Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Review by R.S. Gibson

Book Cover

This short novel originally published in 1912 tells the tale of how Tarzan came to be marooned on the shore of Africa how he was raised among the great apes and of his first experiences of the civilized world. How he then discovers his true heritage as a wealthy English aristocrat but then nobly renounces that heritage to protect the woman he loves.

This was Edgar Rice Burroughs first published novel and the start of a prolific career during which he created such enduring characters as Tarzan and John Carter of Mars who have retained their popularity long after their creator’s death. In Tarzan's case in addition to the 24 novels written by Burroughs there have been TV series, radio shows and of course films while other authors such as Phillip Jose Farmer have also added works to the Tarzan “Mythos.”

It was easy to see how Tarzan could become such a popular character. In the hands of Burroughs a vivid tale teller the ape-man moves from one thrilling encounter to the next whether rescuing people from cannibals, battling wild animals of the jungle, recovering lost treasure or preventing the woman of his dreams from entering a loveless marriage. I found this book to be briskly paced and it certainly tells an enjoyable story of adventure and after the appearance of Jane Porter.

Another thing I liked about this book was the setting although it’s obviously set in the modern industrial world and Burroughs himself was writing at the start of the 20th century. The characters' obsessions with class standing and family honor combined with their deferential attitudes toward wealth and the aristocracy as inherently good institutions belong to an age which was already fading away even as Burroughs writes about them.

It was also because the author was writing when cultural attitudes were different that I found a lot of the racial and class characterization in the book rather disturbing. I also think everything Burroughs knew about wild animals (most of those encountered in the book are conquered and then slain by Man the ultimate predator) he learned from going to the zoo. I also thought that the author relied on some jaw dropping coincidences and several separate sets of mutineers to move his plotline along.

In brief then I think this book is worth reading as a ripping yarn type adventure and a period piece but some of the attitudes of the characters and the author could be offensive to modern readers.


R.S. Gibson works by day to support himself and his growing book collection. By night he dreams of a career in comics. He is a long time fan of alternative reality fiction.