The First and Only Weekly Online Fanzine Devoted to the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
Well, here I sit at 53 years of age. A wiry, talkative tawny-haired barbarian with shocks of gray hair however spewing all over the place. Thirty-eight years ago I picked up an ACE paperback called Tarzan Triumphant from a paperback rack, pondered it and looked it over, purchased it for forty cents, and took it home. That was the beginning of my journey through the worlds and works of Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Since then Iíve read just about everything ERB wrote, and the Tarzans, Pellucidars and Barsooms several times. In fact, Iíve re-read all the Tarzans and most of the Barsooms within the past few years, after discovering the cyber-world of ERBlist and ERBCOF-L, and meeting so many other ERB fans.
Iíve learned a great deal since then, and hopefully contributed a great deal. Iíve certainly contributed a great deal of words to the discussions about this amazing writer.
Iíve reviewed books on the lists, and discussed them, and argued about them. Iíve voted in polls and written articles and had savage verbal battles about concepts and facts and themes with many people.
Yet no matter how much these matters have been discussed, they have never been discussed in sequential order with specific quotes from the books and a detailed analysis of these matters. Tarzan changed and/or Tarzan grew and/or Tarzan is the same and/or Tarzan is different and/or ERB changed him and/or his themes and/or whatever.
Itís time to take another look at the saga of Tarzan of the Apes.
Itís time to take a personal journey through the 24 volumes which comprise the birth and complete story of the ape-man, and to take this journey with specific ideas in mind; ideas which have surfaced in list discussions over the past year or two, and within my own mind.
Itís time to look at the prose itself. Whatever we may think about the ape-man, and however we may perceive him, we all read the same words. Itís time to look at those words.
Itís also time to look at my own biases and feelings, before we get started.
Tarzan of the Apes is my favorite fictional creation of all time. My feelings about the ape-man mirror the statement of the man who reported to the Queen of England long ago that the yacht America was in first place in that race around the Isle of Wight which was the beginning of the "Americaís Cup".
When she asked him who was in second, he responded, "Your Majesty, there is no second." America was that far in front of the rest.
I have always felt a special kinship with Tarzan of the Apes. Many of us have, but perhaps for different reasons in some instances. I enjoy his strength and power; his speed and grace; his marvelous athletic and arboreal skills. Most of us do. However, I also enjoy his immense arrogance; his savagery; his immeasurable pride; his unconcern with the values and attitudes of civilization and mankind; and his contempt for the laws and customs of men.
From discussions on lists and elsewhere I note that many people feel he "changed" in many respects in connection with some of these traits. He became a "good guy", or whatever. Not to me he didnít. He remained, until Foreign Legion, basically the same savage, introverted, sometimes morose ape-man whom I first met in Tarzan of the Apes. More knowledgeable, of course, and older, and wiser, but still my basic brooding, snarling, savage Tarzan of the Apes.
Well, perhaps he did change some. Perhaps he didnít. Perhaps ERB described him differently, or had him react to others differently, as the books progressed. Perhaps not. Perhaps the prose indicates he was sexist, or prejudiced, or unfair in the earlier books. Perhaps not.
Letís take a look.
Letís journey back about 90 years and let Edgar Rice Burroughs take us across the wide Atlantic to a land-locked harbor and a crude cabin where a boy sits pondering those little bugs which tantalize his imagination, and to the deep jungles where he leaps and plays and hunts.
Letís watch him grow up and mature into a lithe, powerful carnivore who dominates his environment and ultimately his companions and the jungle world itself. Where he meets other men, and finally white men, and a beautiful girl named Jane Porter.
Letís watch him explore his own feelings and the world as he grows and learns and meets that beast known as civilization, and as he measures it against the jungle and the creatures which inhabit the jungle. Letís watch him fall in love with a young blonde American girl; and perhaps later, briefly, with an imperious and slightly insane Queen.
Tarzan of the Apes was and is a true phenomenon. He is why we write for the APA, and post to lists and subscribe to fanzines. Why we know each other and attend conventions. Why we will always regard Edgar Rice Burroughs as such a tangible part of our lives. Without the ape-man we would not be here, nor would the APA exist, nor the listservers and web sites and huckster rooms.
