The First and Only Weekly Online Fanzine Devoted to the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
Issue 0685
September 21, 2001 Issue
Tarzan of the Apes

A Personal Journey Through 24 Volumes
Robert A. Woodley
Bob Woodley with TA 1st edition from the U of Louisville Collection
This article first appeared in
ERBAPA #70 ~ July, 2001

Tarzan Triumphant Ace edition: Roy G. Kenkel art

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

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. 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.

A Princess of Mars actually has two beginnings; the Forward and Chapter One. The Forward begins:

To the Reader of this Work:
In submitting Captain Carterís strange manuscript to you in book form. I believe that a few words relative to this remarkable personality will be of interest. Chapter One begins:
  I am a very old man. How old I do not know. Possibly I am a hundred. Possibly more; but I cannot tell because I have never aged as other men. Nor to I remember any childhood. So far as I can recollect I have always been a man, a man of about thirty. There they are. These are the words Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote down in 1911, which introduced readers to his two most famous works. We read these words and somehow we know that we have met a storyteller, and he is about to tell us an unusual story. Something strange. Something new. Our imagination is piqued. Even the writer is skeptical of the credibility of these promised tales. Why? Letís find out. Letís read about this character called Tarzan of the Apes.

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.

We know only that on a bright May morning in 1888, John, Lord Greystoke, and Lady Alice sailed from Dover on their way to Africa.

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 was almost immediately that the wreckage was found upon the shores of St. Helena....

Thus, we know that they left Freetown in June of 1888.
  So it was that from the second day out from Freetown John Clayton and his young wife witnessed scenes upon the deck of the Fuwalda such as they had believed were never enacted outside the covers of printed stories of the sea. Several days later the mutiny occurs, and:
  On the fifth day following the murder of the shipís officers, land was sighted by the lookout. It would appear, then, that they probably landed at Tarzanís birthplace sometime around the latter part of June or the beginning of July, 1888. Tarzan is with them at the time.
  "But John, if it were only you and I," she sobbed, "we could endure it I know, butó" It takes Clayton a month to construct his cabin, and another month to make it quite habitable.
  The building of a bed, chairs, table an shelves was a relatively easy matter, so that by the end of the second month they were well settled, and, but for the constant dread of attack by wild beasts and the ever growing loneliness, they were not uncomfortable or unhappy. It seems to be in the next few months that we get our first good view of the mangani.
  At last he saw it, the thing little monkeys so fearedó the man-brute of which the Claytons had caught occasional fleeting glimpses.

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.

As Clayton prepares to fight the ape with an ax, the creature is described in more detail.
  The ape was a great bull, weighing probably three hundred pounds. His nasty, close-set eyes gleamed hatred from beneath his shaggy brows, while his great canine fangs were bared in a horrid snarl as he paused a moment before his prey. Lady Alice shoots the ape, but when two hours later Clayton revives her, it is apparent that she has suffered mental damage from the incident, from which she never recovers. Yet on that same day which brought so much suffering to the Claytons, a life comes into being.
  That night a little son was born in the tiny cabin beside the primeval forest, while a leopard screamed before the door, and the deep notes of a lionís roar sounded from beyond the ridge. What an unforgettable and perfect way to depict the birth of this character. Conan may have been born on a battlefield, but Tarzan of the Apes was born in a savage world which was itself an unending battle for life and death.
  Lady Greystoke never recovered from the shock of the great apeís attack, and though she lived for a year after her baby was born, she was never again outside the cabin, nor did she ever fully realize tht she was not in England. It seems to me that John and Lady Alice had a relatively uneventful existence for a few months after the completion of the cabin, prior to this eventful day, since Tarzanís birth would not have occurred till November. Clayton had married Alice in February, and by May they already knew they would be raising a child in Africa, to the point where they had purchased many books and other items for their future child. Moreover, it seems probable that the sire of Tarzan would have been so full of testosterone and stuff that he would have surely conceived a child almost immediately; perhaps on their wedding night; his savage sperm swimming boldly up those fallopian tubes with Weissmuller-like speed and efficiency.
  A year from the day her little son was born Lady Alice passed away quietly in the night. So peaceful was her end that it was hours before Clayton could awake to a realization that his wife was dead. One day later, the actual story of Tarzan of the Apes begins, and we meet his foster mother and the magnificent Kerchak.
  Kerckak was a huge king ape, weighing perhaps three hundred and fifty pounds. His forehead was extremely low and receding, his eyes bloodshot, small and close set to his coarse, flat nose; his ears large and thin, but smaller than most of his kind.

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.

