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Jungle Opera

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Derived from the name of it's cousin Space Opera, Jungle Opera is another Sub-Genre of science fiction that was largely influenced by pulp. While Space Opera commonly focuses on themes of Physics, Cosmology, Biology and Computer Science, Jungle Opera tends to focus more on other sciences such as Anthropology, Archaeology, Zoology, Cryptozoology and Ecology, but has on occasion had more traditional science fiction themes. It is common for this genre to be set in the late 19th to early 20th century, where this genre was most prevalent, but it's not uncommon for this genre to be set in the future, the distant past, on other planets or in other dimensions.

The key common point about the setting is that it is almost always set in a mysterious and lawless Hungry Jungle, largely unexplored by modern humans. Darkest Africa, The Shangri-La, and the Temple of Doom are all common locations. Most always, the protagonist is an outsider, either a Bold Explorer, from a more developed part of the world, or they are Raised by Wolves or Natives, but are still from somewhere else. Usually this is used as a means of connecting with the audience who is equally unfamiliar with the hostile environment, but a Badass Native is far from unwelcomed in this genre. Just because the protagonist is an outsider, that doesn't mean they have to be white. Kipling's Mowgli was an Indian character. Still often expect to see a Prejudice Aesop for them if they live in the jungle.

Similar to Space Opera, this genre has a theme of travel. Rather than going to physically different locations, this genre focuses on culturally different locations, either with humans, animals, non-humans or even Aliens. characters will often travel hundreds of miles with nothing occurring between trips, because Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale. Although there is great potential in Worldbuilding the Lost Tribe with a deep lore and culture the worldbuilding is usually focused focused entirely on animal factions while the Lost Tribe is most often a Planet of Hats living as a stereotypical tribe of NobleSavages who In Harmony with Nature, especially in Green Aesop stories. Sometimes other forms of Hollywood Natives appear as well, including the Cannibal Tribe.

There are two very different aesthetics depending on where the characters are from. Bold Explorer characters include, but are not limited to, the Adventurer Archaeologist, Great White Hunter and the Action Survivor. Usually their aesthetic includes the Adventurer Outfit complete with Big Guns, Fingerless Gloves and Boots of Toughness. Due to the overlap of this genre, seeing some Steampunk, Diesel Punk or even Used Future can all appear depending on when and where the Jungle is. For jungle dwelling protagonist, expect the Badass Native, Tarzan Boy or Jungle Princess and well as their Action Pet. Usually their asthetic includes, Earthy Barefoot Character, Loincloth, Fur Bikini, and Braids, Beads and Buckskins (though a more exotic version), and using Bamboo Technology, Vine Swing, Animal Themed Fighting Styles and Combat Parkour often.

As mentioned before, this genre is known for its action and violence, so stunts like Bound and Gagged, Unwilling Suspension, Captured by Cannibals, Chased by Angry Natives, and Hunting the Most Dangerous Game are all very common. Expect natural threats to include Panthera Awesome, Piranha Problem, Big Creepy-Crawlies and a Prehistoric Monster. Human threats commonly include the classic Outlaw, Egomaniac Hunter, the similar (but distinct) Evil Poacher, Ruthless Modern Pirates, Cannibal Tribe or simple Hollywood Natives with a Witch Doctor conducting any form of Human Sacrifice. Due to this genre being so steaped in lawlessness and violence, Anti-Hero characters like Hired Guns, the Venturous Smuggler, and the Roguish Poacher might appear. Despite all of this, this genre usually takes advantage of it's setting, so expect some Scenery Porn.

The genre could be considered one of the first genres in science fiction. Although speculative science fiction esc tails date all the way back to the second century, Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe could be considered the first in the genre, and it was written in the age of enlightenment, with several scientific themes. It was later picked up by Rudyard Kipling with The Jungle Book, which introduced many of the standards of worldbuilding romantic themes that would come to define the genre. Shortly after came pulp with Tarzan and Doc Savage coming to define how we know the genre today.

