And then, of a sudden, there rose within the breast of Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones a spark that generations of overrefinement and emasculating culture had all but extinguished--the instinct of self-preservation by force.thrilling twitter feed already know, my brother, back home in the Greatest State of the Union, is reorganizing his many collections and sent me the Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks I bought in the 1980s and those he has been accumulating since I moved out of NJ and began my peripatetic adult life. (My brother loves to collect things--comic books, punk rock posters, vinyl records, fantasy novels, Japanese war robot models--to hunt them down and meticulously organize them and artfully display them. Every few years he sells or gives away one collection to make room to start a new one. My brother is a fun guy, open to new experiences, excited about life, always meeting new people and embarking on some new job, new hobby, or new project.)
To commemorate this new addition to the MPorcius Library, I decided to read the $1.50 Ace edition of The Cave Girl my brother acquired when or where I know not. This paperback edition of The Cave Girl includes both Burroughs's 1913 serial by that name and the 1917 sequel The Cave Man; both serials appeared in All-Story Weekly. Our paperback bears the same Frank Frazetta image used earlier by Ace on a printing of Savage Pellucidar. It's a good picture, so who can blame them for recycling? One does wonder if Frazetta got an additional payment for this additional usage, however.
The Cave Girl (1913)
Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones of Beantown is the very picture of the effete and ineffectual intellectual. A tall skinny blond, an expert on ancient languages, he has never in his life played any sports or engaged in any physical labor, and the very thought of violence disgusts him. A real momma's boy, he is prim and proper, always concerned about what his own upper-middle-class crowd will think. This guy has never even read any fiction!
Well, our boy Waldo had better acclimatize himself to a life of labor and violence pretty quick! Because when we meet him on page one of our story he isn't in a drawing room discussing Homer and Ovid with a cup of tea in hand, pinky extended! No, Waldo is all alone on the bleak shore of a Pacific island, having fallen overboard during a storm while en route to a more salubrious climate in quest of relied from his wicked cough! (People in old books, fiction and nonfiction, are always travelling someplace as treatment for some ailment.)
If you have read any Edgar Rice Burroughs before, The Cave Girl isn't going to hold many surprises for you. Waldo fights some savages that Burroughs calls "cave men," people so primitive that they don't even have spears or shields. Waldo confronts a menacing great cat, a black panther. Waldo befriends a beautiful woman, Nadara, who has left her own tribe of cave people due to mistreatment and been set upon by a different tribe, one she calls "the bad men." On the last page of the story (The Cave Girl is about 100 pages in this edition) we learn she is not native to the island after all but was shipwrecked as a baby and adopted by cave people--she is in fact a French countess. (Almost the same exact thing happened to the English Lord Greystoke, AKA Tarzan--Burroughs is a dedicated recycler himself.) Many scenes of The Cave Girl consist of fights or chases, and people are always tracking each other--Burroughs makes copious use of the words "woodcraft" and "spoor." Waldo and Nadara fall in love with each other, but due to pigheadedness and unfortunate accidents and misunderstandings they quarrel and separate instead of expressing their true feelings for each other. Waldo learns how to not only survive but thrive in the jungle (his cough goes away and he makes a spear and a shield that give him an advantage over the natives) and more than once he has an opportunity to return to civilization but passes them up to stay on the island. At the end of the tale Waldo kills the brutal leaders of Nadara's tribe just before they rape her and our two leads finally admit they are in love.
(I'm not familiar enough with Ralph Waldo Emerson to know to what extent and in what way Burroughs's choice of name for his protagonist is appropriate, but the wikipedia page on "Boston Brahmin" does suggest that they loved them some transcendentalism.)
I suppose it goes without saying that much of the spirit or ethic of The Cave Girl goes against what we are supposed to consider "forward thinking" in 2019. The liberal arts are practically dismissed as a waste of time, while violence is celebrated. The female characters consist of a manipulative and nagging mother who emasculates her son (a helicopter parent decades before the invention of the helicopter!) and a hot babe who worships a man because she thinks he is a doughty killer who can protect her.
One interesting way to look at The Cave Girl is as a story that portrays women as the true masters of the world; everything done by men in this story is done in pursuit of or response to some woman. It is Waldo's mother who turned him into a useless sissy, and it is Waldo's love for Nadara, and Nadara's own example and tutelage, that transforms him into the he-man she wants him to be.
What one good but mistaken woman had smothered another had brought out, and the result of the influence of both was a much finer specimen of manhood than either might have evolved alone.Perhaps the fact that Nadara is no shrinking violet will redeem this very unwoke story in the eyes of 21st century readers. At the start of the tale Nadara is more brave and competent than Waldo; before she met Waldo she demonstrated her independence by boldly striking out on her own when she was mistreated by her tribe, and once Waldo is on the scene she saves him again and again from drowning and starving and getting ambushed in the jungle. She even tries to help Waldo fight, but one of those unfortunate accidents and misunderstandings I mentioned above is when she throws a rock into a melee and accidentally hits Waldo in the cabeza instead of the guy who was trying to rape her. Oops!
This is a fun story, a tale of action and violence about a man who adapts to circumstances, who changes almost everything about himself in order to overcome challenges and win the love of his life. Much of it is told in a light-hearted, at times comic, manner, and I think the humor here works better than in some other of Burroughs's work. I find Burroughs's style comfortable and engaging, and I am totally into any well-told story about a guy fighting to survive in some bizarre locale, so I enjoyed The Cave Girl.
