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Volume 1899
Tarzan and his Fellows:
“Fact, Fiction, Legend?”
Douglas K. Candland

Homer P. Rainey Professor of Psychology and Animal Behavior
Department of Psychology, Bucknell University
Lewisburg, PA 17837

Douglas K. CandlandWhen, in the mid-eighteenth century, Linnaeus was setting out the method of nomenclature that we use yet today to identify animals by genera and species, he was puzzled by the variety of human beings. There were, it was reported, people with tails (Homo caudatus), the apes collected in his employer's garden (Homo simia), mankind who lived in the dark (troglodyte), humankind who called siren-like (Homo marinus) --- even human children reared by wild creatures. These he chose to characterize as members of the species ferus.

He knew of ten such children from the literature then available. Today we can count studies of over 400 reported feral children, and these are not to be confused with children so raised and made prominent in fiction nor those merely isolated and confined by human captors. The reports you are seeing are concerned with re-presenting these literary inventions by recapturing the largely 19th century European literature that hatched, in our times, the remarkable life of Tarzan.

"Fact, fiction or legend?" asks RudolphAltrocchi in his clever, entertaining, and sophisticated history of the "ancestors of Tarzan" published in 1944 and still an engaging read. Let us go forward a little in time, say taking the number of years between Linnaeus's time and our own and adding this to the present date. It is now, in our imagination, 2227 or so. There remain on our planet only a few libraries (this following the great book burning and internet deconstruction in 2200) and the libraries' books contain no information as to the former classifications: nonfiction, fiction, reference --- these once useful designations are lost to us.  Readers of our imagined 23rd century cannot know whether the Tarzan books are novels or authentic reports.

We may also find in our surviving library Itard's two volumes describing his work with Victor, the Wild Boy of Aveyron (1800); or the Reverend Singh's attempts to discover whether the human mind naturally knows God, his aim in capturing and rearing in the early 1920s Amala and Kamala, known as the ‘wolf-girls’. Fact, of course, for these people surely existed. Fiction, of course, because the observers provided a narrative, one necessarily of their choosing: legend, surely, for when Itard took up work with Victor, a play about a feral child was already on the Paris stage, and Rousseau's romantic notions of nature were in the air. Legend? A visit to any village in India will reveal a story about local wolf-children.

The wolf-children were undoubtedly alive and in that limited sense, they are 'fact', but that does not make the description of them so. The Reverend Singh took to his study each evening after dinner to write the day's events with the girls, but these he knew from the account of his wife and the helpers in the orphanage. Mrs. Singh dealt with the girls’ cultivation, focusing, understandably on toilet training and matters of cleanliness. Reverend Singh's diary and accounts came into the hands of  Professor R. M. Zingg, who published them in 1939 along with selections from Itard's reports on Victor coupled with accounts of Kaspar Hauser, isolated as an infant, offered teaching and family, then murdered. Zingg included photographs of the wolf girls made by the Singhs with their Brownie. camera. (It appears that an additional 90 or so photos existed which were made into 'lantern' slides: after Zingg's death these were moved from Denver to Albuquerque, then to an unknown place.) Perhaps they are to be rediscovered.

From existing photographs of the wolf girls and Singh’s account, we can see that the girls ran skillfully on all fours, killed and ate birds. Singh thought that the girls learned some Hindi; others thought not. Were the girls' skills constrained by their lack of human culture, by their being reared by wolves (assuming that Singh was not merely duped, which seems the more likely fact) or by organically-caused limited ability to acquire new habits, skills, and understandings?  Tarzan's learned skills and linguistic abilities were not so hampered. He readily and greedily learned at least two European languages (plus ape-talk), but curiously showed no great mathematical ability. It is curious that teachers of these children and of apes think language to be of primary importance, for language is the most ambiguous of skills. Researchers rarely examine the most culture-free of abilities; namely, arithmetic.