Yet some ERB fans donít particularly care much for Tarzan of the Apes, and many more regard ERBís other fiction as more enjoyable, better written, more imaginative, more interesting, and generally superior. In Net polls the Barsooms easily outstrip the Tarzans in popularity, and some of the Tarzan books (even the very good ones) are sometimes rated quite poorly. Some of this is perhaps due to grudges and a vandalism-type mentality. Some is perhaps that "elitist" type of mentality which tends to disdain the "popular" works of writers as some apparent type of expression of a higher appreciation of more obscure talents and works. However, some of it is due to the nature of Tarzan himself. He is anti-social; not impressed with group mores or civilized values.
The Tarzan books are not particularly magnificent examples of writing. They are good books, but not necessarily better or worse than ERBís other writing. He didnít shift into hyper-write mode when he was writing about the ape-man; nor did he slip into a coma when he wrote these books. He was a wonderful storyteller, no matter his subject matter or plot or environment or characters.
Yet he created something of almost unimaginable proportions when he happened to write the story, "Tarzan of the Apes". Something which became timeless, and which almost ninety years later grossed a quarter of a billion dollars as the subject of an animated film.
Edgar Rice Burroughs is forever linked and his memory imprinted with the image of Tarzan of the Apes. And he should be. No matter how wondrous is Barsoom, or how imaginative Pellucidar, or how great a swordsman is John Carter, ERBís creation of Tarzan gave the world a unique and absolutely compelling hero who will certainly live as long as people read books and comics and watch films. His story is truly immortal. If men and women travel to the stars some day, memories and thoughts of Tarzan of the Apes will accompany them.
Tarzan is a man who is so mesmerizing that ERB was able to write 24 different books about him, even though most of those books were set in the middle of a relatively ordinary jungle environment. We had Pal-ul-don, and the Ant Men, and a few silly talking gorillas and a trip to fantastic Pellucidar, but mainly we had Africa and people who could (with a bit of imagination and a large, dark, somewhat unexplored continent) perhaps exist.
If some of those books arenít so great, well, Iíd like to see another writer who could do half so well in such a limited setting. Good or not so good, nearly all the books are pretty enjoyable for one reason; and thatís because they feature the ape-man. The nearly immeasurable demand for stories about Tarzan of the Apes required ERB to keep writing about him long after he had exhausted his own imagination as to good plots and characters and themes. And in fact some of the later books are quite good. City of Gold is one of my absolute favorites. Invincible is another book I always enjoy, and Quest another. Even some of the mediocre books have passages which I just love. Triumphant, my first, is one of these.
Itís perhaps because of my fondness for such passages that I dispute any conception that Tarzan of the Apes "changed" much over the course of the series. I recall passages from books early on and from books near the end. Passages which describe him, and/or which give us glimpses of his thoughts, and/or which consist of his words and actions. He is and was always the Tarzan I first met; at least until the very end, in Foreign Legion.
Yet itís certainly possible that I focus upon those passages which reinforce my concept of the ape-man, and perhaps ignore those which reflect changes perceived by other readers. I donít know. Iíve thought about it, and I think itís time to find out. Iím going to re-read all the books, and Iíll try to be objective in setting forth passages from each one which I think are relevant to these issues.
Letís meet the ape-man as ERB wrote about him over the course of 35 years, from 1912 until 1947, the year I was born and the ape-man died. And he did die that year, as ERB published his last words about Tarzan of the Apes. ERB Inc. can authorize whomever they desire to write Tarzan stories and screenplays to make money from this marvelous creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs; and fans can write their pastiches and variations; but there is only one Tarzan of the Apes. Edgar Rice Burroughsí Tarzan of the Apes.
For the past couple of years Iíve been collecting the stories of my favorite science fiction writer of all time, James H. Schmitz, now deceased for many years. His most famous creation was Telzey Amberdon, a precocious 15-16 year old girl with unimaginable telepathic abilities whom he wrote about over the course of several years. A few months ago I found and was able to read, for the first time, the last two Telzey stories. They had never been published in books until very recently, and I found these new collections and also found the pulps. I was saddened when I finished her last story. No more Telzey. She was still only 16 and she was gone, never to grow up and enjoy the exotic Universe she inhabited with such delight and girlish wonder. I had become very fond of her, and I felt a sense of loss that she was no more. She was still a beautiful young girl, and I wanted her to go on forever, but she died with her creator.
And so did Tarzan of the Apes. He did grow up, however. He lived and brooded and loved and fought and sometimes he even smiled. He had a spectacular life as a truly unforgettable character, and I canít feel sad about the passing of the ape-man. I can only be so grateful that he existed for so long.
