When I started Pulp Month a couple weeks ago, I knew I had to review Tarzan of the Apes, arguably the original novel that did more to revolutionize the pulp hero than any other. I haven’t read it in over a decade, so I popped on down to my local library and picked up a copy.
The first thing I noticed when reading it was the first thing I noticed when reading it the first time: just how different this story is from every adaptation of it I have ever seen. Movies have never done the original work justice and probably never will.
The novel is actually rather simple in its development, especially compared to the ever increasing level of adventure shown in some of his more fantastical later stories. Instead the story has a simple narrative flow. It starts with Tarzan’s father and mother as they are on a ship off the coast of Africa. After a mutiny, the couple are stranded on shore. His father sets out to build a life for them as they await rescue. But both are left dead by unfortunate circumstance, and baby Tarzan comes in to the hands of an ape named Kala. Kala raises him in the tribe, despite the hatred of the strange baby by her husband Tublat and the rampaging leader of the tribe Kerchak. Tarzan eventually learns to read and write by studying his father’s untouched books., but remains unable to speak the English language. (Hooked on Phonics didn’t exist yet.) Eventually another group of Europeans and Americans are left on a neraby shore. Tarzan investigates and helps them, despite not understanding their words.
And he, of course, meets Jane. But little comes of their relationship in this novel. She is enfianced to Tarzan’s cousin (neither man understands the nature of the other as of yet) and the group leaves before Tarzan meets and befriends Paul D’Arnot of the French Navy. D’Arnot teaches Tarzan French and eventually brings the savage back in to western civilization.
It’s a good story, although it lacks the punch of a true villain or a complete narrative. It almost comes off as the first episode of a television series rather than a true novel. Other novels in the franchise are left open-ended, but never to the degree of this initial work. Despite that, Tarzan is such an iconic figure that this book begs to be read. It’s somewhat dry in places, but Burroughs still writes with a rather action-oriented flow that most readers should enjoy.
All in all, Tarzan gives little for a reader to complain about. And it is easy to read. Even if you don’t want to buy it, you can alway read it online for free. Whatever the case, you should read it at least once. Recommended.