Tarzan of the Apes

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

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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(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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...

(The entire section is 127 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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

(The entire section is 136 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

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

(The entire section is 133 words.)


(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. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1981. Analyzes Burroughs’s novels and their characters as deriving from the literary traditions of classical antiquity.

Lupoff, Richard A. Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure. New York: Ace Books, 1968. A good study of the man who created Tarzan, John Carter, and other series.

Porges, Irwin. Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan. Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1975. An extensive biography of Burroughs and analysis of his works, published on the hundredth anniversary of his birth. Includes many photographs of Burroughs, story drafts, magazine covers, and the maps and character lists that helped him to preserve continuity within his series.

Vidal, Gore. “Tarzan Revisited.” Esquire 60, no. 6 (December, 1963): 193, 262, 264. Review and commentary on the Tarzan novels.