It will require me to read 24 books which Iíve already re-read within the past three years, but I canít think of 24 books Iíd rather get stuck re-reading. So Iíll read them and we can take a detailed look at the man who when once asked if he were a king in his own land, responded "I am Tarzan", as if that set him above kings.
Itís time for a personal journey through the saga of Tarzan of the Apes.
And if I get a bit subjective as we travel, what the hell? He is my favorite, and Iíll enjoy setting forth some of those passages which make me smile whenever I read them. And if I ramble to a degree, what the hell? This is my personal journey. Take another journey if you want concise stuff. This one will explore my Tarzan of the Apes, from his birth in a tiny cabin to his rescue in the waters of Southeast Asia. This is what he is and what he means to me. The prose of Edgar Rice Burroughs and my own perspective on that prose. This is the Lord of the Jungle.
Book One: Tarzan of the Apes
Thus did Edgar Rice Burroughs begin the story which was to create this unforgettable character and series. Compare it with the beginning of his previously published story. I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other. I may credit the seductive influence of an old vintage for the beginning of it, and my own skeptical incredulity during the days that followed for the balance of the strange tale.
A Princess of Mars actually has two beginnings; the Forward and Chapter One. The Forward begins:
To the Reader of this Work:
We donít get to meet him right away, though. Unlike John Carter, who is always an adult and can tell us his own story, Tarzan of the Apes isnít even born yet. He canít be. His birth and his maturation are the most important parts of his story. They are what will make him that unforgettable ape-man. They are in fact his story; from the first book to the last. He can never escape what he became in the jungles of Africa, and he never wishes to. In the next three hundred and some pages we are going to see the creation of a character who will endure forever. He will always essentially be the man who emerges from the pages of this first book. Whatever else he does, and in whatever form he entertains us , this is the book which created Tarzan. This book, all by itself, is responsible for the cinematic successes of Johnny Weissmuller and Disneyís Tarzan; for the comic strips and cartoons; for Dellís comic stories and probably Brothers of the Spear; and for posters and figurines and toys and so much more, including twenty-three additional books about the indomitable ape-man.
Books with good stories and medicore ones; with memorable characters and forgettable ones. Stories with adventure and savage battle and deathless love. Stories which weave and merge and swirl around the broad shoulders of an almost naked white giant with a shock of black hair and a scar across his forehead which blazes when he becomes enraged.
He is Tarzan; and this is his story.
The story begins 113 years ago.
A month later they arrived at Freetown where they chartered a small sailing vessel, the Fuwalda, which was to bear them to their final destination.
And here John, Lord Greystoke, and Lady Alice, his wife, vanished from the eyes and from the knowledge of men.
Two months after they weighed anchor and cleared from the port of
Freetown..........it was almost immediately that the wreckage was found
upon the shores of St. Helena....
It was approaching through the jungle in a semi-erect position, now
and then placing the backs of its closed fists upon the ground ó a great
anthropoid ape, and, as it advanced, it emitted deep guttural growls and
an occasional low barking sound.
The tribe of anthropoids over which Kerchak ruled with an iron hand and bared fangs, numbered some six or eight families, each family consisting of an adult male with his females and their young, numbering in all some sixty or seventy apes.
Kala was the youngest mate of a male called Tublat, meaning broken nose, and the child she had seen dashed to death was her first; for she was but nine or ten years old.
Notwithstanding her youth, she was large and powerful Ė a splendid, clean-limbed animal, with a round, high forehead, which denoted more intelligence than most of her kind possessed. So, also, she had a great capacity for mother love and mother sorrow.
But she was still an ape, a huge, fierce, terrible beast of a species
closely allied to the gorilla, yet more intelligent; which, with the strength
of their cousin, made her kind the most fearsome of those awe-inspiring
progenitors of man.
But when the way was through the lower trees they moved more swiftly,
swinging from branch to branch with the agility of their smaller cousins,
the monkeys. And all the way Kala carried her little dead baby hugged closely
to her breast.
Then hunger closed the gap between them, and the son of an English
lord and an English lady nursed at the breast of Kala, the great ape.
Kalaís love is the only thing which saves the defenseless infant, and
when Tublat complains that the child is such a burden that she will always
have to carry and protect it, and she should leave it to die, her response
is pure heroic ERB:
And then Tublat went to Kerchak to urge him to use his authority
with Kala, and force her to give up little Tarzan, which was the name they
had given to the tiny Lord Greystoke, and which meant "White Skin."
Yet such a boy!
