Werner's Reviews > Tarzan of the Apes

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs
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Feb 13, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: classics, adventure-fiction
Recommended for: Fans of adventure stories
Read in January, 1967

This is the one Burroughs book virtually everyone in the world has heard of, and it embodies many of the characteristics (positive and negative) of his style. Like the (sometimes almost interchangeable) heroes of his science fiction novels, the title character here --a scion of the English aristocracy born to parents marooned in coastal Africa, orphaned as an infant and then raised by apes-- is strong, tough, and brave, instinctively honorable and moral, and exemplifies the theme of feralism or primitivism: a representative of modern technological civilization is forced to adapt to a primitive milieu that strips away the artificial and repressive constraints of modern life, and forces him to develop all of his latent heroic qualities in order to survive.

While this novel isn't set on another planet, or in an imaginary world in the interior of the earth, it might as well be; Burroughs had a disdain for research and no first-hand knowledge of Africa, so his ultra-primitive portrayal of the Dark Continent has little basis in reality. (One of his more glaring errors was the assumption that "apes" are a separate primate species resembling gorillas; the word is actually just the general term for gorillas, chimps and orangutans.) His "apes" are anthropomorphic to a very improbable degree; and like the bulk of his work, this novel, for the most part, isn't very deep. But the worldwide popularity that led to numerous sequels and movie/TV adaptations is no anomaly. The book delivers an appealing tale of exotic adventure, effectively told; Tarzan and Jane Porter are the ultimate unlikely romantic couple whose love for each other has to transcend considerable odds, and whom readers naturally want to root for; and Tarzan's solid moral clarity is profoundly refreshing and edifying. In that respect, the ending here presents, and resolves, a moral conflict which, if it were developed more through the book, would brook comparison of this novel with stories of moral choice like James' The American and Howell's The Rise of Silas Lapham.
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05/26/2016 marked as: read

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