The Return of Tarzan

by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Series: Tarzan 2
Reviewed date: 2017 Nov 10
Rating: 3
221 pages
cover art

The Return of Tarzan is the first sequel to Tarzan of the Apes, and the main plot arc is getting Tarzan and Jane together. In the previous book, Jane had agreed to marry William Cecil Clayton, the (presumed) Lord Greystoke. Tarzan, discovering he, not William, was the true Lord Greystoke, rejected his heritage so as not to deny Jane the Greystoke money and position.

Of course Tarzan secretly loves Jane, and secretly, Janes loves Tarzan, but neither of them can say so. So Tarzan boards an ocean liner for France, and Jane resigns herself to a loveless marriage, because true noble character means never progressing past a middle school understanding of romance.

This book would be all of two paragraphs long if anybody had the temerity to speak their feelings. "Actually, Cecil, I can't marry you after all because I'm in love with Tarzan." Or, "Jane, I know you agreed to marry Cecil, but have you thought about maybe marrying me instead? I may not be an English lord, but I am king of a tribe of apes in Africa. But as to that, actually I am an English lord." Or even, "Jane, do you really still want to marry me? Because I know you have feelings for Tarzan."

Anyway, all that aside, we get to see Tarzan have some great adventures.

Voyage to France
On board the liner to France, Tarzan befriends Olga de Coude and her husband, Count Raoul de Coude. The Count and Countess are being harassed by Russian spies, Nikolas Rokoff and Alexis Paulvitch, but Tarzan thwarts their plots and earns their life-long enmity.

Parisian Gentleman
Jean C. Tarzan bums around Paris with his good friend Paul D'Arnot. He gets into trouble when he goes to rescue a woman screaming for help--a trap orchestrated by Rokoff--but fights his way out, wounding several policemen in the process. D'Arnot helps him talk his way out of trouble. Tarzan continues his friendship with the Count and Countess de Coude, but again, Rokoff sets a trap: he manages to contrive for the Count to catch Tarzan and Olga together. It's a mostly innocent misunderstanding, but thinking Tarzan a scoundrel, the Count challenges him to a duel.

First, Tarzan beats a signed confession out of Rokoff, proving Tarzan's innocence and explaining how Rokoff set up the whole affair. Then, Tarzan accepts the duel with the Count. Tarzan refuses to shoot, waits for the Count to shoot him (twice, but it takes more than a couple bullets to kill the ape-man), then reveals the signed confession. Tarzan and the Count become fast friends.

Tarzan is ill suited to life as a Parisian gentleman, so the Count gets him a job as a spy with the Ministry of War. Tarzan's first assignment takes him to Algeria, where he will pose as an American tourist in order to get close to a certain Lieutenant Gernois, who is suspected of treason. In a stunning surprise that surprises no one, Rokoff is involved here as well. He's the Russian secret agent who Gernois is selling secrets to.

Tarzan rescues a young woman of the Ouled-Nail tribe, who turns out to be the daughter of an important chief. He learns Arabic, fights off Rokoff, kills a lion, unmasks the treason of Gernois, and receives orders sending him to Cape Town.

Voyage to Cape Town
Rokoff follows Tarzan to Cape Town. During the voyage, he throws Tarzan overboard. Tarzan survives and finds himself a castaway in Africa, conveniently right where he grew up!

King of the Waziri
Tarzan is done with civilization. It's back to the jungle for him. He falls in with a tribe of Waziri, and ends up as their king. He rescues them from Arab ivory traders. Later, he leads a group of fifty warriors through the jungle in search of Opar, the legendary city of gold, which they find. Tarzan is captured by the primitive ape-like white men of Opar, and nearly sacrificed to their god. He's saved only by the high priestess, La of Opar, who wishes to keep him captive as her mate. Tarzan escapes, steals humongous amounts of gold, which he and the Waziri carry away. Tarzan buries all the gold in a place only he knows. I guess he's willing to ask the Waziri to risk their lives for gold, but that doesn't mean he's willing to share it with them. Not that Tarzan, who intends to live in the jungle forever, has any use for gold either.

King of the Apes
Tarzan abandons the Waziri and falls in with his old tribe of Mangani apes. He becomes their king. He discovers that the Oparians have kidnapped Jane (who coincidentally has been shipwrecked just precisely where Tarzan was shipwrecked!) so he goes and rescues her. Cecil Clayton perishes of disease, leaving Jane free to marry Tarzan, which they do.

Thoughts on racism
I don't think Edgar Rice Burroughs intended to be racist, but it's there nonetheless. Leaving aside the whole idea that a white Englishman is the greatest African who ever lived, there's the continual treatment of black Africans as less than other people. Tarzan himself says that "the black men [are] to my mind are in most ways lower in the scale than the beasts." He treats the Waziri tribe well enough, but even there he distinguishes them from lower tribes: "Tarzan was again impressed by the symmetry of their figures and the regularity of their features—the flat noses and thick lips of the typical West Coast savage were entirely missing. In repose the faces of the men were intelligent and dignified, those of the women ofttimes prepossessing."

What bothers me most is that most of the time, the African tribesmen aren't even given names. They're simply referred to as "the blacks." Not black men. Not African men. Just, blacks. Even the few that have names are still usually "the black." For example: "It so happened that chance sent [the elephant] in the direction of Busuli, whom he was overtaking so rapidly that it was as though the black were standing still instead of racing at full speed to escape the certain death which pursued him."

It's not just black people. The Ouled-Nail girl that Tarzan rescues is never given a name. She's "The Ouled-Nail of Sidi Aissa", the "daughter of the Sheik Kabour ben Saden." Usually she's just referred to as the Ouled-Nail or the girl.

Oh, and the Arabs. Again, usually referred to as "the Arab" instead of giving them a name or even calling them men. And these "swarthy, dark-eyed sons of the desert" are quick to assault a white European: "With cries of 'Kill the unbeliever!' and 'Down with the dog of a Christian!' they made straight for Tarzan. A number of the younger Arabs in the audience sprang to their feet to join in the assault upon the unarmed white man." *sigh* And notice that Tarzan is a "white man" not just "the white."

In summary
Overall, it's not a terrible story, but not great either. I never bought into Rokoff as a compelling villain. He seemed more a blundering fool to me. There are too many coincidences. And I found Tarzan's adventures in Paris to be dull. His time with the Waziri in Africa was better, but there was the racist undercurrent to the affair. And seriously, what's with the gold-hunting expedition to Opar? What do completely isolated hunter-gatherers need with gold? Nothing.

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