From early childhood he had used his hands to swing from branch to branch after the manner of his giant mother, and as he grew older he spent hour upon hour daily speeding through the tree tops with his brothers and sisters.
He could spring twenty feet across space at the dizzy heights of the forest top, and grasp with unerring precision, and without apparent jar, a limb waving wildly in the path of an approaching tornado.
He could drop twenty feet at a stretch from limb to limb in rapid descent to the ground, or he could gain the utmost pinnacle of the loftiest tropical giant with the ease and swiftness of a squirrel.
Though but ten years old he was fully as strong as the average man
of thirty, and far more agile than the most practiced athlete ever becomes.
And day by day his strength was increasing.
Iíll never forget reading those passages for the first time. I was only a few years older than Tarzan, and those words stirred me with visions as if I was watching this boy do these marvelous things. At this point ERB has given him Kalaís mother love and he has given him skills which could only mature in such a unique environment. He has given us a reason to accept and believe this tale, and we are ready for more.
Subsequently, Tarzan becomes despondent, as he realizes how he differs
from the apes, and even tries to make himself look more like them by covering
himself with mud. I thought the Disney film captured this, and also the
emergence of his physical skills, quite well, in the context of a childrenís
film. When he first sees himself in a pool, we witness a critical passage.
Although he is a bit bummed over his facial appearance, the emergence of
his mental superiority suddenly arises as Sabor screams and leaps to attack
Tarzan and his companion, who is frozen with fright.
So the scream of Sabor, the lioness, galvanized the brain and muscles
of little Tarzan into instant action.
Tarzanís environment is very large, more than 1,200 square miles.
That the huge, fierce brute loved this child of another race is beyond
question, and he, too, gave to the great, hairy beast all the affection
that would have belonged to his fair young mother had she lived.
He learns to make a rope and in his savage world makes life a living hell for Tublat, and continues to grow and perfect his skills. Tarzanís rope has never been given enough credit in the movies, in my view. It was his first weapon, and he nearly always carried it.
Finally, the ape-boy discovers how to enter the cabin on the beach,
and he sees the skeletons.
For a long time this amused him, but finally tiring he continued his explorations. In a cupboard filled with books he came across one with brightly colored pictures Ė it was a childís illustrated alphabet ó
A is for Archer
Who shoots with a bow.
B is for Boy,
His first name is Joe.
He knew no fear, as we know it; his little heart beat the faster but from the excitement and exhilaration of adventure. Had the opportunity presented itself he would have escaped, but solely because his judgment told him he was no match for the great thing which confronted him. And since reason showed him that successful flight was impossible he met the gorilla squarely and bravely without a tremor of a single muscle, or any sign of panic.
But the boy had learned in that brief second a use for his sharp
and shining toy, so that, as the tearing, striking beast dragged him to
earth he plunged the blade repeatedly and to the hilt into its breast.
A portion of his chest was laid bare to the ribs, three of which had been broken by the mighty blows of the gorilla. One arm was nearly severed by the giant fangs, and a great piece had been torn from his neck, exposing his jugular vein, which the cruel jaws had missed by a miracle.
With the stoicism of the brutes who had raised him he endured his
suffering quietly, preferring to crawl away from the others and lie huddled
in some clump of tall grasses rather than to show his misery before their
No longer did he feel shame for his hairless body or human features...
On the day Tarzan won his emancipation from the persecution that had followed him remorselessly for twelve of his thirteen years of life, the tribe, now a full hundred strong, trooped silently through the lower terrace of the jungle trees and dropped noiselessly upon the floor of the amphitheater.....
Tarzan was one of the wild, leaping horde. His brown, sweat-streaked,
muscular body, glistening in the moonlight, shone supple and graceful among
the uncouth, awkward, hairy brute about him.
A muscular hand shot out and grasped the hairy throat, and another plunged a keen hunting knife a dozen times into the broad breast. Like lightning the blows fell, and only ceased when Tarzan felt the limp form crumple beneath him.
As the body rolled to the ground Tarzan of the Apes placed his foot upon the neck of his lifelong enemy and, raising his eyes to the full moon, threw back his fierce young head and voiced the wild and terrible cry of his people. ...
"I am Tarzan," he cried. "I am a great killer. Let all respect Tarzan of the Apes and Kala, his mother. There be none among you as mighty as Tarzan. Let his enemies beware."
Looking full into the wicked, red eyes of Kerchak, the young Lord
Greystoke beat once more upon his mighty breast and screamed out once more
his shrill cry of defiance.
