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In 1888 Lord and Lady Clayton sail from England to fill a military post in British West Africa and perish at the edge of a primeval forest. When their infant son is adopted by fanged “great anthropoid apes,” he becomes one of the most legendary figures in all of literature—Tarzan of the Apes. Within the society of speechless primates, Tarzan wields his natural influence and becomes king. Self-educated by virtue of his parents’ library, Tarzan discovers true civilization when he rescues aristocratic Jane Porter from the perils of his jungle. Their famous romance, which pits Tarzan’s lifetime of savagery against Jane’s genteel nature, has captivated audiences for nearly a century.
First published in 1914, Tarzan of the Apes is the first of several works by Edgar Rice Burroughs that delineate Tarzan’s manifold and amazing feats. Despite his reputation as a pulp writer, Burroughs spins an exhilarating yarn detailing the laws of the jungle and the intricate dilemmas of the British gentry as he examines the struggle between heredity and environment.
Maura Spiegel teaches literature and film at Columbia University and Barnard College. She is the co-author of The Grim Reader and of The Breast Book: An Intimate and Curious History. She co-edits the journal Literature and Medicine.
Tarzan of the Apes was a runaway success when it first appeared. Before he knew it, Burroughs had created a Tarzan industry. He struck deals for daily Tarzan newspaper comic strips and movies (and, later, radio shows), and he licensed Tarzan statuettes, Tarzan bubble gum, Tarzan bathing suits, and an assortment of other merchandizing ventures. Burroughs would write twenty-three Tarzan sequels, and estimates of his lifetime sales range between 30 and 60 million books.
With all the enthusiasm came detractors, those who said Tarzan was unoriginal, his hero just a variation on Kipling’s Mowgli, who, in The Jungle Books, is adopted as an infant by wolves. Kipling himself was of this opinion, writing in his autobiography, “If it be in your power, bear serenely with imitators. My Jungle Book begot Zoos of them. But the genius of all genii was the one who wrote a series called Tarzan of the Apes. I read it, but regret I never saw it on the films, where it rages most successfully. He had jazzed the motif of the Jungle Books, and, I imagine, had thoroughly enjoyed himself.”
In some respects, Tarzan is a distant descendant of frontier legends such as Daniel Boone, Davy Crockett, and James Fenimore Cooper’s character Hawkeye. Tarzan follows the tradition of frontier stories in which white heroes achieve their full manhood by emulating the ways of Indian hunters and warriors, of “savages.” In Tarzan of the Apes, the frontier is replaced by the jungle, and the “savages” are apes and Africans instead of Indians. Like the pioneer heroes, Tarzan symbolically merges the skill and ferocity of the savage with the superior mental and moral acuity attributed to the “civilized” man. Richard Slotkin has argued that the false values of “the metropolis,” be it European culture or urban modernity, can be purged by the adoption of a more primitive and natural condition of life, by a crossing of the border from civilization to wilderness. But adopting the ways of the beast or “savage” does not mean becoming one; it means you know how to turn his own methods against him.
Critic Leslie Fiedler described Tarzan of the Apes as “that immortal myth of the abandoned child of civilization who survives to become Lord of the Jungle.” This basic plot has been adapted and readapted in several dozen film versions. There are many Tarzans; there are noble savages, simple and gentle guardians who protect the jungle and its creatures from arrogant but frightened jungle-intruders, and there are fierce fighting Tarzans, whose primitive existence is poignantly harsh and brutal. Specific features of the Tarzan that Burroughs created, however, are commonly omitted from adaptations; rarely is he represented as the son of an English lord and lady who teaches himself to read and who demonstrates, through his demeanor and skill at killing, his Anglo-Saxon “racial superiority” and his inherited aristocratic taste and sense of honor. These elements of the story don’t have the kind of appeal they once did. As early as the first sound film adaptation in 1932, Hollywood democratized Tarzan, taking away his title and his British heritage. Over the years the representations of Tarzan’s Africa have varied as well. In many of the films, including the 1999 Disney animated version, no Africans appear at all, nor does Tarzan employ his method of killing by hanging, an evocation of lynching that, dismayingly, Burroughs seems to have been untroubled by. Because we want our heroes to embody our principles, Tarzan continues to evolve.
Posted April 26, 2002
I had seen some Tarzan films before I read this book. I wanted to read it to see how Burrough's vision differed from the diffrent films that chronicled Tarzan's origin. And, I must say that I was amazed at how rich and entertaining THIS FANTASTIC BOOK was. I so enjoyed it. I highly recommend this book to anyone who would like to see this legendary character in his true splendor, or to anyone looking for a good read.
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Posted June 15, 2009
I think most people have at least a vague concept of the Tarzan story and its characters. There have been many official Tarzan movies over the years and many stories and other movies that refer to or borrow from the Tarzan mythos. To a large extent, I went into this first Tarzan book (there were over 20 books written) with a pretty good feel for what to expect from the storyline. Despite that, I found some unique elements that I didn't expect.
