Scouting the Jungle: On 'Tarzan of the Apes' by Edgar Rice Burroughs

BooksKristina PinoComment

Much as was my experience on Barsoom, when I delved deep into the jungle with Edgar Rice Burroughs I found it isn't exactly easy nor appropriate to "review" books that are nearly 100 years old.

Now that I was sufficiently prepared for Burrough's language and style, I found the language less surprising and more befitting of what turned out to be a grand, epic adventure. Considering that these works were published in pulp mags and such way before they were collected into novels, it's clear that the author had plenty of time to flesh out the story as much as possible. Normally, this might lead to too much filler, some drag and some boring bits. Burroughs didn't fall into the trap, though. I found every part of Tarzan of the Apes, the first of many books in the collection of Tarzan's adventures, to be relevant and thrilling.

While my parents always talk about the old TV show with Tarzan and Jane swinging in the trees and having adventures, my only exposure to the story of Tarzan in terms of visual media had just been Disney's adaptation. And I quite like that movie, but just as with John Carter, I hadn't known where the story came from. Once I learned that the same author who wrote the epic of John Carter of Mars also came up with this story, I had even more faith that I'd end up loving Tarzan.

My first reaction is that Disney's adaptation does the most justice to Tarzan as a character, though not as much to the rest of the story. I could understand why, though, as there's just way too much in just the first book to adapt into a film. That and, well, the violence. If I were one of those purists that hates on movie adaptations of books for deviating from the story too much, I'd probably say something like "That movie is now ruined for me (scoff!)" Not so -- it's still a wonderful film that I fully recommend for family entertainment. It's just that there is so much more to the story than Disney chose to write in, even though they got the most important part nailed down right.

Tarzan was born in the jungle after his parents were marooned by mutineers. After a year, the unfortunate incidents leading up to his adoption by Kala the ape occur, and he grows into manhood as one of them. They don't simply accept him, though -- he earns his respect among the jungle denizens in spades, and all learn to fear Tarzan. And then, one day, he discovers the cabin his father had built on the beach at the edge of his jungle.

He doesn't learn about his parentage until much later in the story, but he does figure out how to read and write in English and learns other concepts relating to the world, and using weapons or utensils as a result of his self-teaching and general exploration beyond the jungle. Eventually, he meets some of his own -- an entourage of treasure hunters and the beautiful Jane Porter. You think you might know the rest from here, but you don't.

As with John Carter's story, Burroughs focuses most of his writing in Tarzan on the concept of being human. He emphasizes Tarzan's superiority over the beasts of the jungle because of being human, meaning he was born with the ability to reason and a hunger for learning. Tarzan learns how to best the much bigger and more powerful jungle animals by simple means -- using ropes, knives and other weapons that give him an edge. There was also emphasis placed on his "instincts" as a gentleman to behave or look a certain way opposed to how he'd been taught to behave by his ape tribe.

Reading about the better aspects of humanity is refreshing. It's incredible how some of our traits (mostly curiosity or a yearning for knowledge) end up leading to greed and other terrible things in fantasy and science fiction. They lead to man-killing robots, wars, sorcery, and apocalyptic stories that we read about all the time, but here was Burroughs 100 years ago celebrating these same human traits of ours in the best way. Though there are villainous characters in his stories, the focus is always, always on the one man who is living in a world that is not his own, which is then made into his home.

If this sounds like the kind of thing you'd like to read, I can't recommend it enough. It feels a bit long, but not in the way that just drags on and on. It's more like by the time you're finished, you'll feel like you've taken a long journey, and then you reach the end and just really need to get out for some fresh air and a whole new adventure. The version I read is the Kindle eBook edition which contains the entire collection of Tarzan books, and I'll continue to write on my thoughts as I keep reading through the novels. I didn't spoil the ending or later plot points in this post, so you should probably pick it up and find out what happens for yourself.

Also at Books-A-Million:

Tarzan of the Apes - Edgar Rice Burroughs - Mass Market Paperback

Tarzan of the Apes - Edgar Rice Burroughs - Mass Market Paperback

Buy Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs in Mass Market Paperback for the low price of 6.29. Find this product in Fiction > Fantasy - General.