Happy-Birthday-ERB

Racism and Imperialism in the Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs — Here’s Our Study File

A1, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Legend of Tarzan (Movie)

With Legend of Tarzan generating buzz courtesy of its well-received teaser trailer, the long-debated issue of whether Tarzan creator  Edgar Rice Burroughs was a racist has come alive on discussion boards and comment threads.  While one can argue that it’s not fair to apply 21st century standards or racial awareness to a 1912 story and its author …. the fact that the 1912 story is now a $180M wannabe blockbuster movie destined for the global marketplace makes this issue fair game and relevant.

The conventional wisdom, of course, is that Burroughs like many of his contempotaries was a full-on racist.  Burroughs fans counter that it’s more complicated than that — and cite, for example, passages like this one from Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, 1916 (Chapter 24):

In itself the hunt was a success, and ten days after its inauguration, a well-laden safari took up its return march toward the Waziri plain. Lord and Lady Greystoke with Basuli and Mugambi rode together at the head of the column, laughing and talking together in that easy familiarity which common interests and mutual respect breed between honest and intelligent men of any races.

But for every enlightened passage like that one –there are other scenes and passages that support the argument that some degree of racism existed in Burrroughs’ works.

Here is an example of what is probably the most civil and fairminded  comment I’ve seen in social media on this topic. It’s  by “Maximillian B. Prager” — a freshman at Harvard –and appeared soon after the Legend of Tarzan trailer was released, has attracted 463 Likes as was the top comment on the thread (out of 7,000 comments) for a long time, and now is the third most popular:

This trailer looks great. One thing that bugs me about the original novel (and should bug everybody if they’ve actually read it) is all the White Supremacist propaganda. Burroughs lived and wrote during the United States’ Age of Imperialism, a time when we colonized other less-developed cultures around the world and sought justification for it through Social Darwinism, the perversion of Charles Darwin’s teachings that gave a cloak of scientific legitimacy to racism. Burroughs was a well recognized Social Darwinist, and as such, the book is full of some racism and sexism that’s impossible to ignore, like Tarzan’s self description as “Tarzan, killer of many black men” (you’ll find that gem on page 162). That being said, this trailer looks great, and I can already tell that the plot line was fudged enough to leave out the questionable parts. This should be a good movie, and as such, we should honor the makers for their reinvention of the character of Tarzan, but not Burroughs for his construction of a piece of racist Pro-Imperialist propaganda.

There were other comments in the thread — many of them — some citing Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden as the driving force behind ERB’s views as they were expressed in his writing.  I offered the following comment in response:

If you’re going to cite Kipling’s The White Man’s Burden …. you should also be aware that Burroughs wrote The Black Man’s Burden, a parody of Kipling’s poem that shows that Burroughs had a very “contrarian” view of imperialism. I would suggest that when evaluating Burroughs’ you take this into consideration; also the fact that he created the Waziri, a black tribe of great prowess and honor; that in his Mars series he had John Carter, a southerner, fall in love with and marry a “red woman” (and alien for that matter); that on Barsoom the blacks were considered the “purist” race. This doesn’t complete offset the racial stereotypes in Tarzan of the Apes, but are a big part of the overall picture that gets ignored in these discussions.http://thejohncarterfiles.com/…/edgar-rice-burroughs…/

Prager replied:

Michael Sellers That’s true and entirely valid to bring it into the conversation, although it makes the matter a bit more complicated to get our heads around. My only response would be that the racism we see clearly in the books is not the outright subjugation of blacks and other non-whites, but rather a way of seeing the world that subconsciously paints the way Burroughs sees other races and their relationship to whites.

Since then I’ve attempted to entice Prager to do a guest post here on the topic, because I think he’s approaching this topic from a position that I disagree with — but is doing so in a thoughtful way.

Since that exchange I’ve been feeling the urge to try to take on this topic in a more substantive way — meaning, I would like to write a “white paper” type post that addresses this topic and defends Burroughs to the extent that he can be defended.  The key elements of that defense are in my comment — and expanding on that, I would also add the following.  There’s no getting around the racist component to the first book … Esmeralda is a deep racial stereotype; Mbonga’s tribe is presented in a way that perpetuates racial and imperialist stereotypes; and the narrative is filled with references to Tarzan’s superiority by virtue of race.

But my deep impression is that Burroughs was a fledgling writer when he wrote the first book, and he had a much more limited universe (coastal jungle uninhabited by Europeans) in that book than he did in subsequent books — books in which he delved deeper into the continent and  opened up to lost civilizations that got him away from black/white racial context.   Also, in the second book and thereafter he had the Waziri, a highly admirable warrior tribe.  The fact that Tarzan earns a leadership role with them can be seen as racist — but Tarzan, after all, is superior to not just the blacks in his world — he’s superior to the whites as well.  Burroughs central thesis is not that Tarzan is superior because of his race; he’s superior to pretty much all humans regardless of race because of a unique nature/nurture combination — yes, born a white aristocrat, but hardened and shaped by a unique upbringing that both toughened and strengthened him into the first superhero who had near superhuman strength, could “fly” through the trees; had a sense or hearing and smell that vastly exceeded other humans.  While there are elements of racial thinking in the depths of that proposition — it has always felt to me to be unfair to Burroughs to focus entirely on that, and to ignore the context of the times in which he wrote.

Further, I have just never seen racism in the Barsoom books, where ERB created a rainbow of races for Barsoom, bu nowhere in that rainbow do we see whites as superior.  If anything, the red men are presented as possibly superior — yet their very redness is presented as a product of blending of the black and other races.  And of course John Carter himself, a Confederate captain, falls in love with a red woman who is, if you stop and think about it, an egg-laying alien.  How does that premise square with the Burroughs-as-rampant-racist theory?

But still — there is other evidence that suggests that Burroughs was conservative in orientation and held racial views that were more or less in step with his times, which meant they were racist by modern standards of what that word means.

This morning, pondering this, I realized that I’m just not quite ready to take a strong position on this issue.  I need to read more, and think about it more.  So I’ll leave this piece with this:  I started googling this morning and found some articles — some interesting, some irritating, but thought provoking nonetheless.  Most of them I had come across before but I read them with new focus today.

 

UPDATE:

I will be doing some serious writing on this topic, but for now, I am just going to start collecting articles and placing a link and excerpt here.  I do not endorse these articles — think of this as my “ERB — Racism and Imperialism Binder” where I print copies and put them in a binder. I just want to have as many articles as possible for reference purposes.

 

Edgar Rice Burroughs, John Carter, and Racial Imagination by David Hancock Turner

The green Martians are consistently described as savages who kill their unhatched and weak young, and honor war and violence above all–that is until an entire sentimental sub-plot develops in which John Carter’s green Martian best friend attempts to create a “family” and reunite with his daughter, which is of course outlawed by green Martian tribal custom. John Carter’s immersion into green Martian culture gradually turns into a reform mission of transforming this communalistic culture into one that respects marriage, values families. This is partially a civilizing mission to Mars in which John Carter can Victorianize ancient tribal ways.

But the chivalry and manliness of the Southern gentleman doesn’t end with mere physical prowess, swordsmanship, and proselytizing for the nuclear family– A racially-obsessed consciousness pervades the entire work, and in the last instance this is probably the governing engine of Burrough’s narrative invention. “World creation” as I wrote above, is what Edgar Rice Burroughs is credited with developing in his Barsoom series. There are probably many literary prototypes–one thinks of the center of the earth of Jules Verne’s eponymous journey, and also the Earth itself (although far in the future) of H.G. WellsTime Machine, but also perhaps Robinson Crusoe and Gulliver’s Travels. But theBarsoom series opens up a new world and one that is physically limited by the vast territory of Mars. The paramount narrative necessity becomes one of needing to populate this large world with a diversity of flora and fauna that realistically reflects the diversity we know exists here on Earth, but differs in exciting and crucial ways.

Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Masculine Narrative by Thomas Bertenneau

Race provides a recurrent theme in Burroughs’ “Barsoomian” setting, but in no stereotyped way; the Barsoom novels have indeed partly the character of a racial utopia, with all colors represented, and represented moreover as internally various in their moral and intellectual dispositions.  In the Mars stories, among the wickedest of villains are the doughy-white “Holy Therns,” priests of a false and sacrificial religion; among the most valiant of admirable people are the “Black Pirates.”

Burroughs did not quite invent, but he refined and codified a robust popular masculine narrative, which, while celebrating heroic character, also promulgated the values of literate knowledge and philosophic inquiry.  Burroughsian narrative also provides the locus for a non-systematic but incisive critique of the standing culture, as it became increasingly emasculated, regulated, and anti-intellectual in the middle decades of the Twentieth Century.  This same masculine narrative entails, finally, a conception of the feminine that elevates the woman to the same level as the man and that – in such characters as Dian of the Pellucidar novels or Dejah Thoris of the Barsoom novels – figures forth a female type who corresponds neither to desperate housewife, full-lipped prom-date, middle-level careerist office-manager, nor frowning ideological feminist-professor, but who exceeds all these by bounds in her realized humanity and in so doing suggests their insipidity.

