Customer Review

15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Plenty to chew on -- just hard to swallow, 4 Mar. 2003
This review is from: Tarzan of the Apes (Modern Library Classics) (Paperback)
There are books that everyone 'knows' but hardly anybody reads any more. Reading these classics can be quite illuminating; they are not what you think. For example, do you really know how Dracula was killed? Or why The Virginian said "Smile when you call me that"? Read the originals; you'll be surprised.
"Tarzan of the Apes", the first of 23 Tarzan adventures by Edgar Rice Burroughs, is full of surprises. The Tarzan of this book is not the Johnny Weismuller or Ron Ely that you might know. He is not raised by gorillas (as I had thought) but by mythical 'anthropoids', a sort of missing link between man and gorilla, with rudimentary speech and a social structure that includes ritual and dance. This is a science fiction fantasy, a "Lost World" meets "Jungle Book". Tarzan befriends and converses with (and kills and eats) a variety of beasts.
There are aspects of the story that modern readers will find as hard to swallow as some of Tarzan's raw meat dinners. For example, this jungle is populated with lions, hyenas and elephants, creatures that in reality never go near rain forests. We are also asked to believe that Tarzan teaches himself to read and write English from books that he finds.
Many modern readers will also find the racialism difficult to take. He boasts of being "Tarzan, killer of beasts and many black men". Coming on a village deep in the Jungle, he immediately readies his bow and poisoned arrows. When his European companion admonishes him that it is wrong to kill humans, the hero protests, "But these are black men". (Correct me if I am wrong, but I don't believe that scene was included in the Disney version). This is a 1914 American novel, with all the prejudices intact.
It's quite well written; Burroughs is very readable. The plotting is a strange mixture of ingenuity and clumsiness. There is a very clever device that involves Jane thinking there are two ape-men, one an admirer, the other her rescuer. But the plot also requires three separate mutinies, two of which happen to involve cousins, off the same remote African beach. This is beyond coincidence.
So is this genre classic still worth reading? I think so, for the same reason "Dracula" and "The Virginian" are still worth reading; this is the book that started it all.
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