Tara's Reviews > Tarzan of the Apes

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Apr 30, 2012

it was ok

An extremely racist book with a premise based on eugenics. Not how you remember the Disney version? Tarzan is all strong and intelligent and special and amazing. Why? Because he has the genetics of a well-bred, white, European, aristocrat. Oh, and the whole thing about encountering other humans for the first time? He's seen humans around before, but, you know, they were Africans; they're primitive and stupid and clearly don't count. But other white people... revelation of revelations! You're smart and sophisticated and use tools like me! (Unlike those other people who clearly must be some other lower species or something.) Just imagine that Phil Collins song in your head. Yeah, I'm glad they left those parts out of the movie too.

I give it one extra star for a premise that has clearly inspired and captured peoples' imaginations (and because the writing and action isn't absolutely terrible.)

Is it an interesting work of pulp fiction that says something about its time period and the exploration of certain ideas? Yes, of course, but I don't think it deserves an extra star for that since I would argue that that (or something similar) could be said about most if not all books and works of the imagination.
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06/04 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-21 of 21) (21 new)

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Dennis Goshorn Grow up. It's a work of its time & if read as a story from that era, one can enjoy it. I imagine you have similar negatives about Huckleberry Finn? The Tarzan books were instrumental in teaching me to read. The adventures are imaginative & exciting and can transport one to another place and time if you take off your 21st century blinders.


Jimmy There's so many issues with works of fiction that come out of the early 19th century. Your review is 100% right. I'm a fan of ERB writing style, which is where the appeal exists for me. but it's always good to be aware of a books historical context so you can understand where it's coming from.


R.G. I didn't see it as racist at all... it's known that there are tribes in africa that are like that or were like that... also when he first saw white people he didn't think much of them either because they seemed to be just as cruel... but also if you continue the series he befriends another tribe of blacks that actually help him out a lot in the series... plus you have to take into account of when it was written and how they thought then... if you read his books much you wouldn't really think him a racist at all...


Bradly I'm not gonna say one page in the book forgives any harsh literary treatment through out the whole book but Tarzan does state that you can't assume anything about anyone based on what they are. It is a very short discussion in the book but very wise beyond its years it would seem.


James Only racist people would see this as racist. For his time ERB put all color of men on par with whites... IT"S A STORY writer over 100 years ago...


message 6: by Tara (last edited Mar 16, 2014 09:52PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tara This whole thread of comments is frankly an interesting study in human behavior. Why do people have such strong negative reactions when someone doesn't like or criticizes something they enjoyed?

Since you all seem to be so fond of context (a fondness that I find admirable, if only it weren't applied so presumptuously), let me provide some. I read this book within the context of a university class dedicated to studying popular pulp fiction, each work being studied as a reflection of the context, culture, era, ideas, values, fascinations and tastes of it's time period. So not only did I read this book considering it's context, but that was the entire point of my reading it at all. I read it while attending lectures about the context and time period and researching such things actively. And yet for some reason most of you seem to think that I need to be reminded or informed about these things. You have to admit that's a little funny, right?

Honestly, let's just get to the root of the issue, shall we? For me, this was just a quick, casual, quippy little review that I hoped would amuse a couple of people and briefly express how I felt about the book, from what I recall. And why should complete strangers care if I liked it or not? When it gets down to it, though, this isn't about the book or whether I liked it for you guys, is it? This is really about you behaving defensively in what you perceive as an indirect attack on your character. Because if I gave the book a low rating and called it racist and you gave the book a high rating that might make you look racist. So you feel the need to prove that I'm wrong or that it doesn't matter or attack me for caring so you don't look bad. Yes? Can we just acknowledge that?

I'd really like to get that out there so we can move on to more interesting discussions. You can enjoy something that's problematic. I do it all the time. You can have mixed feelings, like some things about it and not others. It's not as comfortable as enjoying something that's completely unproblematic. But you don't have to make excuses for it in order to enjoy it completely unproblematically. So why make such a fuss? Does it make sense to say someone /must/ enjoy it, "despite" such things? Does it make sense to say that those things aren't allowed to bother someone just because they're "understandable" in context? Is it really completely unacceptable for someone to point out the problematic bits and say they didn't enjoy it overall? Why does that bother you so much? (See my suggested answer above.)

I think there's a lot more going on in the last paragraph of my review than you guys are really considering. It's interesting, I think, to note that there are certain things in our culture that we're much more willing to excuse and attribute to "that's just the time period" than others. You can tell me ANY book you don't like, whether written recently or long ago and I could point out to you how that book is a reflection of it's time period, how all the things you don't like about it are the manifestations of certain perspectives and parts of culture that are understandable in context. And yet I would never tell you that you must enjoy that book or those aspects of it because of that. And yet so many of you seem to think that this is exactly the appropriate response to my not enjoying this book. Interesting, no?

