on July 13, 2004
I felt it would be a good idea to review the original TARZAN OF THE APES by Edgar Rice Burroughs as many are only familiar with how the character has been mishandled for the past seventy or so years. In his original form Tarzan was far from the monosyllabic simpleton as he was so often later portrayed. Instead, Tarzan was a man of aristocratic bearing who wielded great strength of both body and will, spoke several languages fluently, and easily mixed with British society.
Although Tarzan first appeared in TARZAN OF THE APES, the plot and some of Tarzan's characteristics were showcased in an earlier Burroughs work called THE MONSTER MEN. But it was the infant heir to a British title that rocketed Burroughs's fame. Tarzan begins as an infant shipwrecked on the coast of Africa. The rest of his family quickly dies but a local anthropoid ape (not a gorilla) who just lost a baby, claims pale, hairless baby and raises it as her own. Tarzan grows but is always weaker than the apes. But when Tarzan finds the hut left by his family he begins learning about his human side. With knowledge Tarzan is able to stand up to the more bullysome apes and life is good.
Years later thing change drastically when pirates maroon other humans near Tarzan's home. It is then that Tarzan learns to love Jane and she him although she first knows him as two different people. To her there is the forest god who rescues her and there is Tarzan who leaves her notes. But while Tarzan can read and write English and speak the language of the apes, French is the first human tongue he learns. A tongue that Jane does not understand. But eventually Jane becomes the force that drives Tarzan towards civilization and his birthright among British nobility.
In this first Tarzan novel, Edgar Rice Burroughs explores the idea of class as inherent. A British lord will always be a British lord and will always rise to the top no matter how far he has been pushed down. Tarzan, being raised by an unknown species of intelligent apes, has further to rise than any lord in history. But the rise he does because class will always prove itself. This is a popular theme and one that, in detective fiction, shows the difference between the British view and the American view. The British view used to hold that an aristocrat acting as an amateur, with easily best the professional laborer as in the Sherlock Holmes stories. The American view in detective fiction is that the closer to the grit you are the better you are at solving mysteries as in the Colombo or Sam Spade mysteries. But in TARZAN OF THE APES Burroughs takes the British view to its extreme.
TARZAN OF THE APES and the other early Tarzan novels are classics of adventure fiction. Lost cities, ancient civilizations, true love, heroism and other qualities of great adventures are all present in these novels. My wife really enjoys the original Zorro stories packed with romance and heroism. But when I lent her some of my Tarzan books she quickly became a fan of his stories as well. If you have never treated yourself to the original and only know what television and Hollywood have done to him, I recommend that you give Tarzan a try. I think you will be surprised.
on November 8, 2009
After having "A Princess of Mars" published in "All-Story" as "Under the Moons of Mars" from February through July of 1912, Edgar Rice Burroughs was unable to get his "Outlaw of Torn" published, but he did manage to get "All-Story" to devote an entire edition of their magazine to "Tarzan of the Apes". Burrough's had written the story between December of 1911 and May of 1912, and it appeared by itself in the October 1912 edition of the magazine. It was published in book form on June 17, 1914, Burrough's first book to be published, and it was published by A. C. McClurg & Company, who had rejected it previously but after its enormous popularity they changed their minds.
Tarzan has become an iconic character, to say the least. Burroughs went on to write over twenty sequels, and of course there are numerous movies, comic books, etc. based on the character. While one cannot ignore the impact the creation of the character has had, the original story is not particularly good. Burroughs had free reign to define Mars as he wished, but his depiction of Africa is well off the mark. Burrough's imagination is somewhat lacking in the tale as well, going again and again to the presence of Lions to create a threat for Tarzan to deal with. One has to wonder how so many Lions in so small an area would be able to get enough food to survive, and they are in rather a dense jungle instead of the savannah.
There are logical errors as well, such as Tarzan learning to read but not speak English, and yet somehow figuring out how to spell his name in English. There is the strange journey of the Professor Porter and Samuel T. Philander where they manage to get lost and walk unmolested through the same jungle as is shortly to contain numerous Lions. There is also the oddity of Tarzan struggling with Jane Porter writing that she doesn't love him (Tarzan) even though he deduces that she hasn't realized that he is Tarzan and is thus writing to someone she believes she has not yet met.