Racism and Stereotypes: How the Tarzan dynamic still infiltrates cinema

“This is the house of Tarzan, the killer of beasts and many black men”. This is how Tarzan introduces himself to Jane in Tarzan of the Apes (1914). Later in the book he rescues her from a “black ape rapist”. Tarzan started off as a character written by Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950) in the 1912 All-Story Magazine before being edited into a series of books and films. The story charts the life of an aristocratic offspring of Lord Greystoke, who is orphaned as a child in Africa, raised by apes in the jungle, and soon becomes the King of that jungle and all who dwell in it. Tarzan, which means white skin in ‘ape speak’ is faster, stronger and more intelligent than the native Africans. For readers at the time and perhaps even now, whiteness equals civilisation. In addition, he can speak to the animals – a skill which the local Africans do not have. Tarzan embodied the traits of a comic superhero, long before the appearance of Superman; he wrestles lions, crocodiles and gorillas with his bare hands. Edgar Rice Burroughs was born in Chicago, Illinois and had never been to Africa. This is why lions and tigers often pop up in his African jungle despite the fact that lions live exclusively in the savannah and tigers are not found in Africa at all. It would not be so bad if these were the only factual errors, but Burroughs portrays all the Africans as savages and racially inferior. Black people are routinely described in a derogatory manner. The original books are full of the ‘N word’ and other racist stereotypes informed by the rampant colonialism of the period.

Bearing in mind that Burroughs lived in the ‘sundown town’ of Oak Park, Illinois, it is very disturbing that his Tarzan character chooses to hang his black victims from trees with vine ropes around their necks. A ‘sundown town’ was a place where all blacks had to be out of the town by sundown or they faced severe physical consequences. Lynching was common in America up until the 1960’s. Like many of his contemporaries, writes his biographer John Taliaferro, Burroughs “believed in a hierarchy of race and class. In the Tarzan stories, blacks are generally superstitious and Arabs rapacious.” Burroughs was extremely proud of his nearly pure Anglo-Saxon lineage. In the biography, Taliaferro also uncovers Burroughs’ lifelong belief in eugenics, “the radical fringe of Darwinism” and the notion that undesirable people, such as the ill, the criminal, or the racially ‘impure’, should be sterilised.

[[MS note — I disagree with a lot of this one, and feel that it suffers from extrapolating grandly from a few scenes in the very first book . . . but it’s important reading as it expresses a point of view on this subject that is very much in play.]]

Tarzan and the Race Card by Jerome Weeks

Like many of his contemporaries, writes his biographer, John Taliaferro, Burroughs “believed in a hierarchy of race and class. In the Tarzan stories, blacks are generally superstitious and Arabs rapacious.” Meanwhile, Burroughs was “extremely proud of his nearly pure Anglo-Saxon lineage.”

In short, in Tarzan, good breeding meets survival of the fittest. According to Burroughs, the white upper classes were meant to rule the world because they’re stronger, smarter, tougher.

Faced with the racism in the Tarzan books (“the baiting of blacks was Tarzan’s chief divertissement,” Burroughs declares in one story), editors of recent reprints have softened their language — without altering Tarzan’s domination over “ignorant tribes of savage cannibals.”

Confronting these same difficulties, Walt Disney’s Tarzan takes what may prove a controversial approach: It simply depopulates Africa. In the film, there are no African natives.

Harry Belafonte: Tarzan is Hollywood’s Most Racist Super Villain (a Response)

[Belefonte] went on an extended rant against the racism of Hollywood. He reserved most of his venom for a figure he considers the vilest racist in cinematic history: Tarzan. Yeah, the Lord of the Jungle is Hollywood’s most offensive racist.

In 1935, at the age of 8, sitting in a Harlem theater, I watched with awe and wonder incredible feats of the white superhero, Tarzan of the Apes. Tarzan was a sight to see. This porcelain Adonis, this white liberator, who could speak no language, swinging from tree to tree, saving Africa from the tragedy of destruction by a black indigenous population of inept, ignorant, void-of-any-skills, governed by ancient superstitions with no heart for Christian charity.

Sounds like Tarzan was just trying to help. What’s the problem? I mean besides the fact that he was white.

Through this film the virus of racial inferiority — of never wanting to be identified with anything African — swept into the psyche of its youthful observers. And for the years that followed, Hollywood brought abundant opportunity for black children in their Harlem theaters to cheer Tarzan and boo Africans.

Oh, I get it now. The Tarzan movies were racist because they showed a white guy trying to stop Africans from killing each other and wiping out majestic animals. We all know that African warlords never slaughter their own people. And history has shown that tribal and ethnic African factions never brutalize each other in genocidal conflicts. And certainly, Africans never poach endangered species or kill those trying to protect them.

Edgar Rice Burroughs Early Martian Novels as a Paradigm of Racial Tolerance by Ronnie Faulkner

Abstract: The Martian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) provide an early paradigm of racial toleration by displacing the heterogeneous race conflicts of the U. S. to an interplanetary location.  There, the protagonist John Carter, representing Burroughs himself, introduces a level of racial acceptance and integration almost unheard of on the Earth of that era (the early twentieth century).

Tarzan — Racebending and Imperialism by Kaleb Erickson

Philip Cohen, author of–Tarzan and the Jungle Bonnie’s. Class, Race, and Sex in Popular Culture–makes the following statement: “Tarzan is soon Lord of the Jungle, master of all he surveys. And, like all clever civilizers, he learns the natives’ (that is, the animals’) languages in order to get them to do his bidding. Even when he is at his wildest, uttering savage whoops and cries, he remains a born aristocrat, one of nature’s gentlemen.” If the stories can be looked at as a metaphor for Imperialism then Jane and her father’s choice to stay in Africa can be viewed as the establishment a new colony. Jane and her father join Tarzan who is now the king of the apes and therefore they are placed into a position of power and prestige amongst the natives (Rothstein).

Tarzan – Imperialism by Calais Renee

If Tarzan becoming the leader of the ape tribe is a metaphor for imperialism happening in Africa, then by Jane and her father staying as well, that could be seen as the establishment of a new colony.. . .Since Tarzan is now the King of the Jungle, having Jane and her father there make them higher power, and able to assist in ruling the ape tribe.

African Holocaust – Faces of White Supremacy  — Ben Levi Yahweh

It seems there is a special box for the “good” white, he or she shines so bright as an exception of their race that they are armed by the African people—or so we are made to believe. They have successfully transcended racism to be Tarzan in Africa. They are exempt from the legacy of whiteness in African lives, not accountable, not part of the problem, but that rare and special kind of white person—the liberal.

White supremacy seems to view itself as a Tarzan; a fictional character that is adept at living in two worlds, the world of the savages (that is us Africans) but also in the world of the civilized sophisticated folk (not us Africans). Tarzan’s amphibious double consciousness allows, above all things, to represent the views of the savages and act and speak on their behalf in the refiner languages. [1] He is able single handedly (with the help of a few wild things, and primitives of which he commands) to fight the good fight against his white brothers and their encroachment into the world of savages. Tarzan is a metaphor for white liberal supremacy attitude to Africa. They claim to be dualistic in their understanding of us; making them therefore (according to white supremacy) the bridge between the child like race and civilization.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Controversial Author in Every Era by Kristen Masters

Tarzan is also high born, the son of British nobility. Thus Burroughs pointedly created a white king of the African jungle. Proud of his own nearly pure Anglo-Saxon heritage, Burroughs was, unfortunately, hardly an anomaly of his time.
Tarzan represented the intersection of good breeding and the concept of survival of the fittest–and the viewpoint that the white upper class was meant to rule the world. In his Mars series, Burroughs creates an equally WASP-y hero in John Carter, the “gentleman from Virginia.” And the Green Martians are considered morally inferior to the Red Martians, who have distant white ancestors.

The white-man-as-natural-ruler trope played into fears of what historians sometimes call the “mongrelization of America,” that is, the fear that Anglo-Saxon whites would lose their place of power in American society. By this time, immigration from Eastern Europe had reached an all-time high. Meanwhile, European colonial empires were rapidly eroding. Later, the Great Depression only exacerbated animosity toward immigrants and non-whites.

The Jungle Books and Tarzan of the Apes — Imperialism Explored by Gabrielle Gantz

The problematic part of the story comes when Tarzan spies other humans and stumbles into a nearby tribal village a number of miles away. They are native Africans and portrayed as the typical savages you see in old movies and cartoons: naked children and adults in dried grass skirts with brass and copper jewelry and large nose rings. They are superstitious and practice torture and cannibalism. The scenes were difficult to digest and I found it hard not to wince.

