Adventure Fiction Book Review

Tarzan the Magnificent

by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Series: Tarzan 21
Reviewed date: 2023 Jan 17
Rating: 2
192 pages
cover art
cover art

Tarzan the Magnificent stars the Kaji and the Zuli, two remote African tribes of women who kidnap white men and force them to be their husbands. The tribes are literally trying to become white. This is fantastically racist. People were doing much better even in 1936. Burroughs is not a product of his time, he's behind his time. Each tribe of women is led by an authoritarian madman who rules through mental powers provided by a large gemstone: Mafka rules the Kaji by mind-control through the Gonfal, a diamond the size of a human head. Woora rules the Zuli similarly through an enormous emerald.

Tarzan is of course strangely immune to the mental powers of Mafka and Woora. Or rather, to the mental powers of the Gonfal and the emerald, because whoever is touching the gem can exercise the power of mind control. He deposes Woora and Mafka and frees the captive white men. Two of the men, Troll and Spike, are racist cads and speak disparagingly of the native Africans and call them n------ a lot. The women by this time have been taking white husbands for so many generations that they could pass for white. Another one of the white men, Stanley Wood, is in love with the Gonfala, queen of the Kaji, despite her "Negroid" heritage. I guess this is supposed to be forward-thinking and in opposition to the explicitly racist views of Troll and Spike. I was prepared to give Burroughs some credit for this (but not a huge amount considering how a big deal is made that Stanley is willing to love Gonfala despite her heritage, which is kinda icky in itself.) But then it's revealed that Gonfala is not actually Kaji but rather the daughter of a white man and woman who were kidnapped, and thus is a racially pure white woman after all. *sigh*

Also, the Gonfal and the emerald. These gemstones allow anyone touching them to exercise mind-control powers over even a great distance. When Tarzan touches the emerald he commands the entire contingent of Zuli warriors to turn around and march back to their city against their will. The Gonfal is even more powerful. These are fantastically dangerous objects and Tarzan's first inclination is to throw them into a lake so they will never be used for evil. But later, apparently, he abandons that plan and just gives the Gonfal and the emerald to the Zull women, whose plan is to leave Africa, sell the gems in Europe, and live modern lives on the proceeds. This is 1936 so Burroughs is well aware of the First World War and of the current political tensions in Europe. He knows these stones would be wielded in wars that would destroy the continent. Tarzan too must be aware of this, so why he chooses to put these stones into the hands of those who would deliver them to the despots of Europe is unfathomable.

The plot is interesting but strains credulity. Key events happen because Tarzan inexplicably leaves people on their own in the jungle. It's like this: Tarzan swoops in, saves the day. He sets everything right, then points the main characters toward civilization, and tells them it's only a few days' march, you can handle it from here. Spoiler: they could not handle it. This happens again and again. People get into trouble because Tarzan is always leaving them alone in the jungle when he should know they are incapable, and it would take him only a day or two to lead them to real safety.

In the second half of the book, Burroughs has Tarzan return to Cathne and Athne, the cities of Gold and Ivory from Tarzan and the City of Gold. It's not a very successful re-use of the setting.

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