a city of treasure, Tarzan goes with the Waziri in search of a lost city. Once there, he has other dangerous adventures and chances to use his strength and cunning. Interacting with the Waziri and the inhabitants of the lost city of Opar, he once again questions the nature of humanity. Meanwhile, the author brings in a parallel story of Jane, Clayton and other friends as they take a cruise around Africa only to meet with disaster that shipwrecks them near the jungle. Numerous coincidences occur and Tarzan must choose whether to return to Jane or remain the ape man in the jungle.

(end of minor spoilers)

From a plot standpoint, the novel works a little bit like two novellas strung together. First we have the adventures of Tarzan in France and as an agent for the war ministry in Northern Africa. Then we have the adventures of Tarzan as he returns to the jungles of Africa. The interlude between these two adventures would have served as a sort of cliffhanger had the book truly been split into two but it could make a nice break point for a reader.

However, the two stories work well together and serve as a good exploration of human nature as we see Tarzan struggling to come to grips with the life of civilized man versus the life of the ape man in the jungle. While some of the mindsets are a bit outdated (especially in terms of the role of women and blacks), many of the insights that Tarzan explores are intriguing and relevant today. The main idea that plagues Tarzan is that "civilized" mankind can act with such malice and depravity while uncivilized humans or animals can act with some sense of nobility and propriety. And yet, behind all of these more "noble" concerns about humanity, Tarzan's main reason for wanting to shun the civilized world is because he cannot have the object of his affection, Jane Porter. So in the end, this adventure novel is also a love story and it shows the driving force that love (and other emotions) can be in the actions of man.

Overall I felt like I enjoyed this novel more than the first one but at the same time it's difficult to compare the two because they are quite different in terms of tone and the way the story works out. I really had fun with both of them. I'm still not sure how much farther I'll go through the 24 Tarzan novels, but if they continue with the trend of this second book, it looks like the series will continue with good quality.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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