John, the Monkey Boy
John Ssebunya, the Ugandan Monkey Boy

I have first-hand knowledge of two living feral children, John, the monkey-boy of Uganda and CauCau of Chile. Both have common backgrounds and narratives: alcoholic and quarrelsome parents, the child leaves home, taking to the neighbors’ garbage, then to the streets, then the 'forest', more scrub than dense; some time away from human civilization in this 'forest', and kind families who provide structure and education. In John's case, he was supported (he says) by monkeys. Now 17, he has this narrative well in mind. I assume the monkeys to be vervets because this common African monkey toss away half the food they examine and would allow a nonaggressive human to hang around the periphery of their active troops. As a cautionary lesson, I tell you this: when I asked John his relationship with the monkeys, the translator reported him to say "They fed me." When I asked him to show me how, he got down on all fours and grabbed the air as if food was flying through it, exactly what I would have expected from vervets tossing their food about.  The sentence "They fed me." is equivocal: the lesson is how easy it is for the observer to re-interpret the meaning intended.

John is being educated in an English-speaking school and he has been there for perhaps ten years. My impression is that while he does not speak this or another language readily, he understands more than is apparent. John's story is a relatively happy one: adopted by foster parents who have raised many other children, offered an education, he is having  an active and  life. He is now acclimated to television performance. 'Feral" does not describe him in either the Latin or English meaning and, if one thinks that examination of abandoned children illustrates the contrasting effects of nature and nurture, his being comes down firmly on the side of nurture, all credit to his family.

CauCau, too, now in his 70s, now has a relatively happy life. Captured when he was perhaps 12, he spent time in a place variously described as a mental institution or a charity hospital. Two years later, he was transferred and raised by his foster-mother, Berta Riquelme, a specialist in linguist education. He has learned to speak (or, perhaps, re-learned), he cares for himself, although members of his extended family from time to time protect him from intrigued members of various media. Both John and CauCau rank as adults with 'problematic childhoods,' but surely they fall within the wide range called 'normal'. We may attribute their success to kind individuals who composed family, or we may decide that the abandonment had little effect; perhaps both are true. Their lives and those of Tarzan follow a now familiar narrative.

The presentation you now examine is an incunabula, the Latin word for a hatchery. The issue of how the ideas for Tarzan were hatched have been well explored. They vary from the assertion that Tarzan's creator knew some ancient Greek and was influenced by his high school reading of Homer (evidence is presented that Burroughs used ancient Greek syntax more frequently than one would suppose) to Burroughs’s own assertion that he had no idea of any sources, but might have been influenced by hearing or reading a tale of a shipwrecked sailor.

The essential elements of Tarzan are so powerfully attractive to the human mind that they appear, and reappear, in both fiction and putative scientific fact. Such is the evidence of the power of the wish to separate the effect of civilization from humankind’s ‘natural’ (not to say  ‘unnatural’ or uncivilized state). Fiction, after all, is only a term for a literary convention, not a statement of unreality: fiction is yet another expression of the surely nonfictional human mind tries to understand the worlds it perceives.

Three clearly nonfictional people come to mind, all of whom were in fact removed from their natural state to that of western ideas of civilization. Like Tarzan, to western eyes, they were transfigured from a natural state to living in society and civilization. Each lived at the time of Burroughs’s youth. There is no evidence that he knew of them, and it would be immaterial if he did.

I speak of Ota Benga, whose later life was spent in the New York Zoological Society, the Bronx Zoo; of Minik, an Eskimo from Lapland procured by Admiral Peary and deposited with the American Museum of Natural History, and Ishi, last of his tribe, found in Oroville, California, and resident of the Anthropological Museum, then in San Francisco.

Born in 1881 (?), captured, enslaved, or liberated; kidnapped or a willing adventurer --- your choice --- in the Congo (but a Bushman) somewhere between 1892 and 1904, some say Ota Benga was recruited willingly to be displayed at the Chicago Fair of 1893. The fair featured examples of cultures (and their proposed degree of evolution) with group settings in which the representatives lived for the duration of the fair. We can guess that his presence fit the notion of the evolution of humankind then evident not merely in the newspapers, but in the thought of senior scientists

After, Ota Benga lived at the Bronx zoo where --- again, your choice --- he was either displayed or had a job. We know that Ota Benga appeared at the 1904 St Louis World’s Fair, as well as before the New York Explorers’ Club. We also know that he tired of being chased around the zoo and poked at, so he wore a white suit while performing his duties. He expressed his view of his position by chasing zoo visitors with a knife, thereby ending his zoological value. We know that people of sympathy tried to provide a theological education, but that Ota Benga preferred farming. We also know that he shot himself and died in 1916. Of Ota Benga’s reactions to New York civilization we know little more, certainly nothing first-hand. Of Minik we know much more.