As if that weren’t enough, the only other representation of black people is Esmeralda, the nursemaid of Jane Porter, an American woman who arrives when Tarzan is a man. She is part of an exploratory group who also find themselves stranded on the island. Esmeralda is the only character in the group who speaks in dialect — a near-incomprehensible Southern pigeon-English — while everyone else speaks proper English. Gore Vidal, in his introduction to the Signet Classic edition says this:

Aside from the natives who are underdeveloped flat characters, Esmeralda, an African-American, is the only other black character that appears in the novel. Weighing in at 280 pounds, she is nonetheless a trembling ‘frightened child’ (page 131) rolling her eyes from side to side before fainting in the face of the ‘terrifical’ (page 177) circumstances and ‘carnivable’ (page 242) animals roaming the ‘jumble’ (page 243). Her character is a convention, her malapropisms a joke. She functions as nothing more than a stereotype of black superstitious fear for purposes of comic relief. . . . Blacks are treated mostly badly in this novel as they were during the period in which it was written.

But this begs the question, a question many avid, careful, and contextual readers often ask themselves: “how much can one with twenty-first-century sensibilities bare to overlook?” For guidance we can, once again, look to Gore Vidal:

Reading ourselves into Tarzan’s adventure is not, however, without problems. From a twenty-first-century perspective, the book doesn’t always feel like an escape, because it can so easily be arraigned as an unfortunate manifestation of the period’s assumptions about race, class, and gender. If one were in a prosecutorial mood, it might be tempting to cast off Tarzan of the Apes and simply catalogue it as politically incorrect for its social and cultural values, but to reject the book on such grounds would provide, in effect, a rationale for editing out many of the writers contemporary to Burroughs, including Hemingway and Fitzgerald. . . . A more productive approach is to recognize that such attitudes were pervasive in the culture contemporary to Burroughs, a strategy that doesn’t excuse or mitigate them but that attempts to create a better understanding of the novel.

The Relationship Between Reading and Writing; Constructive Tasks byJudith A. Langer and Sheila Slihan

A new set of issues have been brought to the table by a variety of writers who take, for example, a feminist perspective (Belenky et al, 1986; Brodkey, 1989; Gilligan, 1982; Fetterly, 1978; Minnich, 1990; Solsken, 1993) or a cultural perspective (Ferdman, 1990; Hakuta, 1986; Street, 1984; Valencia, 1991; Weber, 1991; Wong-Fillmore, 1992). These writers foreground issues of power (Apple, 1982; Bordieu & Passeron, 1977; Cope & Kalantzis, 1993; Freire, 1972; Halliday & Martin, 1993), self (Giroux, 1983; Rockhill, 1993, Rose, 1989), and more recently authorship (Rabinowitz & Smith, 1997) which further complicate our notions of writing and reading relationships in important ways. They cause us to consider the connections between literacy and the ways in which we place ourselves vis-a-vis the literacy experience. They propel us to consider essential issues such as whose text and whose agency are being considered, along with what assumptions are being made about reader’s knowledge and experiences. The next logical step is for researchers to look at how readers and writers, as both individuals and members of a variety of groups, approach reading and writing as constructive tasks that are embedded in life’s situations. More precisely, research needs to refocus on the ways in which reading and writing develop and influence each other while constantly being affected by the social, cultural, and political contexts in which they are enacted. This will require consideration of genres. For example, if genres are the products of socially developed conventions that foster communicability within groups of people, as the variety of groups considered to fall within the purview of the educational sphere changes to include the variety of students who populate both our schools and the world, so too will our understandings of the constructions of these genres need to change so that we might recognize, value, and teach them. So too, will we need to study the inevitable genre changes as the groups themselves change over time.

(Sellers Note to self:  This is something that I want to drill down into.   The same text, read by a person coming from one background and knowledge base, versus someone coming from a radically different background and knowledge base, will generate different meaning to each of the two readers.   If I am predisposed through education and cultural orientation to see, for example, racism or imperialism in the text of certain white male turn of the century authors — I will indeed see it or more precisely I will extract from the written work that meaning which is available to me based on my background and orientation. In this way, when one considers the cultural and historical orientation of Burroughs a hundred years ago when he wrote and Burroughs’ readers a hundred years ago when they read; and then juxtapose that same text against someone who reads that hundred year old text today without a “filter” designed to adjust for the vastly different set of assumptions and values — the result is what I’ve been reading — charges of racism and imperialism. That doesn’t mean it isn’t there . . . but for it to create that particular meaning requires that the reader bring his values and orientation to the task of reading.   — I want to look more deeply into the cognitive processes involved in reading and, through reading, assembling meaning.  I think a better understanding of this can help me reconcile the conflict between my own experience of reading Burroughs and the experience of those crying “racist” and “imperialist”.)

Guardian: Review of Proust and the Squid by PD Smith

In evolutionary terms, reading is a recently acquired cultural invention that uses existing brain structures for a radically new skill. Unlike vision or speech, there is no direct genetic programme passing reading on to future generations. It is an unnatural process that has to be learnt by each individual. As director of the Center for Reading and Language Research at Tufts University in Boston, Wolf works with readers of all ages, but particularly those with dyslexia, a condition that proves “our brains were never wired to read”. Wolf therefore has much of practical value to say about why some people have difficulty reading and how to overcome this. Reading stories to pre-school children is crucial, she says, as it encourages the formation of circuits in the brain, as well as imparting essential information about fighting dragons and marrying princes.

Tarzan: Racist Savage or First Eco-Warrior?

Is Tarzan a sexist and a racist who subjugates Jane and treats black men like children? Is he a macho colonialist in a leopard-skin loincloth, rather than a pith helmet? Or was he the first ecological super-hero: a man in recyclable, locally-sourced clothes who fought to protect his pristine jungle from greedy commercial interests? . . .

Burroughs at his best is far more than a mere writer of pot-boilers. His African knowledge was non-existent “but he was interested only in an imaginary Africa, for the needs of his story”. His books are adventure stories but they have an intellectual background and purpose. “He explores the implications of the Darwinian theory of a common ancestor between apes and man,” M. Boulay said. “He explores the failings of civilisation but also the failings of life in the wild. Long before ecological concerns became common, he has Tarzan defending the natural world against human predators.”

Tarzan was an American “super-hero” two decades before Superman, Batman or Spider-Man were first drawn. But he was not “superhuman” or a mutant or dependent on tricksytechnology. He gained his power by combining human cunning and wisdom with animal strength and endurance. “To that extent, he is a descendent of [the 18th century French philosopher] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who Burroughs also studied avidly,” M. Boulay said. “Rousseau believed that mankind, by straying from the natural condition, had forfeited part of his true character and strength.”

Disney Turns Burroughs’ Ape-man into a Momma’s Boy

The fact that Tarzan is really an English lord–Lord Greystoke, to be precise–was central to Burroughs’ conception of his character. In the pulp fiction of Burroughs, as in pulp fiction of any period, timeless archetypes rub shoulders with the vulgar prejudices of the writer and his audience. In the works of Burroughs, today’s race/class/gender theorists can easily find a key to the racial, social, and sexual anxieties of early 20th-century white American men and boys. When the first Tarzan books were published, the British Empire ruled the waves, the United States had recently joined the ranks of imperial powers, and white supremacy was the norm in the United States and throughout the world. Confidence in the innate superiority of the Caucasian race–and, within that race, of its Anglo-Saxon variant–coexisted with paranoia about the yellow peril and black “savagery.”

The two major characters in the oeuvre of Edgar Rice Burroughs are Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter of Mars. Although John Carter never made it in Hollywood the way that his cousin in the jungle jockstrap did, it is worth reviving him to make a point. Tarzan and John Carter were both exemplars of Anglo-Saxon masculinity–Tarzan, the heir to an aristocratic English family, and John Carter, an upper-class Virginian by birth. The Tarzan and Carter stories can be viewed as experiments–take a member of the Anglo-Saxon ruling class, strip him of all his advantages, and put him in a radically different environment, in order that the innate superiority of his breed may be demonstrated. Whether in Africa (the symbol of precivilized savagery) or on an old, desiccated Mars (the symbol of overrefinement and cultural exhaustion), the Anglo-Saxon man proves that he is royalty. Tarzan becomes Lord of the Jungle, John Carter weds the Princess of Mars. Space, in Burroughs, is a metaphor for time. Tarzan and John Carter represent the era of Anglo-American civilization, at the midpoint between prehistoric barbarism and post-historic decadence.

The Atlantic: How Reading Makes Us More Human

Her argument is that “deep reading,” the kind of reading great literature requires, is a distinctive cognitive activity that contributes to our ability to empathize with others; it therefore can, in fact, makes us “smarter and nicer,” among other things. Yet these essays aren’t so much coming to different conclusions as considering different questions

To advance her thesis, Paul cites studies by Raymond Mar, a psychologist at York University in Canada, and Keith Oatley, a professor emeritus of cognitive psychology at the University of Toronto. Taken together, their findings suggest that those “who often read fiction appear to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them and view the world from their perspective.” It’s the kind of thing writer Joyce Carol Oates is talking about when she says, “Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.”

