“The Eternal Lover” by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Do I need to warn of spoilers of a story more than a century old?

A recent FB post got me thinking about the old Burroughs Tarzan books. And, ‘lo and behold, they’re on Project Gutenberg.

I got introduced to Tarzan by an illustrated abridgment of The Return of Tarzan (mainly abridged by cutting off the first part–starting with Tarzan as an agent of France in Algeria). Later, I found a copy of Tarzan and the Ant Men in the school library. Sixth grade, I think.

Those two books were all I had, other than the movies and TV show to go by but they were enough to show me that the movies and TV were a pale shadow of Burroughs’ creation.

Later, much later, I managed to find the novels in unabridged form and started working my way through them in order. I think I got as far as Tarzan and the Lion Man (book 17) before situations changed and I stopped.

Tarzan led to John Carter and to Carson Napier. Much later I read the Pellucidar books (I’d already read “Tarzan at the Earth’s Core”).  My reactions to these various books ranged from mild enjoyment at worst to outright love at the best.  And as I have found, they still prove quite entertaining.

Yes, I am aware that the attitudes in the books are quite “racist” by modern standards.  But I also note that Burroughs appears to have been quite progressive by the standards of his day.  While Burroughs’ Africa is filled with savage black cannibals, it also has the Waziri who are more “civilized” than many of the whites that Tarzan meets.  Then there’s Opar, where it’s the white Atlantean males who have degenerated practically back to apes and whose religious practices seem to have been lifted directly from those of the Aztecs–human sacrifice to the Sun God including cutting out the heart and drinking the blood of the victim.

In my current reading, I found that there was an “associated work” in the Tarzan mythos–The Eternal Lover–in which John “Tarzan” Clayton was a minor character. Not available from Project Gutenberg that I could find, so I found an ecopy at Amazon and bought it (pic at the top of this post). ETA:  Turns out it is available from Project Gutenberg.  My search just didn’t turn it up for some reason.

By textual evidence I would say this story is set between The Return of Tarzan and The Beasts of Tarzan.  It could be set after The Son of Tarzan and Jack “Korak” Clayton simply never shows up in it, but for me it just fits better in that first gap.

The story centered around Victoria Custer of Nebraska and Nu, son of Nu, of the paleolithic.  In order to win his love (Nat Ul) he sets out alone to kill an Oo (Saber Toothed Tiger).  He succeeds but is trapped in the cave lair of the Oo by an earthquake.  And then wakens 100,000 years later when another earthquake re-opens the cave.

Eventually Victoria and Nu encounter each other.  Nu, seeing Victoria believes she is his love Nat Ul. (The implication is that she is the reincarnation of Nat Ul.) As for Victoria, she sees in Nu the very image of the man who she has met in her dreams.

There is a rival for Victoria’s affections, whom she had been putting off because he simply was not the man of her dreams, who develops a hate for Nu.  Events happen the two lovers flee, and another Earthquake.

And, with this third Earthquake Nu wakens back in the neolithic.  He hasn’t killed Oo, for Oo has not returned to his lair.  Nat Ul awakens from her own bizarre dream of having been Victoria Custer and… that is soon forgotten.

What follows is a typical Burroughs story of chases and near misses and misconceptions in which Nat Ul and Nu keep trying to find each other and coming so close but missing.  In the end, they do get together but Nu has not yet kept his vow to kill Oo solo and bring her the head.  So he sets out again.  There is another Earthquake and…

We return to the “present”.  Victoria wakes.  It seems that she had swooned during the second Earthquake (the one that supposedly freed/awakened Nu) and everything she (both in the present as Victoria and in the past as Nat Ul) was all a dream.  Afterward, she insists on riding to the south and there she finds, opened by the Earthquake, a cave.  Within the cave the bones of a caveman with stone spear point and ax-head at his side.

And, frankly, if it were a paper copy I would have thrown it against the wall at the ending. This is the first Burroughs book that I’ve read that I have actively disliked.  “It was all a dream”? Really? Okay, maybe more than a dream, but a psychic connection across time with a hint of reality as evidenced by the bones found within the cave. So, at best a tragic ending which is neither what I expect from Burroughs (The original Tarzan of the Apes is as close as he’d come in anything I’d read before) nor what I was looking for at the time.

Very disappointing.

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