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Tarzan

24 Jan

Here is Tarzan of the Apes, the first Tarzan novel, in full text from Project Gutenberg. It is full of primitivist tropes and very amusing to read! This is a description of the jungle from the end of the second chapter:

Scarcely had they closed their eyes than the terrifying cry of a panther rang out from the jungle behind them. Closer and closer it came until they could hear the great beast directly beneath them. For an hour or more they heard it sniffing and clawing at the trees which supported their platform, but at last it roamed away across the beach, where Clayton could see it clearly in the brilliant moonlight–a great, handsome beast, the largest he had ever seen. During the long hours of darkness they caught but fitful snatches of sleep, for the night noises of a great jungle teeming with myriad animal life kept their overwrought nerves on edge, so that a hundred times they were startled to wakefulness by piercing screams, or the stealthy moving of great bodies beneath them.

The Tarzan character is a white man who has become a noble savage in Africa. Wikipedia, as we know, is “not a reliable academic source,” but the Wikipedia entry on him is actually quite useful. Here are some fragments from it:

He is the son of a British Lord and Lady who were marooned on the West coast of Africa by mutineers. Tarzan’s parents died when he was an infant, and he was raised by the Mangani, Great Apes of a species unknown to science. Kala is his ape mother. Tarzan (White-skin) is his ape name; his English name is John Clayton, Lord Greystoke (according to Burroughs; Earl of Greystoke in later, non-canonical sources, notably the 1984 movie Greystoke). As a young adult, he meets Jane Porter who, with others of her party, including her father, is marooned at exactly the same spot on the African coast where Tarzan’s parents were marooned roughly twenty years earlier. When she returns to America, he leaves the jungle in search of her, his one true love. In later books, Tarzan and Jane marry and he lives with her for a time in England. They have one son, Jack, who takes the ape name Korak the Killer. Tarzan is contemptuous of the hypocrisy of civilization, and he and Jane return to Africa. . . .

Burroughs has created in Tarzan an extreme example of a hero figure unalloyed with character flaws or faults. Tarzan is described by Burroughs as being Caucasian, extremely athletic, tall, handsome, and tanned. He has grey eyes. Emotionally, he is courageous, loyal and steady. He is intelligent and learns new languages easily. He is presented as always behaving ethically in all situations, according to Burroughs’ definitions. He is deeply in love with his wife and totally devoted to her. Always the gentleman, in numerous situations where other women express their attraction to Tarzan, he politely and as kindly as possible declines their attentions. If presented with a situation where a weaker individual or party is being preyed upon by a stronger foe, Tarzan will invariably take the part of the weaker party (and invariably win). In dealing with other men Tarzan is firm and forceful. With male friends he is reserved but deeply loyal and generous. As a host he is likewise generous and gracious. As a leader he commands devoted loyalty.

In contrast to all these urbane and sophisticated capabilities and characteristics, Tarzan’s philosophy embraces an extreme form of “return to nature”. His preferred dress is a knife and a loincloth made from uncured animal hide. His preferred abode is a convenient tree branch which happens to be nearby when he desires to sleep. His preferred food is raw meat, killed by himself; even better if he is able to bury it a week so that putrefaction has had a chance to tenderize it a bit. Although Tarzan is able to pass within society as a civilized individual, he prefers to “strip off the thin veneer of civilization”, as Burroughs often puts it.

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Posted by on January 24, 2008 in Bibliography, Tarzan

 

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