‘NU, THE son of Nu, his mighty muscles rolling beneath his smooth bronzed skin, moved silently through the jungle primeval. His handsome head with its shock of black hair, roughly cropped between sharpened stones, was high held, the delicate nostrils questioning each vagrant breeze for word of Oo, hunter of men.’
So begins ‘The Eternal Savage’ or as my older edition terms it ‘The Eternal Lover.’ The latter is the title I prefer. Just look at that for an illustration by one of the giants of the Arts, J. Allen St. John.
Burroughs was a master story teller and as prolific as they come. This one was written in 1925 after the ninth Tarzan novel (Tarzan and the Antmen) and the fifth Martian (The Chessmen of Mars) and is, as always with Burroughs, a flawed masterpiece. It would be easy to harp on about the plot coincidences and inconsistencies – Nu travels forwards (and back) in time and his girlfriend Victoria Custer travels back (and forward) so that they can consummate their eternal relationship. There are earthquakes occurring when you need them and extraordinary luck as heroes stumble on villains just before they ravish the maid. It would be easy but unfair; because Burroughs is not about literature or reason; he is about stories and escapism.
If you have seen A Million Years BC (and perhaps admired Raquel Welsh and a cohort of savage women) you will have seen a film largely stolen from Burroughs’ Eternal Lover. The Pterodactyl scene is a direct lift. The meeting of tribes, the generally wrong facts about the life of our ancestors. It’s more or less The Eternal Savage without the clever bits on reincarnation and time travel.
As a hopeless romantic I would recommend this book highly. It breathes a strange life of its own. The romance between the two lovers is vivid and touching (if you suspend all rational judgment and allow for some non PC moments) The characters are unforgettable and its simply a great tale.