Jane’s Indomitable Spirit
Art by J. Allen St. John from "Tarzan's Quest"
SOME PSYCHOLOGISTS SAY that most of a child’s personality will be formed by the time they are six years old. So, Professor Porter must surely get the credit for the early spark of Jane’s indomitable spirit, and she herself must be credited with having the spunk to develop it.
All the training provided, no matter how skilled the teacher, how patient the mentor, is of no use if one does not desire to learn and have the guts to put what is learned into practice.
How does Jane’s fighting spirit manifest itself?
In Tarzan of the Apes, it is Jane who retains a presence of mind in the face of a lion climbing through the window of a cabin occupied by her and Esmeralda. And, when Jane herself is kidnapped by a giant ape, Terkoz, it is both Jane and Esmeralda who scream, but only Esmeralda who faints.
Jane, being carried along under the hairy armpit of this gruesome anthropoid, would have every right to faint, but she doesn’t:
“But Jane Porter did not once lose consciousness. It is true that that awful face, pressing close to hers, and the stench of the foul breath beating upon her nostrils, paralyzed her with terror; but her brain was clear, and she comprehended all that transpired.” (Chapter 19)
There are many men who might feel a little faint in such a situation and no one would blame them. There are times in the Tarzan books when Jane does faint, such as when she is strapped to the altar of the Flaming God, but this is not one of those times.
After Tarzan and Terkoz battle for possession of her, she must face Tarzan who, at this point, is as unknown a factor to her as the ape. When he reacts instinctively and starts kissing her, however, she’s not afraid to fight back:
“She turned upon him like a tigress, striking his great breasts with her tiny hands.”
In Return, we find that Jane’s character is one which prefers a death of starvation to the cannibalism proposed by Rokoff. In Beasts, we find a woman who believes her husband dead and her baby son who-knows-where and yet has enough fighting spirit to battle her way to freedom and single-handedly capture a ship and two sailors.
And through her other adventures already referred to which show examples of her courageous spirit, we finally arrive at the Jane who upstaged Tarzan himself in the 19th ERB Tarzan story, Tarzan’s Quest. Perhaps, by this time, most Tarzan fans had never expected to hear of Jane again. From the first magazine appearance of a Tarzan story in 1912, to the publication of Tarzan and the Ant Men in 1924, Jane had been featured along with Tarzan, sometimes in the forefront and sometimes in the background, in nine of the ten Tarzan books, as well as The Eternal Lover. With the magazine appearance of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, in 1927, Jane dropped from sight with no explanation. And she wasn’t even mentioned as having an existence as Tarzan went solo adventuring through seven more stories.
Then, 12 years after Ant Men, in 1936, ERB came out with Tarzan’s Quest, the one Tarzan story in which perhaps Jane should have shared in the title. In fact, ERB’s working title for the story actually was Tarzan and Jane.
Dejah Thoris, Thuvia of Ptarth, Llana of Gathol, Nadara, Fou-tan — all had books named for them or their titles. But Jane stays ever in the shadow of Tarzan, title-wise (and maybe that’s just the way Jane prefers it).
But, in Tarzan (and Jane’s) Quest, more than half of the book’s 318 pages — 163 by my count — are devoted to the adventures of Jane, while Tarzan himself is featured on just 108 pages.
The rest of the book’s pages feature both Tarzan and Jane on the same page, or are devoted to the adventures of Nkima, the Waziri, or the story’s incidental players.
And what adventures Jane has!
She remains calm and competent in the face of an impending airplane crash over hostile jungle, then proceeds to take command of the survivors to lead them out of the wilderness. Along the way she shows off all kinds of jungle skills, often taking to the trees like Tarzan, fashioning weapons, providing the party with food, eluding and taunting lions, killing a panther, asserting her leadership authority when necessary, showing her tracking skills and displaying her indomitable spirit in the face of a hopeless future as captive of the Kavuru.
But what about the ending of the book one might ask. After all, in spite of all that Jane accomplishes on her own, she still has to be rescued by Tarzan.
Well, what of it?
If we take anything away from Jane simply because she needed rescuing, then we should also take things away from Tarzan of the Apes himself. For there were many times in the course of the Tarzan books when the fate of the ape man was surely sealed had it not been for the intervention of someone or some thing.
Perhaps the most galling of all rescues for Tarzan, if any rescue from certain death may be called “galling,” came in Tarzan the Untamed when the Jungle Lord was rescued from cannibals by a band of apes led — not only by a woman — but by a woman he personally despised because, at the time, he believed her to be a German spy!
So, if Tarzan can be rescued by a woman, an ape, an elephant, or blind chance and still be our hero, then Jane can be rescued by Tarzan and still be our heroine.
Epilogue: The Future
You have gotten to Africa and are out strolling through the deep jungle. Suddenly the little hairs on the nape of your neck stand up as a sixth sense tells you that something is dreadfully wrong. You stop and turn slowly around and your heart nearly stops as you see a huge panther crouched on a limb above you, gathering his hind legs underneath him in preparation for the spring.
But the low growl rumbling from his throat changes to a scream of rage and pain as an arrow from nowhere is suddenly buried in his chest. Then, as the doomed beast bats angrily at the protruding shaft, two more arrows quickly appear in the same part of the cat’s anatomy, and it falls with a sickening thud to the forest floor.
It may not be Tarzan who has rescued you. It may well be Jane, the Lady of the Jungle.
And you’d better have a darned good reason for why you’re trespassing in Clayton Country.
The “Jane” Books of Edgar Rice Burroughs:
(dates are of 1st publication.)
Tarzan of the Apes, 1912. Jane Porter and others are stranded on an African shore by mutineers, where Jane meets and falls in love with Tarzan of the Apes.
The Return of Tarzan, 1913. On another African cruise, Jane is shipwrecked, eventually makes it to shore, only to be kidnapped by savage residents of the lost city of Opar, who plan to sacrifice her to their god. Tarzan intervenes; Jane is saved: they are wed.
The Eternal Lover, 1914. Tarzan and Jane entertain guests on their African estate, but it is the guests who have the adventures.
The Beasts of Tarzan, 1914. Jane is kidnapped and taken into the interior of Africa and must use her own resources to get free and find her way out.
The Son of Tarzan, 1915. After their son mysteriously disappears in England, Jane and Tarzan move back to Africa where they are eventually reunited with their boy, who has become Korak the Killer.
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, 1916. Jane is captured by Arabs, escapes, and is recaptured, and turns a bad man good (for awhile) before she and Tarzan are reunited.
Tarzan the Untamed, 1919. Jane is kidnapped by German soldiers in World War I and Tarzan believes her dead until he finds out differently at the end of the book.
Tarzan the Terrible, 1921. Jane frees herself from Lt. Obergatz and captivity by others, takes command of her life in the jungle, and has a joyful reunion with Tarzan.
Tarzan and the Golden Lion, 1922. Jane commands the Waziri as she goes in search of Tarzan, who she believes has amnesia.
Tarzan and the Ant Men, 1924. Tarzan look-alike Esteban Miranda decides to take the missing ape man’s place. But can he fool Jane?
Tarzan’s Quest, 1935. a plane carrying Jane and friends crashes in the jungle and Lady Greystoke handles well the responsibility of leading the party through many dangers.
(All page numbers are from the early hardback editions, McClurg, Burt and G&D, which used the same printing plates throughout)
Copyright ©1989 John “Bridge” Martin