"Look!" he cried, "Apes of Kerchak. See what Tarzan, the mighty killer, has done... Tarzan is mightiest amongst you for Tarzan is no ape. Tarzan is—"
But here he stopped, for in the language of the anthropoids there was no word for man...'
First created by Edgar Rice Burroughs
in 1912, Tarzan has since swung through dozens of books, films and TV series, both straight and parodied. Tarzan
is the quintessential jungle hero
; white but at home
in Darkest Africa
This page covers the novels; for the films and other adaptations, see Franchise.Tarzan
In the original books, Tarzan was born John Clayton, the son of Lord Greystoke, and raised by the fictional Mangani
apes after being orphaned in Africa as a baby. He was named Tarzan, meaning "white-skin" in their language. After meeting Jane and learning the basics of human interaction, he left the jungle in search of his true love. They married and settled in England, where they had a son, but eventually grew tired of civilization and returned to the jungle. These books include:
Novels and collections by Edgar Rice Burroughs
- Tarzan of the Apes (1912)
- The Return Of Tarzan (1913)
- The Beasts of Tarzan (1914)
- Son of Tarzan (1914)
- Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar (1916)
- Jungle Tales of Tarzan (1919)
- Tarzan the Untamed (1920)
- Tarzan the Terrible (1921)
- Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1923)
- Tarzan and the Ant Men (1924)
- Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (1928)
- Tarzan and the Lost Empire (1929)
- Tarzan at the Earth's Core (1930). Tarzan visits Pellucidar.
- Tarzan the Invincible (1931).
- Tarzan Triumphant (1932).
- Tarzan and the City of Gold (1933).
- Tarzan and the Lion Man (1934).
- Tarzan and the Leopard Men (1935).
- Tarzan's Quest (1936). Tarzan and Jane quest for the secret of immortality.
- Tarzan and the Forbidden City (1938).
- Tarzan the Magnificent (1939).
- Tarzan and the Foreign Legion (1947). The novel covers Tarzan's adventures while serving in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II.
- Tarzan and the Madman (1964). Written in 1940, but not published before.
- Tarzan and the Castaways (1965). Collects three short stories, originally published in magazines in 1940 and 1941.
Tarzan's further adventures generally have one of two plots: either Tarzan discovers a Lost World
(even visiting Burroughs' own hollow-earth Pellucidar
in one novel), or he defends his African friends against European villains. Along the way, Tarzan and his family became immortal, if only in the literary sense. In the books, Tarzan was very intelligent
, and by the end of the series, spoke something like thirty languages.
The earlier Tarzan novels are out of copyright
in the US, but not in Europe, and The Other Wiki
suggests he's also trademarked by the author's company. Altogether, that explains why The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
only refers to him as "Lord Greystoke"
Tarzan books with their own trope pages include:
The remaining books, and the series as a whole, provide examples of:
- Acid Reflux Nightmare: Tarzan experiences one after eating some bad meat in the short story "The Nightmare" in Jungle Tales of Tarzan.
- Always Save the Girl: Tarzan is constitutionally incapable of ignoring a woman in distress, and he always succeeds in his rescue.
- Atlantis: Opar used to be an outpost of an Atlantean civilization.
- Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: The people of the lost city of Opar consist of a tribe of stunted, hairy, almost apelike men ruled over by a beautiful, entirely human-looking woman. It's implied that the inhabitants degenerated by mating with great apes, but somehow the degeneration didn't affect females the way it did males.
- It's mentioned once or twice that the Oparians have deliberately selected for this by killing male babies who were too humanlike and female babies who were too apelike.
- Blue Blood: Tarzan eventually becomes the latest Lord Greystoke.
- Cannot Spit It Out: More than once.
- Canon Welding: The thirteenth book, Tarzan at the Earth's Core, quite clearly defines the Tarzan and Pellucidar novels as part of the same continuity, with Tarzan and his allies heading underground for a Crossover.
- Changeling Fantasy: Meriem in Son of Tarzan is the kidnapped daughter of a French general, and is reunited with her parents in the end after being raised by an Arab who kidnapped her out of revenge. (She's also a princess.)
- Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys: Entirely averted. The French—particularly the military officers—are depicted as uniformly chivalrous and brave. D'Arnot, Tarzan's best friend, is the best example.
- Contrived Coincidence: More than once. The one that brings all the key players together at the end of The Return of Tarzan, at a significant location none of them had particularly been aiming for, is especially egregious.
