Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Edgar Rice Burroughs, one of the great hacks of the last century; he's the man you go to for high-class pulp. This is by far his most famous work, although I think his early science-fiction A Princess of Mars is superior.

Tarzan is the son of an aristocratic English couple marooned on a remote West African coast. After their tragic deaths, a bereft ape mother discovers him in their empty hut and carries him away to raise as her own. Naturally, he grows up incredibly strong for a human, becoming a great hunter and eventually battling his way to become chief of the ape tribe. He also finds the time to study the books in his parents' cabin and teach himself to read. Life is good as a lord of the jungle, but when a party of humans like himself arrive on the coast, including the enchanting Jane Porter and her amusingly absent-minded professor father, he realises how lonely he really is. Unfortunately, having been brought up only to speak ape, he is unable to relieve his aching heart of the burning, passionate words that would make Jane his.

Tarzan of the Apes
is an implausible, light and insubstantial adventure story. Of the three great man-and-wild adventure stories of its period, it is definitely the least; while it's exciting and dramatic, something about it never seems to spark to life, and the characters are flat and forgettable next to Kipling's Mowgli (of The Jungle Book) or Rider Haggard's Umslopogaas (of Nada the Lily). And I can never think of that big denouement without laughing.

I enjoyed it thoroughly and laughed often (sometimes, as hinted above, not where the author intended me to); and I will always have time to read a Burroughs book—but I still can't help being surprised this book is as famous as it is.

Gutenberg etext
Librivox recording

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