Tarzan at 100: Lord of the Superheroes

Tarzan, The Tarzan Files

From The Guardian 

Some literary characters slip free from their creators and become part of our shared culture, becoming the closest thing we have to a modern mythology. You don’t need to have read Arthur Conan Doyle, Carlo Collodi and Mary Shelley to understand Sherlock Holmes, Pinocchio and Frankenstein. It is certainly the case with the most famous creation of Edgar Rice Burroughs – Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, who first appeared in print 100 years ago. Very few of the boys who beat their chest and warbled the distinctive animal-ish yodel (“the bull ape’s savage roar of victory”… “What a frightful sound!… I shudder at the mere thought of it. Do not tell me that human throat voiced that hideous and fearsome shriek”, as the novel has it) had read the novel. It could be said that not many of them even should.

Alan Grant, the Scottish comics writer who has worked on Judge Dredd and created Mr Zsasz and Jeremiah Arkham for Batman, has called Tarzan the original superhero (indeed, Grant’s career began writing Tarzan comics). Tarzan was almost immediately a multimedia hero: on film by 1918, as a comic by 1929, on radio by 1932. The character also has the strange plasticity that allows him to be put into countless, even contradictory, kinds of story.

Read the full article at The Guardian


  • Thank you, MCR, for saving me the trouble of making those same points. There is a lazy, elitist, politically correct narrative that persists against ERB, despite not being fairly grounded in his works. ERB, an American, was more interested in building Tarzan up as an example of a gifted English nobleman than he was in tearing anyone down.

  • Personally it’s always been a split with Tarzan over the race issues that people claim are in the books. I guess you can see it’s there in the earlier books but I think the problem is writers-like this guy-is looking at it through a 21st century lense of political correctness. If you look at the later books there are the Waziri and their leader Muviro, a proud race who are portrayed as fierce warriors and loyal to Tarzan through friendship, not any white superiority. In fact one of my favorite books is Tarzan’s Quest where Tarzan agrees to rescue Muviro’s daughter from a tribe of white men who use women to remain eternally young. It’s also funny that the race issue keeps popping up when you consider that the biggest threats to Tarzan and Jane are usually white guys-Rokoff in The Return of Tarzan and The Beasts of Tarzan, the Hun in Tarzan the Untamed, not to mention all of those lost kingdoms and their rulers like La.

    Then again I think it’s just a problem that these writers have with ERB in general. To them he was a pulp writer, not an “artist” like F. Scott Fitzgerald or Hemingway. He wrote popular fiction and to their critical sensibility it’s a lower art form. It’s similar to the attiude that Michael Chabon had in that interview from a few days ago.

  • Do you really think ERB’s Tarzan of the Apes is racist?? The most respectable of the Fulwada crew is black. Yes, the members of the black tribe eat people (which is not unheard of in Africa anyway), but the apes that raise Tarzan also eat their (enemy) kind. The kinship Tarzan feels for the Porter expedition (and not for the pirates) is based more on their attitude then on their look from what I read. I have the feeling the author of the article has only retained the example that suited his little theory in that matter.

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