I found Lord Tyger by Philip Jose Farmer a very difficult and extremely frustrating book to review. It is so simply complex and yet so unnecessarily lewd, it irritates the senses. I can’t rate this book what it probably deserves. Let me explain.
Lord Tyger is the savage and sexualized re-telling of the Tarzan legend. I have not read any of the Edgar Rice Burroughs originals but Farmer apparently was a big fan. Ras Tyger is no Johnny Weismueller.
Ras is primitive and lives in a small jungle world with his parents who he believed were apes until they were not. He is raised in the company of animals, including clans of gorillas, monkeys and a lion. He mingles with the local Wantso tribe who think him a ghost because of his white complexion.
Secretly, Ras, as a child, learns ways to spend time with a few Wantso children, developing a strong bond with them. They play. They talk. They wrestle. And they become sexually involved. They all act as if there are no boundaries despite all of them being taught by their parents and cultures to have boundaries. We also learn during this time that there is beastiality involved. A lot of experimenting going on etc…
I don’t usually have a problem with this kind of thing BUT it’s children and it continues as they grow and mature. The boys, who have been intimate with Ras, start to become jealous of Ras’ supposedly superior manliness which his parents made him start covering up with a leopard loin cloth after he started expressing an interest in being intimate with his mother, who he later learns isn’t his mother.
Ras begins to sneak into the Wantso fortress and take advantage of the Wantso women. The men, including his former friends, want to kill him. He mocks them and their attempts. They are superstitious and far less adventurous than he is. Ras is apparently superior in many ways to the natives which was off-putting. And the Wantso women, so overwhelmed by his abilities and/or sexual prowess, don’t seem to mind being molested and taken advantage of by him because he is a ghost man.
This overt sexuality serves to break up relationships and create friction but it is still excessive. And that is the negative part.
The rest of the book is magical. The storytelling is amazing. The words and sentence structures are simple but powerful, containing tons of information, placing the reader squarely in the story. The reader just drifts along effortlessly on this current, living in each scene. So much happens and it happens quickly.
And for a book with such savagery and primitive themes, there is a lot that focuses on religion, customs and beliefs. Ras thinks he is the son of the bird god, Igziyabher. But much of his faith in this god are questioned as he watches the bird god, with angels inside its skin, battle another bird, lighting on fire and falling to earth. A golden-haired angel falls out as well. Sifting through the burnt remains he comes to learn that the god’s skin was metal. Eventually he must concede with his awakening, that what he believed were gods, angels and demons, are helicopters and planes.
The gods that have been monitoring him from the sky all this time, are limiting his contact with anything beyond the valley. And the education he could receive from his parents, who say that metal knives appear after lightning occurs, which they do but only to them, refuse to share what they know. They constantly refer to writings in a book they don’t seem to grasp or understand themselves.
When Ras’ parents are killed, Ras attacks the Wantso tribe, believing them responsible. And this is only half the book. There is so much more. In the process of seeking revenge, he kills his friends, meets the golden-haired angel, Eeva, and is captured by Gilluk, King of the Sharrikt, another tribe that worships a crocodile god – and feeds prisoners to the crocodile.
The end was not surprising. It was evident pretty early on that this was not a normal jungle story with lost explorers and unexplored terrain but I’ll not say more about that.
The writing and the story are first class and probably deserve 5 stars – but with all the unnecessary sexual tendencies of the molester in a loin cloth through the first half of the book, it gets 4 stars. Read at your own risk.
Allen M Werner is the author of the epic fantasy books The Crystal Crux