Book Review: Tarzan of the apes

Title: Tarzan of the Apes

Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs 

Originally published: 1912

Rating: 5/5 

It may be hard to believe, but I have not read the story of Tarzan, not even abridged versions, till now when I am 27 years of age. Neither have I watched any Tarzan movies. I have a vague idea of Tarzan and Jane living in the jungle, but that’s where the impression ends. I decided to read this book after finishing Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. I am fascinated by wildlife and wanted a novel with an animal theme.

Feral child raised by another animal: is it possible? 

As I was reading the novel, I kept wondering if it were possible for another animal to willingly raise the offspring of another as its own. I ran a quick google search, and discovered that indeed, there were reports of children raised by monkeys, wolves and dogs. Kala, Tarzan’s ape mother, adopted Tarzan when he was just an infant. Kala had just lost her baby during her escape from Kerchak after dropping the baby ape from a dizzying height. It is possible that the short time between the loss of her infant and the discovery of Tarzan triggered a rebound attachment of Kala to baby Tarzan. The similarity in physical feature between a human and ape could have helped foster the bond between both of them. Owning and raising pets is a common practice among human beings. Having won the evolution race, human beings emerged as masters over the earth, with access to material excess. This luxury of having enough for oneself makes raising another pet easy, in comparison to what it would be if roles were reversed. As described in the novel, the apes lived on a subsistence basis, hunting and gathering according to their daily needs, with no thoughts of gathering and storing for future needs. To provide for a helpless defendant would be exerting twice the effort daily. In times of lack, it would be getting by with half the resources. This represents a true sacrifice for adoptive parents of feral children. 

Nature vs nurture

Tarzan, seen through the eyes of Jane Porter, represented a blended perfection of raw courage, powerful physique and inherited aristocracy. He was God-like. I loved the description of him as a man like no others since God created the first Adam. 

So how was this Tarzan created? Was it superior genes that moulded baby Tarzan into the forest God, or was it the raw instinct for survival that pushed him to become what he was? I believed it was a mixture of both. Were Lady Alice and Lord Greystoke to survive, Tarzan would in all probability grow up to be a fine noble gentleman. However, the absence of the nurtured trait of raw courage forged by an unforgiving primeval jungle would make Tarzan but just one of the many Aristocrats of England. 

However, without the supreme intellect and natural gift of gentleness he inherited, he would probably become an ape in human form, a monstrous curiosity that would send Jane running in the opposite direction. 

Brain vs brawn

There was also, interspersed within the fast-moving novel, the underlying theme of whether brain or brawn was more essential for survival. The ferocious fangs of the lion, the relentless pursuit of the leopard and the powerful limbs of the apes served to protect these forest-dwellers. In comparison, human beings with their comparatively scrawnier built and lack of any menacing physical trait, seemed unlikely to survive in such a threatening environment. But of course, we know that human beings have not only survived, but triumphed over the other members of the animal kingdom. It is brain and intellect that enthroned men as rulers. Even Tarzan, despite his superior physical prowess, depended on his intellect to survive many skirmishes with the fearsome beasts. 

I vote brain. 

Comical characters in the novel

While the novel was serious on the whole, with fitting heroes and heroines going about dangerous feats, I appreciated the existence of characters who cracked me up with their antics. Like Esmeraldo, Jane porter’s faithful nanny and servant, who fainted at all the critical points in the novel. 

Summary of my overall impression

I believe many of us has possibly not read the full version of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ masterpiece , and I highly recommend this novel for an entertaining and thought-provoking weekend read. 

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