Despite the problems, this is still a fun book to read, and it is nice to go back and see what started the phenomenon so long ago. I also don't want to give the impression that there is nothing but Lions, as there are cannibals and other wild creatures to contend with along the way. As with Burrough's other books, the story often relies on amazing coincidences, such as the Porter's, Philander, and the next Lord Greystoke being stranded in the very same spot as Tarzan's parents were. The best part about the book for me was the ending, as Burrough's handles Tarzan's sacrifice at the end quite well.
on January 20, 2004
I always loved Russ Manning's artwork when I was a comic collector. It's a shame that he died so young and before he really received the credit for his great artwork that he so deserved. And the problem was, in the sixties and seventies it was often hard to find. "Magnus," his futuristic series was published quarterly and so I could only look forward it four times a year. His Tarzan work was more plentiful, but even so, Gold Key Comics apparently did not have the greatest distribution in the world so I often would miss an issue. Thankfully, Dark Horse is collecting some of Manning's work on Tarzan in this volume and others like it.
This volume contains the first four Tarzan novels, which pretty much established the forumla for msot future Tarzan tales. While not word-for-word adaptations, they are faithful to their source material. But the real reason to read them is not the storylines but the lush, beautiful artwork of Russ Manning. Made even better here by being completely re-colored using state-of-the-art digital techniques. This is a must have for funs of Burroughs, Tarzan, and Manning.
on November 1, 2002
A ship's mutiny forces a young noble English couple to live on the African coast. They have a child and then die a short time later. Their infant son is adopted by an ape mother and raised as her own. The boy, Tarzan, rises to jungle dominance and subsequently discovers another group of marooned Europeans.
I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. This is mindless jungle entertainment at it's best. Of course it's ludicrous that a human baby could survive living with a family of apes. Of course it's silly that the human could not only survive but thrive to become the supreme jungle power. Of course it's ridiculous that he could teach himself to read and write English from books alone. Does all that really matter though? Of course not. Don't expect deep characters, life-changing philosophies, or even intricate plotting. Burroughs wrote this book as entertainment, pure and simple.
Burroughs style may be a bit dated but he certainly does know how to write an engrossing adventure tale. He uses tried and true writing techniques like ending chapters on cliffhangers and presenting his protagonist as the underdog in a struggle against all odds. Early on in the book I found myself rooting completely for Tarzan.
For the sensitive reader, I'll offer a couple of warnings. First, Burroughs presents native Africans as superstitious, cannibalistic "savages". Second, the book is surprisingly violent. I'm sure that in the screen adaptations Tarzan never stabbed or throttled to death so many humans and animals.
One final caution -- the book ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger. Make sure to have "The Return of Tarzan" ready.
on September 18, 2002
Little did ERB realize when he launched his second novel in 1914, that he had created a pop icon hero who would delight youthful readers around the world. The author, who had failed in a variety of enterprises, combined his late-blooming literary talent with a fecund imagination, to create a typically American protagonist--one who reflected the 19th century's fascination with the Nature vs Nurture debate of human development. Can a "wild man" be truly half ape/half human; can such a creature be reprogrammed to reject two decades of savage training in favor of civilized manners? Is the love of a beautiful woman sufficient to lead a primitive person to rise above his barbaric conditioning, in order to compete with cultivated upperclass
Hollywood's numerous version of Tarzan's various adventures have distorted the author's original plot and careful details, such that an accurate rendering of the novel would be rejected by a falsely-educated public, who expect Tarzan to be
a grunting caveman with a superb physique. How false this is to his true heritage as the scion of British noblity. Let's get some basic facts straight: Tarzan taught himself to read and write (but not speak) English; French was the first language he learned to communciate vocally with his fellow men. He truly loved Kala, his ape foster mother, with the same tender devotion he would have lavished upon the mother he never knew. Blonde Jane did not speak with a British accent, since she was a Baltimore girl--the daughter of an absent-minded professor. Her father cared for three things in his life: Jane, academic research and the Porter family honor.
Since the general storyline is so well known, I will focus commentary on ERB's literary style. Like most of his future heroines, Jane is aged 19, with a perfect body, and is called a girl (never a woman). Naturally she endures abduction by a brute, but is ultimately rescued by her hero--saving her from "the fate worse than a thousand deaths." Other ERB elements include the famous pairing of words (rage and hate, pain and fear, etc), and his famous cliff-hanger chapter endings; this latter is necessary so that readers can keep abreast of what has been happening to other characters in the story, requiring some mental gymnastics.
On the down side, ERB has rightfully been criticized for his treatment of other races and nationalities. His jungle Blacks are little better than superstitious children, while faithful Esmeralda (Jane's nanny) speaks in dialect like some Mark Twain characters--another challenge for readers. The author clearly admires Frenchmen, but hates Germans as international bullies (who become the object of Tarzan's pro-English mischief in subsequent novels.) If Hollywood can whip up patriotic fervor
through the medium of movies, so may popular novels. The end of Tarzan of the Apes will prove a great surprise to first-time readers. Will he return to his beloved jungle, renouncing the veneer of civilization forever? Or perhaps accept life in the Western world? Are you sure you know the Real Tarzan, who wooed the mate destined for his heart in the jungles of two continents? What a man will sacrifice for Love...
on September 16, 2002
It's difficult to measure the impact of this relatively simple story; one which generated half a billion dollars a few years ago as an animated film.
