Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Review - Tarzan of the Apes

Tarzan of the Apes (Penguin Classics)I think most people have at least a vague concept of the Tarzan story and its characters. There have been many official Tarzan movies over the years and many stories and other movies that refer to or borrow from the Tarzan mythos. To a large extent, I went into this first Tarzan book (there were over 20 books written) with a pretty good feel for what to expect from the storyline. Despite that, I found some unique elements that I didn't expect.

The adventure story within the book is pretty much what I had expected from the movies and TV shows I'd seen. There were a few elements where movie-makers had taken some liberties (possibly with concepts from other books and sometimes to make things more "screen worthy" - such as "me tarzan, you jane" which never happens in the book). I actually found that the adventures of the book were pretty fun to read and kept the pace of the book moving rather well.

The book dealt a lot with exploring the character of the characters and the concept of what makes a man. At some times, these sections of narrative were interesting and insightful. At other times, these segments felt poorly informed, assumptive and racist/misogynistic . Generally speaking, the negative aspects of character development distracted me from the positive workmanship to the point that I had a hard time placing any validity on any of the characters.

Scientifically speaking, Tarzan's development in the wild is completely unbelievable and his later development of "human" traits is likewise unbelievable. Setting those concepts under the "suspension of disbelief" clause used in fiction, I then got hung up on the behavior of the animals and especially of the other humans.

The Women are as helpless lumps of life with their main purpose in life being to provide something that man can provide for and save from hardship and peril. The Men are inconsistent and can either be heartless self-centered ingrates willing to hurt (or kill) anyone for their own advancement, well-intentioned heroes who are physically incompetent and unable to follow through, or complete idiots unfit to do anything productive at all. Tarzan is the only "true man" and as such he finds himself ostracized and unable to find a happy existence either in civilization or the jungle (though he definitely prefers the jungle).

Despite not being a fan of the way the characters were portrayed or the way everyone interacted with each other, I still enjoyed the story and there's a part of me that wants to read some of the other books simply for the fun, fluffy enjoyment of wild adventures. Burroughs writing style was fluid and rich and provided for a quick and enjoyable read. This is a book worth reading for the fun of it and to look at its influence on the media and culture of the 100 years since it was written.

***
3 stars (out of 5)

2 comments:

ert said...

Although it sank further and further into almost comic classism, racism, sexism and speciesism, I felt it redeemed itself at the end (not on any of those points, mind you), and I can see why it was popular.

Okie said...

Thanks for the comment. It was a fun adventure (albeit filled with stereotypical judgments) and it did begin to redeem itself towards the end, but still had some problems. Overall, it's a fun story to be taken with a modern grain of salt.

Thanks for reading.