I think there's a reason for that. I bet it's totally understandable within the context of the culture you guys are coming from. I bet all of your individual ways of approaching it (some much more polite and informative than others) would make a lot of sense if I knew how you all were raised. I'm sure there's a complete asshole out there somewhere whose assholishness is so very understandable. Does that mean I have to like him? Nope.


Bradly Can you read Gone Girl and explain why that's a misogynistic mess next? That might be interesting.


R.G. I just want to say that I don't think you calling a book I loved racist makes me racist because I loved it... I know me... and I know there are tons of books out there that I have loved that others hated... no one thinks you're comments in anyway affect them... but you saying you just slapped up a quick review for a bit of fun is interesting and shows you don't really care what you wrote which then begs the question why take the time... because people should review books thoroughly so as to help people find something they will enjoy... that's the point of reviews... and that's why people comment and question certain reviews when it so clashes with theirs to understand how someone came to that conclusion... yet you say you read this all in context understood it as it was but your review is just something you thought didn't matter... that seems to be a bit of a contradictory statement there... is your review honest or not? should it be taken seriously or not? and if the answer is not then your review should be taken down...

and don't ever put anything on the internet you're not expecting someone to disagree with... you're the one getting truly upset over this matter... which means you think what others have to say somehow reflects badly on you... maybe that's something you should think about...


message 9: by Tara (last edited Mar 17, 2014 01:46PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tara R.G., I'm guessing you're assuming I'm "truly upset" just because I wrote a long reply. That isn't the case. My long reply has more to do with the fact that I think there's some interesting questions and assumptions going on here that I thought were worth addressing.

I did mention that some of the comments above were more polite and informative than others and yours counts as both. But do you really want to speak for the others when you say "no one?" I have no problem with people disagreeing with my review; I don't have a problem with your comment. But can you not see that other comments in this thread are not simple disagreements? This is what I'm addressing. Why are these people so upset by my review that they feel the need to descend into personal attacks? How does a simple, nonthreatening disagreement lead to someone telling me to "grow up?" Why should someone learning to read from a particular book have any effect on my review? Why should someone go to all the trouble to defend a book they liked and then go on about how it's "A STORY," /just a story/ and basically accuse me of being racist for calling it racist? Really? You really think that all makes sense as a perfectly reasonable disagreement with the details of my review? Stories are powerful things; I'd never suggest otherwise. And clearly the amount of strong, emotional reactions my review has gotten out of certain people only prove that.

My point is not that I'm surprised anyone would care enough to disagree with me. I like being in an environment where people care enough to think things through, respectfully disagree, debate and discuss things. I just think those kinds of extreme reactions and attacks require some further explanation (and don't count as respectful). In a context of a thread in which I'm getting these kinds of reactions I really don't feel like going there.

As to my saying that "For me, this was just a quick, casual, quippy little review," this does /not/ mean that my review is not honest, that I don't care about it or that I don't take it seriously. I stand by my review. It doesn't express the entirety of my thoughts and feelings, though. It doesn't fully explain my rating of the book nor does it go into detail as far examples and explanations, clearly. I disagree with you, though, as to whether all reviews must be completely thorough. People are going to have different amounts to say about different books, are going to put more time and energy into certain reviews than others. There are different kinds of reviews, some short expressions of overall impression, some thorough and detailed. I really don't think it's fair to say that the former should not exist or be deleted just because they aren't the latter. And some reviews, considering we're on goodreads, /are/ more "quickie thoughts" during and after reading or sharing impressions with friends. I don't see anything wrong with that. It's all a part of the conversation. It doesn't make them careless, dishonest or pointless. And some people /do/ find them helpful.

I had thought originally that I might, at some point, go back and fill in this review more. I didn't want to go into detail unless I had my copy of the book with me for more exact reference. But I'm not required to do that to make my review worthy or worth posting. Obviously (as evidenced by these responses) I'm not typically a person of great brevity. I must admit, it does exasperate me a /little/ that of all the reviews I've written the few I put the least time into are the ones that seem to get the most attention. But such is life. I guess it's not really that surprising.


message 10: by R.G. (new) - rated it 5 stars

R.G. Tara wrote: "R.G., I'm guessing you're assuming I'm "truly upset" just because I wrote a long reply. That isn't the case. My long reply has more to do with the fact that I think there's some interesting quest..."

