Thursday, May 16, 2013

Playing Keep Away with a Bag of Jewels

I don't listen to many audio books. That's not a criticism of the format. It's just that if I'm listening to a story rather than reading a story, it's likely to be an old-time radio show rather than an audio book.

But it is sometimes nice to be told a story in the most basic sense of the word. And when I am in the mood to have a story read to me, I normally visit Librivox.

It's a site in which volunteers have recorded public domain works, so it's all free. You get classics such as Moby Dick or The Three Musketeers. You also get a very nice selection of pulp fiction that's old enough to have fallen out of copyright.

This includes a number of Edgar Rice Burroughs' early novels. For instance, I just finished listening to Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar and enjoyed it enormously. The guy reading it does a very effective job. And, of course, it's one of my favorite Tarzan novels.

It was the fifth one ERB wrote, first seeing print in All-Story Cavalier Weekly magazine in 1916 (serialized in their November and December issues) and then published in book form in 1918.

It had taken the first two novels for Tarzan and Jane to get together. During this time, he became chief of the Waziri, a tribe of kick-butt warriors.

The third novel (The Beasts of Tarzan) involved an epic quest across Africa in which the Ape Man rescues his wife and baby son from kidnappers. Along the way, Tarzan befriends Mugambi, a big native warrior who is then adopted into the Waziri.

The fourth novel (The Son of Tarzan) involves Tarzan's son getting lost in the jungle himself, learning the same skills his father had and becoming known as Korak the Killer.

Korak was a pretty cool guy, but in the end he wasn't different enough from his dad to really stand out. He has a few important cameos in a couple of the later novels, but he doesn't play a role in most of them.

In fact, poor Korak isn't even mentioned in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. Tarzan and Jane are living happily together on his African estate. Maybe Korak is back in England catching up on his education. But for whatever reason, he's not around when his dad gets amnesia and his mom gets kidnapped.

It's a story that jumps between the various characters so quickly and crams so much cool stuff into the plot that its hard to do it justice in a brief summary. There's Tarzan and Jane; there's a murderer and deserter from the Belgian Army named Arnold Werper; there's Mugambi; there's Arab slave-raider Achmet Zek and his band of thugs; there's a band of Abyssinian soldiers who are hunting Zek's band; there's a group of Waziri warriors; there's a couple of apes named Chulk and Taglet; there's La, the priestess from the lost city of Opar; and there's a brief appearance by a Belgian army officer and his squad of soldiers. The story shifts its point-of-view to each of these characters at different times as they all move through the jungle for various purposes and cross-purposes, meeting each other in unlikely coincidences. But they are coincidences so perfectly-timed to move the story along and enhance the tension that it doesn't bother me at all.  In terms of entertaining us, it all works out just fine.

There's action scenes aplenty, including several pitched battles between large groups; shoot-outs between individuals;  an attack by a pride of enraged lions against a band of soldiers; the threat of human sacrifice; an angry charging elephant; and an earthquake. A lot of the action centers around attempts by various groups to obtain a load of gold taken from the treasure rooms of Opar. There's also a bag of priceless jewels from the same treasure room--an item that provides the primary motivation for several characters and changes hands at least four times during the course of the novel.

Jane spends much of the novel a prisoner of one villain or another, but she still gets several chances to be awesome. When Achmet Zek's men attack her estate, she's right in there fighting with the Waziri, potting bad guys with her rifle. Later on, when she ends up alone in the jungle with her hands and feet bound and a hungry lion nearby, she calmly assesses her situation and plans out the best possible method of escaping alive.

Tarzan spends the bulk of the novel with amnesia, reverting to pure jungle-man mode, but this in no way prevents him from also being awesome. Heck, when he kills a charging lion by shoving a broken rifle through its skull, then he's hit a new level of awesome even by Lord of the Jungle standards.

It's an action-packed, cleverly plotted adventure novel that features Tarzan at his best. If you're looking for something good to listen to, you can download it for free HERE.  Or you can dig up the book and read it. Either way, it's worth your time.


  1. This is the first Tarzan novel I ever read. Recently reread it. One of his best.

    1. I always thought the events of JEWELS occurred while Tarzan and Jane were in Africa searching for their missing son Jack.

    2. I like that idea. It fits into the Tarzan chronology quite nicely.


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