‘SEE TARZAN AND JANE FINALLY MEET THEIR MATCH!’: THE
ARCHETYPAL SYMBOLS AND EROTIC SUB-TEXTS OF ‘TARZAN AND
HIS MATE’ AND ‘TARZAN AND THE VALLEY OF GOLD’
INSERT PHOTOS: MATE/ VALLEY
Key terms: archetype; animus/anima; superhero; the comic book; erotic love; death; symbolic loss of the erotic object; displacement
The film critic Roger Ebert is responsible for having formulated the first principle of the Film Studies branch of Tarzanology; paraphrased, it is that while most Tarzan films are mediocre, the idea of Tarzan was, and remains, a great one. Yet, the sheer
‗survival power‘ of a fictional character that has clearly withstood a barrage of films
1of un-even quality—‗Tarzan has always had phenomenal box-office appeal‘--would
strongly suggest that the ‗great idea‘ of Tarzan is not reducible to cinematic terms. The multiplicity of the films and the mass replication of Tarzan cinematic imagery and references—the source from which most people know of the character and
employ when imagining him—indicate that the films are actually drawing a
sustaining power, measured through sheer repetition, from something else that originates within a broader and non-cinematic source but that is easily translatable into cinematic imagery.
Films are dreams. The structure of the film is identical to that of the dream, as both operate to create an effect through the endless recombinations of fictitious images that generate tremendous emotional power through their symbolic importance for the viewer/dreamer. Like dreams, films are primarily visual events and, since dreams
2‗serve the purpose of compensation‘, the film constitutes the collective ‗staging‘ or
acting out of some longed-for event, situation or condition. The medium of Film is
1 Walt Morton, ‗Tracking the Sign of Tarzan: Trans-media Representation of a Pop-culture icon‘, in Pat
Kirkham and Janet Thumim (eds), You Tarzan: Masculinity, Movies and Men (London: Lawrence &
Wishart, 1993), 106-25, at 113. 2 Carl G. Jung, ‗Approaching the Unconscious‘, in Carl G. Jung et al (eds) Man and His Symbols
(London: Penguin,/Arkana, 1990), 18-103, at 68.
Dream, but its coinage is Desire. Therefore, every film is in some sense a fantasy.
This convergence between Dream and Fantasy is the basis of why such an imperfect medium has such a powerful collective hold on us; Film is where we are actually able to see our fantasies. It is also why films easily lend themselves to psychoanalytic study. The emotionally most powerful films, like the emotionally most powerful
convey the dreams, are those that most successfully—that is, the most potently—
realization of the most emotionally powerful of fantasies, eros, or the erotic. The
success of film—and, in particular, of the commercial success of the film industry—
cannot be separated from its ability to ‗service‘ fantasy through the visually derived mode of dream-like/symbolical re-presentation. Walt Morton argues, correctly in my opinion, that the basis of the cinematically specific representation of Tarzan is an essentially narcissistic/erotic one.
Pleasure ‗developed through narcissism and the constitution of the ego, comes from narcissistic identification with the image seen… as the spectator identifies with the main white protagonist [his screen surrogate] the power of the male protagonist coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence.‖ In other words, a large part of the male audience enjoys a narcissistic
identification with the power-fantasy suggested by Tarzan‘s strength and command of
Morton goes on, however, to make an extremely revealing observation.
This desire to experience a fantasy of greater power can be seen in children, who regularly adopt ‗roles‘ of superheros, adults, sports figures and royalty in their play. In adults, such fantasy is usually repressed, but film entertainment provides a vehicle for 3re-activating these fantasies.
Of the various examples that Morton provides, only the first one, the ‗superhero‘, interests me. As has been mentioned too many times to count, the superhero
constitutes a re-working of the Jungian concept of the archetype within the domain of popular culture, most notably the comic book and film, both of which possess a very specific and detailed imaginary. According to Jung, the ‗basis of our mind‘, in both its individual and collective dimensions, is an ‗immensely old psyche‘ that is populated by a multitude of ‗archaic remnants‘ known as ‗archetypes, or ‗primordial images‘. These archetypal images are the expressive medium of the ‗instincts‘, ‗physiological urges‘ that
[A]lso manifest themselves in fantasies and often reveal themselves only by symbolic images. These manifestations are what I call the archetypes. They are without known
even origin; and they reproduce themselves in any time or in any part of the world—4where transmission by direct descent or ‗cross-fertilization‘ must be ruled out.
If Film, as the universal purveyor of visual fantasy, acts as the collective ‗projection‘ of the archetypal imaginary, then the formidable emotional power of cinema, in many ways an extremely simple and imperfect medium, is explained. Like dreams, films, even ‗poor‘ ones, ‗work‘; that is, in a self-conscious manner—and, in general, the
better the film the more self-aware is the process— they serve as a collective
externalisation of the instinctual ‗fantasy manifestation function‘ that universally
5operates on both the unconscious and pre-conscious levels.
