Tarzan of the Apes - 4 Stars

May 10, 2004 (Updated May 10, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Tarzan's a super character.

Cons:The book has a pretty poor ending compared to its first three-fourths.

The Bottom Line: It's a quick read and worth your time. Why? ...Read the review.


It’s a funny thing writing a review of Tarzan of the Apes. It’s funny because unless you’ve actually been raised in the jungle by apes you know the basic premise of Tarzan’s story and you’ve probably subjected yourself to many of the pitiful adaptations that exist. So, if you’ve found your travels thus far in the Tarzan world pleasant enough to continue forward with the book, you’ll no doubt have a pleasant experience, because it’s entirely better than watching Johnny Weissmuller reruns.

If you do decide to delve in, there’s little chance that you’ll regret your experience. Edgar Rice Burroughs for 300 pages does a near perfect job of making a story that is inherently unbelievable seem believable. But, the book is actually 400 pages, so you’re left with 100 pages that are less than perfect, so I guess there is a small chance you’ll be disappointed with the book. Personally, due to the quality of the front stretch of the book I can pretty easily overlook the final lap.

The first three-fourths of this book introduces us to a character much more complex than the one we thought we knew. American culture has had their fair share of Tarzan dumped on them over the years. But, none of my experiences with Tarzan films, cartoons, and comic books describe Tarzan with as much complexity as Burroughs does. The book offers a very unique mix of childlike innocence and disturbing violence. It’s these back and forth volleys of violence and innocence that makes Tarzan an interesting and complicated character. It has to be this way because Tarzan is growing up in the jungle. Growing up involves learning and discovering. And, growing up in the jungle without anyone teaching you right and wrong involves violence.

This innocence/violence plays perfectly into Burrough’s story structure. Each chapter is a new adventure in Tarzan’s life. It’s almost like a role-playing game, because each adventure causes Tarzan to increase in skill and learn just a little more. This helps explain the mixture that I’m discussing. On one page, Tarzan is discovering the treasures of his parent’s tree house (including a knife), on the next page he’s killing an ape and getting mutilated in the process. He learns to use a rope, and he uses it to kill the natives. This is what makes Tarzan a complex character and an interesting read.

…for about 300 pages. The strength of having a new adventure every chapter is wonderful when each new adventure serves the purpose of explaining who Tarzan is. But, when it becomes a requirement for each chapter, then it becomes his worst enemy. However, by the time the book is drawing to a close, you’ve become so attached to Tarzan’s story that you’re willing to forgive some of the shortcomings, at least, that’s the way I felt.

For example, the first time Tarzan really makes himself known to a group marooned on the island (Jane included), the group is split into three sections. Here, with all the enemies in the jungle that Burroughs could have used, Tarzan rescues each group from a lion. Yes, three lion attacks (and deaths) in the same evening. Tarzan must have been bushed that night. After that, Burroughs heads into a world of simplicity, coincidence, and cliffhangers. For me, it was disappointing, since the rest of the book was so spellbinding.

I can’t give the book anything but a good review, though, because the largest chunk of the book is such a pleasant experience. You have one enjoyable thing piled on top of another. At the least, it’s a great idea for a story. On top of that, it’s written in a way that’s captivating; the story races along. And, then, to top it all off, there’s a complex character to think about as well as some underlying themes to explore while you read. The book is worth your time even if it does have a weak ending.


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