Tuesday, June 07, 2011


By Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs created one of the longest-lived and influential of all pulp-action heroes: Tarzan is not just a character, he is modern myth. The novel tells of how the Greystokes were shipwrecked on a remote African shore and slain by a ferocious man-eating “Great Ape” (a species Burroughs created, he knew real gorillas didn’t fit the bill for his story). Only little baby Greystoke survives, adopted by one of the she-apes. He grows to manhood as Tarzan, the fiercest beast and cleverest man in the jungle.

ERB’s novel is ferociously un-PC, some might even say offensively racist (some, post-modern literary critics, have). ERB’s world is explicitly Darwinian, both in nature and society. It is also laden with any number of crazy contrivances (even my teen-age eyes, dazzled by derring-do, found the way Tarzan learns to read to be a stretch) and wacky coincidences (evidently lots of folks get shipwrecked on this one stretch of African coast, they might even be related). But lord-a-mercy, this novel has adventure! Tarzan gets to do, if not all, many of the things that nice boys in dull American suburbs don’t get to do. He is a wild-man, like Enkidu of ancient Sumer, savage and heroic at the same time.
-Dave Hardy


Paul R. McNamee said...

There is a new paper edition out from Fall River Press now (new editions of Barsoom novels, too.)

I remember really enjoying the first half of 'Tarzan' - despite the fictional apes it almost felt like a story that could be true. But once the absent-minded professor and the fainting black servant woman showed up, I was disappointed.

ERB's plot contrivances drive me nuts. But, he does have enough imagination and action that sometimes I can get over it - sometimes.

As for the reading - Stephen King pointed out that Frankenstein's monster does a similar thing. He watches/hears the girl teaching her siblings how to read - but he doesn't have his own books to use in the process!

I guess it's tradition ;)

Dave Hardy said...

ERB sort of had to make it up as he went along. While there are precedents of a kind, Frankenstein for instance, ERB was really creating a new type of action-hero. Maybe it works better for being less polished, rough is sometimes the same as spontaneous & original.