Individual archetypal representations, symbols, or images are divided into two groups, the masculine animus, and the feminine anima. These animae form a central element of what Jung identified as the ‗process of individuation, the developmental
progression that underlies the ‗arrangement and pattern‘ of our individual and our
4 Jung, ‗Approaching the Unconscious‘, 69. 5 Ibid. 69. It is the collective externalisation of archetypal imaginary that provides the vital nexus between cinema and Jung‘s notorious concept of the collective unconscious. ‗We do not assume that each new-born animal creates its own instincts as an individual acquisition, and we must not suppose that human individuals invent their specific human ways with every birth. Like the instincts, the collective thought patterns of the human mind are innate and inherited. They function, when the occasion arises, in more or less the same way in all of us.‘ Ibid. 75,
collective dream lives. The animae are divided into four hierarchical rankings, each
6rank or class corresponding to one of the developmental stages of the psyche. In
Marie-Louise Franz‘s essay, ‗The Process of Individuation‘, contained in Man and his
Symbols the ‗fictional Jungle hero Tarzan‘ is cited as a primary example of the ‗first‘ stage of the male animus, ‗wholly physical man‘. ‗The animus, just like the [female]
anima, exhibits four stages of development. He first appears as a personification of
7mere physical power—for instance, as an athletic champion or ―muscle man‖.‘ The
text also provides an illustration of Tarzan, a photo-still taken, significantly enough, from the pivotal, and erotically ‗charged‘, Jungle film Tarzan and His Mate (1934;
henceforth referred to as MATE).
INSERT PHOTO: Tarzan/Jane/Arlington in the Elephant’s Graveyard
The author was well advised in selecting Tarzan as the ‗name‘, or symbol, of the first-
stage animus; the archetype as ‗primordial image‘ corresponds exactly to Burroughs‘ extensive discussions of The Ape-Man that frequently employ the symbolically-laden term ‗primeval‘. Yet what von Franz conspicuously fails to draw our attention to is
the fact that in the emblematic image that she employs, Tarzan is depicted standing next to his ‗mate‘ Jane; she possesses a clearly imploring look on her face while
8gazing upon the Ape-Man in an infatuated manner. Von Franz is discussing Tarzan
as an example of the specifically male animus and, therefore, omits the presence of Jane. Yet what her text unintentionally provides is a revealing cinematic juxtaposition between the male animus with the female anima, re-presenting Tarzan and Jane as coeval archetypes. The title of the film is Tarzan and His Mate, signalling an erotic
linkage between the two fictional Jungle characters. Yet, if within Man and His
6 M. L. von Franz, ‗The Process of Individuation‘, in Carl G. Jung, et al (eds) Man and His Symbols
(London: Penguin/Arkana, 1990), 159-229 7 Ibid. 194. 8 The photo-still in question possesses an ‗erotic meaning‘ too obvious to merit comment.
Symbols, Tarzan re-presents the animus (the Latin root for the modern English word ‗animal‘, which underscores the archetypal significance of the alternate name of Tarzan as ‗The Ape-Man‘) then Jane may be just as easily interpreted as constituting an equally symbolic re-presentation of the feminine anima. Happily for my purposes, Jane does in fact constitute the first-stage anima, Eve, who ‗represents purely
instinctual and biological relations‘, and one that perfectly corresponds to the ‗first-
9stage‘ Tarzan. What we are presented with, then, is a strict equivalence between two archetypes, Tarzan/Ape-Man/animus and Jane/Jungle-Girl (Eve)/anima. This provides us with our first clue with which to decipher the erotic sub-text of the suggestively entitled MATE: Tarzan as animus, can only be truly ‗co-joined‘ with an equally ideal
and erotically powerful anima; Jane/Eve is the woman who deserves to be Tarzan‘s
equal/partner/mate, commensurate with both his and her archetypal identities. It is this dual archetypal space that Tarzan and Jane inhabit that provides the connective bridge between their specific media manifestations in film and comic book with that of the culturally broader archetype of the superhero. I argue that both the comic book and the cinematic adaptations of Tarzan are expressly premised upon his translation into the archetypal terms and references of the superhero, in his particular case as one of the primordial/ primeval image of the ‗Jungle‘. As superhero, the literary sobriquet ‗The Ape-Man’ now comes to serve as the formal title of the stereotypical ‗alter-ego‘
demanded by the comic book genre.
