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Literature / Tarzan of the Apes

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After a brutal mutiny aboard the ship Fuwalda, the English lord, John Clayton, is marooned in an African Jungle along with his pregnant wife, Alice (Respectively Lord and Lady Greystoke). John builds a secure treehouse to protect from the beasts of the jungle, and spends a year providing for his wife and infant son before the two English nobles both die. A band of apesnote  lead by the savage Kerchak goes to explore the Clayton's tree home shortly after John's death. The female ape, Kala, finds the young Lord Greystoke and adopts him, naming him "Tarzan", meaning "white skin".

Kala raises Tarzan among the apes and he grows up as a creature of the jungle, fighting tigers/lions,note  and having many unseen encounters with the natives. Tarzan finds his old cabin and teaches himself how to read over the course of a decade. One day a group of foreigners become stranded in the jungle by boat as well, one of them being his cousin William Cecil Clayton, and another being an American girl named Jane Porter.

Tarzan of the Apes was published by Edgar Rice Burroughs beginning in October of 1912note  and takes place from 1888-1906. It is the first of his Tarzan series, which spans over two dozen published books, most of which are now in the public domain.note  Can be read here.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Canler loaned Professor Porter the money for his treasure-hunting expedition, assuming the deluded old man would find nothing and return empty-handed. At which point he could claim the hand of the Professor's daughter in lieu of repayment.
  • Absent-Minded Professor: Professor Porter, Jane's father, is a case that borders on senile dementia. One of the first things he does is wander off into the jungle for no reason, which nearly gets everyone killed. When his assistant points out that there's a lion approaching, Porter is merely irritated at the distraction from his intellectual discussion, and complains that someone let the lion out of its cage.
  • Ambiguously Related: Terkoz is identified as a son of Tublat and Kala as a mate of Tublat but Terkoz is never identified as Kala's son, he was possibly born of one of Tublat's other mates.
  • Ambiguous Situation: There are four major incidents involving lionesses and Tarzan kills two. It is never specified if the lionesses of the first three incidents are all the same as there is no differentiation between one Sabor and the other.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Canler and Jane seem to take it as a given that Jane must marry him to absolve her father's debt.
  • Animal Skin Attire: Subverted — Tarzan kills a big cat and plans to wear its skin: "But he found the hide had dried as stiff as a board, and as he knew naught of tanning, he was forced to abandon his cherished plan." He later reverts to stealing properly-tanned skins.
  • Animal Talk: All animals are implied to have their own separate languages.
  • Apocalyptic Log: John Clayton's diary.
  • Badass Boast: "I am Tarzan. I am a great killer. There be none among you as mighty as Tarzan. Let his enemies beware."
  • Challenging the Chief: Tarzan becomes the king of the band of apes after killing Kerchak, the previous king in combat.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Being raised in the jungle among apes not only makes Tarzan fit and athletic, but many times stronger, faster and more agile than any Olympic athlete. Tarzan also has superhuman senses because:
    Man's survival does not hinge so greatly upon the perfection of his senses. His power to reason has relieved them of many of their duties, and so they have, to some extent, atrophied, as have the muscles which move the ears and scalp, merely from disuse.

    The muscles are there, about the ears and beneath the scalp, and so are the nerves which transmit sensations to the brain, but they are under-developed because they are not needed.
  • Child Prodigy: The young Lord Greystoke was one; with no help from (or indeed contact with) any other human, between ages 10-18 he teaches himself to read and write English, and invents his own system of pronunciation for the letters!
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Tarzan rescues every member of the Clayton-Porter party at least twice within three chapters of their first appearance. And the count only keeps going up from there.
  • Contrived Coincidence: Pretty regularly. Particularly when it comes to Tarzan coming along in the nick of time to save the day.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Alice Clayton dies in her sleep, and John Clayton is killed shortly after by the ape Kerchak while distracted by his grief. Their infant son is adopted and raised by an ape mother whose own infant had died.
