TARZAN OF THE APES by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Ask me to pick my all time Edgar Rice Burroughs creation, and I think most people would say John Carter. To me, however, Tarzan was Burroughs at his most refined. There is a level of sophistication in Tarzan that is unsurpassed with any other of Burroughs’ characters. In fact, I’ll go so far to say that Tarzan of The Apes is probably Edgar Rice Burroughs’ most complex book in terms of character development, as the Tarzan that starts the novel is not the Tarzan that finishes it. Part origin, part coming of age and part adventure, I’m amazed with just how layered Tarzan really was, and it makes me realize just why this character is still so popular to this day.
Tarzan of the Apes begins with his parents arriving in to the harsh unforgiving jungle. Alice and Clayton battle the jungle valiantly, yet ultimately succumb to the harsh terrain, leaving baby Tarzan alone in the jungle, where he is eventually adopted by apes. The first half of the book is about Tarzan growing up in this environment. This stuff is among my favorite writing of Burroughs period. From covering the harsh realities of the jungle, to Tarzan discovering how to use tools, Burroughs does a great job separating Tarzan from a conventional savage and was able to show that Tarzan had a lot of cunning, reason and a little bit of a sense of humor.
One of my favorite scenes is Tarzan discovering his parent’s house and discovering the books in the library. The fact that he spends his time learning how to read astounded me when I first read it as a kid and still astounds me now. The thing I tend to hate with Tarzan in most of the television shows is that they make him out to be an above average ape man and nothing more. I can’t think of anything cooler than the fact that he used a children’s book to teach himself how to read in English. That’s an incredible feat and I’ve always thought that always having him be the simple ape man he is in most movies and television shows takes away a real important aspect of his character – his desire to become more than he is.
This facet of him is presented best when Jane enters the story. He sees her and feels an instant attraction. He starts communicating with her with the English he learns through letters. He is sprung into action when one of his local enemies captures Jane, which leads to Tarzan rescuing her. When he attempts to woo her with a very simplistic approach and is rebuked, he takes the first steps into becoming the gentleman English lord he is descended from. When she leaves, Tarzan seeks her out, learning more how to communicate, act like a man, and all the while making some acute observations about the ways of men he doesn’t approve of.
In the end, he saves Jane from a marriage that would have made her miserable, yet doesn’t walk away with the girl. All in all, it left me wanting more, just like it did when I first picked up the book years ago. Tarzan is everything you want in a great story. Despite the savage setting, there is something we can all relate to in Tarzan in this first book. It’s one of my favorites. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s a solid five out of five stars.