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Go Ape! It's (Tar)ZAN-tastic!,
This review is from: Tarzan of the Apes (Penguin Classics) (Paperback)A REVIEW OF `TARZAN OF THE APES' BY EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS
If you are tempted to get your hands on a copy of `Tarzan Of The Apes', but are umm-ing and err-ing because of an underwhelming preconceived notion of the character and story, I can only recommend that you wipe the slate clean and grab it with both hands, for this is boys'-own adventure at its very best. Forget any lingering `versions' of Tarzan that you might have (Jonny Weismuller, the Disney cartoon...) and dismiss the ridiculous "Aargh-a-aargh-a-a-a-argh!" call that you might have heard, for this is a story of remarkable freshness and creativity, with Tarzan himself existing as a wholly compelling literary creation.
I suppose that we all know the story to some extent: Baby of noble birth grows up in the jungle, reared by apes, following the tragic death of his parents. Said ape-man grows up swinging from tree to tree, meets civilised, sexy babe, Jane Porter in various perilous jungle-set scrapes and wins her over with his primitive heroic antics. On one, superficial level, this is `Tarzan Of The Apes' in a nutshell. However, this is a far more eclectic and engaging novel that might be assumed.
For starters, the back-story of Tarzan becoming an orphan and his development within the ape tribe is told with remarkable pathos and energy. There is genuine emotional resonance to our hero's origins, especially his absolute ignorance of his human heredity. Burroughs also peppers the exciting narrative with flashes of ingenuity. Perhaps the most fascinating element of the back-story is Tarzan's learning to read and write whilst remaining unable to understand a word of spoken English. As noted here, it may sound ludicrous, but as part of the unfolding story, it is both touching and amazingly credible. There are also many seemingly-throwaway incidents which have a huge impact later on in the story, much like the best clues in detective novels.
Amidst the originality, Burroughs also delivers some action-adventure staples, drawing upon some familiar themes from accepted `classics'. `Tarzan Of The Apes' contains echoes of `Treasure Island', `Robinson Crusoe', and `The Lost World' to name but three. However, the basic premise is so unique and so exhilarating that at no time does the tale seem to be anything other than an adventure in its own right.
Perhaps the only failing of `Tarzan Of The Apes' (and the reason why I have shaved 0.5 from its 10/10 score) is the excessive scene-changing of its final few chapters. With most of the story having been set so successfully in Africa, we are transported to Paris and Baltimore to conclude matters. Given that within these few pages, Tarzan goes from being unable to utter a word of a Western language to a fluent French-speaking, knife-and-fork-using car-driver, it all seems a trifle forced. Nevertheless, thanks to the avoidance of the conventional finale, Burroughs wins a final cheer and sets up `The Return Of Tarzan' very cleverly indeed.
And so, where does this all leave us? Well, to conclude, `Tarzan Of The Apes' is one of the most compelling, original and intriguing adventure stories of its age. Both brutal and charming, it offers the reader something truly fascinating in both concept and delivery. If you are still dithering about giving it a go, dither no more. A swinging time is guaranteed.
Barty's Score: 9.5/10