  • Cultural Posturing: Jane at one point privately wishes William Clayton could have been American, and thinks that is the highest compliment she can give him. Burroughs was an American, but the Brits don't do badly by him either.
  • Damsel in Distress: Jane, more than once.
  • Darkest Africa: The setting of the novel.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Since the first other human he saw (a cannibal hunter) shot his adoptive mother Kala, Tarzan is hostile to black people. D'Arnot even calls him out on this.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The 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.
  • Disc-One Final Boss: Despite seeming like the Big Bad, Kerchak is killed in the eleventh chapter with seventeen more to go.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Don't ever fuck with Kala if you want to live.
  • Evolutionary Levels: Caucasians are said to be more evolved than blacks, and humans in general are more evolved than apes.
  • Face Death with Dignity: D'Arnot from the cannibal tribe; and later Jane when facing death by forest fire.
  • Frazetta Man: The apes of the novel, called "Mangani" in later books. They're said to be the step between gorillas and chimpanzees.
  • Genius Bruiser: Tarzan is very intelligent, and contrary to his usual depiction in adaptations can speak fluent English (as well as French) by the end of the book.
  • Honor Before Reason: Jane's approach to marriage. First she agrees to marry a man she hates so her father won't face the dishonor of defaulting on a debt. Then she's released from the debt, agrees to marry another guy in a moment of emotion. And when the man she loves shows up shortly thereafter she decides can't possibly back out. She apparently believes that saying "yes" counts as bond of honor, even if she changes her mind an hour later, and the actual marriage is just a formality.
  • Hungry Jungle: Where he lives.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Tarzan, at the end, recognises that Jane feels honor-bound to marry William Clayton, and not only gives up his own hopes of marrying her but also chooses not to pursue his birthright to Clayton's title and fortune.
  • Lamarck Was Right: Tarzan of the Apes was written around the time Lamarckism was a popular theory and is incorporated heavily in the novel. Tarzan is said to have a "hereditary instinct of graciousness which a lifetime of uncouth and savage training and environment could not eradicate".
  • Marked Change: Tarzan has a scar on his scalp that flushes when he's angry.
  • Mighty Whitey: Lord Greystoke, AKA Tarzan, is shown to be far better suited to life in the African wilds than any of the black natives. The original books explicitly said that his European noble ancestry is what allowed him to shine, not the fact that he was raised by apes. Eugenics was a popular topic at the time. However, Burroughs seemed to be more interested in aristocratic blood than racial blood, considering his characterizations of lower-class whites and upper-class blacks.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: "Sabor the Tiger" appeared in the original magazine serial and was later retconned to "Sabor the Lioness", as tigers occur only in Asia, not Africa. A lioness is not a complete improvement, however, as lions live on the savannah and sometimes in very dry forests, never in the rainforest-like jungles of the Mangani.
  • The Mutiny: the crew of the Fulwalda mutiny and maroon Lord Greystoke and his wife on the African coast; and later, the mutinous crew of the Arrow abandons the second party on the same exact stretch of coast. Amusingly, it's explained that the second party was following up on a treasure map garnered from the survivor of a previous mutinous pirate ship.
  • Noble Savage: Tarzan, of course. The apes are also depicted this way: violent, brutal and simple, but honorable in their own way.
  • Noisy Nature: Burroughs claims that all big cats roar when they attack to paralyze the victim with fear.
  • Nubile Savage: Despite being raised on the same diet as apes, Tarzan is not malnourished and has an impressive and perfectly toned physique. Even though the only meat he eats is raw and is often buried in the dirt for days in the tropical jungle, he doesn't suffer from tapeworms, echinococcosis, hep A or any sorts of internal parasites or diseases. Tarzan doesn't have headlice or fleas either, even though he's lived with apes his whole life. If he's got bad teeth, no one ever talks about it. Less egregious than everything else, though, is the fact that he's clean shaven most of the time. Tarzan got the notion from his picture books that civilized men should be beardless and have short hair, which he presumably emulates by using his hunting knife to shave and cut his hairnote .