I set forth the previous passages since they define the mangani, physically and socially. In these passages ERB makes it clear that these are wild, savage beasts, prone to violence and rage, yet with individual differences, particularly when it comes to females, and most particularly when it comes to Kala. She is a combination of wild beast and loving mother. The mangani seem to be very similar in appearance to gorillas, though lighter and taller. It also appears (unfortunately in my view) that ERB makes them look a bit like a cross between a chimpanzee and a gorilla, what with those big ears. I donít know what prompted that, and I never did care for chimpanzees as examples of heroic primates. St. Johnís illustrations in the early books might also be indicative that ERB seemed to picture them as somewhat different from gorillas, facially. I still think of them as more gorilla-like, since I think gorillas are fantastic beasts, and truly awesome.
  They traveled for the most part upon the ground, where it was open, following the path of the great elephants whose comings and goings break the only roads through those tangled mazes of bush, vine, creeper, and tree. When they walked it was with a rolling, awkward motion, placing the knuckles of their closed hands upon the ground and swinging their ungainly bodies forward.

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.

Savage and gorilla-like they may be, but after Kerchak kills Clayton, Kala steals the baby and flees into the trees.
  High up among the branches of a mighty tree she hugged the shrieking infant to her bosom, and soon the instinct that was as dominant in this fierce female as it had been in the breast of his tender and beautiful mother Ė the instinct of mother love Ė reached out to the tiny man-childís half-formed understanding, and he became quiet.

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.

This is quite a remarkable scene; the idea of a human baby breast-feeding from an ape. In an era when it was almost unthinkable for people of different races to kiss, ERB sweeps aside any such notions in the interests of reality. He tackles this survival problem in the only way it can be handled. Itís one of the many details in this book which permit us to accept the story.

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:

"Never, Broken Nose," replied Kala. "If I must carry him forever, so be it."

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."

Although Tarzan is a bit slow at first, the passage of time works wonders.
  As Tarzan grew he made more rapid strides, so that by the time he was ten years old he was an excellent climber, and on the ground could do many wonderful things which were beyond the powers of his little brothers and sisters.
In many ways did he differ from them, and they often marveled at his superior cunning, but in strength and size he was deficient, for at ten the great anthropoids were fully grown, some of them towering over six feet in height, while little Tarzan was still but a half-grown boy.

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.

The preceding passages are certainly among the most important words Burroughs ever wrote. In the space of a page or so he creates his ape-boy. We can see this child swinging and leaping and learning all the physical skills which young people learn so easily. We instantly accept that this unique life-style and the necessity to survive have combined to create a human being with skills which are truly wondrous. Long before studies were done which established critical periods for children to learn certain motor skills; and long before weíve seen such amazing skills as are exhibited by young gymnasts and extreme sports athletes, ERB gave us a simple and exciting scenario and reasons why we can believe in this character as a "real" person.

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.

Not so, however, with Tarzan, the man-child. His life amidst the dangers of the jungle had taught him to meet emergencies with self-confidence, and his higher intelligence resulted in a quickness of mental action far beyond the powers of the apes.

So the scream of Sabor, the lioness, galvanized the brain and muscles of little Tarzan into instant action.

He leaps into the pool, discovers that he can swim, and learns a valuable lesson.
  Tarzan now swam to shore and clambered quickly upon dry land. The feeling of freshness and exhilaration which the cool waters had imparted to him, filled his little being with grateful surprise, and ever after he lost no opportunity to take a daily plunge in lake or stream or ocean when it was possible to do so. In this passage ERB not only begins to examine the superiority Tarzanís intelligence will give him in his environment, but he effortlessly banishes any concept of Tarzan as an unkempt, dirty, bug-infested ill-smelling wild feral boy. From that day on we perceive Tarzan as clean and fond of swimming whenever possible.

Tarzanís environment is very large, more than 1,200 square miles.

The tribe to which he belonged roamed a tract extending, roughly, twenty-five miles along the seacoast and some fifty miles inland. This they traversed almost continually, occasionally remaining for months in one locality; but as they moved through the trees with great speed they often covered the territory in a very few days. This passage highlights the concept of how superior arboreal travel is in Tarzanís jungle; a concept which permeates the books. It is his arboreal skills, as much as anything else, which make him so unique and so dominant in his jungle. We are given glimpses of the life among the mangani.
  At night they slept where darkness overtook them, lying upon the ground, and sometimes covering their heads, and more seldom their bodies, with the great leaves of the elephantís ear. Two or three might lie cuddled in each otherís arms for additional wamth if the night were chill, and this Tarzan had slept in Kalaís arms nightly for all these years.

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.

This was another passage which I thought Disney brought relatively faithfully to the screen.

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.