- Chronic Hero Syndrome: Good lord! In just the first two books, Tarzan saves every single one of Jane's party at least twice; Jane herself three times before the exchange a word. He then rescues the French officer who left to rescue Jane. Then he rescues Jane both from a wildfire and an Abhorrent Admirer. It's so bad that after he makes an enemy of some Russian spies (because he rescued a woman from them) they lure him to an ambush using the cries of a distressed woman.
- Damsel in Distress: There is at least one per book.
- Tarzan: Jane, more than once.
- Return of Tarzan: The Countess Olga de Coude, Kadour ben Saden's daughter.
- Son of Tarzan: Meriem.
- Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar: Jane, La
- Tarzan the Untamed: Fraulein Bertha Kircher
- Death of the Hypotenuse: William Clayton, at the end of The Return of Tarzan, leaving the way clear for Jane to marry Tarzan.
- The same thing happens in Son of Tarzan to the Honorable Morison Baynes, rival of Korak for Meriem's affections.
- Direct Line to the Author: The first Tarzan novel begins with an explicit statement that Burroughs was told the story by one who was there, and that the names have been changed to protect the etc. When the Tarzan series took off, this aspect of the story proved impossible to keep up, and was quietly dropped; however, fans (including Philip Jose Farmer, who used it as the launching pad for his Wold Newton Family research) still make use of it when discussing what Tarzan's life was "really" like.
- Doomed Hometown: Tarzan's homestead in Africa gets pillaged and burned multiple times throughout the series.
- Evilutionary Biologist: 'God' in Tarzan and the Lion-Man.
- Frazetta Man:
- The mangani who raised Tarzan are a missing-link "anthropoid ape" species (not, as many adaptations make them, common mountain gorillas). This makes them a very rare example of a positive portrayal of this trope. At the time of Burroughs' writing, primatology was in its infancy and gorillas were assumed to be brutal and violent, so Burroughs invented a species 'gentle' enough to adopt Tarzan.
- The bestial menfolk of Opar are a straighter example.
- Genius Bruiser: Tarzan is very intelligent, and contrary to his usual depiction in adaptations can speak fluent English by the end of the first book (as well as French, and later several other languages).
- Gladiator Revolt: Tarzan stages one in Tarzan and the Lost Empire.
- Great White Hunter: (Return of Tarzan) Tarzan goes undercover as an American big-game hunter.
- Honorable Elephant: Tantor.
- Hungry Jungle: Where he lives.
- I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Tarzan, at the end of Tarzan of the Apes and the beginning of The Return of Tarzan, keeps away from Jane because he doesn't want her to be unhappy with her decision to marry William Clayton.
- Identical Stranger: In Tarzan and the Lion Man, a film crew enters Africa, bringing along an actor who is an exact double for the ape man, with predictable results.
- Immortality Immorality: In Tarzan's Quest, the nineteenth Tarzan novel, the malevolent Kavuru tribe manufacture immortality pills from the bodies of recently killed young women.
- Instant Waking Skills: One of Tarzan's talents.
- Jungle Drums: The dum-dum drums played by mangani, the apes that raised Tarzan, at midnight gatherings.
- Jungle Princess: Meriem, the wife of Korak the Killer in The Son of Tarzan and later books.
- Killer Gorilla: Gorillas, referred to as bolgani, are portrayed very large and aggressive, and deadly enemies of Tarzan's family, the mangani. However, the mangani themselves apply too.
- Knife Nut: In the very first book, the boy Tarzan discovers under extreme Killer Gorilla pressure how to use his father's hunting knife. This is his first weapon, and it remains his favorite throughout the Burroughs stories.
- Lamarck Was Right: Korak inherited his father's highly trained strength, reflexes, and ability to understand animals (particularly apes).
- Lilliputian Warriors: The Minunians, the eponymous 'Ant Men', are warring city-states of warriors one fourth the size of normal men in Tarzan and the Ant Men.
- Living Forever Is Awesome: Tarzan and a few of his friends attain eternal life and youth by stealing some immortality pills from one novel's Big Bad (he cannot share immortality with the world, due to the pill's morally dubious manufacturing method). Tarzan has a very upbeat, "seize the day" mindset and is completely unbothered by the consequences of his immortality. When asked by someone if the thought of all his friends growing old and dying bothers him, he replies that the promise of making new friends makes up for it. When asked if he is worried about boredom, Tarzan replies that he lives such an exciting life, he doesn't worry about it.
- Lost World: Tarzan stumbles across a number of Lost Worlds in Africa. These include:
- Opar, first introduced in The Return of Tarzan (1913). This lost city is the last remnant of the world-spanning empire of Atlantis.
