How Robin Maxwell's
Jane, the woman who loved Tarzan, was conceived
the ERB, Inc. Site
Review by Margaret Leubs for the Newsletter Purple Sage
of the Eash Sierra Branch, California Writers Club
Robin Maxwell introduced
herself to the Ridge Writers by explaining that she too was a desert denizen,
as she and her husband run a bed and breakfast near Yucca Valley.
She then told us how she came to be interested in both Tarzan and Jane.
Tarzan was her first heartthrob, a gorgeously muscled he-man, living free.
The romantic in her loved that he loved an American girl.
She also enjoyed other comics, such as Superman, but no super-hero could
hold a candle to Tarzan. She never actually read Edgar Rice Burroughs’
novels, but she did love the movies based on them.
Life went on, and she forgot all about Tarzan for decades – until the
movie “Greystoke” came out. The second half of the movie left her cold,
because in that movie Jane never gets to the jungle. But the first half
reminded Maxwell of her early love for the character of Tarzan.
Maxwell has been writing historical novels for over 15 years. Three
years ago, after finishing O Juliet, she began to wonder what her next
book would be about. Maybe more literary lovers? That made her think of
Tarzan and Jane, though her husband was dubious.
She had two friends who were already working with the Edgar Rice Burroughs
estate for another project, and from them she learned that Burroughs had
written a total of 24 Tarzan novels and that the estate would expect her
to treat him well. So she read the first novel and was blown away by Burroughs’
When she spoke to the president of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., Jim Sullos,
he told her that the estate hadn’t authorized a new Tarzan novel in 30
years. Then she told him her idea – Tarzan from Jane’s point of view –
and three seconds later he said he loved the idea. He also told her that
2012 was the 100th anniversary of the first published novel, so her timing
Then she had to come up with a detailed outline for Jim to pitch to
the board of directors. This required a great deal of research, as is typical
for Maxwell when she writes historical fiction. The right books always
seem to fall into her lap, she said.
She read about the rape of Africa, chimpanzees and gorillas, feral children,
the “missing link” in human evolution, and Edwardian women. Google Earth
was a favorite tool, and YouTube turns out to be very good for seeing places
that you can’t manage to visit in person.
Then she watched the films. She couldn’t get the early silent Tarzans,
but did watch the Weissmuller films. The first two are very sensual, and
the second, made in 1934, contains a nude swimming scene that caused the
Hayes Code to be strengthened.
The more Maxwell read, the more the story came into focus. She knew
that the story had to be fresh and relevant. Sensibilities have changed
since Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the original books. Seventy percent of
readers today are women (though in fact, Jane has slightly moreRobin Maxwell
shows Ridge Writers the cover of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ original Tarzan
book. Photo by Lizmale than female readers). Maxwell was determined that
her Jane would be forward thinking and well-educated. She also wanted a
kindler, gentler Tarzan, not as quick to kill animals or taunt local tribesmen.
Through trauma he had forgotten who he was and would find himself through
the love of a woman.
Maxwell wanted every part of her story to be grounded in reality, unlike
the original story, which was more of a fantasy. Her Jane was a tomboy,
the only child of a professor and amateur paleoanthropologist. Maxwell’s
story differs from the original in several other ways as well.
First, Maxwell’s Jane and her father are not part of a treasure-hunting
expedition, but rather are searching for “missing link” fossils. Instead,
they find a “missing link” tribe – the Mangani who brought Tarzan up.
Second, Maxwell’s Tarzan was taken from his parents at age four, not
one, so that he was able to speak and even read and write a little, which
made his later ability to learn language more probable. The Burroughs estate
did not likethat change, but she insisted on it.
Our speaker, Robin Maxwell, poses with the announcement of her talk
that our hosts at Ridgecrest Presbyterian Church graciously put on the
church’s streetside sign. Thank you, Ridgecrest Presbyterian!
Third, the original Jane is accompanied by a black maid (a “Mammy” type
character) and is always civilized. But Maxwell wanted her Jane to have
a character arc and wanted her to be alone with Tarzan for long periods
Fourth, Tarzan and Jane have a love affair, in the fullest sense of
the term. This was a major violation of the Burroughs estate rules, but
Maxwell managed to get their rule changed in her contract, agreeing only
that the sex would be tasteful.
Maxwell pitched her story to Jim Sullos for five solid hours, after
which he had to convince the board of directors. She waited a month, during
which time she did no work on the book. Finally she got the go-ahead.
Her next job was to do the detailed plotting, including how to get Tarzan
and Jane to “meet cute.” The estate began sending her images of Tarzan
and Jane, and she was put in touch with a Tarzan illustrator, Thomas Yates,
who sent her many of his illustrations.
Her agent found her a home with Tor Books (a division of Macmillan),
and there was a bidding war for the audio book. In March of last year,
Maxwell spoke at a major Tarzan and comics convention. She met Jane Goodall,
who had always been a Tarzan fan. Goodall read Jane, loved it, and agreed
to endorse it, which was a major coup.
Maxwell noted that authors are often warned not to fall in love with
their characters, but she thinks that’s hogwash. She said she is profoundly
grateful for Edgar Rice Burroughs’ magnificent creation. As a finale to
her program, she showed a montage of pictures of Tarzan and Jane through
the years, set to music.
Afterwards she took a few questions. One person asked whether she is
writing a script of her novel, since she was originally a screenwriter.
Unfortunately, Warner Brothers has a Tarzan project that has been in
production for six years, possibly a series. So Maxwell has to be patient.
She submitted a treatment of her book to Warner Bros., and asked them not
to “step on Jane’s toes” in their movie.
Maybe her book could be a prequel. Or maybe a TV series. I certainly
hope to see Robin Maxwell’s vision of Jane on the screen sometime soon.