[tarzanoftheapes.gif]TARZAN OF THE APES by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Originally Published 1912
Published 1999 by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
ISBN# 0-812-57238-6 (Paperback)
Reviewed August 18, 1999

A thrilling adventure in the grand tradition, it is no wonder that this book is considered a classic. The basics of the story are of course well known to most everyone today -- how an orphaned child is raised in the wilds of Africa by apes and grows up to to become Lord of the Jungle.

The interest, then, becomes one of how the story is told as much as the story itself. John Clayton, Lord Greystoke (the author tells us that he has "taken fictitious names for the principal characters" because the narrative "may be true") has been sent to Africa to investigate the mistreatment of black workers in the British colonies, when through various adventures on board the ship, he is stranded on the mainland with his pregnant wife. (As with most adventure fiction of the time period, the phrase "through various adventures" can be used liberally throughout any summary of the book's plot.) They, of course, die, and the newborn baby is taken up by a mother ape who has just lost her young, named "Tarzan" by the ape, and raised. Through Various Adventures, he grows to manhood before encountering other human beings in the form of "savage" African natives, and later (through enormous coincidence) his own relative who has become Lord Greystoke in the absence of the true heir (Tarzan himself).

I feel a need to comment here on the prejudices in the book. Burroughs was writing in a time when certain stereotypes were prevalent in fiction, and he walked right into a great many of them. The African natives are clearly savages in the book, with yellow teeth filed to points and cannibalistic practices. Later, when Englishmen arrive on the coast (including Greystoke and, of course Jane) they are accompanied by a black servant who is used primarily as comic relief. I do not believe that these considerations are reason enough to not read the book; in fact I think they lend an interesting societal perspective to the text -- in the sense that these things which were considered perfectly acceptable 90 years ago seem so blatant today. I might also point out that the book has it's share of cruel and bloodthirsty whites as villains, and at times is quite sympathetic to blacks (such as Tarzan's father's original purpose for going to Africa -- to stop the mistreatment of the blacks by the whites).

In the end, this book is definitely worthwhile. The details of Tarzan's life in the jungle are wonderfully inventive. I read the book through in a couple days, which is rare for me. Overall the racial elements did not detract too much from the quality of the rest of the book (and if your kids want to read it, you might even use it as an opening to discuss prejudice as it exists today). I expected the prose style to be overly dry and perhaps tedious, but was wonderfully surprised by the tight, evocative language throughout.

It is no surprise that Burroughs went on the write a great number of sequels, nor that the character has spawned so many movies throughout the century.


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