To none of these evidences of a fearful tragedy of a long dead day did little Tarzan give but passing heed. His wild jungle life had inured him to the sight of dead and dying animals, and had he known that he was looking upon the remains of his own father and mother he would have been no more greatly moved. Here we do see a marked difference between the young Tarzan and what we might consider a "civilized" boy. We perceive a young man who accepts life and death and violence as a natural part of life. He has no illusions. He loves Kala but has no conception of "familial" love or permanency. His maturation has clearly made him different from us; yet realistically so. We can accept the logic of this callousness, and thus we continue to accept him.
  Among other things he found a sharp hunting knife, on the keen blade of which he immediately proceeded to cut his finger. Undaunted he continued his experiments, finding that he could hack and hew splinters of wood from the table an chairs with his new toy.

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.

This is certainly an unforgettable passage. He finds the two things which will make him supreme in his world; the knife which will give him physical mastery over the other beasts, and that dictionary/alphabet which will open up the vast potentials of his mind, though the words puzzle him.
  Ė some kind of strange bug he thought they might be, for many of them had legs though nowhere could he find one with eyes and a mouth. It was his first introduction to the letters of the alphabet, and he was over ten years old. He leaves the cabin only to encounter Bolgani in another timeless passage.
  Had Tarzan been a full-grown bull ape of the species of his tribe he would have been more than a match for the gorilla, but being only a little English boy, though enormously muscular for such, he stood no chance against his cruel antagonist. In his veins, though, flowed the blood of the best of a race of mighty fighters, and back of this was the training of his short lifetime among the fierce brutes of the jungle.

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.

In fact he met the brute midway in its charge, striking its huge body with his closed fists and as futilely as if he had been a fly attacking an elephant. But in one hand he still clutched the knife he had found in the cabin of his father, and as the brute, striking and biting, closed upon him the boy accidently turned the point toward the hairy breast. As the knife sank deep into its body the gorilla shrieked in pain and rage.

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.

Thus did Tarzan slay his first deadly foe with that knife, though nearly at the cost of his own life, but Kalaís unfailing love and ministrations bring him through, and we can clearly see that this boy is unlike any other. Yet he is only ten years old. The age of a fifth-grader, but he charges a full grown gorilla almost without a thought.
  At last the fever abated and the boy commenced to mend. No word of complaint passed his tight set lips, though the pain of his wounds was excruciating.

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 eyes.

In a month he is healed, and returns to the cabin, where he discovers other books, and becomes wholly captivated by them. One passage is particularly superb.
  Squatting upon his haunches on the table top in the cabin his father had built Ė his smooth, brown, naked little body bent over the book which rested in his strong slender hands, and his great shock of long, black hair falling about his well-shaped head and bright, intelligent eyes ó Tarzan of the apes, little primitive man, presented a picture filled at once, with pathos and with promise Ė an allegorical figure of the primordial groping through the black night of ignorance toward the light of learning. I always love that passage. Itís the first time ERB uses the phrase "Tarzan of the apes", and it does truly present an image of loneliness and of hope. He is so alone. He has lived such a harsh life. Yet his is an unconquerable spirit and an unquenchable mind. He will always be alone in some respects. Always an outsider. Yet he is curious and fearless and filled with wonder, and with a mind which never stops. So he learns to read.
  He did not accomplish it in a day, or in a week, or in a month, or in a year; but slowly, every slowly, he learned after he had grasped the possibilities which lay in those little bugs, so that by the time he was fifteen he knew the various combinations of letters which stood for every pictured figure in the little primer and in one or two of the picture books. He tries to copy the words he reads at age twelve, and keeps learning.
  By the time he was seventeen he hd learned to read the simple, childís primer and had fully realized the true and wonderful purpose of the little bugs.

No longer did he feel shame for his hairless body or human features...

He certainly had other unforgettable adventures during this period, however.
  Tublat was his most consistent enemy, but it was through Tublat that, when he was about thirteen, the persecution of his enemies suddenly ceased and he was left severely alone, except on the occasions when one of them ran amuck in the throes of one of those strange, wild fits of insane rage which attacks the males of many of the fiercer animals of the jungle. Appropriately this occurred at that periodic and strange ceremony of the apes. The following are fragments of this fascinating scenario.
  Many travelers have seen the drums of the great apes, and some have heard the sounds of their beating and the noise of the wild, weird revelry of these first lords of the jungle, but Tarzan, Lord Greystoke, is, doubtless, the only human being who ever joined in the fierce, mad, intoxicating revel of the Dum-Dum. ..

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.

After Tublat goes mad and Tarzan has retreated up into a tree, until he sees that the enraged ape is after one particular victim.
  It was Kala, and as quickly as Tarzan saw that Tublat was gaining on her he dropped with the rapidity of a falling stone, from branch to branch, toward his foster mother..... Kala gains safety but then falls upon Tublat when a branch breaks, and as they leap up:
  Both were up in an instant, but as quick as they had been Tarzan hd been quicker, so that the infuriated bull found himself facing the man-child who stood between him and Kala.
Nothing could have suited the fierce beast better, and with a roar of triumph he leaped upon the little Lord Greystoke. But his fangs never closed in that nut brown flesh.