Although classic works often feature anthropology, archaeology, cryptozoology, botany, paleontology and other sciences, most authors today seem to settle for focusing primarily on Ecology. This is due to rise in environmental awareness over the past decades, causing many authors to incorporate more Green Aesop into their stories. In classic stories Cults, Serial Killers, violent felons hiding from the law etc. we’re all common threats, but in more modern stories tend to feature environmental criminals like the Evil Poacher, Corrupt Corporate Executive, as well as illegal operiations who are all motivated primarily by greed like the others. This is quite a deviation from it's cousin Space Opera, which went for a much grander set of villains including the Evil Overlord, Nazis By Any Other Name, The Empire and classic western style Hired Guns. Space Opera also opted for featuring making the antagonist a Tragic Villain and using the Redemption Arc for both villains and Anti Heroes motivated by greed as Lovable Rogue scoundrels. Jungle Opera never really used the latter, opting for the classic Ideal Hero, especially today by using the Noble Savage trope to further the Green Aesop. Other Real Life villains such as Ruthless Modern Pirates, Human Traffickers, Hired Guns, Warlords, dangerous rogue or rebel soldiers, terrorists, actual cults, Drug Cartels and various other Outlaws have appeared as well with human traffickers having been most prominent before the rise of environmentalism.

This genre tends to be closer to science than High Fantasy, and generally avoids the massive religious and mythological themes of other science fiction stories. This is often because the jungle is so much easier to explore than space, despite the fact that to this day much of our rainforests on earth remain unexplored, and that we have found hundreds of unusual and borderline species, not to mention cryptozoology. The focus on Green Aesop also plays a big role here, as beating up a poacher doesn't really work with the archetypal trials of a hero going into the underworld to battle the shadow and rescue their father from the belly of the beast. In classic stories there was sometimes a Science Versus Magic conflict between a superstitious Witch Doctor and a more rational Mighty Whitey hero, but such portrayals have understandably fallen out of favor in recent decades.

Of course, it would be very wrong to assume this genre never embraces the supernatural, as jungle spirits and Cryptids also sometimes make an appearances. Even H. P. Lovecraft wrote some of his Cosmic Horror stories in this genre. This genre often features something for the explorer to look for as well, weather it be a Lost Tribe, an Ancient Treasure, an Artifact of Doom, The Cure or even the civilization they came from

Similar to the Space Opera, this genre also has a poem.

1. There should be something valuable lost in a distant unexplored land.

2. And an outsider, sharper than their blade, to hunt it.

3. This hero must encounter the most barbaric of places, peoples and creatures.

4. Skilled with weapons of wood and rope against magic and machines.

5. The scenery as breathtaking as it is wild with ancient rivers of crimson.

6. The hero must have companions as loyal as wolves.

7. And an adversary as predatory as a leopard.

8. To bind them as the sands of time sink like quicksand.

9. Then all must be put right, but not ended.

This trope does have a lot of Truth in Television, as everything from stories of explorers, to stories of missionaries, to cryptozology surrounding rainforests, real Mix-and-Match Critters discovered (i.e. the platypus), stories of cults and secret societies even Tarzanesque jungle dwelling orphans, and many other things have popped up in Real Life, at least in the form of rumor and legend, but on occasion officially documented.

See Also: Tropical Island Adventure, Trapped in Another World, Two-Fisted Tales, Steampunk. Diesel Punk, Planetary Romance with which this genre usually overlaps. See Also: Characters: Tarzan Boy and Bold Explorer.

Compare Trapped in Another World with Lost World.

If you’re an author: See Write a Jungle Opera


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    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: Many a Scrooge McDuck story.
  • The beginning of Iron Man Noir features this.
  • Marsupilami: The Marsupilami lives in the jungles of Palombia and the comics often feature the native tribe, a Great White Hunter, and foreign documentary filmmakers and industrial investors entering its wild world.
  • Any Marvel Universe comic that takes place in the Savage Land, home to Ka-Zar.
  • And in the same way, several volumes of Spirou & Fantasio, who are some of the mentioned documentary filmmakers who are the first to prove the marsupilamis' existence and take one back to France as their pet.
  • Sensation Comics: The Wonder Woman feature "In the Clutches of Nero" is about an anthropologist from Holliday College going to a recently discovered jungle island with three of his students and trying to learn about the natives there, who prove to be quite hostile.
  • Sheena, Queen of the Jungle
  • Superboy (1994): The Wild Lands are an island that is almost completely hidden from the outside world and has lost their knowledge of it. When SB ends up washed up on shore he is enslaved and drugged and has to fight his way free and tell the unaware locals that humans from the outside world are actually intelligent creatures which has been hidden by a local conspiracy that has been drugging any humans who end up on their shores to hide their sapience.
  • Tintin had this every once in a while ([[/Tintin - Tintin in the Congo Tintin in the Congo]], Cigars of the Pharaoh, Prisoners of the Sun) but Flight 714 has this with a twist: Ancient Astronauts.