Oatley and Mar’s conclusions are supported, Paul argues, by recent studies in neuroscience, psychology, and cognitive science. This research shows that “deep reading — slow, immersive, rich in sensory detail and emotional and moral complexity — is a distinctive experience,” a kind of reading that differs in kind and quality from “the mere decoding of words” that constitutes a good deal of what passes for reading today, particularly for too many of our students in too many of our schools (as I have previously written about here).

Context:  11 Racist Moments in Disney Movies

Tarzan is Racist by Martha Graham

Tarzan and Racist Undertones
Tarzan of the Apes is one of the most widely celebrated novels ever written. Every child and adult knows the story of the man born into the world of the apes and his struggle with his own identity and the identity of his race, but hidden underneath the adventure of the boy of the jungle is a racist undertone. Burroughs, through his choice of language and Tarzan’s feeling towards black people, creates a racist undertone in this children’s classic and Disney favorite.
The most apparent example of racism in Tarzan of the Apes is in the very language Burroughs uses. In referring to blacks as “sleek and hideous”, (60) and describing the “bestial brutishness of their appearance” (57) he paints black as terrible, “fearful creatures” (60); they’re not human beings, they’re wild beasts. He also paints the blacks as superstitious fools. Tarzan knows no superstition; he is “ignorant…of fear” (69). The blacks, on the other hand, are terribly superstitious. In the way Burroughs describes the blacks, as “awe-struck” at the disappearing offerings they leave for Tarzan, he makes their religion seem silly and makes them seem foolish. The readers, who relate to Tarzan’s “greater intelligence”, undoubtedly see the blacks as stupid for believing in such false gods. Burroughs’s language portrays black as terrible, stupid beasts (78). They aren’t even human; they’re just like all the other animals in the jungle.
Racism also peeks out of the book through Tarzan’s own point of view. Tarzan hates the blacks; he thinks he’s better than them. His first experience of a black man was when one killed Kala, his ape-mother. Later, Tarzan sees the black men beat another man, making Tarzan wonder about the “cruel brutality of his own kind”. Most other animals don’t torture their prey, and Tarzan notes that these black men “were more wicked than his own apes, and as savage and cruel as Sabor” (72). Tarzan doesn’t think very highly of the black people. The killings by the Mbonga tribe of other blacks do not bother Tarzan, but the killing of whites infuriates him. When the Mbonga tribe tries to kill whites it’s “different”, it’s “men of his own race”. Tarzan does not care about black people; he’s only concerned with the safety of the whites (156). Tarzan cannot imagine any black man being a friend. When D’Arnot and Tarzan come upon some black men working in a clearing in the forest Tarzan’s first impression is to kill them. They cannot possibly be friends; instead “they are black” is the only thing Tarzan notices about them (188).
Like Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Tarzan of the Apes portrays Africans as wild beasts who are inferior to whites. In Conrad’s case he thought that he was being sympathetic to the African’s, but his attempt to sympathize came out as condescending, making it seem as if the blacks are completely lost and can’t fend for themselves. In Tarzan of the Apes the racism is more deliberate. Through his choice of words Burroughs portrays blacks as disgusting, barbaric people. The language creates a racist undertone. Also, Tarzan’s own opinion of the Africans leads the readers to hate them, to think of them as inferior to whites. He may not have set out to write a racist book, but Burroughs deliberately included racist undertones in Tarzan of the Apes.1

 The Victorian Age 

Great Britain during Victoria’s reign was not just a powerful island nation. It was the center of a global empire that fostered British contact with a wide variety of other cultures, though the exchange was usually an uneven one. By the end of the nineteenth century, nearly one-quarter of the earth’s land surface was part of the British Empire, and more than 400 million people were governed from Great Britain, however nominally. An incomplete list of British colonies and quasi-colonies in 1901 would include Australia, British Guiana (now Guyana), Brunei, Canada, Cyprus, Egypt, Gambia, the Gold Coast (Ghana), Hong Kong, British India (now Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), Ireland, Kenya, Malawi, the Malay States (Malaysia), Malta, Mauritius, New Zealand, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Somaliland (Somalia), South Africa, the Sudan, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), and Trinidad and Tobago. Queen Victoria’s far-flung empire was a truly heterogenous entity, governed by heterogenous practices. It included Crown Colonies like Jamaica, ruled from Britain, and protectorates like Uganda, which had relinquished only partial sovereignty to Britain. Ireland was a sort of internal colony whose demands for home rule were alternately entertained and discounted. India had started the century under the control of the East India Company, but was directly ruled from Britain after the 1857 Indian Mutiny (the first Indian war of independence), and Victoria was crowned Empress of India in 1877. Colonies like Canada and Australia with substantial European populations had become virtually self-governing by the end of the century and were increasingly considered near-equal partners in the imperial project. By contrast, colonies and protectorates with large indigenous populations like Sierra Leone, or with large transplanted populations of ex-slaves and non-European laborers like Trinidad, would not gain autonomy until the twentieth century.

Racism, Tarzan of the Apes, and the Question of “Human” by Jake Pellini

Throughout the novel, what he shows but does not say is that whites are less adept at surviving in primeval conditions than these “savage” blacks. Perhaps an alternative reading of Tarzan of the Apes is in order: Burroughs emphasizes the blacks’ barbaric lifestyle to prove that white American and European stock has atrophied from millennia of the evolution of civilization.

Because Burroughs leads readers to condemn the Africans’ means of survival, it is easy to forget the simple fact that they survive. Moreover, unlike the whites who do escape the jungle, the blacks survive without Tarzan’s assistance; in fact, they do so in spite of him. Tarzan’s parents are in Africa only a few days before fear drives Alice to insanity (27); little more than one year elapses before both are dead (29, 34). When another set of mutineers maroons the Arrow’s passengers, the “fierce jungle would [have made] easy prey” of Professor Porter, Mr. Philander, Clayton, Jane, and Esmerelda had not Tarzan intervened to save their lives (117). Later, nearly all the French officers die when ambushed by the Africans, who prove valiant opponents for representatives of two of the world’s most formidable forces. Even D’Arnot (“‘an officer and a gentleman—a title conferred on many, but deserved by so few’”) prepares to die before Tarzan rescues him (191).

Considering the above evidence, what was Burroughs’s intention behind the racist aspects ofTarzan of the Apes? Quite simply, it is impossible to be sure. In a 1949 issue of Open Road, Burroughs explains, “I was not writing because of any urge to write nor for any particular love of writing. I was writing because I had a wife and two babies” (263). Indeed, Burroughs may have raised no objections to Disney’s posthumous editorial adjustments to his plot; Disney’s purely romantic adventure also made money, which was also Burroughs’s initial intention. But to omit Tarzan’s racist scenes is, at the very least, to overlook one of Burroughs’s social critiques. He emphasizes the lethargy of white civilized society by strategically contrasting it to the Africans’ way of life throughout the novel. Writing just before the United States enters World War I, Burroughs suggests that even if the Africans are barbarians, they are also survivors. For American soldiers likewise to survive, they will have to revert to the same means that Burroughs leads his readers to condemn. Tarzan—the idealized man—is not realistic, but the jungle conditions which he faces more or less are. Burroughs seems to suggest that civilization is transient, and the thirst to survive is not a racial issue, but a universal one.

Literacy, Imperialism, and Race in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes by Jeff Bergland

I am Tarzan, Mighty Hunter, Mighty Fighter by Kristy McHugh

The novel, however, does not portray the grunting ape-man of the films, but instead a French- and English-speaking, suit-wearing sophisticate. In the first sequel, The Return of Tarzan, he even becomes an international gentleman spy, more James Bond in his tuxedo than Johnny Weissmuller in his loincloth, or Elmo Lincoln, the first adult screen Tarzan (who, reportedly, actually killed a lion on set). But, Tarzan’s eventually cultured nature only serves to bolster his disdain for civilization: he is a sophisticate who denies the necessity or desirability of sophistication. Tarzan might have adventures in civilization, but he continually returns to the jungle.

And it’s in Burroughs’s mythologized rendering of the African jungle and the stereotyped depiction of black Africans that we can arguably see the most profound and negative effects of Tarzan’s popularity. Both in the original novel and in the classic films, Africans and black people in general are drawn according to the grossest of bigoted stereotypes. Picking up on the African explorers’ tales he read in the Chicago Public Library, Burroughs repeated and, through his work’s popularity, perpetuated the worst of racist illogic: Africans in Tarzan of the Apes, and in much of the popular culture artifacts springing from it, are both cowardly and cannibalistic, childlike and cunning. It is, in fact, difficult now to imagine that Tarzan, as a figure, could ever be free of these associations. Attempts to do so have often failed miserably: look at Disney’s 1999 animated feature, which, as many have noted, tries to remove the racism of the source text by removing black people from Africa altogether.

