The Tarzan Twins

Reviewer: Jake Beal

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs

Published: 1927, republished 2005

Reviewed: 2005-12-19

Publisher: Wildside Press, LLC

I'm not really sure why this book ended up on the new book shelf with
a little "review" tag on it. I mean, usually that happens when a
publisher is trying to hype up a book and sends us a free copy with
the hope that we'll somehow help the buzz. But this book is eighty
years old, by a famous dead author that everybody already knows, and
it's been out of print for most of that time because frankly, it's not
very good.

Oh, it's a reasonable yarn and it's a fast read that's clearly a piece
of young adult fiction---it took me only thirty minutes to read its
90 loosely-printed pages---and part of what's wrong with it is just
that it's dated. Probably the publisher's on a nostalgia kick, and
might even get some good sales from people who long for a time when it
was normal to have a sympathetic character keep spouting things like
"Say, Big Boy! Do you savvy English? ... Nothing doing along that
line, Uncle Tom. Hey, Parley voo zong glaze?" or for the author to
write "when anything becomes too filthy for a native African, its
condition must be beyond words."

At that, there's surprisingly little racism for a book which is
basically about two unfortunate little white English/American
schoolkids being captured by evil Negro cannibals in darkest Africa
(yes, they are both English and American at the same time: that's like
20 Kipling Points right there). There's some completely unbelievable
ignorance---one boy convinces the cannibals he's a powerful magician
by making his pocket-knife disappear---but it's pretty stock adventure
novel stuff and you can tell the good blacks from the evil blacks by
whether their teeth have been filed into points. If somebody wrote it
today, I'd be offended, but for the 20s it's just fine.

No, the thing that really gets me about this book is how shoddy it
feels. The first 20 pages of the book are spent maguffining the boys
into place for their little cannibal adventure. The boys unexpectedly
receive a letter inviting them to visit their distant relative Tarzan,
and because their parents happen to be unable to come and their train
happens to get derailed, they wander off deep into the jungle
following the cheerful little monkeys until they are scared by a lion
and consequently get lost and stumble into the cannibal village. It's
exactly that simple and contrived, and only takes so long because the
boys keep bantering at each other.

The boys constantly banter back and forth in the most unbelievable way
since Dick and Jane---"Gee! You killed him, Dick! You killed a lion!"
"Golly! I'd like to take it along, just the head, even." "Cut off its
tail. That's about all of it you'll feel like carrying after an hour
or so."---I can taste the spite in the forced grins on their faces.
Don't tell me this is because it's "young adult" fiction---it just
doesn't have to be as patronizing as this book is. I don't think
Burroughs' other books are this bad either, it's just like he phoned
this one in.

Ultimately, the book is so short that it doesn't really matter much if
you like it or not. If it happens to cross your path and you feel
like a few minutes of Boy's Life adventure, feel free to pick it up
and put it down if the hurting gets to be too much. Chances are,
it'll be over before you decide whether you want to read it all the
way through.

Don't bother buying it unless you're a serious Burroughs fan and this
is the last thing you need to complete your collection. In fact,
maybe that's who the publisher's target market is and explains why the
they're asking $29.95 for a 90 page book. Jerks.