One of six Eskimo removed from Lapland by the US Admiral Peary in 1897 for transfer to New York, at the request of a newspaper and American Museum of Natural History, he was one of two to survive the stay within the museum. (The other, older man, returned home within the year.)  Peary referred to Eskimos as ‘animals with speech’, a curious assessment from a man who fathered two children by an Eskimo woman. Minik was perhaps seven years-old at the onset of his stay.  Befriended by a museum administrator named (William) Wallace and his wife, a surname Minik took along with the middle name of Peary, Minik was reared for a time in their home where he was educated in western ways and was a companion to their son, Willie. As a young adult, Minik moved about, living for a time in a hotel on West 44th Street in Manhattan, returning to Lapland, marrying, not happily, and  returning to New York. Upon his return to Lapland (Peary dropped him 800 miles from home), Minik could no longer be understood when speaking his native dialect.

Minik had the advantage of schooling and some training in a college of engineering. He charmed folk when a child, but in later adulthood attracting widely different assessments of his personality. Always a nonwhite to New Yorkers; yet a confused Eskimo to his perhaps envious village-mates, the former treating him, however kindly at times, as a pet, the latter as a confused teller of tall-tales about New York, allows us to put away the idea that a change of culture carries with it no baggage.

What white Tarzan and Eskimo share is the idea that the orphan raised without culture becomes a stronger figure for the experience.  Kenn Harper, whose sharp and brilliant book on Minik, pieces together the detail of Minik’s life and those who interacted with him, tells us that "The theme of the neglected orphan, mistreated by his own people and abandoned to find his food among the scraps left by the dogs, is a common one in Eskimo mythology. In these myths, the orphan invariably survives and grows into adulthood to become a mighty hunter who ultimately wrecks his vengeance on those who had most badly mistreated him." (p. 161) One might consider that theme to be Tarzanic.

Minik applied for US citizenship in 1916, verifying, as required, that he was not a believer in anarchism or polygamy. But neither citizenship nor vengeance was to be his. He died in 1918, probably of influenza, and is buried in New Hampshire.

Among the other Eskimo who did not survive the New York experience was Minik’s father. When an adult, Minik would complain to the frisson of New York newspapers that he had been deceived.  Taken as a child to a ceremony he believed to be his father’s burial, he later found his father’s bones displayed in the museum. Of Minik’s other reaction to western civilization we know little, although among his sympathetic observers was the anthropologist Alfred Kroeber, who was destined to be Ishi’s companion in San Francisco and Berkeley.

Ishi, a truly native Californian, appeared in Oroville in 1911 indicating that he was the last of his tribe. His language approximated that of another tribal language, one understood to some degree by a Caucasian interpreter. Ishi explained that all other members of his tribe known to him were dead, some killed by ‘whites’. Taken to the Museum of Anthropology, then in San Francisco, now on the Berkeley campus of the University of California, Ishi showed the staff how to make arrows, tools, and explained something of his native culture. The anthropologist Alfred Kroeber and his wife provided both an introduction into civilized society and concern for Ishi. Both film and slides remain of these activities. (Ishi had declined an offer from the US Bureau of Indian affairs to be resettled on a reservation.) Ishi did regular displays at the Museum, showing visitors the details of Native-American crafts. He visited the theatre in San Francisco and later suggested to the interpreter that the purpose of applause was to drive the people off the stage. Alfred Kroeber’s publications and the later books by his wife, Theodora, provide informative examples of Ishi’s reactions to society not unlike those of Tarzan’s orientations.

None of the three captives became proficient in English, but, then, none of their captors or rescuers became proficient in the captive’s language either. Minik did not settle in his new world, but came to prefer that of his childhood, Lapland. Ishi had no home or peoples to return to and died in the Museum after a few years. Ota Benga, it is fair to say, despaired.

