Saturday, January 9, 2016

Tarzan of the Apes

Well, I did it.  I read Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, which is the first adventure of Tarzan.  I actually finished it last night, but didn't have a chance to write anything about it until now.

Tarzan of the Apes is all about how Tarzan became Tarzan.  He's the son of an English nobleman (this is a key point).  His father, Lord John Clayton Greystoke, and his mother, Lady Alice, are marooned in the wilds of Africa, where Tarzan (their son, John) is born.  When they pass away around when he is one year old, Tarzan is raised by Kala, a she-ape.  Although smaller and slower-developing than the other apes, Tarzan comes into his own, using his cunning to eventually become King of the Apes. 

But he is also intrigued by the remains of his parents' cottage, where he discovers books.  He manages to teach himself how to read, which is how he learns of the world outside of his jungle.  And then one day he finds other humans.  First a displaced tribe of African cannibals enter his jungle, which he messes with (he kills them and steals from them, making them believe he is some sort of angry jungle spirit).  Later a small group of white people (including the first white woman he has ever seen, Jane Porter) are marooned exactly where his parents were years before.  Tarzan finds himself drawn to these people because they are the first beings he has ever seen that look like him.  He ends up saving and protecting them.  He also finds himself falling in love with the lovely Jane Porter.  But when Jane and the others leave him, Tarzan must choose between his world and following her into her world.

Tarzan of the Apes is very, very dated in its writing.  Like I said, the fact that Tarzan is the son of an English nobleman means, according to the book, that he is descended from the most advanced species of man in existence.  He is physically beautiful (being compared numerous times to gods) and so innately intelligent that he can teach himself to read at the age of 10 from just looking at books.  It really reminded me of Aphra Behn's Oronoko (which is about a black prince who is tricked into slavery; he is repeatedly compared to white people, apparently looking like a white person except for the colour of his skin.  Again, very dated!)

But at the same time, no matter how ridiculous it was, Tarzan of the Apes is a lot of fun, particularly in the latter half of the book (from when people show up in his life).  I have no desire to read any further in the series at the moment though, which is honestly a good thing; now I can choose another (hopefully List) book, rather than running out to find book 2. 

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