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.

This is another one of my favorite scenes. It has for the first time the type of phrase, "quick is/was" which I so associate with the Tarzans. It shows what a marvelous specimen of young manhood is this boy, who is only thirteen years old at the time. It displays his savagery, his love for Kala, his arrogance, and his hatred for Kerchak. How many times will we see " a muscular hand shoot out and grasp a throat" as the saga progresses? How fearless and quick and agile is this boy who would not yet have started high school in civilized society?

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.

Tarzan of the Apes lived on in his wild, jungle existence with little change for several years, only that he grew stronger and wiser, and learned from his books more and more of the strange worlds which lay somewhere outside his primeval forest.

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.

Quick was Sabor, the lioness, and quick were Numa and Sheeta, but Tarzan of the Apes was lightning. Well, there it is. Perhaps my favorite phraseology from the Tarzan books. It appears periodically in the books, with minor variations. It has always defined Tarzan for me. It was his speed which made him was he was. However powerful was the ape-man, his strength was nothing when compared to some of the beasts he fought. I just love that phrase. I donít suppose too many others share my obsession for this phrase, but I donít care. Whenever I think of the ape-man, I think Quick is Numa............but........ Iím sure Iíll note such phrases where I find them, since I so enjoy them.
  With Tantor, the elephant, he made friends. How? Ask not. But this is known to the denizens of the jungle, that one many moonlilght nights Tarzan of the Apes and Tantor, the elephant, walked together, and where the way was clear Tarzan rode, perched high upon Tantorís mighty back. Thus does ERB create another odd relationship which will permeate the books (and movies). Numa may be the king of beasts, but Tantor is the emperor of the animal kingdom. We have learned so much about elephants over the many years since this novel was written, and their intelligence and some other traits and habits are very fascinating. They seem to understand death, and possess other very unusual characteristics. This was an ideal match. Another example of Burroughs somehow sensing what would be perfect; and/or simply writing to please himself and touching something within himself which touched millions of others.
  Many days during these years he spent in the cabin of his father, where still lay, untouched, the bones of his parents and the skeleton of Kalaís baby. At eighteen he read fluently and understood nearly all he read in the many and varied volumes on the shelves. So there he is. Eighteen years old. A young giant in the full prime of his manhood. A loner who has again and again survived brutal battle and hunger and near death. Who has never seen another human being. He can read and write English but cannot speak it. He knows of cities and ships and trains but lives among apes. He has mastered his environment through his own efforts and immense good fortune. Kala has been essential to his survival, physically and emotionally, and her immeasurable love will be forever reciprocated by the ape-man; but she is an ape, and his successes and achievements were still largely the result of his own efforts. Thus he cannot possess the type of emotional perspective which a child might possess who had a human family. He has few expectations in life, nor any weaknesses. Soon he will encounter man; and woman.

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.


A Personal Journey 
by Robert Woodley

Excuse me, Terrorists

Excuse me, if with little grace,
I watch as people hang in space,
Or buildings fall and lives erase,
And tears across my cheeks do trace,

Excuse me,  as I raise my eyes,
And stare at you;  excuse my cries,
And know there will be no surprise,
When hell descends from your own skies,

Excuse me, since I know you're tough,
That we don't care if we play rough,
And go ahead; let's see some bluff,
For we can deal with all your stuff,

Excuse me, when we burn and kill,
And bomb and shoot, for we sure will,
Until you've paid that monstrous bill,
You'll pay in blood; so feel a chill,

Excuse me, but we're on our way,
We'll get there on some future day,
And then we'll wipe that smear away,
Which is your life, this do I say,

Excuse me, but you cannot hide,
Run if you wish, our time we'll bide,
We'll never cease until you've died,
And paid for those for whom we've cried,

Excuse me, but we'll not be done,
Until we've slaughtered every one,
Who helped a child's dream come undone,
And burned her in a fireball's sun,

Excuse me, if I seem amazed,
But I've seen horror which has blazed,
And buildings full of people razed,
With grief and rage and hate I'm crazed,

Excuse me, we will never quit,
It's killer tag, and now you're "it",
With no remorse, not one damn bit,
We'll look upon your graves and spit,

Excuse me, we will get you all,
Searching places, large and small,
Slither if you wish, or crawl,
Then down into your Hell you'll fall,

Excuse me, we will hunt forever,
This is now our main endeavor,
Terror from this world we'll sever,
Excuse me, but we'll give up.... Never!

Robert A. Woodley

A Personal Journey Through 24 Volumes

Tarak's Website
Lands of Adventure
is found at
Tarak's THB (Tawny Haired Barbarian) Group
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

Headpiece from the original appearance of Tarzan of the Apes in All-Story

Issue 0685

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