The adventure story within the book is pretty much what I had expected from the movies and TV shows I'd seen. There were a few elements where movie-makers had taken some liberties (possibly with concepts from other books and sometimes to make things more "screen worthy" - such as "me tarzan, you jane" which never happens in the book). I actually found that the adventures of the book were pretty fun to read and kept the pace of the book moving rather well.
The book dealt a lot with exploring the character of the characters and the concept of what makes a man. At some times, these sections of narrative were interesting and insightful. At other times, these segments felt poorly informed, assumptive and racist/misogynistic . Generally speaking, the negative aspects of character development distracted me from the positive workmanship to the point that I had a hard time placing any validity on any of the characters.
Scientifically speaking, Tarzan's development in the wild is completely unbelievable and his later development of "human" traits is likewise unbelievable. Setting those concepts under the "suspension of disbelief" clause used in fiction, I then got hung up on the behavior of the animals and especially of the other humans.
The Women are as helpless lumps of life with their main purpose in life being to provide something that man can provide for and save from hardship and peril. The Men are inconsistent and can either be heartless self-centered ingrates willing to hurt (or kill) anyone for their own advancement, well-intentioned heroes who are physically incompetent and unable to follow through, or complete idiots unfit to do anything productive at all. Tarzan is the only "true man" and as such he finds himself ostracized and unable to find a happy existence either in civilization or the jungle (though he definitely prefers the jungle).
Despite not being a fan of the way the characters were portrayed or the way everyone interacted with each other, I still enjoyed the story and there's a part of me that wants to read some of the other books simply for the fun, fluffy enjoyment of wild adventures. Burroughs writing style was fluid and rich and provided for a quick and enjoyable read. This is a book worth reading for the fun of it and to look at its influence on the media and culture of the 100 years since it was written.
4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted June 8, 2000
I read this book not long after the Disnesy movie Tarzan of the Apes came out and I must say that this book is one of the BEST I've ever read!!! I would definately recommend it to anyone who loves adventureous or romantic stories! Those are my favorite types of books. Tarzan of the Apes kept me always looking forward to reading the next page, always wondering what would happen to the characters next. There are so many twists and unexpected turns in the story that it always kept me interested. IT'S THE MOST AMAZING BOOK EVER!!
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 23, 2011
I thoroughly enjoyed Tarzan of the Apes when I was a kid, I read it several times, and reading it again many decades later has been a delight. It's been a great escape. I appreciate B&N Classics Series, the great prices encourage me to revisit many classics I grew up with, and also read some great classics for the first time.
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Posted May 17, 2009
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Posted November 1, 2011
Everyone knows the Tarzan story, right? Well, I thought I did but I didn't. This story was thoroughly engrossing and moves very, very fast. There are some uncomfortable themes (Burroughs' ethnocentric view towards other races, etc.), but I think it comes with the times in which it was written. The storylines are fantastic and leave you wanting to read the next chapter. Some parts are unbelievable (a man killing apes, lion, etc. or a man swinging through the trees carrying another person), but the escapism and adventure are thrilling. It was a fun read that I would definitley recommend.
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Posted August 14, 2011
Once again Fall River dips its toes into the Burroughs stream, following their beautifully illustrated repackaging of the first three John Carter of Mars books in 2009. In addition to reissuing the Carter books separately (but sadly without Thomas Yeates' incredible illustrations), they've turned their attention to Burroughs' most popular creation, Tarzan of the Apes. If you haven't yet read this classic, you won't find a nicer-looking version than this. Daryl Mandryk's cover painting is easily the most attractive since the Neal Adams/Boris Vallejo covers for Ballantine Books in the 1970s.
As always, though, the question with any new printing of a Burroughs novel is whether the rest of the series will follow. THE RETURN OF TARZAN has already been announced for October, and text on the cover and spine of this volume teases us that it's "The Adventures of Lord Greystoke, Book One." It's been a very long time since all 24 books have been in print; were Fall River to take that step, this format would certainly be a welcome one.
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Posted October 19, 2012
(Spoiler Alert) For a story that was disliked by many great authors including the one who wrote it, I found it entertaining, at least until the end. I think the story could have done without the transition from ape-man to Frenchman and the abrupt ending where Tarzen gives up Jane leaves much to be desired and too many questions as to why he would go through all of that for nothing and does he choose to go back to living as an ape-man since he no longer has reason to stay? I think the author hints to this at thw end, but the hint really wasn't very clear. Despite the last few terrible chapters, I still found this story entertaining and worth the read.
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Posted September 24, 2012
Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs is the famous novel of the boy who was raised by simians in the jungles of Africa. The book was first serialized in All-Story Magazine 1812 and published in 1814.
