Tarzan of the Apes

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Tarzan of the Apes
First edition cover
Dust-jacket illustration of Tarzan of the Apes
Author Edgar Rice Burroughs
Illustrator Fred J Arting
Cover artist Fred J Arting
Country United States
Language English
Series Tarzan series
Genre Adventure novel
Publisher A. C. McClurg
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 400 pp
OCLC 1224185
Followed by The Return of Tarzan

Tarzan of the Apes is a novel written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the first in a series of books about the title character Tarzan. It was first published in the pulp magazine All-Story Magazine in October, 1912; the first book edition was published in 1914. The character was so popular that Burroughs continued the series into the 1940s with two dozen sequels. For the novel's centennial anniversary, Library of America published a hardcover edition based on the original book in April 2012 with an introduction by Thomas Mallon (ISBN 978-1-59853-164-0).

Plot summary[edit]

The novel tells the story of John Clayton, born in the western coastal jungles of equatorial Africa to a marooned couple from England, John and Alice (Rutherford) Clayton, Lord and Lady Greystoke. Adopted as an infant by the she-ape Kala after his parents die (his mother dies of natural causes on Tarzan's first birthday, and his father is killed by the savage king ape Kerchak), Clayton is named "Tarzan" ("White Skin" in the ape language) and raised in ignorance of his human heritage.

Feeling alienated from his peers due to their physical differences, he discovers his true parents' cabin, where he first learns of others like himself in their books, with which he eventually teaches himself to read.

On his return from one visit to the cabin, he is attacked by a huge gorilla which he manages to kill with his father's knife, although he is terribly wounded in the struggle. As he grows up, Tarzan becomes a skilled hunter, gradually arousing the jealousy of Kerchak, the ape leader.

Later, an African tribe settles in the area, and Kala is killed by one of its hunters. Avenging himself on the killer, Tarzan begins an antagonistic relationship with the tribe, raiding its village for weapons and practicing cruel pranks on them. They, in turn, regard him as an evil spirit and attempt to placate him.

The twelve short stories Burroughs wrote later and collected as Jungle Tales of Tarzan occur in the period immediately following the arrival of the natives, the killing of Kala, and Tarzan's vengeance.

Finally Tarzan has amassed so much credit among the apes of the tribe that the envious Kerchak at last attacks him. In the ensuing battle Tarzan kills Kerchak and takes his place as "king" of the apes.

Subsequently, a new party of whites is marooned on the coast, including Jane Porter, the first white woman Tarzan has ever seen. Tarzan's cousin, William Cecil Clayton, unwitting usurper of the ape man's ancestral English estate, is also among the party. Tarzan spies on the newcomers, aids them, and saves Jane from the perils of the jungle. Absent when they are rescued, he is introduced further into the mysteries of civilization by French Naval Officer Paul D'Arnot, whom he saves from the natives. D'Arnot teaches Tarzan French and how to behave among white men, as well as serving as his guide to the nearest colonial outposts.

Ultimately, Tarzan travels to Jane's native Baltimore, Maryland only to find that she is now in the woods of Wisconsin. Tarzan finally meets Jane in Wisconsin where they renew their acquaintance and he learns the bitter news that she has become engaged to William Clayton. Meanwhile, clues from his parents' cabin have enabled D'Arnot to prove Tarzan's true identity. Instead of claiming his inheritance, Tarzan chooses to conceal his identity and renounce his heritage for the sake of Jane's happiness.

Tarzan's Portrayal[edit]

In the novel, Tarzan is portrayed as the epitome of man as his separation from society, and it’s this social construction makes him stronger than other individuals displayed in the novel. This strength is shown through his physique, mental and emotional ability, and his personal essence. Burroughs created an exceptional example of a noble fierce male figure that has little character flaws, physically and emotionally. As a result of being raised in a great ape tribe, Tarzans’ physique symbolized one of a god.

" His straight and perfect figure, muscled as the best of the ancient Roman gladiators must have been muscled, and yet with the soft and sinuous curves of a Greek god, told at a glance the wondrous combination of enormous strength with suppleness and speed" [1]

In the novel, Tarzan is described as a Caucasian male who is extremely athletic, handsome, tanned, with grey eyes and long black hair. Tarzans ability to swing on vines, sleep on branches and hid behind jungle brush allow his physical self to be conditioned in a way that is comparable to one of a Gods. The way he was raised not only shaped his physical sense, but also how he identified himself as an individual. Burroughs depicted society as stripping individuals from something completely human, their intimate relationship with nature.