  • Officer and a Gentleman: D'Arnot.
  • Omniglot: Even before he actually converses with another human, Tarzan can speak three or four animal languages and can read English writing.
  • Orwellian Retcon: Tarzan fights a Sabor the Tiger in the earliest editions of the book, but Burroughs had this changed to Sabor the Lioness in later editions when he found out that tigers are not found in Africa. It's the reason lions are the only species in the series to have different words for the male and female in the ape language (male lions are Numa).
  • Perma-Shave: As noted, Tarzan takes up the habit of shaving to separate himself from the apes.
  • Poor Communication Kills: A completely justified case, as Tarzan learned to write English from the reading primers his parents brought into their exile, but has no idea how to verbalize it at first. This actually leads Jane and the others to assume the Tarzan that leaves them notes can't be the same person as the ape man who keeps helping them, and then D'Arnot teaches him to speak French rather than English, hopelessly confusing his attempts to apply the sounds to the writing.
  • Raised by Wolves: The picture on the article is even from an adaptation of Tarzan.
  • Rescue Romance: Jane realizes she's in love with Tarzan in the midst of her third rescue.
  • Romantic False Lead: William Clayton.
  • Said Bookism: Used quite often. Characters cry, gasp, murmur, shrill, shriek, growl and so on.
  • Screaming Woman: Jane's black maid Esmerelda screams her head off at the slightest provocation.
  • Stock Animal Name: To apes, all male lions are Numa, all lionesses/leopardesses are Sabor and all leopards are Sheeta.
  • Take That!: William Clayton ends up on the wrong side of several targeting his Englishness.
  • That Was Not a Dream: Alice Clayton, early in the book: "I have had an awful dream, dear. I thought we were no longer in London, but in some horrible place where great beasts attacked us."
  • Touch of the Monster: Jane when kidnapped by Terkoz.
  • Two-Person Love Triangle: See Poor Communication Kills above. Jane is attracted to both the eloquent note writer and the burly rescuer, without knowing they are the same person.
  • Unbuilt Trope:
    • Jane's father is an Absent-Minded Professor, but instead of just being amusingly wacky, his antics almost kill himself and his party in short order, if not for Tarzan. They continue causing serious problems as the book progresses.
    • The book ends with Tarzan choosing not to pursue Jane when he realizes that she'll be happier in life amongst other civilized people than in the harsh wilderness he grew up in (though the sequels undid this).
    • The book also has a rather cynical portrayal of the Raised by Wolves and You Killed My Father tropes.
  • Uncle Tomfoolery: Gender-flipped with the so-called comic relief of Jane's black servant, Esmeralda. Her comedy routine consists of screaming, fainting, and accidentally using the wrong words for practically everything.
  • Wacky Americans Have Wacky Names: Absent-Minded Professor Archimedes Q. Porter and his Beleaguered Assistant, Samuel T. Philander.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: D'Arnot's reaction to Tarzan when he's about to shoot some black natives on sight without even seeing if they were hostile first.
    In the distance were several buildings surrounded by a strong palisade. Between them and the enclosure stretched a cultivated field in which a number of negroes were working. The two halted at the edge of the jungle. Tarzan fitted his bow with a poisoned arrow, but D'Arnot placed a hand upon his arm.
    "What would you do, Tarzan?" he asked.
    "They will try to kill us if they see us," replied Tarzan. "I prefer to be the killer."
    "Maybe they are friends," suggested D'Arnot.
    "They are black," was Tarzan's only reply.
  • You Killed My Mother: Tarzan declares a vendetta on the black villagers after Kala is killed. It's pointed out that by so doing, he actually creates a Vicious Cycle that makes things worse for himself and his tribe.
  • You Have Waited Long Enough: At the end of the original Tarzan of the Apes, Tarzan travels to America in search of Jane, and finds her literally minutes after she's given in and promised to marry somebody else. (He lets her go, because he doesn't want to make her unhappy, but the other guy dies in the first sequel and they are then reunited.)