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Tarzan of the Apes
By Edgar Rice Burroughs

This, the first of the 23+ books in the Tarzan series by Edgar Rice Burroughs, is the one that started it all. It has inspired many films, none of which do it justice. Tarzan is typically presented in film as a speaker of monosyllabic rudimentary English whereas the character of the books spoke many languages fluently, his first being a theoretical basic ape language and his second, French. He was a scholar, but one who eshchewed the devious practices and values of man, preferring the honesty of the animal kingdom. Of all the film Tarzans, even Olympian, Johnny Weissmuller, stunt-man Ron Ely, etc., not one was the athlete the Tarzan of the books was. It's not that a practiced gymnast would be unable to learn to brachiate though the forest canopy with the monkeys as Tarzan was supposed to do, just that Hollywood never made the effort, preferring that utterly ludicrous swinging grape-vine locomotion -- an insult to all sentient beings.

The books do indeed have their own problems with natural history. Tarzan's jungle was a fanciful and immaginative and romantic extrapolation based upon reported and rumoured half truths and is home to all manner of animals that would not normally be found in the jungle.

Some aspects of Tarzan's jungle existence would not appeal to the squeamish, as he devours insect larvae and raw flesh, stopping short only at canabalism in the realization that the black man was indeed a fellow human. Why he does not suffer from trichinosis after the consumption of raw pork is unclear. he does suffer after eating rotten elephant flesh however (Jungle Tales of Tarzan).

From time to time, churchmen have condemned the Tarzan books, in some cases based upon the contention that Tarzan and Jane were unmarried. While some films implied this, it was entirely untrue in the books as you will see below. Though there were elements of cohabitation in some of the books, and, in some cases, nudity, Burroughs rarely touched upon eroticism and never upon sex. The clergy did perhaps have some grounds for complaint, however, as Burroughs' villains so frequently were cut from ecclesiastical cloth. He apparently considered all religious men to be charlatans and held all high-priests of whatever stripe in rather low regard.

The books vary greatly in inspirational value as Burroughs progresses from African adventure story to rather fanciful anthropological realms and science fiction. My personal favorites among the many Tarzan books are #8, Tarzan the Terrible, and #10, Tarzan and the Ant Men. In any case, Tarzan of the Apes in paperback or the full-text version below, is clearly the place to begin.