(This is my latest entry to Patti Abbott's Forgotten Book Project. Today, we're reviewing story collections. For the complete list of links, head on over to her website.)
What a difference context makes.
Back in 2008, I read my first Tarzan short story, “The Nightmare.” It’s part of “Jungle Tales of Tarzan,” a collection of twelve short stories that was published as the sixth book in the Tarzan saga. Back then, I had no ideas about the literary Tarzan. Now, having reads Tarzan of the Apes, The Return of Tarzan, and The Beasts of Tarzan, I have a better understanding of where “The Nightmare” fits into the canon.
Billed as a short story collection, Jungle Tales is all but a novel. Yes, it takes twelve snapshots of the life of the youthful ape-man but they all build on each other. The Wikipedia entry for this book lists it as a midquel, taking place between chapters 11 and 12 of the first novel. If I had to pinpoint the type of stories these are, they fill in the blanks on the growth of Tarzan from boy to man, just before he meets the Europeans.
The tales run the gamut of emotions and events in a young boy’s life. Tarzan falls in love with one of the she-apes, Teeka, a friend of his since boyhood. Gradually, through the course of the story, his “otherness” seeps into his mind (he doesn’t have hair like the other apes) and he learns to accept his status. Bukawai the witch-doctor makes a trio of appearances, as does Tantor the elephant, and Taug, the ape closest to Tarzan.
These are fun stories and show how Tarzan’s innate humanness begins to take a hold of him during adolescence. It’s fascinating to see how Tarzan works through problems and resolves issues. As a writer, creating these stories, Burroughs must have had to stop and un-think certain aspects of what it means to be a civilized human as Tarzan often does the opposite of what you or I would do. Burroughs’ cultural biases are on full display here but, as I’ve mentioned before in my other reviews, you just have to deal with them.
Jungle Tales of Tarzan isn’t really the first book to read for anyone wanting to start reading the literary adventures of Lord Greystoke. This novel is much more fulfilling if you’ve already read the first book. But I think this novel is essential for all fans of Tarzan. It’s re-whetted my appetite for his adventures. Well, here comes summer reading time...