Tarzan of the Apes explores that which is within all of us; those primal drives and abilities which permitted us to survive as a species. Burroughs creates a hero who because of immense potentials and a truly unique maturation becomes a relatively believable "superman", in some respects; and he does it with engaging prose which sweeps you along and permits you to make that leap of faith necessary to believe in Tarzan.
The current criticizms we sometimes see that these books contain "racist" writing are wholly absurd. To say that Burroughs had honest beliefs that Cacausions were superior to other races or sub-groups is simply to say that he grew up more than a century ago. Virtually all whites held such views, and Burroughs would have learned nothing else; nor would have any of our ancestors, including the ancestors of these current critics.
However, to allege that Burroughs believed in discrimination based upon the color of one's skin; or that any of his positive characters, including Tarzan, ever engaged in any such discrimination, is utter nonsense. Burroughs examined the absurdity of superiority based upon skin color in his Barsoom (Mars) novels, where he portrays each race as utterly certain of his the inherent superiority of his own race, when in fact they are all clearly the same, except for color. Tarzan's adopted tribe, the Waziri, are portrayed as fierce, intelligent warriors, the equal of any white men. The ape-man himself was discriminated against by the apes, and throughout the entire saga he treats each person as an individual, irrespective of race or creed.
In The War Chief Burroughs portrays the Apache as magnificent, intelligent warriors who are every bit the equal of any white man. His books are so far ahead of his time when it comes to dealing with matters of race, prejudice, and equality that it's truly amazing, considering how long ago he wrote them.
"Tarzan of the Apes" is the creation of this mesmerizing character, from his infancy to his adulthood; and encounter with man, and ultimately Jane Porter. The theme enables Burroughs to explore mankind from the perspective of a man who was reared outside civilization; and his insights are often not flattering. Tarzan has all the ingredients we enjoy in a hero. He is handsome, brave, and has physical assets which are far beyond any other man. He also has some unusual, but realistic, attributes. He is arrogant, a loner, and prone to violence. Burroughs didn't ignore those characteristics which one might expect such an individual to be; and that's perhaps why the book and story have remained so timeless and enchanting for nearly a century, and for people all over the world.
This is a fascinating, action-filled story which is also thoughtful and interesting. Truly unique, it' a story of adversity and growth; a self-made man; and true love. Anyone who might have gained their impressions of Tarzan of the Apes from film, television, or comic books should take a look at the "true" Tarzan. Burroughs had no idea, of course, what he was creating when he wrote this story. It's just one of those ideas which resulted in a story which somehow achieved almost magical appeal and has continued to do so. It's not a complex story. Pulps didn't lend themselves to complex stories. It's a wonderful story, however; and I can't recommend it highly enough.
on June 3, 2002
It is unfortunate that the prevailing image of Tarzan of the Apes is the one that belongs to Johnny Weismuller, who played Tarzan in a series of forgettable films during the 1930's and 1940's. Tarzan, as Weismuller played him, was a grunting, monosyllabic elephant yodeler who is often caricatured as the one who says, "Me Tarzan, you Jane." The Tarzan as Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote of was truly a jungle man, but one who was erudite, fluent in many languages, and possessed of a strong code of jungle justice. I was more fortunate than most since my first exposure to Tarzan was in the series' opener, "Tarzan of the Apes." It was then that I was transported to a mythical jungle forest that I know now can not ever have existed in one place at one time. Burroughs' Africa in 1914 is seen more as a dinosaur-less Jurassic Park megafauna than as the western Africa as pictured in National Geographic. In Tarzan's stomping grounds, the reader sees a mixture of lions, tigers, elephants, and various anthropoid hominid ape-gorillas. But as a child, I did not notice such geographical anachronisms. What I saw was the most thrilling excitement of my first twelve years. I met Tarzan's biological parents, John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, and the Lady Alice, both of whom were cast ashore by the mutinous villanies of Black Michael. I cried as both his parents died, the Lady Alice of disease, John Clayton at the hands of the killer leader of the apes, the ferocious Kerchak. Kala, a female ape soon adopts the waif, whom she calls Tarzan (White Skin). As Tarzan grew to maturity, so did I. As he learned to read the strange bugs of his father's library, I learned to read equally new and puzzling vocabulary. The death of Kala caused me to sob again. By the novel's end, I was hooked to read all sequels.