– See more at: http://blog.oup.com/2010/04/tarzan/#sthash.pZtJaqjl.dpuf

Comparison Text of Tarzan of the Apes Before/After Text was changed for Ballantine Edition by Kenneth Fuchs

Good reference material — the original text is displayed in brackets and red text.

 

 

 

 

 

UPDATE:

I posted this to Facebook in one of the public Edgar Rice Burroughs group, and thus far there are about sixty comments, many of them very substantive.  I want to capture some of them so am pasting them in here.  As noted, they appeared in a public FB group but if you have a comment in in here and don’t want your name to appear publicly, just let me know.

 

 

Alexis Vivallo His stories may seem racist by today’s standards, but the same thing can be said about Flash Gordon,Doc Savage and other pulp characters. I don’t think he was a racist, but the colonialist stuff is there. Most of writers back then thought the rest of the world was populated by “uncivilized tribes”…or wanted to give that impression. Burrows showed us noble black warriors and evil white hunters and vice versa.

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Norman Ray
Norman Ray I usually quote Tarzan the Terrible to sum up Burroughs’s views on “race”: “Tarzan smiled. Even here was the racial distinction between white man and black man—Ho-don and Waz-don. Not even the fact that they appeared to be equals in the matter of intelligence made any difference— one was white and one was black, and it was easy to see that the white considered himself superior to the other—one could see it in his quiet smile.” Burroughs was unbiased. He could describe blood-thirsty Indians in A Princess of Mars and writing from their point of view in The War Chief. Or create the cannibal tribe of Mbonga and the Waziris one book later.
Julian Perez If you judge people in the past based on the standards of today, not a single person will pass. That said, yes, it is absolutely correct that Tarzan operates on some racist ways of looking at the world that a thoughtful adaptation may sidestep by being conscientious.
Kenneth Frizzell Tarzan’s first encounters were negative, with the cannibal tribe that he stole from. He changed his opinions when he joined the Waziri. He pretty much thought all men were beneath animals in deeds.
Geoffrey A. Hamell Yet he was kind and protective toward the little boy Tibo, who belonged to that same tribe. He rescued him from Bukawai and returned him to his mother. He helped the warrior Bulabantu because he respected his courage, And he even showed mercy to Mbonga himself when he was helpless. Even when these were the only human beings he remembered ever seeing, he could make a distinction between individuals, and make moral choices based on the situation. When you read “Jungle Tales”, you get a more complex picture.
Kenneth FrizzellYeah, ‘Jungle Tales’ is one of my favorites. I’ve said it on another thread, but people have to keep in mind: it was a different time. The ‘intelligent thinkers’ of the day or what we might call progressive thinkers these days, were just coming to terms with Darwin’s theory and applied it to every situation. We know it’s silly now, but in those days most thought evolution could be studied between the races of men. Now genetics show us that different groups of chimpanzees are more genetically diverse than every human being on the planet. Times were different.
Phil Matthews I got that in college. Instructors insisting on applying modern values to authors of the past. I couldn’t believe how such closed minded people could be teaching.

Kenneth Frizzell Don’t get me started on how close minded universities are these days. I’m taking online classes and it’s horrible. Universities are supposed to encourage diversity and discourse, but it is becoming ‘think like me or you are wrong’.

Phil MatthewsWe’re talking 1975!

Russell Voce I’m so much of the same “2015 values for 1912 work” mindset that I’ve lost all interest in anything anyone has to say on the topic. I try to just block out the negativity.

Martin Smiddy I’m not even going to participate in this discussion, it’s a ludicrous allegation. I am in total agreement with Russell. It is hypocritical though that all the discussion revolves around Burroughs attitudes towards the black natives of his Africa. No oSee More

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Jesse Johnson Tarzan And the Foreign Legion was published on 1947. Burroughs as a war correspondent probably read first hand accounts of Japanese war attrocities that may have biased his opinion.

Martin Smiddy …….Your last comment confirms what we have been saying. Judged by the standards of the day, ie 1947, it was okay to slag of the Japanese, read today however some of the things ERB says in TFL are very near the knuckle. Similarly, things written in 1912 should not be judged by today’s standards. Just what sensible people above have been saying!

Jesse JohnsonOh I agree, that was my point

Norman Ray I usually quote Tarzan the Terrible to sum up Burroughs’s views on “race”: “Tarzan smiled. Even here was the racial distinction between white man and black man—Ho-don and Waz-don. Not even the fact that they appeared to be equals in the matter of intelligence made any difference— one was white and one was black, and it was easy to see that the white considered himself superior to the other—one could see it in his quiet smile.” Burroughs was unbiased. He could describe blood-thirsty Indians in A Princess of Mars and writing from their point of view in The War Chief. Or create the cannibal tribe of Mbonga and the Waziris one book later.

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Julian Perez

Julian Perez Yeah, it’s a stretch to say Burroughs was a racist on the level that Lovecraft was. But I think people are right when they say he works by a set of assumptions coded into the work that are racist, which is a subtle and different point.

Norman Ray
Norman RayI don’t believe in subtlety when it comes to Burroughs. He wasn’t subtle in the least. I think it was his grandson that said at the centennial celebration that he went mad when people called him a racist. He very consciously made the Black men as the noblest people on Barsoom. He wrote his version of the Black Man’s Burden. So no, I think that as fans knowledgeable of the man and his work, we can safely say that he wasn’t a racist.

Alexis Vivallo His stories may seem racist by today’s standards, but the same thing can be said about Flash Gordon,Doc Savage and other pulp characters. I don’t think he was a racist, but the colonialist stuff is there. Most of writers back then thought the rest of the world was populated by “uncivilized tribes”…or wanted to give that impression. Burrows showed us noble black warriors and evil white hunters and vice versa.

Norman Ray I usually quote Tarzan the Terrible to sum up Burroughs’s views on “race”: “Tarzan smiled. Even here was the racial distinction between white man and black man—Ho-don and Waz-don. Not even the fact that they appeared to be equals in the matter of intelligence made any difference— one was white and one was black, and it was easy to see that the white considered himself superior to the other—one could see it in his quiet smile.” Burroughs was unbiased. He could describe blood-thirsty Indians in A Princess of Mars and writing from their point of view in The War Chief. Or create the cannibal tribe of Mbonga and the Waziris one book later.

Like · Reply · 3 · 11 hrs
Julian Perez

Julian Perez Yeah, it’s a stretch to say Burroughs was a racist on the level that Lovecraft was. But I think people are right when they say he works by a set of assumptions coded into the work that are racist, which is a subtle and different point.

Norman Ray

Norman Ray I don’t believe in subtlety when it comes to Burroughs. He wasn’t subtle in the least. I think it was his grandson that said at the centennial celebration that he went mad when people called him a racist. He very consciously made the Black men as the noblest people on Barsoom. He wrote his version of the Black Man’s Burden. So no, I think that as fans knowledgeable of the man and his work, we can safely say that he wasn’t a racist.

Michael Sellers

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David Clark

David Clark Having been dragged down this dreary path recently with one of my other favorite long-dead authors, HP Lovecraft, I’m just not going here again. These men were the product of their times, just as all of us are the product of ours. Passing judgement on the past and those who lived it is a fool’s game. The unspoken implication of all this is that we who read and enjoy these old writers are ourselves racist. It just isn’t so.

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Charles Hoffman

Charles Hoffman The most prominent blacks in the Tarzan novels are the Waziri, and they’re good guys. In Tarzan and the Lion Man there is a racist character and he is presented in a negative light.

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Michael Sellers

Michael Sellers It’s interesting that this theme (ERB as racist) comes up a lot in the comments about the trailer, and in commentary by journalists and bloggers — but then when you watch the “trailer reaction videos” by just ordinary YouTubers who are looking at is as just another superhero movie, this sort of thing is not even remotely on their minds, and about half of the “reactors” happen to be black. But still, I”m not inclined to just dismiss it out of hand. It’s not going to go away.

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Julian Perez

Julian Perez In fairness, I don’t think anyone is saying Tarzan stories were racist. They said something more nuanced, that it had some built in racist assumptions.

Michael Sellers

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Michael Goodwin

Michael Goodwin I won’t bother arguing with nimrods who think like this. These are the uninformed. Trust me, they’ll Bitch, piss and moan…then go see the movie.

Michael Sellers

Michael Sellers Also — I agree that if you look at this only as a matter of history — then it’s useless. This writer in 1912 wrote in a way that we today consider racist. So what. But . . . .”this movie studio in 2016 is investing $300M in producing and marketing a movie to the global audience and its based on those 1912 characters an situations that embodied a certain kind of 1912 era racism ….. is this appropriate? Have the film-makers weeded out things that are offensive today? Is it possible to do so?” — I think all of that is very relevant, made so by WBs decision (which I applaud, don’t get me wrong, I’m a proponent of ERB) to make a blockbuster level movie based on that material.