- Athne & Cathne, the Cities of Ivory and Gold, respectively, in "Tarzan and the City of Gold" (1932) and "Tarzan the Magnificent" (1939). The mutually-dependent-hereditary-enmity society of these semi-Greco-Roman cities is one of the few "lost worlds" that Tarzan visits twice, and it is the home of the evil Queen Nemone.
- The Valley of the Holy Sepulcher, in Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (1928). This valley was settled by two quarreling groups of Crusaders in the twelfth century, one of which claimed to have achieved the Holy Grail and thus the Crusade, while the other denied it. The latter group founded the city of Nimmr at one end of the valley, blocking the path of retreat to England, while the former group founded the City of the Sepulcher at the other end, blocking the route to the Middle East. The two groups have long since ceased any serious efforts to leave the valley, and have come to various accommodations with one another for their own survival.
- Lottery Of Doom: In "Return of Tarzan" Clayton, a Russian spy, and a sailor are in a lifeboat with no food or water, and they hold a lottery to determine which of them should die so the others may live. The sailor loses his nerve and jumps overboard while the spy cheats, but is too weak to kill Clayton afterwards.
- Mighty Whitey: Tarzan was shown to be far better suited to life in the African wilds than any of the black natives. The books explicitly said that his European noble ancestry is what allowed him to shine.
- More accurately, the first novel points out that his ancestry is where he inherited his physique (the potential of which was developed by his jungle upbringing) and his extraordinary intelligence. His European heritage was not presented as making him somehow "better" suited to the wild than the indigenous tribes.
- Misplaced Wildlife: Tarzan fought a tiger in the original magazine serialization of Tarzan of the Apes; following reader feedback, it was corrected for the book. Also lions, which do live in Africa but on the savanna, not in the jungle.
- Nature Hero: Tarzan.
- Noble Savage: The apes are actually depicted this way: violent, brutal and simple, but honorable in their own way.
- Panthera Awesome: Lions and other big cats feature prominently in the stories, as scenery, adversaries, sidekicks and even Big Damn Heroes.
- Papa Wolf: Tarzan.
- Poisoned Weapons: Tarzan uses poison arrows that he steals from the natives, at least until he scares them into leaving a bundle out with some food every so often as 'tribute' to the forest spirit they think they've angered.
- Proto-Superhero: A major inspiration for every jungle-themed hero to follow, and also for animal-influencing supers such as Aquaman.
- Raised by Wolves: Apes, actually.
- The Remnant: In Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, Tarzan encounters two feuding groups of Knights Templar, neither of whom know that the Crusades are over.
- Romantic False Lead: William Clayton in the first two books.
- The Strength of Ten Men: Or at least of more than four men - Tarzan at one point casually and one-handedly hefts a trunk that four burly sailors are struggling with.
- Took a Level in Badass: Jane, over the course of the series. In the first two books she mostly faints in the face of danger. By the third she's still getting kidnapped all the time, but now she's bashing men's heads in, bullying sailors at gunpoint, shooting villains, hijacking ships and running her own rescue. By book 8 or so, she's a full-on Jungle Princess / Lady of Adventure.
- Villainesses Want Heroes: Tarzan was hotly pursued by his Jungle Princess Evil Counterpart Queen La, who would not take no for an answer.
- Wacky Wayside Tribe: Almost every one of the Tarzan books features several of these.
- Wild Child: Tarzan, duh.
- Wild Hair: Tarzan.
- Woman Scorned: La of Opar, over Tarzan. Also probably every other woman who ever tried to get under the ape man's Loin Cloth only to discover that he's totally loyal to Jane.
- World War I: Tarzan the Untamed is set during it. Tarzan wages guerrilla warfare against the Germans using apes and lions.
- Worthless Treasure Twist: Tarzan and the Forbidden City features a hunt for a fabulous treasure known as 'The Father of Diamonds'. In the final chapter, the casket is opened to reveal a lump of coal. (Well, the name is accurate...)
- Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Tarzan goes even further; not only he refuses to harm women, but he always considers his duty to save them. In The Return of Tarzan, he saves La of Opar from an Opar man who went berserk and attacked her, even though La was just about to sacrifice Tarzan. In Tarzan the Untamed, Tarzan cannot bring himself to kill Bertha, nor even let harm befall her, despite the fact that he hates all Germans and considers himself on a lifelong mission to exterminate them all.
- Your Costume Needs Work: Tarzan experiences this at the end of Tarzan and the Lion Man. "Not the type", after being cast as the stupid white hunter and killing a trained Hollywood lion, he goes back to Africa.