Download Tarzan Alive Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Themes

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Burroughs (1875-1950) wrote serviceable prose at best, but what he lacked in style, he more than compensated for in sheer invention. He possessed a powerful and vivid imagination, and with it, he created the fantasy of a primitive being concealed inside ourselves: an absolutely good hero dominating a world of savagery and beauty. Moreover, Burroughs also had a coherent vision of life. Like most mythic literature, his Tarzan books are about what a thing man is, how like an ape and how like an angel.

Burroughs's world view, as revealed in the Tarzan novels, coincides closely enough with Farmer's to account for two of the three major themes of Tarzan Alive, First, like Burroughs's Tarzan, Farmer's Tarzan must discover that he is more than an ape. He has a survival ethic unrestrained by sentimentality or a feeling of community and a capacity for violence uninhabited by conventional morality. He also has a libido to match his great strength, a sexuality free of the repression and hypocrisy of civilization. Burroughs "tames" this potentially uncontrollable Natural Man by creating Jane Porter to be his mate and save him from complete primitivism. Furthermore, in case we miss the point. Burroughs repeats this process in Tarzan's son, Korak, who, like his father, is redeemed by the love of a woman, a small girl he adopts, protects, and learns to love as she grows to womanhood. This double demonstration of, in effect, the transcendental power of the feminine principle must have appealed to Farmer, whose writing often elevates female characters to the status of divinities. His own version of Jane is not only "strikingly beautiful," but "tough and self-controlled." Inevitably, after Tarzan first meets her, he acts out the best qualities of his character by giving her his hunting knife before they spend their first night together in the jungle. Farmer's narrator compares this gesture to "that of the medieval knight who placed a sword between himself and his chaste lady love."

Tarzan is no mere knight, however, for acting like a god...

(The entire section is 660 words.)