Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar was first exposed to the public in 1916, as a five-part serial in All-Story Weekly magazine, and of course has been reprinted many times in many forms. Check out the commendably enthusiastic and charmingly amateurish cover illustration to the 1943 Romanian translation, apparently published while the nations of the novel's author and main character were at war with Romania, below.
Belgian army officer Albert Werper has psychological problems. He has a tendency to, when under stress, act impulsively, to break the rules most of us just follow as a matter of course. Rules like, "Don't kill your co-workers for no reason." In the Congo one day, bitter over having been sent to Africa as punishment for an infraction back in his beloved Brussels, jungle life getting on his nerves, he just murders another officer, blasting him in the chest with his revolver without any provocation. Good grief! Werper flees into the jungle, murdering a black soldier on his way out.The Return of Tarzan. When Tarzan marches off to Opar at the head of a party of his loyal retainers, the brave and resourceful Waziri, Werper follows them.
The subterranean treasure store of Opar is accessible by a secret passage that lets out some distance from the ruined city; after seeing Tarzan go in and out of the place Werper creeps in there himself. A cave-in traps the Belgian in there, as well as knocking Tarzan out and separating him from the Waziri. Werper's only means of egress is through the other end of the passage, into the ruined city, where live the degenerate race of hideous male Oparians and their beautiful female leader, La the high priestess. Opar was a colony of Atlantis, and La and her crooked people the descendants of Atlanteans crossbred with the sort of highly intelligent apes who raised Tarzan. They worship the sun, and Werper is seized and about to be sacrificed to old Sol when the ceremony is interrupted by a lion attack. (Lions are always attacking people in these Tarzan books.) The Oparians flee from the great cat, except for La, who faints where she stands over Werper, sacrificial knife, an artifact of Atlantis of great religious significance to the Oparians, in hand. Tarzan arrives just at the moment the lion is about to charge Werper and La; Lord Greystoke is suffering amnesia from a blow to the skull suffered in the cave-in--he doesn't remember where he is or even that he is married! Fortunately, one of the things he does remember is how to kill a lion. (Not fortunate for the lion, I guess.)
Burroughs' narrative switches among the various cast members, chronicling their adventures; there's Werper, Tarzan, La, Jane, and Mugambi, the African to whom Tarzan entrusted authority over the rest of the Waziri who are back at the estate. Mugambi is intelligent and a ferocious fighter, and has spent time with Tarzan in London, so, like his employer, has a foot in both the savage world of the jungle and the sophisticated milieu of London. Achmet Zek's band of Arab and black bandits attacks the Greystoke estate, and though Jane with a rifle and the noble Waziri with archery slay many of the attackers, eventually the Waziri are wiped out and Jane dragged off--the looted Greystoke estate burns behind them. Mugambi, left for dead by the raiders, recovers consciousness and follows them, hoping to rescue Jane and get his revenge.
Werper sneaks away from the amnesiac Tarzan, swiping from a sleeping Lord Greystone a pouch of priceless jewels our hero pocketed while lost in the labyrinth below Opar. The Belgian ne'er-do-well reaches Achmet Zek's village just after Jane has been imprisoned there and just before Mugambi sneaks in. Werper stupidly lets Zek see the pouch of jewels and is forced to flee for fear Zek will murder him for this treasure. The same evening that Werper escapes, Jane, on her own steam, herself escapes--Mugambi busts into Jane's place of confinement in hopes of rescuing her only to find her gone.
La and her army of twisted freaks catch up to Tarzan and she again begs him to love her, and he again refuses. An elephant attack interrupts the ceremony in which Tarzan is about to be sacrificed to the sun god, and Tarzan generously rescues La from the pachyderm--the elephant, normally Tarzan's best friend, is running amok because it is mating season, like he's a Vulcan or something. I guess Burroughs is setting up a parallel between La and the elephant here, reminding us that lust can drive us all batty.
Werper forges an insincere alliance with Zek's lieutenant, Mohammed Beyd, now in charge of the remnants of Zek's band of raiders, but both of the men conceive an irresistible lust for Jane and fight over her--to the death! It is Werper who comes out of this scrape alive, and the decency of Jane Clayton, who hasn't yet realized how crooked the manipulative Werper is, works a change in him and he abandons his project of raping her and helps her escape the Muslim band. These two get separated, and Jane gets captured by the Abyssinians, who think to take her back to their emperor, and Tarzan finally catches up to Werper. Werper helps Tarzan regain his memory, and then a Belgian force, which has been chasing Werper for ages, captures both of them. Apes answer Tarzan's call and rescue the two men, while yet another lion attack disrupts the Abyssinian camp not far off, facilitating Werper's escape from Tarzan and Tarzan's rescue of Jane. Like Jane, the pouch of jewels has passed among divers hands, but Werper ends up with them, only to die of unknown causes off screen; on the last page of the book, months later, after their African estate has been rebuilt, Tarzan and Jane find Werper's skeleton and the pouch of jewels.
The chases and fights in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar are good, and I enjoyed Burroughs' extravagant descriptions of Tarzan's attitudes and proclivities during his bout of amnesia, when he reverts to beast mode, and his amazing abilities (e. g., Burroughs explains in detail how he can follow a trail two days old); I also liked the melodramatic speeches people would sometimes deliver:
"Dog of a Christian," he whispered, "look upon this knife in the hands of Mohammed Beyd! Look well, unbeliever, for it is the last thing in life that you shall see or feel. With it Mohammed Beyd will cut out your black heart, If you have a God pray to him now--in a minute more you shall be dead...."
I guess if you can't embrace the spirit of the thing you might find the endless lion attacks and the convoluted plot in which Jane, a bag of jewels and a pile of gold bars (which I haven't even mentioned) change hands again and again exasperating, but I totally dug it. Thumbs up for Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. I've got my fingers crossed that La, High Priestess of Opar, will appear in future Tarzan books along with a villain as effective as the lamented Werper.