I think some of the best writing Edgar Rice Burroughs ever did was in the twelve short stories about Tarzan's youth, before the Apeman met any Europeans. These were collected in JUNGLE TALES OF TARZAN, and it would have been satisfying if Burroughs had done another series of stories like these later on (rather than some of the tired and lame books from the second half of the series). Without the need to reach novel length, most of the repetitive padding could be skipped and a short story can get to a point worth making.
From the December 1916 issue of BLUE BOOK, "The God of Tarzan" finds the young Apeman wrestling with existential problems. He seems to be a teenager at this point, fully grown
physically and struggling with difficult concepts.
First, you have to accept that (entirely on his own) Tarzan has taught himself to read. Poring over the books his father left in that little cabin, our hero has figured out that the little black ink "bugs" on the pages represent words and he has laboriously assigned values to each bug and spelled them out in his own system. Moving from the simplistic illustrated childrens' books (which were meant for him, after all) up to the dictionary and encyclopedia, Tarzan has reached the point where he can look up the meaning of unfamiliar words.
Pretty darn impressive. The kid must have an innate IQ that would qualify him as a MENSA-level genius to do all this just out of sheer curiosity and tenacity. (Later on, we find he has as an adult also taught himself Latin so he can read the Classics in the original language; Burroughs' Tarzan is not much like the movie version.)
So the young Apeman is making his astonishing intellectual journey when he stumbles upon a new and confusing word, "God". Frankly, it's a concept wiser minds than mine have spent a lifetime trying to grasp but Tarzan gamely gives it a shot. As far as he can tell, God is "a mighty chieftain, king of all the Mangani" but there seems to be more to it than that. So he starts interrogating his clan of Great Apes and gets little help. They think that weather, lightning and so forth are sent by Goro, the moon. After standing on the highest branch he can reach and yelling questions and threats at the full moon, Tarzan reasonably decides this is a dead end. ( Collapse )