Tarzan the Terrible is, simply put, an important book in the series. Not because it’s the best (it’s quite good though), but because it contains in its pages quite a few counter-arguments to those who accuse Burroughs, respectively, of racism, white imperialism and sexism.
BURROUGHS THE RACIST
“Tarzan smiled. Even here was the racial distinction between white man and black man--Ho-don and Waz-don. Not even the fact that they appeared to be equals in the matter of intelligence made any difference--one was white and one was black, and it was easy to see that the white considered himself superior to the other--one could see it in his quiet smile.”
That’s the race question in a nutshell in Burroughs’ books: there are good men in all skin tones, there are bad men in all skin tones.
BURROUGHS THE WHITE IMPERIALIST/COLONIALIST
“Tarzan rose to his full height upon a swaying branch--straight and beautiful as a demigod--unspoiled by the taint of civilization--a perfect specimen of what the human race might have been had the laws of man not interfered with the laws of nature.”
“At a little distance were the blue waters of Jad-in-lul and beyond, the verdure-clad farther shore, and beyond that the mountains. It was a beautiful picture upon which he looked—a picture of peace and harmony and quiet. Nor anywhere a slightest suggestion of the savage men and beasts that claimed this lovely landscape as their own. What a paradise! And some day civilized man would come and--spoil it! Ruthless axes would raze that age-old wood; black, sticky smoke would rise from ugly chimneys against that azure sky; grimy little boats with wheels behind or upon either side would churn the mud from the bottom of Jad-in-lul, turning its blue waters to a dirty brown; hideous piers would project into the lake from squalid buildings of corrugated iron, doubtless, for of such are the pioneer cities of the world.
But would civilized man come? Tarzan hoped not. For countless generations civilization had ramped about the globe; it had dispatched its emissaries to the North Pole and the South; it had circled Pal-ul-don once, perhaps many times, but it had never touched her. God grant that it never would. Perhaps He was saving this little spot to be always just as He had made it, for the scratching of the Ho-don and the Waz-don upon His rocks had not altered the fair face of Nature.”
Burroughs is on the side of Nature, period.
BURROUGHS THE SEXIST
“Alone, unarmed, all but naked, in a country overrun by savage beasts and hostile men, she [Jane Clayton] yet felt for the first time in many months a sensation of elation and relief. She was free! What if the next moment brought death, she knew again, at least a brief instant of absolute freedom. Her blood tingled to the almost forgotten sensation and it was with difficulty that she restrained a glad triumphant cry as she clambered from the quiet waters and stood upon the silent beach.
Before her loomed a forest, darkly, and from its depths came those nameless sounds that are a part of the night life of the jungle—the rustling of leaves in the wind, the rubbing together of contiguous branches, the scurrying of a rodent, all magnified by the darkness to sinister and awe-inspiring proportions; the hoot of an owl, the distant scream of a great cat, the barking of wild dogs, attested the presence of the myriad life she could not see--the savage life, the free life of which she was now a part. And then there came to her, possibly for the first time since the giant ape-man had come into her life, a fuller realization of what the jungle meant to him, for though alone and unprotected from its hideous dangers she yet felt its lure upon her and an exaltation that she had not dared hope to feel again.
Ah, if that mighty mate of hers were but by her side! What utter joy and bliss would be hers! She longed for no more than this. The parade of cities, the comforts and luxuries of civilization held forth no allure half as insistent as the glorious freedom of the jungle.
A lion moaned in the blackness to her right, eliciting delicious thrills that crept along her spine. The hair at the back of her head seemed to stand erect--yet she was unafraid. The muscles bequeathed her by some primordial ancestor reacted instinctively to the presence of an ancient enemy--that was all. The woman moved slowly and deliberately toward the wood. Again the lion moaned; this time nearer. She sought a low-hanging branch and finding it swung easily into the friendly shelter of the tree. The long and perilous journey with Obergatz had trained her muscles and her nerves to such unaccustomed habits. She found a safe resting place such as Tarzan had taught her was best and there she curled herself, thirty feet above the ground, for a night's rest. She was cold and uncomfortable and yet she slept, for her heart was warm with renewed hope and her tired brain had found temporary surcease from worry.”
Yes, Jane would need to be saved, before and after this quote, but this chapter shows the strength that not only Jane has, but all Burroughs heroine also share. Being a “damsel in distress” is their role in the story, not their character. It also complements quite nicely the “imperialism” quotes.
Other than that, Tarzan the Terrible is a great book. In book #7, Tarzan the Untamed, Jane is supposedly dead at the hands of German soldiers. The original plan was for Burrougsh to REALLY kill off Jane, apparently after seeing how she was portrayed in the 1917 movie. Did he plan for Tarzan to end up in a romantic relationship with the spy of this novel Bertha Kirsher? Or with the priestess La, that Burroughs invented in Book #2 after Jane? We’ll never know, since a flurry of letters from angry readers led to the discovery that it wasn’t the corpse of Jane that Tarzan discovered in the ruins of his African mansion. In Tarzan the Terrible, the Lord of the Jungle tracks down Jane’s abductors into an unknown part of Africa, the land of Pal-Ul-Don. In this isolated land, you encounter omnivorous triceratops named Gryphs, and the people, while appearing mostly human, have a tail, and feet that resemble their hands. Burroughs creates here another opportunity to mock organized religion. The priests of Pal-Ul-Don, that mistakes Tarzan, but really ANY human being, as their God, are described as weak people. There’s a whole glossary at the end of the novel of the pal-ul-donian language. In spite of this work Burroughs put in this land, he never revisited again, but it was featured in comic book stories.