Saturday, July 18, 2009

146. Tarzan of the Apes – Edgar Rice Burroughs

History: It was first published in the pulp magazine All-Story Magazine in October, 1912; the first book edition was published in 1914.
Plot: 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 died (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, exciting the jealousy of Kerchak, the ape leader, who finally attacks him. Tarzan kills Kerchak and takes his place as "king" of the apes.
Later, a tribe of black Africans 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.
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 rather to conceal and renounce his heritage for the sake of Jane's happiness.
Review: There are certain books and authors that have an inordinate impact on our lives. Often as not, their particular significance to us as individuals extends far beyond that which they would have to anyone else and sometimes, if we return to them at a different point in our own lives, it can be hard to recapture why they should have seemed so momentous in the first place. One of the authors who really turned me into a reader was Edgar Rice Burroughs and I am ecstatic to find that his books are just as terrific in real life as they are in memories. Tarzan is one of a small group of fictional characters--the others being Frankenstein, Dracula and Sherlock Holmes--created in the last 200 years who have acquired lives of their own, far outlasting their creators to be constantly reprised and reimagined. If we examine this quartet, they are united by one central theme; each represents man's desire to in some way control nature.
Opening Line: “I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other.”
Closing Line: “I was born there,” Said Tarzan quietly. “My mother was an ape, and of course she couldn’t tell me much about it. I never knew who my father was.”
Quotes: “A vivid and blinding light flashed from the whirling, inky clouds above. The deep cannonade of roaring thunder belched forth its fearsome challenge. The deluge came--all hell broke loose upon the jungle.”
Rating: Excellent.

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