10 Within the ‗Tarzan‘ or ‗Jungle film‘ oeuvre, three films are cinematically
outstanding. MATE, Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959; henceforth, ADVENTURE)
and Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966; henceforth, GOLD) are the three Jungle
9 Ibid. 185. 10 Over the long history of Hollywood not every Jungle film—Jungle Jim, Bomba, Simba—were
actually Tarzan films. However, since we are discussing archetypes, I hold that every other form of ‗Jungle film‘ is a second-order derivative from the original Tarzan cinematic archetype.
films that expressly foreground the ‗adult themes‘ of both Sex and Death; not only is
this notable in itself, but all three manage to do so in a highly graphic visual and auditory manner generating a dramatic intensity that can be quite startling to the first-time viewer. I hold that it is precisely these films, and ADVENTURE and GOLD in
particular, that come closest in overcoming that ‗suspension of belief‘ that so be-
devils the superhero; they dramatically lure the viewer into believing that Tarzan will die by the end. These films ‗work‘—that is, they self-consciously operate on a level of
both authentic dramatic seriousness and heightened suspense—precisely because they
are the three Tarzan films that:
(i) Do the best job of utilizing the cinematic-archetypal symbols of the comic-
(ii) Understand that these symbols of the superhero archetype carry with them
an emotional resonance with, and are, therefore, of emotional importance
for, the viewer;
(iii) Understand that these archetypal symbols are realizations of an erotic and
sexual imaginary. Accordingly, these films in a highly self-conscious
manner employ stock cinematic terms which are of comic book origin—
‗adventure‘, ‗challenge‘, ‗threat‘, ‗thrilling‘, ‗dangerous‘, ‗struggle‘, ‗death
struggle‘—all of which establish a subliminal linkage between (symbolic)
death and a highly stylised (‗genre‘) fantasy of sex/violence, which
dramatically culminates in the viewer‘s expectation of the on-screen death
For this essay ‗Tarzan‘ will be the cinematic Tarzan, portrayed by Mike Henry in the film GOLD, while ‗Jane‘ will be Maureen O‘Sullivan in MATE. Although produced
more than thirty years apart, both films will be read ‗together‘, as though they make
up a single cinematic narrative. The only other entry in the film series that will be referred to in any great degree will be ADVENTURE, and I will be making select
references to the first biographical chronicle Tarzan of the Apes, plus a few other
written texts, primarily Fritz Leiber‘s adaptation of the film Tarzan and the Valley of
Gold, which will be extensively used as a supplemental ‗script‘ to GOLD; as with the
films MATE/GOLD, I will be reading the screenplay and the adaptation as a ‗single‘ text. Indeed, the main reason why I take GOLD so ‗seriously‘, subjecting it to
extensive treatment, was precisely because it was Huffaker, and, on the basis of my
11co-joined reading, Leiber, who ‗collaborated‘ in writing it.
Much of my analysis, therefore, will be of relevance only for the specifically cinematic and comic book re-presentations of Tarzan and Jane. A large part of it will be wholly inapplicable to other medium-specific re-presentations within popular culture, such as the novels themselves and various derivatives, such as the recent Disney inspired musical. These forms tend to comply with the quite different, and highly complex, literary genre known as the ‗ Edwardian romance‘. One of the most obvious differences of treatment lies precisely within the more complex symbolization of Jane-as-anima within the literary canon as contrasted with the film series. If the novels are taken in their entirety, Jane, at different times and in different ways, clearly constitutes all four of the progressive feminine symbolizations of the anima: the wholly erotic and sensual Eve; Faust‘s Helen who ‗personifies a romantic and aesthetic level that is, however, still characterized by sexual elements‘; The Virgin Mary, ‗a figure who raises love (eros) to the heights of spiritual devotion‘, and
Sapientia/Athena, who symbolizes ‗wisdom transcending even the most holy and the
11 It would be a worthwhile exercise of more technical film criticism to closely compare Huffaker‘s formal screenplay with the shooting script actually used to make GOLD, which in many places bears
the sign of arbitrary omissions and illogical plotting, giving it a very ‗choppy‘ feel in places.
12most pure.‘ The narrative sequence provided by the novels/biographies that allows Jane to undergo multiple incarnations of all four archetypes is the ‗master thread‘ of the mythos, the ‗non-harmful‘ (= non-castrating) civilizing of Tarzan, who
successfully transverses the physical and symbolic spaces between Jungle/Nature and
13 City/Civilization, externalising the progressive transformation of his own animus.Although it is true that at times in the films Jane undergoes a similar progressive sequence, the purely cinematic re-presentations of Jane preponderantly favour her identification with the first-stage Eve. The reason is obvious; as a visual, or ‗externalising‘ medium devoted to (commercially) servicing the pleasure ‗developed through narcissism and the constitution of the ego [that] comes from narcissistic identification with the image seen‘, the express privileging of Tarzan and Jane as first-
stage anima/animus is the most cinematically logical course for the Jungle film to follow.