It is probably because you put so little time that you get so much response... when you're vague or your points aren't fleshed out then that's when people want to know what you're trying to say... if you're clear and well thought out then there's nothing to ask about... and perhaps your right that I can't claim that all think as I do on this matter... but as someone who is a huge fan of ERB works and have read countless of them I do think it's wrong to call him racist... considering that Tarzan is close friends to several African tribes... in one book that flashes back he even tried to adopt one of their boys because he wanted a child of his own... in the Martian series the main character does all he can to unite all races on the planet... to have everyone treated equally... that is not the writing of a racist man... and perhaps with just this book it may not appear so but that is why I felt so strongly about it... Burroughs wrote of deep and good values that man should have... of being loyal, honest, and brave... and it's saddening for anyone to write him off as hateful...


message 11: by Tara (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tara If people questioned points and asked for clarification or an explanation that would be one thing, but no one actually has. I still don't see why you're defending people who are behaving in such a manner.

It's really interesting to hear from someone who has read more books in the series and by the author, certainly. But I do think a work should be able to stand on it's own and be assessed accordingly.


Bradly That's a no on "gone girl" then?


message 13: by Tara (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tara Bradly wrote: "That's a no on "gone girl" then?"

Well, I'm not sure how serious you are. But I could give it a read at some point and see what I think.


message 14: by Julie (new)

Julie I for one am just sick to death of the label 'racist' being thrown around indiscriminately whenever people can't come up with something more incisive, more insightful, more accurate, more thorough, more thoughtful, or more analytical to say. It's just another way of retorting "shut up" when someone says something you disagree with, except it has the added insidious benefit of slandering the other person at the same time.


message 15: by Julie (new)

Julie Addendum: Just because a particular group of villains is comprised of Africans doesn't mean the story is racist. Was "Captain Phillips" a racist story because the captain was white and the murderous thieving pirates were Somalian? If it's not racist in truth why should it be racist in fiction?


message 16: by R.G. (new) - rated it 5 stars

R.G. Julie wrote: "I for one am just sick to death of the label 'racist' being thrown around indiscriminately whenever people can't come up with something more incisive, more insightful, more accurate, more thorough,..."

Thank you for saying that... it's so true... both of your comments are...


Bradly I would just like to say, Tara your review is very well written and I'm glad it lead to discussion. Always nice to see well thought opinions and insight even if the opinions differ from my own.


message 18: by Jay (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jay Clark A narrow-minded review reveals the narrow mind behind the review. Funny how as a kid with black friends, Latino friends and whose family adored JFK, I still enjoyed Tarzan, flaws and all.


message 19: by Ana (new)

Ana Wow, to think people would react so negatively to such a straightforward review. Of course it's racist for all the african people he met not to count so that he's actually astounded when he meets white ones. Like that's not even subtle nor anything, sheesh.


Emily  Gerlach ""Some," replied Tarzan, dryly. "Enough to know that each of you are right in your judgment of the characteristics of the lions—you have met. But one might as well judge all blacks by the fellow who ran amuck last week, or decide that all whites are cowards"

Start reading this book for free: http://amzn.to/1JsFJWG


message 21: by T (new)

T Moore Tara: You are right. Tarzan is extremely racist. No one can possibly argue this fact - and be alive and aware in the 21st century. That said, I do not believe the author set out to write a racist book.

I would suggest it is NOT as racist as the ever popular classic "Gone With The Wind", Which had an active purposeful political dimension to it in real time when it was written - (the justification of the Jim Crow South of the period)- IMO. It was written with a racist slant by design.

There is a great difference to be found between the two books regarding their racism. IMO

I just read the wonderful and great book "A Prayer For Owen Meany" - Irving; and I was struck by its elitist message as well. It reeked of privilege like so much of what is published in the capitalist world. It is what we buy! We lap it up. Still, I allowed myself to enjoy it.

Literature is seldom cutting edge, as far as, challenging the status quo. After all, publishing is a business set up for profit - not art.

Dr Zhivago deserved NOT to be published in the Soviet Union - and not just because it was a shite book. It was clearly a counter revolutionary and anti Soviet novel. It subsequently was published in the West for political reasons and received rave reviews - in spite of still being a shite book!

I'd been reading the 21st century Booker's prize winners and was left feeling sickened by their elitism (and their over the top stylized writing -YIKES!!!). I actually Googled , "Is the Booker's prize an elitist prize"; and I got POSH BINGO linked back as an answer. HAHA!!!!

If Tarzan's racism is your only object to the book, I question your low low rating.

It was a fun silly read. IMO


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