To contrast, yet complement the lives of Ota Benga, Minik, and Ishi, I compare those of two men who reversed the process, choosing to live for a time away from their civilization. These are Joseph Knowles and Richard Lynch Garner whose adventures occur at approximately the same period as those of Ota Benga, Minik, and Ishi, a time corresponding roughly with the publication of the first Tarzan adventures.

On October 14, 1913, Joseph Knowles emerged from the forest in Massachusetts clothed in animal skins (a foot length but sleeveless number), was greeted and photographed, and was far healthier (according to a Harvard physician) than when he had entered the forest two months before. On that date, his forty-fourth birthday, August 4, Joseph Knowles had removed his clothes and set off to live unaided in the Maine forest. Here he made fire and a bed of leaves and branches, kept warm and healthy, engaged animals, made use of his artistic interests by drawing on wood with the charcoaled-fire, and survived. He reports that the difficulties in living the primitive life were not physical, but mental. Feelings of loneliness were his major challenge.

The circumstances of his return are more instructive to us than his account of the tedious days and nights in the forest. From photographs, we can see that his return was that of a hero. Enormous crowds packed Boston to welcome and cheer. Would anyone today achieve such a welcome or acknowledgement for two months in the summer forest? My bet is that Knowles was fulfilling a dream of the time, one that touched the public consciousness about nature and humankind’s relation to it. But the Heroes who overcame obstacles have been replaced by celebrities.

Garner in the 1890s, to his credit, had the idea of using the newly invented phonograph to record the vocalizations of animals, especially primates, at the Washington Zoo with the support of the Smithsonian. From this experience came the idea of playing the recordings to the apes and monkeys to record and observe the animals’s reactions. Garner was well ahead of his time in  terms of scientific methodology and reasoning. Nearly a century later, The New York Times would deem as front-page news investigators doing exactly this, playing-back recorded sounds to decode animal language.

Garner’s reputation was at a point, toward the end of the 1890s, that he found funds to advance his work significantly. He proposed to go to West Africa, to live caged, and to record the animals’s responses to him. The notion of man (or woman) alone in the jungle in the interest of ‘science’ is a powerful one, for the image can be spotted with ease in our own times. Garner returned from Gabon with several chimpanzees (they did not survive the trip) and wrote several books on the adventure. The scientific results were not thrilling, as the animals appeared to find the idea of a human in a cage unattractive. His helper, named by him ‘Native Boy’, became bored and left. The supply chain of bearers carrying food and necessities was unreliable. (But someone, nameless, must have been available to take the pictures.)

Garner’s fame was now that of an adventurer, and little attention was paid his early, imaginative studies of ape-speech. The tales became ‘taller’, the adventures more unbelievable, as Garner continued to write for the next and last twenty years of his life. His books were the literary equivalent of Rossini overtures. Each edition featured a new flourish, but sounded familiar. He could not reply to a devastating criticism of his African work provided by a young academic reflecting the academic and scientific establishment having tolerated enough.  For whatever reason, it would be almost a century before scientists returned to the question of animal speech and the technique of playing-back animal sounds. Celebrity-status is an unhealthy mistress for some.

J. Allen St. John art from Jungle Tales of TarzanAs Garner appears to have made little if any attempt to understand the people who populated the area he was in ---- after all, his mission was to converse with the animals ---- we are none the wiser about the ease of learning a new culture. Garner was, however, in the geographic area generally believed to describe Tarzan’s upbringing. The idea of learning the culture and language was in the air, seemingly part of the ethos of both popular and scientific culture in the decades surrounding the turn into the 20th century.

How much of Knowles and Garner’s reports were fiction, intentional or otherwise? The tales, even if embellished, are believable, if just-so.  Shall we put these books on our shelf labeled fiction or labeled nonfiction? One arbiter is the United States Library of Congress who decides the appropriate call number for books. Richard Garner’s work is listed under “zoology: primates, general; Joseph Knowles’ under "wildlife-related recreation, hunting, camping, outdoor-life, and Maine." Both are nonfiction.

What is Fiction? Truth? Legend? It is time that we readers were allowed to visit the hatchery prepared for us, the result of inspired collecting, impressive detective-work, and careful editing, in which the theme of abandonment (whatever the reason) is joined with the archetypal narrative of facing an alien culture (or, alternately, being born into an alien culture and facing, in time, another culture. And that is precisely the opportunity that our editor and compiler has planned for us. People and libraries of now and the future are indebted and thankful.