However, I will be making extensive use of one literary text although a non-canonical one: Fritz Leiber‘s brilliant ‗novelized‘ adaptation of Clair Huffaker‘s original screenplay, aptly titled Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966; henceforth
referred to as Gold). Published to coincide with the release of the film, Leiber, with remarkable panache, re-presents the plot of GOLD as forming a continuity with the
earlier novels/biographies of the literary canon; within his ‗movie tie-in‘ we come
across repeated references to earlier Tarzan adventures, such as Tarzan and the Ant
Men, which serve to re-present the events of GOLD as Tarzan‘s most recent ‗real life‘
adventure. Leiber‘s novel is extremely important for my own analysis. Firstly, Leiber
has definitely noticed and picked up on some of the themes that I have detected—
almost all of which are implicit or ‗unconscious‘ within the film—and given them an
12.Ibid. 185. 13 The four stages of the animus are: wholly physical man; ‗romantic‘ man; the ‗bearer of the word‘; and ‗the wise guide to spiritual truth.‘ Von Franz, ‗The Process of Individuation‘, 194.
interpretation that is very similar to my own. Secondly, and even more importantly, he clearly asserts the existence of Jane; consistent with the film, she is ‗off-stage‘ during
the action in GOLD, currently residing at the Greystoke estate in England. There is absolutely nothing in GOLD, or in any of the other Weintraub films, which expressly
indicate that Jane does not exist, or is dead.(Important for my analysis is that the
strong possible exception here is ADVENTURE. Near the beginning of the film,
Tarzan is alone in his Hollywood-esque tree house; at the end of the film, he is clearly, albeit implicitly, involved in a romantic/erotic relationship with the ‗new‘ heroine Angie.) However, Jane‘s apparent and un-explained disappearance from both the
Tarzan film and novel series has been the source of considerable consternation and
anguished debate among Tarzanologists. (Philip Jose Farmer devotes a considerable portion of his sublime Tarzan Live! to ingeniously ‗resolving‘ this problem.) For what
it is worth, my own opinion has always been that there are two Tarzan life-stories flowing from the end of Tarzan of the Apes, the one where Tarzan is re-united with
Jane, the other where he returns to the Jungle, civilized but alone. I always accepted the first novel—the ‗biography‘—as being factually accurate and telling the story of
what ‗really happened‘. When I watched the Weintraub films and the Ron Ely television series while growing up, my subjective interpretation of Jane‘s absence was that everything that we were seeing was what happened to Tarzan after the end of the first novel when Jane turns down his marriage proposal and decides to remain within civilization. ‗Softening‘ this harsh ending somewhat was my sense (rationalization?) that the conclusion of the novel ‗disguised‘ the real truth: that Tarzan was unable to
survive in Civilization but that for some undisclosed reason Jane would not be able to remain in the Jungle, presumably because she would die. I felt that this accords well with Weintraub‘s own explanation: ‗like Rousseau‘s natural man, [Tarzan] stays in
14the Jungle because he wants to.‘ Therefore as a Tarzanophile myself, I have always
had the very strong sense of the literary significance of Jane in highly symbolic terms, as a beautiful and highly desirable object that has been lost but continues to exert an ‗alluring presence‘. Currently, however, I am reading the film GOLD against the
, which makes my analysis much easier, and, I hope, more convincing. novel Gold
This work is not a study of Gold itself, but it is very much influenced by the ‗spirit‘ of
his text, as well as of that of Farmer‘s Tarzan Live! I shall be addressing the issue of
the ‗disappearance‘ of Jane at fair length in the final part of my essay but in terms very different from the ones ordinarily used.
The final introductory point that I must make is to prevent any possible confusion between two entirely different domains of the ‗erotic‘ and the ‗pornographic‘. While the ultimate basis of Tarzan as cinematic archetype is erotic, it absolutely is not nor can it ever be pornographic; the absolute failure of the one wholly execrable Tarzan film, John Derek‘s Tarzan the Ape-Man (1982) is adequate proof of this. The reasons
why this is so should be obvious after a momentary consideration of the nature of the constitution of Tarzan as an archetypal figure. In Jungian theory, the sexual content of the instincts seeking expression are always re-presented in an encoded manner; it is precisely their ‗hidden‘ or ‘veiled‘ nature that signals them as archetypal. It logically follows that the pornographic, because it is monotonously explicit and factual, is an inherently inadequate form of expression. The exact opposite holds true for the erotic, which operates exclusively within the domain of the suggestive and the imaginary. In this way, the erotic is always appropriate for the archetypal while the pornographic never is. Not only is the erotic the perfect form for the expression of fantasy, we may also argue that precisely because the archetypal is literally instinct-as-‗fantasy‘, then
14 For further discussion, please see below.