Book Review: Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

September 12, 2012
Article first published as Book Review: Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs on Blogcritics.

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 Magazine1812 and published in 1814.

  • 288 pages
  • Publisher:Ballantine Books
  • Language:English
  • ISBN-10:034531977X

My rating forTarzan of the Apes5

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More Books by by Edgar Rice Burroughs

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 enough self esteem to ignore the opinions of others. Tarzan accepts what cannot be changed while trying to change while he can. The character represents, in my eyes, man’s nobility untouched by societal norms.

The writing, as it is the product of its times, is sophisticated and formal despite the story’s unbelievable premise. The style works well especially when depicting acts of violence, it lends the horror prestige, almost noble, quality; animals kill for food or defense – they don’t torture unlike mankind.

I enjoyed Tarzan of the Apes more now than I did as a kid, a true testament to the enduring entertainment value of this book. The prevailing image of Tarzan, as a grunting brute, does no justice to the three dimensional hero portrayed in the books.

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.

Tarzan’s natural intelligence, strong body and Kala’s protection allows him to survive and even thrive in the unforgiving jungle. One day another group of whites is marooned in the same place the Claytons died, with them is an American female from Baltimore, Maryland named Jane Porter. When Tarzan sees Jane his world changes and he helps the defenseless and naïve whites survive the harsh reality which they’ve been thrown into.

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More Books by by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Zohar – Man of la Book
Disclaimer:I bought this book.

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  • Sharon HenningSeptember 12, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    I didn’t realize that Tarzan was a book as well as a movie. I will need to look this up as well as other books by Burroughs.
    By the way, thanks for including me in your book blogger appreciation. That made my day. God bless you!

    • Zohar - Man of la BookSeptember 12, 2012 at 4:12 pm

      It’s a famous book – give it a shot even though I know that’s not your usual M.O.

  • April KemplerSeptember 12, 2012 at 4:02 pm

    I have never thought of reading Tarzan, but your review makes me want to delve between the pages.

    I do have a little fact about Tarzan (I know you love facts!) Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote his Tarzan series in the city that bears that name Tarzana, California, U.S.A. I was born in the San Fernando Valley and my wedding reception was in the town of Tarzana.

    • Zohar - Man of la BookSeptember 12, 2012 at 4:10 pm

      Thanks for the comment April. Actually I’m going to do my Fun Facts Friday on Tarzan and Tarzana is one of them.

  • CarolSeptember 12, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Tarzan is one of those characters I think I know, but then realize that I haven’t read the book or watched the movie.

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