"But, be that as it may, Tarzan would not ruin good meat in any such foolish manner, so he gobbled down a great quantity of the raw flesh.., And then Lord Greystroke wiped his greasy fingers upon his naked thighs and took up the trail of Kulonga, the son of Mbonga, the king; while in far-off London another Lord Greystroke, the younger brother of the real Lord Greystroke’s father, sent back his chops to the club’s chef because they were underdone, and when he had finished his repast he dipped his finger-ends into a silver bowl of scented water and dried them on a piece of snowy damask" .[2]

This passage depicts a comparison scene of Tarzan and his cousin, William Clayton (Lord Greystroke), who were eating pork at the same time under different circumstances. Tarzan could not stand to see fresh meat wasted and ate every portion of meat he could muster, whereas Lord Greystroke sent back raw pork to the kitchen. Furthermore, Burroughs goes on to describe the way in which both men ended their meals, Tarzan wiping his fingers on his thighs and Lord Greystroke dipping them in a bowl of water. The passage represents the difference in masculinity, that Tarzans’ is part of his human essence where Lord Greystroke is considered a man, yet has very feminine attributes that prohibit his masculinity. Burroughs is describing that human society is hazardous and toxic to an individual’s own essence. Lord Greystroke is still a man, yet is depicted with feminine qualities. These feminine qualities arise at times when they should not, that a man should eat meat, raw or cooked, to sustain their individual self. These qualities arise because Clayton was raised and conditioned in a human society where etiquette manners defines the social class one was raised in. Tarzan, on the other hand, is outside of human society and has not been shaped by societal rankings or classes. A secondary example of this is when Tarzan made the decision to leave his tribe but was unsure if he should kill his enemy, the current great ape tribe leader, Terkoz. “‘If I kill him,’ thought Tarzan, ‘what advantage will it be to me? Will it not but rob the tribe of a great fighter? And if Terkoz be dead, he will known nothing of my supremacy, while alive he will ever be an example to the other apes’”.[3] This passage highlights Tarzan ethical dilemma with his sworn enemy Terkoz. Tarzan may not like him, but does not want to punish or serve justice upon him. This social confrontation is comparable to human society where we have a justice system that will punish criminals for their crimes. Tarzan understands that if he kills Terkoz it will not help him for the future, rather he wants to make an example out of him. “But deep in the minds of the apes was rooted the conviction that Tarzan was a mighty fighter and a strange creature. Strange because he had had it in his power to kill his enemy, but had allowed him to live – unharmed”.[4] Tarzan knows within his own personal self that killing Terkoz will not make him feel better. If anything, he knows within himself that it is wrong to kill for the sake of killing. Instead, Tarzan decides to make an example of out his enemy and take the ‘high road’. Tarzans removal from society, one where justice and punishment lives, allow him to make this decision. His relationship with nature enabled him to know the difference between right and wrong, and when to make a strategic move for his own self. Tarzan represents the essential, natural man. He depicts the true human essence that is inside every individual, but is repressed due to society.

Film adaptations[edit]

Burroughs' novel has been the basis of several movies. The first two were the silent films Tarzan of the Apes (1918) and The Romance of Tarzan (1918), both starring Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan, based on the first and second parts of the novel, respectively. The next and most famous adaptation was Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), starring Johnny Weissmuller, who went on to star in eleven other Tarzan films. Clayton was substituted by Harry Holt. It was remade twice, as Tarzan, the Ape Man (1959), featuring Denny Miller, and Tarzan, the Ape Man (1981), with Miles O'Keeffe as Tarzan and Bo Derek as Jane. Three more movie adaptations have been made to date: Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes (1984), a film starring Christopher Lambert that is more faithful to the book; Tarzan of the Apes (1999), a direct to video animated film; and Tarzan (1999), a Disney animated film with Tony Goldwyn as the voice of Tarzan.

A number of Burroughs' other Tarzan novels have also been adapted for the screen. Numerous Tarzan films have been made with no connection to his writings other than the character.

Comic adaptations[edit]

The book has been adapted into comic form on a number of occasions, both in the original Tarzan comic strip and comic books. The strip itself began with Hal Foster's adaptation of the story. Notable adaptations into comic book form include those of Gold Key Comics in Tarzan no. 155 (script by Gaylord DuBois, art by Russ Manning), dated September 1966 (reprinted in no. 178, dated October 1969), DC Comics in Tarzan nos. 207-210, dated April–July 1972, and Marvel in Tarzan Super Special no. 1 (reprinted in Tarzan of the Apes nos. 1-2, dated July–August 1984). Probably the most prestigious comic version, however, was illustrator and former Tarzan comic strip artist Burne Hogarth's 1972 adaptation of the first half of the book into his showcase graphic novel Tarzan of the Apes. (Hogarth subsequently followed up with another graphic novel Jungle Tales of Tarzan (1976), which adapted four stories from Burroughs' identically titled collection of Tarzan stories). Dynamite Entertainment have adapted the story for the first 6 issues of Lord of the Jungle, albeit loosely; for example, the cannibal tribe was replaced by a village of literal apemen.


  1. ^ (Burroughs, 96)
  2. ^ (Burroughs 70)
  3. ^ (Burroughs 93)
  4. ^ (Burroughs 94)


  • Burroughs, Edgar (2010). Tarzan of the Apes. New York City: Oxford University Press. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Tarzan series
Tarzan of the Apes
Succeeded by
The Return of Tarzan