Tarzan of the Apes by Egar Rice Burroughs

Just about everyone has an image in their head of the famous king of the apes, Tarzan.  Whether it’s from the old Hollywood movies starring Johnny Weismuller, the animated Disney version, or even the parody cartoon with the very catchy theme-song, George of the Jungle, we all can picture that loincloth clad ape-man swinging on the vines and calling out with his distinctive yell.  Yet the original source material differs from each of these, mostly in the fact that the other stories (with the exception of Disney) rarely tell the story of what happens before we find the grown he-man lord of the jungle having adventures with Jane.  It was originally a serialized story in a pulp magazine in 1912, and the full novel was published in 1914.

The book opens with Lord and Lady Greystoke traveling to Africa by ship when a mutiny takes place and the new captain puts their passengers off the ship on the West coast of the continent with their provisions.  Lord Greystoke (John Clayton) builds a small but sturdy one room hut and he and his expecting wife begin their new life stranded on the edge of a vast jungle wilderness. Their son is soon born and John must defend his family against the aggressive and wild creatures of the dark continent. After one such encounter Lady Alice becomes knocked unconscious, loses her wits and after a year of  thinking that she’s hallucinating their jungle surroundings, she dies.  John is heartbroken and doesn’t know how he will care for his son.  Another animal attack answers that question for him, leaving him dead as well, and the baby all alone and crying for his parents. Meanwhile, the female ape Kala has just lost her baby and when her troop of apes visits the little cabin on the edge of the jungle, she discovers the babe and takes him to raise as her own, naming him Tarzan, which means “white ape.”

The next section of the book describes the lives of the apes in greater detail – and here is where we enter the “Fantasy” category as Ms. Goodall would probably have words with Mr. Burroughs over his portrayal of the apes.  But, as this is fiction written shortly after the height of the Victorian Adventure period, and given that writers such as H. Rider Haggard and Jules Verne were some of Mr. Burroughs inspirations, we can simply accept this as the work of a very talented imagination and move on. Young Tarzan wonders why he is different from the rest of his family, and eventually discovers the small cabin of his biological parents.  Inside it are photographs of people who look like he does, and books intended for a young child, including a picture dictionary that teaches Tarzan how to read by matching the “little bugs” (letters) to the pictures.  Tarzan’s life is split between spending time with his ape family, becoming the fierce hunter and rival to the great ape Kerchak, and going back to the little cabin and continuing to read and learn more about the world of humans.  Next comes the arrival of Archimedes Q. Porter (one of the most fun names in literature), his daughter Jane, and their companion and guide Mr. Clayton, son of the current Lord Greystoke, as the other one died many years ago.  Further adventures abound for Tarzan and the Porters, both in the rest of this wonderful novel, as well as in the subsequent stories (which are available as free e-books from Project Gutenberg).

You’ll find this adventurous romp through the African jungle of Mr. Burroughs’ imagination in our online catalog.

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One Response to “Tarzan of the Apes by Egar Rice Burroughs”

  1. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson | Wake County Libraries "Book a Day" Staff Pick Says:

    […] like Tarzan of the Apes this tale of adventure can be read as a light, easy story that doesn’t require much thought. […]

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