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WesternSFA
The Dark Heart of Time
by Philip Jose Farmer
Copyright 1999, 278 pages paperback
Philip Jose Farmer had a lifelong love affair with Edgar Rice Burroughs’ characters, particularly Tarzan.  He was to write several books either directly referring to Tarzan or to a character that bore a striking resemblance to Tarzan. 

In this book, the only one I know of that was written with the express permission of Burrough’s estate, the lead character is Tarzan himself, as conceived by ERB.  In the dedication, Farmer indicates this book culminated a 70-year ambition to write a true Tarzan story.

Tarzan has recently learned that his beloved wife, Jane, is alive.  He had believed for several years that she had died in a fire at his African estate, the victim of a German army attack.  But now he knows she lives while being captured by a German soldier and her wedding ring left on the burned corpse of a native girl. But on his way to find her, he is severely challenged and delayed.  He finds himself being hunted by a white man who means to capture him alive, at any cost.  The entire story is of the hunt for Tarzan and the obstacles that all encounter.  Tarzan meets and befriends a sasquatch-type creature and a lost Gomangani searching for his love, and finds a mysterious corner of Africa where all manner of strange creatures and men live.  And a series of massive earthquakes disrupts everything.

At the beginning, we learn that Tarzan had found an ancient corpse and a mysterious map leading to a city of gold.  We also learned that a very rich and corrupt old man was willing to spare no expense to capture Tarzan for some unknown reason.  And we also know that the leader of the expeditionary force sent to capture Tarzan had a secret way to track him.  But none of these plot threads came together well.

I had lots of problems with this story.  Despite my lifelong love and respect for Mr. Farmer, this was not his best work, by far.  He worked very hard to present a story of the same Tarzan as conceived by Edgar Rice Burroughs.  He even used the same storytelling techniques.  I grew up with ERB’s stories and venerated him, but those stories have to be taken in context with the times, and I don’t think anyone would characterize them as classics.  They were marvelous then and should be respected for that.  But they wouldn’t work now and I doubt many young people today discover and love them as we did.

ERB had a very spare style using much declarative tones and extrapolations.  So, while I was expecting a more sophisticated story from Farmer, what I got was ERB channeled.

Many plotlines were left unresolved leaving me to suspect Farmer hoped to get a second story published.  Tarzan didn’t find Jane, the entire mysterious corner of Africa with the city of gold and possible alien artifacts was completely destroyed with no explanations.  We don’t know what happened to the creature or his kidnapped family.  And it had a lame ending.  I found myself skimming pages just to get it finished.  Not a sterling recommendation.  Sorry.   ~~ Catherine Book

And now:  test your knowledge of Farmer’s Tarzan stories in our new Trivia Contest.  Click here.

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