Recently, I reread the novel, with a mature perspective. What I found was there was nothing stale or juvenile about the book. True, I sensed some racist touches that other critics have so mercilessly hammered. Further, I saw other flaws in Burroughs' style, an overly florid dependence on sensory details, that occasionally intruded. But as an adult, I saw what I could only dimly perceive as a child. Tarzan's foster mother Kala protected the baby Tarzan with a maternal ferocity unmatched in literature. She was both the literal and figurative shield that permitted Tarzan to survive long enough to later meet and mate with Jane. Though Kala is killed off fairly early, she is mentioned often enough to set her off as one of the bedrocks of Tarzan's psyche. To me, Kala was my shield too. I needed her as a bulwark against my own Kerchaks. As long as readers need to visit a foreign and terror fraught land, they will need to do so in psychological safety. Tarzan may get them in, but it will be Kala who will get them out.
on May 3, 2002
The first thing that must be said about this book is that it is appallingly racist (the unabridged work, at least, not the one bowdlerized for children).
The style is penny-dreadful; the secondary characters are largely two-dimensional; and the plot itself is, bluntly, schlock.
Yet it is page-turning schlock.
In Tarzan of the Apes, Edgar Rice Burroughs delivers a story that is more than the sum of its pedestrian parts. Once the title character has grown up and becomes the central part of the story (after the passing of his deucedly British parents, who somehow never manage to be as interesting or fleshed out as the apes of Tarzan's adopted tribe), I found I couldn't put this book down, even as I scoffed at the pasteboard characters and winced at the demeaning portrayal of Jane Porter's black "mammy."
Jane herself is a silly girl, who never rises to the spunky level of Minnie Driver's voice performance in the Disney film, and Professor Porter is a character so utterly unbelievable it defies description. Other characters, such as the likeable Cecil Clayton and the brave French Lieutenant D'Arnot, fare better.
But there is no denying the fascinating power of the "clean limbed young giant" at the center of the tale. When Tarzan is on stage, the flaws of the rest of the book fade into the background. As Clayton himself admits, "For a naked man to drag a shrieking, clawing man-eater forth from a window by the tail to save a strange white girl, was indeed the last word in heroism."
on February 26, 2002
Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote this novel in 1914. It is the story of a baby raised by apes in Africa and coming back after many adventures to civilization. It is a very well written novel on heredity and training and how human intelligence can be impaired by nothing, even twenty years spent in the deepest jungle with apes. Human intelligence, even in the most adverse circumstances, will enable the subject to capture abilities and capabilities from the smallest elements available, and devise typically human procedures that will enhance his heredity and put him on the road to civilization. The turning point of this adventure is language and language can be captured provided some incentives are present, and they are in this story in the shape of books. From there human superiority based on intelligence can develop. The central element in the plot will be the confrontation of Tarzan with the famous Jane and his discovery of love and his desire to learn how humans may love. He will go through this long and thrilling experience with strength and an extreme sense of his humanity. The end of the novel is contained in the very last page and is very sad : the last lesson about humans, their gallantry. Tarzan yields the woman he loves and who loves him, his estate and his noble title for the sake of this very woman. But the book is not very nice with Jane who appears in the end as a fool dominated by fear, the fear of the unknown. But the book is still perfectly readable and enjoyable, even if the second woman character, Esmeralda, Jane's black servant, is characterized as even more frightened and void of courage as Jane herself. This is probably a sign of the time before the first world war, with a tinge of racism, especially when dealing with Africans.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
on February 5, 2002
I read first this book at age of 12 and got a crush for him. Funny thing is that no matter how many years go by, the story hold the magic and charm it had for me back then.
Although everybody must have seen the movies of Tarzan and he has become some kind of cliche, I do recommend wholeheartedly THE BOOK. Rice masterfully develops the most appealing character in the smart, funny, strong, innocent, reliable, courageous man who is brought up by animals and wanders alone in what is practically a paradise. It is a beautiful utopia of what human beings could be in nature, that good is deep in our nature and what makes us human goes far beyond culture, remaining intrinsically in the soul.
We get to see how Tarzan learns everything by himself, the use of tools and even learn to write and think with words all of his own. The freshness of discovering the world through Tarzan's eyes is an adventure in itself!
This first of around 17 books of Tarzan is certainly the best, for the quality of the plot, the characterization, and richness of descriptions of the most lush and exotic settings. It's not too late if you haven't read the book, go grab a copy and you won't regret it no matter what your age be.