Tarzan of the Apes

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This article is about the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. For the films, see Tarzan of the Apes (1918 film) and Tarzan of the Apes (1999 film). For other uses, see Tarzan (disambiguation).
Tarzan of the Apes
Tarzan of the Apes in color.jpg
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 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.

Characters in order of appearance[edit]

  • John Clayton, Lord Greystoke
  • Lady Alice Clayton (Rutherford)
  • Black Michael
  • Kerchak
  • Kala
  • Tarzan
  • Tublat
  • Sabor
  • Bolgani
  • Tantor
  • Kulonga
  • Mbonga
  • Terkoz
  • Professor Archimedes Q. Porter
  • Jane Porter
  • Samuel T. Philander
  • William Cecil Clayton
  • Esmeralda
  • Numa
  • Sheeta
  • Lieutenant Paul D’Arnot
  • Lieutenant Charpentier
  • Captain Dufranne
  • Father Constantine
  • Robert Canler

African animals[edit]

Tarzan's portrayal[edit]

In the novel, Tarzan is portrayed as the epitome of man, standing apart from 'civilized' society. Instead of disadvantaging him, this social construct imbues him with an inherent strength that exceeds that of any other character in the novel. This strength is shown reflected in his physique, mental and emotional ability, and personal essence. Burroughs created an exceptional example of an idealized, fierce-yet-noble, iconoclastic male figure—with few physical or psychological flaws. As a result of the rigors of being raised in a great-ape tribe, Tarzan's scantly-clad, supernatural physique gives him a godlike stature.

" 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 and tanned, with grey eyes and long, black hair. Tarzan's ability to swing through the trees, sleep on tree branches, and hide behind jungle brush allow his physical self to be conditioned in a superhuman way. The way he was raised not only shapes his physical sense, but also his sense-of-self. Burroughs depicted society as robbing people of one of their most important features: their intimate relationship with nature, and through it, a deeper understanding of themselves as members (instead of masters) of it.

"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 Greystoke 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 Greystoke, the younger brother of the real Lord Greystoke’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 Greystoke), who was eating pork at the same time under vastly different circumstances and codes of etiquette. Tarzan, believing that wasting fresh meat was morally wrong, ate all that he could, whereas, Lord Greystoke would rather reject good meat than eat something not cooked to his liking. Furthermore, Burroughs goes on to describe the way in which both men ended their respective meals—Tarzan simply wiping his fingers on his thighs, versus Lord Greystoke engaging in an elaborate hand-washing exercise. The passage represents differences in perceived masculinity: that Tarzan's masculinity is part of his human essence, whereas Lord Greystoke's "manhood" is inferior by comparison, due to its need to be supported by complexity, formality, and accessories. Burroughs' point is that human society is sabotaging, self-limiting, and even toxic, to an individual’s own essence. Lord Greystoke is still a man, yet manifests "feminine" qualities, which arise at times when they should not, obscuring the fact that a man should eat meat, raw or cooked, to sustain his individual self. Yet Clayton's qualities exist because he was raised and conditioned in a human society where norms (e.g., etiquette, table manners)--not nature—define the social class in which one was raised and thus determine a man's essence. 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 phenomenon 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's ethical dilemma regarding a sworn enemy, Terkoz. Tarzan may not like him, but does not want to punish or impose injustice 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 merely killing Terkoz would hurt Tarzan's own long-term self-interests. “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 himself that killing Terkoz will not make him feel better. If anything, he inherently knows that it is wrong to kill solely because one can. Instead, Tarzan decides to make an example of out his enemy and take the "high road". Tarzan's removal from society, one in which "justice" and punishment are synonymous (and therefore, often result in "inustice" in the name of short-sighted, socially-approved vengeance), is what enables him to make this distinction. His relationship with nature enables him to know the difference between right and wrong, to see how he is interconnected with others, and to think strategically/wisely. Tarzan is meant to represent the essential, natural man. He depicts the true human essence that is inside every individual, but that is constrained by the various short-sighted rules of "civilization".

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. Lincoln was replaced as Clayton 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 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)

External links[edit]

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