    Comic Strips 

    Film — Animation 
  • Hey Arnold! The Jungle Movie has Arnold and friends exploring the fictional country of San Lorenzo and exploring ancient South American ruins to find Arnold’s long-lost parents.
  • Missing Link has elements of this, although it's not entirely set in the jungle.
  • The Road to El Dorado. Two con men find a fabulously wealthy Central American city and try to save it from a Human Sacrifice-happy high priest and conquistadors.

    Film — Live-Action 

  • In Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, the heroes travel through a portal into Another Dimension, the Lost World of Waka Waka. Waka Waka is a tropical, jungle environment, built on the ruins of an ancient, great civilization, but now the inhabitants hide in the shadows from a mysterious beast controlled by alien invaders. It's something of a parody of the genre, as the heroes aren't dashing explorers but pre-teen boys who simply happen to be more competent than all the adults. Life in Waka Waka is pretty boring, and the solution to their problems turns out to be pretty mundane.
  • The Serpent, the first novel in Jane Gaskell's Atlan series, takes place in a prehistoric civilization in ancient South America and contains such elements as giant carnivorous birds and a reptile-man villain. The rest of the saga is in the vein of a Lost World but is still rife with jungle hijinks, particularly in The City, in which the heroine returns to her former home.
  • Congo by Michael Crichton is a rare modernized version of this trope.
  • Doc Savage
  • Parodied in Eric, which says that the rainforests of the Discworld's Africa-counterpart are so full of Lost Worlds, Lost Colonies, Temples of Doom, and so on that there's barely room for the trees.
  • Clark Ashton Smith's Hyperborea stories are a borderline case. Rightly, they could more be called Sword and Sorcery stories with a Hungry Jungle setting, since they're set in The Time of Myths - a Lost World in the process of becoming lost - and don't feature any Mighty Whitey European or American explorers, but they're full to the brim with Jungle Opera tropes like dangerous abandoned cities, cave-dwelling beast men, occasional Living Dinosaurs, and more. Notably, the first of these stories, The Tale of Satampra Zeiros, is about a pair of bold explorers in the abandoned former capital of their own nation.
  • The Jack West series by Matthew Reilly.
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne in 1864, chronicles the adventures of a German researcher, Professor Lidenbrock; his adventurous nephew, Axel; and Axel's girlfriend, Grauben, as they explore some dormant lava tubes within an Icelandic volcano. Though they never get to the center of the Earth, they do discover oodles of wonders and marvels, concluding with the discovery of a lake, warmed by fumaroles, that's home to heretofore extinct dinosaurs.
  • The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling.
  • King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard is the Ur-Example.
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912) probably counts. The heroes end up on a lost plateau in the South American jungle with dinosaurs, ape-men, diamonds and Everything Trying to Kill You.
  • O Guarani by José De Alencar
  • Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs. One of the most widely-adapted characters ever, he also appeared in Comic Strips, Comic Books, Radio, Television (both live-action and animated), and of course Film (again, both live-action and animated). There was even a loosely-based Anime series, "Jungle King Tar-chan".

    Live-Action TV 

  • Congo is about an expedition into a jungle that uncovers a lost city and a diamond mine.


    Tabletop Games 
  • The genre is evoked by the classic Dungeons & Dragons adventure Isle of Dread, the less-classic Isle of the Ape and the fairly recent Tomb of Annihilation.
  • The "gimmick" board games Fireball Island and Forbidden Bridge, and many others, are all about this trope.
  • GURPS volume Cliffhangers has a lot about this kind of story and how to draw a typical plot of this kind.
  • The Pathfinder adventure path Serpent's Skull (exploring ancient temples in the jungle) wallows in the tropes of Jungle Opera (though the Ancient Astronauts are replaced by earthbound reptilian Precursors).
  • The theme of Venus in Rocket Age, though Ganymede could also qualify.
  • The board game Spirit Island involves European colonial powers discovering and trying to take over a newly discovered tropical island. However, you play as the island in this game.
  • Spirit of the Century frequently visits this territory.
  • The historical wargame The Sword and the Flame has a Darkest Africa variant where this applies in spades — literally, as turning a card tells you whether one of your units has just met Livingstone, been attacked by a lion, or heard drums that cause you to lose a turn in fear.

    Theme Parks 

    Video Games 

  • Kaza's Mate Gwenna takes place in a jungle opera setting. They deal with many of the things listed on this page and make an occasional foray out of the jungle too.

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): The Jungle Opera