Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Friday, December 8, 2017


Tarzan and the Madman by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1964)

The last complete Tarzan novel (the 23rd) to be published by Edger Rice Burroughs came fourteen years after the author's death.  There's a reason for that.

Tarzan and the Madman was actually written in 1941 but was shelved by the author when "Pearl Harbor and the war drew Edgar Rice Burroughs away from his writing due to a more active career as a war correspondent."  The manuscript lingered, forgotten, in the author's files until discovered by Burroughs' son Hubert.  Perhaps it should have stayed there.

It's not that the book isn't an enjoyable read.  It has a lot of the expected Burroughs touches that one looks for in a Tarzan novel -- a lost city, a woman in peril, various characters wandering through the jungle missing each other at every available opportunity, dangers galore, the whole civilization versus nature thing, a sly sense of often self-deprecating humor, and a hero with superhuman abilities.  It's just that the book is a bit...odd.  There's just no there there.

It reads (and probably is) like a first draft, perhaps abandoned until the author could get a clearer grasp on what he wanted to say and how to say it.  With 33 chapters, each averaging less than five pages, there is a lot that is not fleshed out and plot points that seem to be thrown in willy-nilly after the fact.  One does not expect three-dimensional characters from Burroughs; likewise, one does not want to encounter one-dimensional or no-dimensional characters.  One of the villains in the piece is introduced as an opinionated Bolshevik for a couple of paragraphs and for the rest of the book this aspect of the book is completely ignored.  Another villain is described as a "rotter," as if that one word early in the novel is enough to describe his character.  Neither villain, by the way, is very villain-y.

The two main warring factions in the book are poorly described.  Their attempts at war are deliberately laughable and are designed to maintain a status quo, allowing Burroughs to pontificate on the absurdity of war.  He then hints on the necessity of war. 

The word "fascist" appears only once in the book as we are told that all fascists are gullible.

Tarzan himself is unconvincing and, at times, very unTarzan-like.

The heroine is captured and recaptured and captured again by various groups.  I lost count after the seventh times she was captured.

The love triangle in the story comes to a quick end when one of the suitors is killed by a giant ape, quickly, as if the author suddenly tired of the gent.

Scenes that should have taken paragraphs if not pages are skimmed over with a single sentence
The book ends not with a bang, but with a deus-ex-talkedy-talk in which everything is explained in a fast and unconvincing manner.

The plot?  A man claiming to be Tarzan has been kidnapping native women and children.  The real Tarzan discovers this and is determined to track down and kill this imposter who has sullied his name.
The false Tarzan has been taking the kidnapped ones to a lost city in the jungle for human sacrifices, and that's when he doesn't throw them to a captive group of hungry lions.  He is awkwardly referred to a "the man who thought he was Tarzan" through out the book.

The lost city is inhabited by Portuguese descendants of followers of Christoforo de Gama (brother of famed explorer Vasco de Gama), thought to have been destroyed by Moslems 400 years ago.  The Portuguese then bred with natives as their culture declined and their Christian religion degraded to an unrecognizable state.  The city is cut off from the rest of Africa by a tribe of cannibals.  The king, a descendant of de Gama, and the high priest have been using the false Tarzan for their own ends.  Their only neighbors are in a nearby city of Moslems (who had also interbred and degraded), ruled by the cruel Sultan Ali.

King de Gama has sent the false Tarzan to capture a white woman -- any white woman.  The woman he captures is Sandra Pickerall, the daughter of the rich owner of Pickerall's Ale.  (Sandra is the one who spends the rest of the book being captured  by oh so many different people [and apes].)  there is a reward for the return of Sandra and another reward for the killing of Tarzan, who supposedly kidnapped her.  Sandra and the reward bring together many of the cast of characters -- good and bad -- whom we follow throughout the book.

Tarzan and the Madman is an entertaining, if hurried and jerky, read.  It would have been much better if Burroughs has got around  to making it much more coherent.  As it stands it is an ill-deserved capstone to a noted series.


  1. I read the TARZAN series decades ago, but I still have fond memories of the experience. I really like the volume where Tarzan goes to Pellucidar. And, the TARZAN volume written by Fritz Leiber is a classic!

  2. I remember reading it years and years ago. Definitely a lesser entry into the series