adventures in dysthymia

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Tarzan's Home

Where did John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, Tarzan of the Apes, live and have his adventures in Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Africa? Before answering that we must note that Burroughs seemed to have a fairly rudimentary knowledge of the ‘dark continent’ when he started out but improved as he went on. This inevitably leads to inconsistencies.

Jungle — we spend a lot of time in jungle in the early books. Exactly what the word denotes is not clear, but it generally does not seem to be the sort of deep rain forest of which many of us immediately think. The descriptions are more often of a scrubbier sort of forest, a drier climate. This is the type of forest, mingled with patches of grassy savanna which covers much of tropical Africa so that’s not so badly done.

We are given the latitude (more or less) of Tarzan’s birthplace in ‘Tarzan of the Apes,’ and it is on the coast of northern Angola. That works okay; again, the ‘jungle’ there is close enough to what we need. ‘The Return of Tarzan’ is also, in part, set in that area, but Tarzan ranges eastward to discover the lost city of Opar. We can assume it is somewhere in the mountainous areas of southeastern Congo or northern Zambia. Indeed, most of the lost civilizations created by Burroughs would seem to be in those then-remote mountain lands, which stretch northward between east and west Africa as far as Uganda.

He also comes across the tribe of the Waziri who become his followers and live on his African estate in the novels that follow. ‘The Jewels of Opar’ gives us some clues as to the location of Tarzan’s estate when the primary antagonist decides not to go south toward Greystoke’s home nor west into the Belgian Congo, but east into British East Africa, i.e. Kenya. This suggests that his holdings are either in the Rwanda-Burundi area or in Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia — not Kenya as is sometimes posited.

The fact that Greystoke fights alongside Rhodesian troops against the Germans (who occupied Tanganyika before World War One) in ‘Tarzan the Untamed,’ would further suggest that his estate lay more southerly than sometimes assumed. It would seem throughout the novels that Tarzan spent a certain amount of time in the lands along the eastern border of the Belgian Congo, traversing them on his way here or there.

In ‘The Beasts of Tarzan,’ as well as ‘The Son of Tarzan,’ we find ourselves further north along Africa’s western coast, apparently north of the Congo River — no exact locations are mentioned. In ‘Son’ it is reported only as a little south of the equator, perhaps what is now Gabon (true rain forest country) although it could have been below the Congo, back in the Angola of ‘Tarzan of the Apes.’ The action remains there through most of ‘Beasts’ but eventually finds its way to the Greystoke estate in ‘Son.’ That, admittedly, might argue for a more northerly location, as would the plentiful Arabs. But there is no reported crossing of the mountains nor of the more densely populated areas of Uganda and points north, so, again, Kenya does not seem a good candidate.

Beyond those books, clues are less common, as our protagonists do not travel outside of Africa. We have no ports nor coastal positions to help orient ourselves. Greystoke has an estate on a plain, somewhere, below the mountains and he travels about central Africa, ranging as far north as Abyssinia. In some of the novels, he does not visit his home at all.

So I vote for Zambia. That general area would be the region for H. Rider Haggard’s African adventures and lost civilizations, as well, it would seem. Just how close King Solomon’s mines lie to Opar, however, I could not say!

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