Monday, July 20, 2015
Will Murray's new novel Tarzan: Return to Pal-ul-don was an enjoyable read this summer, along with Murray Lannister's Forbidden Planet, and Anthony Horowitz's Moriarty. I've often thought it was overdue for a semi-official return to the lost land of Tarzan's Africa in novel. There were countless forays into Pal-ul-don back in the Dell comics days, and more notably in the Manning strips. But hey, more recently, Pal-ul-don has only fleetingly been mentioned in some of the Dark Horse stories written by Bruce Jones, who BTW, grew up in the good old fifties era. The new and excellent ERB strips include one on Pelludicdar, another on Caspak, even a Niocene strip based on the Eternal Savage, and one based on The Cave Girl. But thus far, Pal-ul-don has bot even been touched. I've long had an idea for a comic of Tarzan visting Pal-ul-don, and another of Korak, with Kubert-style art. A few times, notably last year, I even tried to draw the Korak one. But my art was, truth be told...not very good.
However, this nook should whet readers' appetite for a return to Pla-ul-don that is probably as near to being canon as possible. The plot has Tarzan as an officer in the RAF, who is dispached to an unkown region of Africa to search a missing female officer code-named Ilex. This proves to be the northern region of Pal-ul-don, which Tarzan had not explored on his previous venture in Tarzan the Terrible, and where he encounters new beasts and races. His plane is attacked by pteranodons and crashes in the thorn-desert just outside the Great Barrier swamp. He befriends a chocolate-brown tusker, whom he eventually names Torn-Ear, saving him from a giant crocodile (a phobosuchus or saurosuchus). The noble pachyderm proves a loyal comrade throughout the tale.
The non-canonical stories of the comics are assumed here not to have happened (or at least havn't yet): Tarzan has never before encountered pterosaurs in Pal-ul-don. However, early on, the narrator infers only some of Pal-ul-don's races have tails, and a bit later references a race of tailess "cave men" who have tamed the Gryfs. I was a bit confused by this, until a realized that he seemed to be referring to the Tor-o-dons, which I always assumed did sport tails! Russ Manning, at least, depicts the Tor-o-dons as having tails, both in his newpaper strips and in the adaptation he did for Dell comics. Manning's version makes sense, under the assumption that Pal-ul-don's other "pithocantrophic" races were descended from the Tor-o-dons. Even the bizarre flying men of Manning's strips had tails ( evolved for the same purpose as a peacock), and as I've opined elswhere, these must have branched off from the other races at some point. Truth be told, I can't recall offhand if ERB described the Tor-o-dons as tailed or otherwise. On the other hand, if they did not sport tails then the new races Tarzan encounters in Return to Pal-ul-don, who also lack tails, would most likely be descended from the them.
The first such race Tarzan encounters the narrator calls "turtle men,": a tribe of primitives who dwell on an island in center of great lake (called Jad-Brang-lul, or "the turtle lake", in the language of Pal-ul-don). They live on the flesh of lake creatures, primarily large tutrles, and craft their shells into a type of armor. They also ultilize giant turtle-like creatures as living barges, on which they back and forth from the mainland. The great turtles may be one of beasts that have developed on a unique evolutionary pathway in the isolation of the Land of Man; they seem to resemble the Cretaceus turtle archelon, but sport a great mace-like tail, similar to that of an ankylosaur. The "turtle men" themselves are primitive in appearance, not unlike the Tor-o-dons, but appear to be of a slightly higher type. They prove friendly enough and briefly become Tarzan's allies. As is the case with many races in ERB's canon, the turtle-men are at perpetual war with a truely bizarre race known as "spider people," who serve as the villains for the remainder of the tale.
Chalk-white in color, diminutive, and capable of scuttling up trees and cliffs in the manner of their arachnid namesakes, the spider-men are distinguised by a strange extra digit on each of their hands. The large, and gruesome white spiders that infest the region serve this race as pets and provide the vemom for their dart-like missles. These darts are feathered either in white (which signifies paralysis venom) or scarlet (signifying death). Prisoners taken by the spider-warriors are drugged by the white-feathered darts, then bound in tough spider-silk, held captive in the cavaties of huge baobab and bottle trees. The spider-men have no true city of village, and dwell within a hollow portion of a great cliff, where they worship a dreadful arachnid horror, which is revealed at the tale's climax. Prisoners who are taken there never return--until the arrival of Tarzan that is!
Rather surprisingly, there is no contact in this tale with the Waz-don or Hod-don, the dominant races south of this bizarre region. However, one tailed race from the original, which didn't get enough description previously, and is entirely ignored in the comics, is well represented. This race is the Waz-ho-don, a an outcast "mixed race," as the two dominant races are bitter rivals, who dwell in the city of Bu-lur, or Moon City. Lietenant Obergatz lived briefly among the Waz-ho-don in Tarzan the Terrible, but neither Tarzan, nor Jane nor Korak ever encountered them. I had an idea for a story involving this race at one time, but I never got to it. I pictured them having rather bluish skin, but Murray's description of Mu-bu-tan makes more sense: his skin is white like the Ho-don, and his fur is black like the Waz-don. Tarzan saves Mu-bu-tan from the fangs of a hungry jato, or saber-tooth lion-tiger, and the two become staunch allies on Tarzan's quest. However, it's true that alhough Mu-bu-tan is a major player in the novel, it's true we don't actually see his city, which is bit of a letdown.
In regard to the saber-tooth, at one point Murray suggests, as I specualted in an article about evolution in Pal-ul-don, that jato, a hybrid feline, might in fact be a three way mixture of lion, smilodon, and tiger. There is also a savage battle between the elephant torn-ear and a Gryf. A similar Gryf-elepant battle happened at least once back in the Dell comics I think, both times serving examples of the triumph of the mammalian order.
Illex, the missing officer, is finally found and recued. She proves to hold a connection with Tarzan's canonical past, one that I won't reveal here.
All and all, a satisfying read for those yearing for the return to one of Burroughs famous lost worlds. Will Murray is known for his Doc Savage pastiches, notably Doc Savage: Skull Island, which features, of course, Kong and lots of dinosaurs.
Note: The entire cover art panorama is not included on the current paperback edition, but a hardback edition is due out soon, which I hope will include it.