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Julian Perez

Julian Perez It is interesting to me that Esmeralda never made it into any of the film adaptations. The Dynamite comics used her, but in a satirical way to undercut racist ideas, as she had a great deal of common sense.

Geoffrey A. Hamell

Geoffrey A. Hamell Esmeralda is in the first silent film, and in the DTV ripoff of thee Disney cartoon. I liked Dynamite’s version of her, nontraditional though it was.

David Pierce

David Pierce I’ve always viewed ERB’s depiction of Esmeralda unfavorably, but since I know that Burroughs later transcended such views, I am able to enjoy his work, minus some passages that are problematic and a few that are unacceptable (to me).

Like · Reply · 1 · 9 hrs
Charles Morgan Gatlin Jr

Charles Morgan Gatlin Jr Even though she’s mostly a comic relief stereotype, there’s a mention of her heroic attempt to protect the baby Jack from his kidnappers in THE BEASTS OF TARZAN. So as cringe-inducing as her portrayal is to us today, I don’t think you can accuse ERB of ill intent.

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David Pierce

David Pierce I agree, and attribute it to his ignorance at the time. I recently reread “Beasts” and remember that scene, now that you mention it.

Geoffrey A. Hamell
Geoffrey A. HamellTo be fair, Esmeralda is completely out of her depth in the jungle. Would we call a white woman cowardly if she fainted when a lioness was climbing in the window, or when a huge ape leapt out at her? It says something that Tarzan and Jane entrust her with the care of their child, and indeed, she’s there on the job both times we see her with him – rushing to his side during the earthquake in “The Eternal Lover”, and trying to stop the kidnappers in “Beasts”. I can forgive her some malapropisms after that.
Michael Sellers Geoffrey A. Hamell I’m of the school that believes he wasn’t meaningfullly racist or imperialist and I cite as evidence his authorship of Black man’s Burden; the multi-racial setup on Barsoom; the fact that John Carter, a Confederate Captain, happily marries a red woman who lays eggs…… But having said that — I don’t know how to get around acknowledging that Burroughs did write certain things that contained a racist component, especially in the first book, Tarzan of the Apes (as distinct from the whole Tarzan series.) . Esmeralda is one huge racial stereotype whose presented as both stupid and without courage or character; the tribe of Mbonga is presented as fair fodder for Tarzan to tormen; and Tarzan refers to himself in his note to Jane et al as “killer of many black men” as if that’s a good thing. Tarzan of the Apes definitely has some stuff in it that’s problematic….but it wouldn’t matter — except that WB has invested 180M and is about to put out into the pop culture universe an intended blockbuster movie that may have some of this still embedded in it. Or may not. I just don’t think the people who raise questions are out of bounds or ignorant for doing so. Seems to me that WB has made the question relevant in 2016 by making a Tarzan movie for mass audiences — and the topic is thus fair game and worthy of discussion, hopefully discussion that leads to a more fair interpretation of Burroughs, rather than knee-jerk vilification by 2016 standards.

David Frederick Morrill Absolutely, Michael. I also remember that Thomas Mallon in an intro to TARZAN OF THE APES wrote about the racism that we have to squirm through to finish the book (it’s definitely there), but he says it’s mitigated somewhat by total misanthropy. Indeed, pretty much everyone in the novel is far from noble, save for a tiny few. Everyone else just enjoys inflicting suffering and death.

Geoffrey A. Hamell I think the fact that the issue has always been complex and confusing is illustrated by the fact that ERB wrote “The Black Man’s Burden”, a poem condemning racism, as an attack on Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden”, which was intended as an attack on racism. Even then people tended to read ill intent where none was meant.

Jeff Long Well said Michael Sellers If you try to shout down the “ERB was racist” comments without acknowledging the stuff that is uncomfortable to read today, you do a disservice. It’s possible to say that ERB was ahead oh his time on racial issues, but recognize that he was still very much of his time and that in many ways it is indeed hard to read today without sonetimes cringing.

Michael Sellers Jeff Long …exactly. I think the day to deal with this is to a) contextualize ERB and what he wrote and believed, and b) look at how WB has reinterpreted it — and apply reasonable standards of racial sensitivy to that, not to the underlying literary material — which was of its time and place. I do think WB/Yates needed to be mindful of all the traps and pitfalls that awaited them in making a 2016 Tarzan film, because if they do stumble, there is a waiting media population ready to pounce and if they get enough traction it could really damage the film’s prospects.

Geoffrey A. Hamell Henry Hardy Heinz said it long ago: “Burroughs had good people and bad people of every kind, because there are good people and bad people of every kind.” If his villains are stereotypes, so are most of his heroes; we just don’t get offended by the positive stereotypes.

Michael Sellers I’m reminded that there is a test screening viewer — a forty-something black viewer — who said: ” The film doesn’t trample on existing lore but it does update it appropriately. As a black man, I’ve sometimes found “white savior” films to be difficult to watch. I’m happy to say that this is not that kind of movie. The Waziri (though I didn’t hear that word) have minds and martial capabilities of their own.http://thejohncarterfiles.com/…/at-last-a-tarzan-2016…/

Geoffrey A. Hamell I don’t think we should expect the Waziri, simply because the long cast list has no one listed as anything like “Waziri Warrior # 3”. Maybe in the sequel

Michael Goodwin Yeah, I read this when you first posted it. I was so happy and thrilled at what this unknown guy was saying.

Michael Goodwin Man, I beg and pray for the Waziri to finally make it on film. If done and portrayed right, they would be an awesome enhancement to the Tarzan film.

Johnny B. Gerardy It was a different time and different world. Prejudices still exist today and will always exist where the human “race” is concerned, so long as there ARE human beings on this planet. We ALL have it inside of us, and we are, in some respects, products of our surroundings. And that’s not excusing racism, but it also doesn’t mean that Burroughs dawned a pillow case with eye slits over his head and burned crosses in people’s yards. There’s now the debate over William Moulton Marston’s creation being sexist, and in spite of today’s PC views of him, Burroughs, Fleming and other great contemporaries of their day, let it said that they were as human as their innovative creations that both entertain and inspire to this very day.

Rob Donkers (excerpt from “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar”, Edgar Rice Burroughs – 1916) Chapter 24 “Home”) In itself the hunt was a success, and ten days after its inauguration, a well-laden safari took up its return march toward the Waziri plain. Lord and Lady Greystoke with Basuli and Mugambi rode together at the head of the column, laughing and talking together in that easy familiarity which common interests and mutual respect breed between honest and intelligent men of any races. 

 

David Pierce I believe that ERB did struggle with ideas about ethnicity in his early books, but later came to value individuals not by skin-color or culture, but by bravery. In “Tarzan of the Apes” there is a scene I sort of remember that, I think, has an African from Mbonga’s village running rampant, seemingly just so Tarzan could lynch him. Burroughs also describes blacks a number of times as having inferior mental capacity to whites. But in later Tarzan book and in other series, he has black characters and even entire black cultures of exceeding intelligence and moral makeup. In my view, Burroughs did have faulty perspectives on enthnicity, but his views changed. Just as they did when he wrestled with the contemporaneously-popular notion of eugenics. However, the important thing, I believe, is that, as with George Wallace, he realized he was wrong, and grew. He came to see all ethnicities and races as being equivalent, but favored those with bravery.

Michael Sellers Well said, David. I agree.