But, 'Fact, Fiction, or Legend '--- the hatchery cares not which it warms and sends forth. Tarzan and his fellow illustrate to us our uncertainty of the role of environment on species circumscribed by genes. That the relationship poses for us the most tangled of the mysteries of human intellectual wanderings is the basis of our longstanding, never-ending, and uncritical, in the literary sense, interest in what it would be like to be alien to our culture. Tarzan and his fellows are hypotheses that we know not how to test. That is their secret, their charm, and their continuing power.

   ©Douglas K. Candland, 2007, All rights reserved

George Dodds' The Ape-Man, his Kith and Kin
Go directly to Index Chart of Texts
1800: 1701-1800 Contents Chrono 1801: 1801-1900 Contents by Theme 1802 Dodds' Advent Project Intro 1803 Apeman Kith & Kin
1804 ERB: Tarzan of the Apes 1805 AJ Ogilvy: Ape-Man 1806 Roland: Almost a Man 1807 Ducray-Duminil: 2 Children
1808 Anonymous: Autonous History 1809 Leroux: Balaoo | 2 | 3 1810 Sargent: Beyond Banyans 1811 Purchas: Battell in Angola
1812 Berthet: Wild Man | 2 | 3 | 4 | 1813 Buel: Dark Continent | 2 | 1814 Rickett: Caliban Quickening 1815 Lounsberry: Golden Crater
1816 Gracian: The Critick 1817 Court: Kingdom of Apes 1818 Gomez: Historia de Dulcarnain 1819 Roland: Missing Link
1820 Hyne: New Eden 1821 Eldridge: Monkey Man 1822 Beaulieu: French Cabin Boy 1823 Anon: Monkey-Land Mems
1824 Ballantine: Gorilla Hunters  | 2 | 1825 Anon: Gorilla Origin of Man 1826 Gozlan: Monkey Island 1827 Granucci: Bella Favola
1828 Haggard: Allan's Wife 1829 d'Hampol: Missing Link 1830 Hauff: Young Englishman 1831 Dodillon: Hemo
1832 Longueville: The Hermit 1833 Constable: Intellect Curse 1834 Favenc: Jinkarras Haunt 1835 Gabriel: Jocko Brazil Monkey
1836 Graydon: Jungle Boy 1837 Kipling: Jungle Book | a | 1838 Kipling: Second Jungle Book 1839 Kirkby: AutoMathes History
1840 Stacpoole: Blue Lagoon | 2 | 1841 Davidson: Lavender Mission 1842 LeRoy: Levrai Adventure 1843 Anon: Chevalier Dreams
1844 Sheridan: Young Marooner | 2 | 1845 Marryat: Little Savage 1846 Standish: Gorilla Land Link 1847 JF Cooper: Monikins | 2 |
1848 Moustache: Old Man & Ape 1849 Fogerty: Mr. Jocko | 2 | 3 | 1850 Nye: Monkey Language Exp.
Georges Dodds Index
1851 Mallock: Positivism On Island 1852 Griffiths: Peters 1853 Pougens/Dodds: Jocko 1854 Robertson: Primordial Laws
1855 Plutarch: Romulus 1856 Anon: Surprising Adventures 1857 Mighels: Crystal Scepter 1858: Alden: Darwinian Schooner
1859: Brookfield: Simiocracy 1860 Robinson: Soko Hunting 1861 Smile: Soong Sumatra 1862 Muddock: Sunless City  | 2 |
1863 Cole: Humans with Tails 1864 Lermina: Goldslayer | 2 | 3 | 1865 Morgan: Missing Link | 2 | 1866 Seriman: Incognite Australi
1867 Graydon: Africa White King | 2 | 1868 Tufail: Hayy Ibn Yaqzân 1869 Lugones/Dodds: Yzur 1870 Curwen: Zit & Xoe
1871 Lemon: Gorilla 1872 Period Reviews 1873 Postl: Mexico Nights 1874 Rice: Katie's Forest Friends
1875 Frankenstein: Boy & Elephant 1876 1877 1899 Candland: Fact, Fiction, Legend

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