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The fantastic romance of White Skin of the Apes,
By A Customer
This review is from: Tarzan of the Apes (Penguin Twentieth Century Classics) (Paperback)
Listed in Cawthorn's and Moorcock's "Fantasy: The 100 Best Books".
The Weissmuller movies didn't get him right. The TV series haven't got him right. And the Disney movie CERTAINLY won't get him right. Burrough's original narration of the story of Tarzan is a mix of bloodthirsty savagery and unrestrained suspension of disbelief that few would attempt to capture these days.
The Tarzan series is unique among his author's body of work. Where the Barsoom, Pellucidar and Caspak series concern modern men travelling to exotic lands and falling in love with native women, this time around it is a modern woman who comes to the wilderness and steals the heart of the savage protagonist, who must now step up to her civilized ways.
The tale is laced with bloody scenes of man-against-man and man-against-beast rampage. The great apes among which Tarzan grows are a cannibal species, who eat the prisioners of raids against other simian clans. The king ape kills Tarzan's father in a moment where he is caught off guard, mourning the recent death of his wife. When Tarzan first encounters men (an African tribe), he hunts and kills one of them to steal his arrows (killing being the way of the jungle, since Tarzan knows nothing of human behavior). Also, these men turn out to be cannibals too. And when the white men finally arrive, they raid their village and kill almost every one in an attempt to rescue a captured comrade.
After growing wild among beasts, Tarzan (whose name menas White Skin) realizes that he is different from his ape family. And through a series of inventions of his own (like making a rope) and fortunate coincides (like the use of a found hunting knife), he steps up the evolutionary ladder by himself. The moment he learns to read and write from illustrated primers and a dictionary is among the most improbable in the whole book. But if we have kept up with it until now, allowing ourselves to accept that a human child can be raised by apes, then his ascension to superiority isn't that hard to embrace.
Tarzan turns out to be the primeveal lovesick nerd. After the first time he sees Jane Porter (the first white woman he ever casts his eyes on), his heart is all for her. He writes her a love letter, which smacks of the most pityful puppy love ("I want you. I am yours. You are mine... When you see this you will know that it is for you and that Tarzan of the Apes loves you"). Yet our hero is true and noble, and he holds the upper hand in his homeland. The girl can't do anything but be carried away by her primeveal pretender.
I recommend you get this edition I'm reviewing, the one by Penguin. Besides the introduction which gives a valuable background to the place of Tarzan among popular literature and some details on the life of Edgar Rice Burroughs, it contains a series of notes that signal where he took some liberties with his story's setting (like placing American plants in the African jungle).
The English is a little bit archaic, the characterization tends to cartoon and stereotype, but the story is powerful and nothing captures the beauty of the original like the original itself. Read Tarzan of the Apes, and meet again for the first time an archetypical hero of timeless charm.