David Pierce Thank you Michael.
David PierceThank you. As with other words, “PC” is defined variously by differing sources. I don’t use the term myself because of its inherent assumptions and high level of abstraction, but when I am in a room with people who disparage others for being “PC” or “hyper-sensitive,” I am quick to defend one’s inalienable right to his or her level of sensitivity, and that person’s own right to set it as a personal marker of normality without, in term, using it do judge the norm for everyone.
William StreckfusHere’s a thought. Tarzan was written in 1912 the first year he had ever been published and basically trying to make a living at this writing thing. Until he was established I’d think maybe he was writing more to what the editor wanted vs what he really felt in his heart. Then once an established writer he’s tried to fix the wrongs in the first book by creating the Waziri in the later books. That’s just human nature to bend your morals to put food on your families plate. ERB wasn’t a wealthy man in 1912. Just trying to look at it from his point of view.
Lorie Goldfeder SchultzRobert, you can delet this if you find it may start discussions all over again. I read all this ‘late’. I guess I never thought about it before because I always took into account when it was written. My fear is that Tarzan will go the way of the Confederate Flag, with people screaming it was racist, and trying to get it banned because of it’s content. People today are too quick to try to eradicate what ‘was’ since it’s ‘wrong’ rather than just letting everyone agree his writings had racist elements, particularly early in his career, and simply moving on to more modern retellings of the tales in film. I saw a model today of the General Lee in Michaels…and no flag on the roof. I’m no fan of the confederate flag, don’t get me wrong, but I accept it was part of the show and has a different meaning for the fans. so my fear is that Tarzan will be killed by ‘modern correctness’. Folks may say that it won’t happen but my daughter read it (I didn’t know that) several years ago. Got Tarzan of the Apes. Didn’t mind the tale too much but really didn’t like the racist slant to it and because of that she had no interest in reading farther.
Amado Narvaez I’m coming to the discussion late, but I thought one of the main themes of _The Return of Tarzan_ was the Ape-Man’s realization that not all Black warriors were like the ones he encountered in Mbonga’s village in the first novel.
—–quotes from _The Return of Tarzan_—–
1) As the warrior emerged from the forest, Tarzan caught a fleeting glimpse of a tawny hide worming its way through the matted jungle grasses in his wake—it was Numa, the lion. He, too, was stalking the black man. With the instant that Tarzan realized the native’s danger his attitude toward his erstwhile prey altered completely—now he was a fellow man threatened by a common enemy.
2) How close he had been to killing this man whom he never had seen before, and who now was manifesting by every primitive means at his command friendship and affection for his would-be slayer. Tarzan of the Apes was ashamed. Hereafter he would at least wait until he knew men deserved it before he thought of killing them.
—–unquote—–Even in the first novel, when Tarzan and D’Arnot have first reached civilization and they are discussing lions with some other people, we read this passage where one of the men they meet says:
—–quote from _Tarzan of the Apes_—–
“A man of his prowess who has spent some time in Africa, as I understand Monsieur Tarzan has, must have had experiences with lions—yes?””Some,” replied Tarzan, dryly. “Enough to know that each of you are right in your judgment of the characteristics of the lions—you have met. But one might as well judge all blacks by the fellow who ran amuck last week, or decide that all whites are cowards because one has met a cowardly white.
—–unquote—–I also thought it was interesting in Burroughs’ novel _Beyond 30_ that Europe had “descended into barbarism” and when the Americans (who had practiced isolationism) arrive in Europe centuries later we read:
—–quote—–
On the whole, it is apparent that the black race has thrived far better in the past two centuries under men of its own color than it had under the domination of whites during all previous history.
—–unquote—–I feel that some critics has misjudged both Burroughs and Kipling in labeling them as “racists.” The narrator of “Gunga Din” is a naive soldier, but at the end of the poem he acknowledges:
“You’re a better man than I am–Gunga Din.”Burroughs and Kipling were a product of their time. But IMHO there were signs that they understood that racial prejudice was a negative trait in the human race.
Alan Mitchell Apologists are not what the Tarzan property needs. The narrative requires change to peel away the Social Darwinism at the heart of the concept. There are ways to do this in the original story itself. Having grown up with Tarzan, I have enough regard for it to desire that this happens in such a way as to modify the original tale without taking away from the central conceit. But every racist allusion/example/ illustration just leaves it open to a general public with 21st century sensibilities and a loud clamour that could really hurt its chances of doing significant business. Having Sam Jackson in the movie will no doubt help, but it will need much more if the production isn’t going to be buried under a tsunami of negativity.
Rob DonkersAt IMDb a guy who calls himself “Meriotic” and who saw one of the test screenings of the new Tarzan movie said this (September 28, 2015) > As a black man, I’ve sometimes found “white savior” films to be difficult to watch. I’m happy to say that this is not that kind of movie. The Waziri (though I didn’t hear that word) have minds and martial capabilities of their own.
Martin SmiddyI think there is an over reaction to the racist accusations. The people making the allegations have more than likely not read the books, and by that I mean the books, not just the first one!
Alan MitchellI read his commentary. He also outed himself as someone whose father had a special interest in the original books and other ERB novels. I don’t understand his preference for Tarzan over John Carter, to be honest, but each to their own. Point is, he has a familiarity with the books and a more open mind to the stories in part because of his father. I don’t imagine the public, generally will. I could be wrong, here.
David L BrueskeIf we judge ERB’s writing by 21st century values, then perhaps we should judge today’s morality by Victorian values.
Alan MitchellLogically, that argument does not balance out, if we agree that society is changing through progress, you don’t regress to progress. There only lies folly. I was genuinely annoyed that John Carter was treated so poorly by Disney. What a fantastic movie, it was. But Tarzan is more vulnerable because bad publicity can stick just by siting examples from its oeuvre. I’m not a naysayer. But I went through my own eye opening concerns over some of the content in Tarzan as I got older and its main and most significant central premise. That of the white overman becoming master of the African forests, the natives and the animals. At a glance, this is the visual it most powerfully represents, whether intentional or not. In an age of instant clickbait this could potentially harm the movie. It therefore lies in the marketing to distance itself from some of the more controversial narrative elements from its savage jungle past.
Michael TheroffOne thing I’m finding positive is that I work with a lot of millenials (a group usually touted as “post racial”), and every one of them I know that has seen the trailer seems excited for the movie and with no mention of race. They really don’t know much about the character except for the Disney movie, so this could be the start of a resurgence–people discovering a 100-year-old character for the first time.
Dorothy HowellHere we go again! Yes, ERB used stereotypes, but we need to remember his era. And also we should take note that in one book a given race might be a villain or a fool or whatever negative readers might apply, but in another the same race will be among the heroes or at least one of the good guys. Case in point: the cannibals, one of whom slayed Kala, versus the Waziri and the noble Muviro.
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Here is a snippet from the comment thread on Youtube under the trailer ….. just for reference.  Don’t read if you’re offended by colorful language.
FROM YOUTUBE “TOP COMMENT” THREAD
Are some people on this comment section for real? “White-washing” Tarzan??? Are you fucking retarded? Tarzan/John Clayton has always been a Caucasian character, this isn’t fucking Mowgli from The Jungle Book. Do your research before you complain about things you clearly know jackshit about.
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damion atmo 2 days ago
+KalvinEllis it’s 2015, people get offended by the tiniest things.. instead of doing research first, they’ll just whine like bitches
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Dwight Hayes 2 days ago
+KalvinEllis Exactly! There are some sensitive idiots in this commentary fighting hard for that default man status. Rudyard Kipling wrote the Jungle Book and Buroughs wrote Tarzan and either takes place on 2 separate continents.
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Manuel David Rendon Acevedo 1 day ago
+Dwight Hayes India and Africa
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Manuel David Rendon Acevedo 1 day ago
+KalvinEllis I can´t believe anyone stupid enough to complain about Tarzan’s race, it was very obvious in the story, a caucasian british man
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Dwight Hayes 1 day ago
+Manuel David Rendon Acevedo Exactly! Trust me I know. I had to read both. My mother is a retired librarian of over 33 years.
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Dwight Hayes 1 day ago
+Manuel David Rendon Acevedo This issue is not about Tarzan’s race. The issue is what the continued reinvention of this British character truly represents if you have ever read and analyzed what the book actually represents and why it is continually reinvented. Often times it is found reintroduced when white males or the powers that be want to introduce a white male hero to reinforce certain ideas or ideologies to reinforce white male dominance. There have been over 87 Tarzan films made since the 1930s and each one of them reinforces the exact same ideals of the book, regardless of there cinematic reinsertions and regardless of the time period or group of people the story is reintroduced to.
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Dwight Hayes 1 day ago
+Spartucus101 Earned? Are you sure about that? I did not try to make you watch anything now did I. I called a very real and truthful observation. Whether or not you can stomach the truth of this dynamic is none of my concern. Everytime we create, arrogant and often times violent and apathetic people just like you show up and destroy it. Tarzan is an archetype of such a dynamic. Now get over yourself. It is ironic to me that racists get upset when the actual dynamics of their bullshit is called to attention.
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KalvinEllis 1 day ago
+Dwight Hayes
Stop bringing up racism in this, dude. All I pointed out in the original comment was that some people are beyond misguided for complaining that Tarzan is white.
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Paul Sammut 1 day ago
+Dwight Hayes what a load of bullshit. More to the point people like you turn everything to political agenda. it’s a movie that stays true to the original story, that’s all. more to the point maybe you feel threatened whenever a strong white man is centre stage? Get over your insecurities, i have.
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KalvinEllis 1 day ago
+Paul Sammut
Eh leave it to the internet to suck the fucking fun out of everything.
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Paul Sammut 1 day ago
If it’s a white hero it’s an archtype…. suppose superman and batman are next for the diversity stick. racism exists mostly in the mind of oversensitive assholes.
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Dwight Hayes 1 day ago
+Paul Sammut Have you ever read the original story? I could care less about DC or Marvel. You really are senstitive about racism being called out in a story that you have obviously never fucking read. Pick up a book sensitive, little boy. Pick up a book.
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Manuel David Rendon Acevedo 1 day ago
+Dwight Hayes Sounds cool!!, You must have read many books during that time 😉
Reply · 1
Manuel David Rendon Acevedo 1 day ago
+Dwight Hayes That’s awesome, but yeah, this character has existes for almost 100 years since Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote him, and this movie is a representation of some of his novels
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Gaia Seraphina 1 day ago
+KalvinEllis
Yeah! Tarzan is the son of the english nobleman John Clayton, Lord of Greystoke and his wife Lady Alice.
The only thing Hollywood white-washed about Tarzan was the colour of his hair. In the movies Tarzan has often light-brown hair, while in the book he has raven black hair … just like his father. But his skin is “white” … well tanned (because of the african sun lol)
Reply · 1
hampe hjsjdf 1 day ago
+Dwight Hayes I read that as “Trust me I know, my mom is a retarded libertarian”. Seems like I need some sleep.

