Tarzan the Untamed (1919-1920)

Tarzan the Untamed (written by E.A. Burroughs,1919)

In 1917, the great war entered Africa. While Tarzan is away from his homestead, a group of German soldiers ransacks his home, killing everyone they find there. When Tarzan returns home, he finds his home burnt down and a burnt corpse of a woman in his bedroom. He recognizes the rings on her fingers: it's lady Jane, his wife.

With a red mist of revenge clouding his mind, Tarzan buries the bodies of Jae and his loyal Waziri warriors and then begins to trail the Germans, whom he wows to kill to the last man, despite not even that would be enough revenge the lost of his mate.

Days, Tarzan travels to the frontlines, trapping a man-eating lion to its den on the way. After causing some havoc in the German trenches, Tarzan finds his way to the British lines and spills them information on the German movements, then he promises to help the Brits break through the lines. After this, Tarzan begins moving around the German-occupied area in search of the rest of the soldiers who ransacked his home. He also stumbles upon a young German spy Bertha Kircher, whom he also intends to either kill or bring to Brits. Stalking her, Tarzan finds another man responsible for his wife's death, kills him, and brings back some important papers to the English.

As Tarzan has learned, not everyone he wants to kill is within his reach, he decides that he has done his part and intends to go to the big apes to sulk in peace, leaving the civilization behind him once again. He does this by reaching a great desert, in which he almost dies of starvation and thirst, but manages to get through to the other side, where he finds, to his surprise, a group of black soldiers who have deserted the German army. They have also captured Bertha Kircher, so her part in this tale isn't over yet either.

The leader of the soldiers, Usanga, makes a deal with a local cannibal tribe for some necessities, like goats and chickens. During the evening festivities, Bertha manages to escape and ends up witnessing far stranger festivities, in which Tarzan participates with the great apes. She, chased by a bit cat, ends up crashing that party and Tarzan is forced to claim her as his own in the eyes of the apes, so they would not shred her to pieces. A bit later, the party is crashed, by a British pilot Harold Percy Smith-Oldwick, who, with Tarzan is captured by the local tribe, and then rescued by Bertha with the help of the apes.

After the escape, Smith-Oldwick and Bertha decide to escape the place with the Brit's airplane. You'd think that's the end nearing, but no, they end up crashlanding into the desert, from which Tarzan again tries to rescue them, but this time around, they are captured by a lost civilization (white, of course), has tamed lions as its guard.

So, the duo is captured, and Tarzan heads out to the rescue. There's an interesting aspect about the lost civilization this time around: they all are insane. The reason why the people are utterly insane is the centuries-long inbreeding in the shut-out valley. Everyone around suffers from mental and physical defects and is extremely volatile for bursts of rage.

After Tarzan manages to get Smith-Oldwick and Bertha out of the city, they end up being attacked by their captures. Just about when they are about to get overrun, a squad of Brits who have been looking for their lost pilot, save the day. Here, we finally learn the truth, that Bertha wasn't a German spy at all, but a British intelligence service working undercover. Also as a predictable turn, Jane is alive, being held as a captive by the Germans, so that's a cliffhanger for the follow-up story, Tarzan the Terrible.

Narratively, Tarzan the Untamed is a lot. Far too much, really, but that's more or less the result of it being a serial publication, where the story is pushed forwards with a cliffhanger story point in order to get the readers to pick up yet another issue. This does, however, make the whole seem a bit of a mess and overstuffed, especially now that Tarzan isn't the only protagonist of the tale. In a way, it could have been better had the 1st and second half of the book been published as separate novels, as they are a bit different in nature as well.

The 1st half of the story where Tarzan wreaks havoc among the German soldiers is some of the best Tarzan narratives Burroughs has written. After finding out that Jane is dead, he goes into absolute beast mode in his ruthless crusade against the huns. in the 2nd half, Tarzan is more of an aimless wanderer, who is pushed to stuff because of plot conveniences rather than by his own design. Also, the latter part is a bit more uncomfortable to read as well, as here the inherently racist ways Burroughs has described the native Africans in the previous novels flare up in earnest. It's not the more superficial conceding racism of the 1st half, but the more vicious pseudoscientific-type of racism, that is aiming to strip humanity from the natives.

The structural depreciation of the tale is overbearing towards the end. The story begins to lose its way the moment Tarzan decides to leave the war behind him, after which everything that happens begins to feel a bit too conveniently structured. Tarzan just keeps stumbling upon things because people he wants to protect keep popping there by the magic of narrative padding. And as it is the nature of serial tales, a certain amount of pages are needed, so Burroughs keeps adding padding to the point where the whole thing is bursting at its seams. What begins as a good base for a war tale, ends up being about Tarzan babysitting two Europeans out of their depth, no matter how brave they might be.

The final part taking place in the lost civilization comes out as almost a footnote. There are some things of intrigue about it and it is reasonably well fleshed out, but it still doesn't really feel that it is adding anything else beyond more bloat to the already bloated story.

When the story finally ends, revealing its most obvious cliffhanger of Jane being alive, it feels like a relief. The overly long and overstuffed tale is finally over and those, who want more can head on to the sequel, where Tarzan hunts for Jane in an even more improbable setting.