We see the arrogance of physical supremacy in a savage world. We see the boasting and posturing and blood lust which occurs when beasts compete and fight. This is almost universal in nature, and we still see it among our own species in sporting events and in bar fights and in countless other venues, however "civilized" we tend to portray ourselves.
ERB also introduces the victory cry of the bull ape in this passage;
another superb invention which he somehow came up with and which I found
irresistibly enjoyable and compelling throughout the saga. Another ingredient
thrown into this magical tale.
To him life was never monotonous or stale. There was always Pisah, the fish, to be caught in the many streams and the little lakes, and Sabor, with her ferocious cousins to keep one ever on the alert and give zest to every instant that one spent on the ground.
Often they hunted him, and more often he hunted them, but though they never quite reached him with those cruel, sharp claws of theirs, yet there were times when one could scarce have passed a thick leaf between their talons and his smooth hide.
Iíve quoted a large number of passages in this discussion; but actually not enough passages, since this is the book which creates and presumably defines Tarzan of the Apes. He has a sense of humor, but a cruel one, as he taunts and tries to choke Sabor; and often does the same to Tublat. A sense of humor appropriate to a solitary young man in a savage environment; where the line between amusement and retaliatory death is a fine one. Reading such passages reminded me of the type of cruel humor we sometimes see in children. It also reminded me of grim humor I saw not infrequently in Vietnam. Children have not yet become socialized in such matters. Soldiers have abandoned such mores; or been abandoned by them. Tarzan of the Apes behaviors in this respect are pretty consistent with what I would expect.
This is the ape-man as he enters manhood. He will learn much more, and this knowledge and his future experiences will change him, as all experience changes us. ERB will discuss him as he relates to other people, and soon we will for the first time see Tarzan of the Apes as other people see him; not just as ERB generally describes him as a narrator. We will read their thoughts, and read his own thoughts as he encounters new and wondrous experiences. Yet by the age of 18 we tend to be largely what we will remain, in many important respects; and so in all probability is Tarzan of the Apes, . Weíll examine that concept as we continue upon this journey.
For there is still much to learn about Tarzan of the Apes. He has only given us glimpses of what he is. Now we will watch him experience tragedy; and love; and discussion. We will watch him think and ERB will measure him in several respects against other types of men; and against "civilized man" generally. And he will do so with a logical realism which makes these future passages wholly consistent with what he has created for us thus far. At least for me, as I recall these books; for nearly 35 more years. He is now a man, and ERB is about to unleash him upon the rest of the world. Upon Kulonga; and Mbonga; and upon Jane Porter.
We will examine the words of Edgar Rice Burroughs as he continues to tell the story of Tarzan of the Apes. Passages which are there for us to read and re-read and some which we will never forget. And some passages which I just happen to really enjoy, however trivial they might be in connection with understanding the ape-man.
Weíve only covered a bit more than one-fourth of the story, Tarzan of the Apes. Nearly 300 pages still await us before this remarkable story is finished; and of course even then it is only beginning.
I look forward to taking this journey, and hope some others will enjoy traveling with me along the tangled paths of the jungle; and through the terraces of arboreal travel; under the bright hot face of Kudu; through the dark shadowed recesses of the African rain forest; and beneath the of white light of Goro; for this is the world of the ape-man.
by Robert Woodley
Excuse me, Terrorists
Excuse me, if with little grace,
Excuse me, as I raise my eyes,
Excuse me, since I know you're tough,
Excuse me, when we burn and kill,
Excuse me, but we're on our way,
Excuse me, but you cannot hide,
Excuse me, but we'll not be done,
Excuse me, if I seem amazed,
Excuse me, we will never quit,
Excuse me, we will get you all,
Excuse me, we will hunt forever,
Robert A. Woodley
Personal Journey Through 24 Volumes
Lands of Adventure
is found at
The List With No Rules
is found at
ERBzine 0099 TARAK'S FARSIDE CHAT: Disney Tarzan Preview Review
ERBzine 137Tarzan and the Forbidden City Review
ERBzine 191 DD99: Thanks for the Memories by Tarak
ERBzin-e 418 Tarak and the Jewels of Louisville
ERBzine 419 Tarak and a Princess of Stories
ERBzine 420 Tarzan of the Apes in All-Story pulp magazine
ERBzine 316 Tarak Poetry in Motes & Quotes
ERBzine 060: The First Time
ERBzine 685 Tarzan of the Apes: A Personal Journey Through 24 Volumes
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