John and Alice Clayton (Lord and Lady Greystoke) are abandoned on the coast of Africa after a mutiny on their ship. They barely survive but manage to create a shelter and have a baby; however they are no match to the jungle animals who despise the strangers. Their infant though has been adopted by Kala, a female ape who recently lost her own son. Protected by Kala, Tarzan (white skin) grows in a society filled with towering brutes who wonder why the small white ape takes so long to grow up.
A few weeks ago I put in a request to review Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan by Robin Maxwell, the Tarzan story from the perspective of Jane (post coming next week). I then decided to re-read the original Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs to refresh my memory has it has been decades since I read it first.
I did not regret that decision for a moment and can certainly understand why Tarzan achieved a cult icon status. Burroughs wrote an exciting novel, making the unbelievable seem somewhat plausible in a story which tags on the readers’ imagination almost every page.
The characters, especially that of Tarzan, are masterfully written, combining intelligence and wisdom. We have grown up on a character of Tarzan who barely speaks, but in the book he is a complex character with intelligence and brawn to match. The character is written with childlike innocence and alarming violence which in turn makes Tarzan an interesting and complex character.
The beginning of the book deals mostly with Tarzan’s parents, John and Alice Clayton, who have found themselves in the midst of a tragedy despite their best efforts. We are all used to stories of hope, Burroughs played that angle wonderfully, I still felt saddened by their untimely end which was sad and violent despite knowing of their demise ahead of time.
Each chapter it seems is a new adventure in which Tarzan learns a new skill, whether it is to read or to use a weapon. Tarzan feels conflicted between his identity as a member of the ape society and his self taught skills which put him above a physically superior specimen.
Tarzan, being a product of his upbringing, sees everyone as sub-human, including whites – until he meets Jane (and later D’Arnot). Tarzan feels the apes are intellectually inferior, the natives are physically inferior and the whites are morally substandard.
We could learn a lot from Tarzan, who helps the innocent and helpless without sacrificing himself or his goals. The protagonist does not need, nor does he understand, social approval or society prestige, he has enou
Posted June 18, 2012
Posted June 17, 2012
The first thing I notice is the first two thirds and last third of the book are nearly completely different voices of narrative. It's very hard to tell if that's on purpose.
The book starts out with an overwhelmingly negative view of the female characters, even more so that other books of the time. They're little more than furniture for the men to move around. But the end Jane has attained not only a voice but an actual character.
The book itself is excellent adventure of the wish-fulfillment variety, a power trip fantasy and possibly a raging against the modernization of the male psyche. Parts of it read a lot like heavy metal music, especially to a fourteen year old boy...
Burroughs as certainly written better novels with less one dimensional characters, and this one tries a little too hard to match up to the late 19th century Adventure Novels. Very strong early pulp writing here.
Posted September 24, 2011
Thiss book is amazing. IT IS DEFINATLY a well spent dollar Burroughs did an amazing job with this book and ledt me craving for more. The many twists and turn in the story make it amazing and i would recommend this to anyone. Great book for all ages. MUST READ!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 10, 2011
An easy read and a good book. Written in 1912 by Edgar Rice with a passion of the wilderness and how one man ruled his jungle,educated himself, and falls in love.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 22, 2011
After all these years, still a great read. I read this same book when I was thirteen and I am amazed at how much I forgot and got mixed up with later books and the movie versions. My mom had the original series and they are the ones I read.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 8, 2010
I got really into this book at the beginning. However once Jane was introduce it started to feel like a soap opera and the author started getting annoying with how often he describes Tarzan as being the perfect human being with steel hard muscles. I don't really see how it got as popular as it is.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 22, 2009
The character of Tarzan really has stood the test of time, although Edgar Rice Burrough's writing style and ideas of an "elite race" are extremely dated and even offensive, his character of Tarzan remains a noble savage that feeds our dreams of other lives ... that are more daring and closer to the essence of who we areWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 28, 2007
A great read, Burroughs wrote a classic of literature. I find it interesting that American cinema tends to portray Tarzan as a kind of stylized brute, while Burroughs actually presented him as a self taught man in the wild. This story is a great look at civilization from outside it. The prose was well written and meaningful. I proceeded to read other books in the Tarzan series, which were not disappointing.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 26, 2007
I absolutely enjoyed Tarzan of the Apes. This was one of the few stories where I was not tempted to jump ahead. My interest was always engrossed in the point in which I was reading. It is obviously not true, but not so much that one could not completely immerse him or herself into the story. An outright page turning pleasure, and I am anxiously anticipating The Return of Tarzan.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 12, 2006
The story is not well written. It obviously has great public interest because of the movies and comics, not the writing. The story line does not flow, and Burroughs inserts thoughts in a 'willy-nilly' sort of fashion. The Introduction by Maura Spiegel provides a lot of good insight into Burroughs and the making of Tarzan. The Endnotes, which provide the advantage of reading the Barnes & Noble Classics, are scant, with only 11 notes.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 9, 2006
This is an excellent book portraying the essential male mind. It is a fantastic story for anyone, but read it, and you will see why boys are boys. Simple and straightworded true.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.