The Cave Man, presented as Part II of this book with a little note alerting you to its original title, is like 20% longer than The Cave Girl. The chronology of this piece in relation to The Cave Girl I found a little confusing; it feels like it starts the same day The Cave Girl ended, but Burroughs keeps saying that Waldo has been on the island a year, while The Cave Girl had led me to believe he'd only been on the island six or seven months. There are also conflicting clues in the text, some suggesting no time has passed since The Cave Girl ended, others suggesting considerable time has elapsed.
Anyway, Waldo and Nadara are a couple, but Waldo is reluctant to consummate their marriage without some kind of formal ceremony. When he learns that Nadara's tribe, which hasn't invented the spear or bow yet, hasn't invented the wedding either, and then, from her dying father, that Nadara is not a native of this tribe but a shipwrecked baby whom he and his wife adopted, Waldo becomes convinced that they must get to civilization and get married before they can have sex. Nadara thinks that Waldo's reluctance to be his mate is a sign he is not attracted to her after all (more pigheadedness and misunderstandings getting between our lovebirds!)
(The death of Nadara's adoptive father provides an opportunity for Burroughs to complain about the "ostentatious, ridiculous [and] pestilent " funerary services of the 20th century, some 60 years before Harlan Ellison would complain about the modern funeral industry in From the Land of Fear.)
The Cave Man is kind of a disappointing sequel. Instead of pursuing a single strong plot or theme, it feels like a bunch of episodes sort of cobbled together; some of these episodes are good, but some are a waste of time and, most frustratingly, some consist of good ideas that are aborted instead of being allowed to flower into something interesting.
Waldo decides to civilize Nadara's tribe, and starts the process of teaching them how to make weapons and fight in concert like soldiers; he also wants them to stop living as nomads who periodically move from one complex of cliffside caves to another--his vision is for them to settle down and build huts and set up farms. The challenge of reforming these savages' society is not a bad idea for a story, but after laying the foundation for such a plot Burroughs has an earthquake exterminate Nadara's entire tribe. This earthquake strikes the same night that the leader of an enemy tribe, Thurg, kidnaps Nadara; the tremors present Nadara an opportunity to escape Thurg's lascivious clutches and also wipe out Thurg's tribe.
A third of the way through the story Burroughs abandons the island and takes us to Boston, beginning a long section starring Waldo's parents and their associates, who sail in a yacht to Nadara's island to look for their son. Waldo's folks are not at all interesting enough to carry the story on their own, and the scenes in which that caricature of bourgeois decorum, Mrs. Smith-Jones, denounces Nadara for her skimpy attire (the crew of the yacht having rescued the cave girl from Thurg's latest attempt to have his way with her) are lame. Convinced Waldo died in the earthquake, Nadara and the Massholes sail away, and a horny seaman tries to succeed where horny cave man Thurg failed, snatching Nadara and fleeing to a different island. This guy jumped ship with Nadara on the spur of the moment without first arming himself, so when he is attacked by headhunters (these savages are advanced enough to employ spears and parangs and live in houses built on piles; they even have a huge wooden temple) he is at their mercy and suffers a gruesome fate!
Waldo's cruise ends in yet another deus ex machina coincidence when he, during a storm at night, blunders into the island of the headhunters. He makes friends with some pistol-packing Chinese pirates who are also shipwrecked on the island (it is a rare sea-going vessel in an ERB story that reaches its destination with crew and passengers intact), helping them fight off the headhunters and to repair their ship. Waldo learns from them that the headhunters are now worshiping a white goddess who can only be Nadara, and, in the second best part of the story, Waldo rescues her from the headhunters' temple. All you feminists will be happy to hear that, because Waldo has no experience fighting with parangs and guns, he has his hands full with these headhunters and Nadara has to pitch in, wielding a spear during the fight and saving Waldo's life by stabbing a guy. It is also Nadara, with her superior woodcraft, that gets them out of the headhunter village and back to the coast alive. Burroughs satisfyingly brings the story of Waldo and Nadara--and his parable about education--full circle:
"Follow me," she said, and to the memories of each leaped the recollection of the night she had led him through the forest from the cliffs of the bad men. Once again was Waldo Emerson Smith-Jones, the learned, indebted to the greater wisdom of the unlettered cave girl for his salvation.Waldo and Nadara, after additional oceanic dangers, attempted rapes and killings of rapists, get hooked up again with the Chinese pirates and the Bostonians. Peace is secured between Nadara and Mom, and our heroes are finally married and take up residence in a Beantown mansion.
The last third of The Cave Man--Waldo's ship-building, sea-voyaging, headhunter-fighting and countess-rescuing--is solid entertainment, but I can't deny that ERB had some trouble getting us there efficiently, wasting our time with all those lame Bostonians and truncating a potentially good sequence with that lame earthquake. I would have liked to read more about Waldo civilizing Nadara's tribe of cave men and managing the tribe's contentious relationship with Thurg's tribe--the earthquake that wiped out both tribes was not a good plot twist, ERB!
Taken on its own I can only give The Cave Man a marginally positive rating. But considering the saga of Waldo and Nadara as a whole, as it presented in this 1970s volume (and apparently has always been since the first book publication in 1925) I can be more kind, as The Cave Girl is legitimately good and raises the level of the entire production.
With the entire book behind me I want to point out one noteworthy and salutary component of the tale of Waldo and Nadara, Burroughs's depiction of a love relationship in which the constituents are something like equal partners. Waldo and Nadara complement each other, each learning from the other and contributing skills and abilities to their partnership that fill in gaps in the other's repertoire. I think I can recommend The Cave Girl and The Cave Man as appropriate Valentines Day reading!