Lord Tyger

by Philip José Farmer
Reviewed date: 2005 Jun 27
Rating: 2
287 pages
cover art

Lord Tyger is an adult's Tarzan novel. (It is not suitable for children.) An eccentric billionaire tries to bring to life Edgar Rice Burroughs's most famous character: Tarzan. The billionaire stocks a remote portion of Africa with all the animals of the Tarzan books. He kidnaps a young boy--Ras Tyger--and has him raised in the jungle by 'apes,' just as Tarzan was raised. The hope: that the perfect recreation of Tarzan's environment will turn Ras Tyger into a real Tarzan.

But unlike the fictional Tarzan, Ras Tyger is no noble savage. He is an immoral pervert who lives for pleasure and the thrill of destruction. He has sex with every living thing he encounters. In his time off from having sex he kills things. When he finally meets the madman who set up the elaborate Tarzan experiment, Ras Tyger naturally kills him too.

The idea of a billionaire trying to turn the story of Tarzan into reality has some charm, and it could certainly work as a short story. But as a novel Lord Tyger fails, both as storytelling and as literature.

Judged as mere storytelling, the novel gets bogged down in endless description of Ras's perversions; the plot meanders along, and the showdown between Ras and his patron isn't much of a resolution--it's just like any other murder Ras commits. Ras tends to kill out of spite or anger, not out of any sense of rational justice or vengeance. It's just not fun to read about a rotten teenager who acts out his angst by killing everyone he meets.

Judged as literature Lord Tyger also fails. The key element in a work of literature is growth, or change. Ras Tyger never changes. He is as immoral and perverted at the novel's end as he is in the beginning. Futhermore, the novel advances a poor moral standard. Ras's violent murders are excused because of the sins of the madman who tries to shape him into becoming a real-life Tarzan. Ras is taken to the civilized world where he is shielded from the authorities rather than made to pay for his crime of genocide (he wiped out an entire African tribe.) The concept that Ras is personally responsible for his murderous actions apparently never enters the author's mind. Nope, shift the blame to someone else. Ras was 'forced' to commit horrible crimes because a madman caused him to be raised in the jungle. (Never mind that the villagers Ras murdered were also raised in the jungle, yet they didn't turn to wanton destruction at the drop of a hat.)

Plus, Lord Tyger has the most disturbing and preposterous rape scene ever. I don't think it's even possible to rape someone with the still-beating heart of a freshly-killed crocodile.

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