Tarzan of the Apes

The Work

The author of more than seventy novels, Burroughs is best known for his books about Tarzan, a white man who lives in the jungles of equatorial Africa. Tarzan of the Apes (1912), the first novel in the series, begins the tale of a white child reared by an imaginary species of “great apes” after his marooned parents die. He learns the law of the jungle from animals and has almost no contact with other human beings until a party of Europeans enters his domain. From them he learns the ways of humankind, and he marries the Englishwoman Jane Porter. Thereafter he has adventures among both animals and humans.

In 1920—by which time six Tarzan novels were in print—an outcry was rising in England over the books’ Darwinian themes. Several editors and printers expressed strong reservations regarding Tarzan as the evolution of Kayla the Ape. This led to a boycott of publication in England for several years.

The seventh novel in the series, Tarzan the Untamed, was published in English in 1921 and translated into German in late 1924. Its German title was equivalent to “Tarzan the German-Devourer.” Written by Burroughs in 1915, when Germany and Great Britain were fighting in World War I, the story contains several episodes in which lions eat German “Huns”—including one scene in which Tarzan himself orders a lion to eat a German officer. Although the story has Tarzan avenging the apparent murder of Jane, the German...

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At the start of Tarzan of the Apes, mutineers maroon the young Lord and Lady Greystoke on the coast of West Africa. They survive only...

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Literary Qualities

Just as many of the characters in the Tarzan series recur from book to book, so too do the plots. Burroughs wrote quickly, with a firm...

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Social Sensitivity

Politically, Burroughs's views reflected the conservative ideas of his time. He distrusted communism, and his early villains were often...

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Topics for Discussion

1. Why is Tarzan so successful as a member of ape society?

2. Does Burroughs portray Jane as Tarzan's equal? Are there any ways...

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Ideas for Reports and Papers

1. Read Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book (1894). How does Mowgli's upbringing in the wild compare to Tarzan's?

2. View the...

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Related Titles / Adaptations

Tarzan's extraordinary popularity owes as much to his appearances in other media as it does to Burroughs's books. Nearly fifty authorized...

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For Further Reference

Bleiler, E. F. "Edgar Rice Burroughs." In Science Fiction Writers, edited by Bleiler. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1982. Brief...

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(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Farmer, Philip José. Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972. A detailed biography of Tarzan as a real person, neatly explaining the series’ inconsistencies. Includes a five-generation family tree relating Tarzan to Sherlock Holmes, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Doc Savage, Nero Wolfe, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Bulldog Drummond.

Fenton, Robert W. The Big Swingers. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1967. A somewhat superficial discussion of Burroughs and his stories.

Holtsmark, Erling B. Tarzan and Tradition: Classical Myth in Popular Literature....

(The entire section is 203 words.)