20 comments

  • Michael C, slavery is a cultural element of some Barsoomian societies which requires the reader to take a closer look to avoid misconceptions based on the history of the practice on Earth. On Barsoom, only the bad guys practice race-based enslavement. The noble peoples of Barsoom take slaves only from among their own race, and in those cases it is presented as indentured servitude, as a way to pay off debts, or as an alternative to prison or death in battle. It isn’t a rosy practice in any case, but there are absolutely no instances of race-based slavery being presented in a good light. The instances we see of racial slavery are included as a means of identifying the debauchery of the villains. Among the noble societies, slavery is more analogous to the bottom rung of a caste system – one in which the people can work their way up by good behavior, military service, or by purchasing their freedom.

    ERB’s poem “The Black Man’s Burden,” (http://www.powerpoetry.org/content/black-mans-burden) written in response to Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden,” is an illuminating bit of context for interpreting the racial themes in ERB’s work.

    At the beginning of “Chessmen of Mars,” Tara is a spoiled brat, and her opinions on just about anything are to be taken with a grain of salt. Burroughs often put ugly words in the mouths of his characters to reveal their need for personal development. Tara has a much more informed perspective of the world by the end of the novel.

  • Scallywag, I hope you continue reading through the end of “Warlord of Mars,” where, in chapter 16, ERB spells out his racial thesis for the Barsoom stories in clear terms.

    “Twenty-two years before I had been cast, naked and a stranger, into this strange and savage world. The hand of every race and nation was raised in continual strife and warring against the men of every other land and color. Today, by the might of my sword and the loyalty of the friends my sword had made for me, black man and white, red man and green rubbed shoulders in peace and good-fellowship. All the nations of Barsoom were not yet as one, but a great stride forward toward that goal had been taken, and now if I could but cement the fierce yellow race into this solidarity of nations I should feel that I had rounded out a great lifework, and repaid to Mars at least a portion of the immense debt of gratitude I owed her for having given me my Dejah Thoris.” (Warlord of Mars, ch.16)

    A few responses to your comments:

    (1) Racial themes do not equal authorial racism.

    (2) Racist characters do not equal authorial racism.

    (3) Every race on Barsoom has both good and evil members – as is the case in real life on Earth.

    (4) The lowest of the bad guys are the white-skinned Therns. We never meet a single named Thern who has any redeeming qualities. At the end of “Warlord,” where the involvement of the Therns ends, there is a general reference to a group of Therns who abandoned their villainy and swore allegiance to Xodar, the leader of the black-skinned First Born.

    (5) The Therns do not have black-skinned First Born slaves. Rather, the First Born take the villainous Therns as slaves.

    (6) For most of “The Gods of Mars,” the First Born have empathy for no one, as they have been ruled for thousands of years by an evil Queen, Issus. Only when Issus is overthrown and executed, and the noble-hearted First Born leader Xodar becomes ruler, does their long-suppressed honorable character re-emerge.

    (7) Burroughs describes how the black skin of the First Born makes them one of the most strikingly beautiful races on all Barsoom. Here is how John Carter describes the First Born: “Only in the color of their skins did they differ materially from us; this is of the appearance of polished ebony, and as odd as it may seem for a Southerner to say, it adds rather than detracts from their marvelous beauty.” Carter later describes Xodar as, “a handsome fellow, clean limbed and powerful, with an intelligent face and features of such exquisite chiseling that Adonis himself might have envied him.”

    “The Gods of Mars” is one of the very best examples of the imaginative adventure genre. The racial themes are nuanced and realistic, and require taking a step back from 21st century “triggers.” Those themes of the novel are in keeping with the racial harmony message of the opening three books of the Barsoom series.

    Of far more concern is the blatant animosity and comically broad brush applied in the portrayal of organized religion. ERB held nothing back in his ridiculing of what he believed to be the superstition of ritualistic faith systems. He excoriates false religion, and leaves the reader wondering if he believed there could be such a thing as true religion. If the book were merely a critique of blind ritual and megalomaniacal manipulation, it would have some value, but ERB doesn’t stop there. He blatantly pokes fun at religious believers, and implies that they all need to be liberated from superstitions. There is no balanced consideration of secularism as the de facto faith system of atheism. It was an attitude that ERB picked up from his anti-religious/Darwinist father. ERB expressed his criticisms perhaps the most vehemently in “The Gods of Mars.” If the book were not phenomenally entertaining, ERB’s acidic attitude toward religion and disrespect toward believers would have done much greater damage to his career. As is, the religious criticisms are the weakest and most “obvious” element of the book, and constitute the truly objectionable content that has the potential to be the most offensive to the most people.

  • I’m more interested in ERB’s view on slavery. He seems to mythologize the practice. See Tara in Chessmen of Mars at the start with some disturbing discussions with Uthia. Is he romanticizing his Virginian ancestry? Maybe this has already been dealt with and the ERB community has moved on to racism?

  • You listed Barsoom as a racial utopia…***cough***…***snort***….***sputter***….sorry, but I’ve continued my trip into Barsoom beyond “A Princess on Mars”, and before I got halfway through Book two in the trilogy, “The Gods of Mars” the racism is so thick you can cut it! The lowest of the bad guys who serve the evil Thurns (an extremely perverse race which eats the flesh of the other sentient races of people on Mars…these servants happen to be the only black people on the planet, they display no empathy for the victims which they serve up to their Thurn masters, and that notwithstanding, Burroughs makes a big issue about their black skin as a reason to hate them. Other than that, it’s a fun story to read.

  • I may need to go to Harvard so I can learn stupidity. ” killer of black men….”he would have said purple had they been purple for goodness sake! Really?? I just finished reading this book. I gave it a FIVE of FIVE! Racist?? Good Grief! He wasn’t writing about a people group but of cannibals, one of whom killed his “mother”.

  • Good one, Norman. Thanks for digging that out. I particularly like the description of ERB using blacks as “customary stage prop to accompany a jungle drama” — which I think contextualizes it well and gets at something I wanted to address, which is that a lot of the racism comes out casually, almost reflexively, in “prop” like passages whereas — as Porges points out — the real villains are never black. Porges also weaves in the two other big pieces — ERB’s views as expressed in other writing (especially The Black Man’s Burden”), and his conceptualization of the blacks as the First Born in the Gods of Mars. …….This is a really good summation by Porges. THanks again.

  • Here is what Irwin Porges had to say about this subject:

    The scenes involving Negroes in “The Man-Eater” are of course not the first created by Burroughs; his other works contain unflattering characterizations of blacks as individuals and demeaning views of them in groups and tribes-the natives. The obvious criticism can be made; it is no longer possible to accept the false picture of the Negro as servile, treacherous, fiendishly sadistic, cowardly, and without loyalty or honor. But viewing him understandingly in modern times and depicting him according to assumptions, distorted and prejudiced, of earlier periods are two different matters. Burroughs, forced to devise African jungle settings continuously, accepted the popular concept of the black native, considering him as a customary stage prop to accompany a jungle drama. There was neither malice nor prejudice in his attitude; in fact, he often created noble blacks-witness the faithful and courageous Waziri, Tarzan’s retainers- and his worst villains were depraved whites who were shown as inhuman in their mistreatments and torture of innocent natives.

    Burroughs’ action in adopting the Negro as primitive or savage in order to utilize him for jungle setting or atmosphere was, as part of the times, a mere writing device. In real life, during his army career at Fort Grant, he had praised the colored regiment as “wonderful soldiers and as hard as nails,” noted that they were held in great esteem, and recalled that in doing menial tasks under a black sergeant, he had found the man to be fair and considerate. Burroughs had also shown sympathy and compassion for the Negro. In his Pocatello days he had saved Kipling’s poem “The White Man’s Burden,” pierced through its hypocrisy, and written his own version of “The Black Man’s Burden,” exposing how the white man’s culture had ruined the helpless Negro. It should be stressed that in his earliest writing years, with the creation of “The Gods of Mars,” he established the black men as the “First Born,” the aristocracy and rulers of the planet Mars.

  • The best way is indeed for me to treat Tarzan’s Africa as a fantasy land, which it is in the books after all. The lions’ behaviors alone in the books would make any serious zoologist cry out of rage! All loners, all bloodthirsty. I’m not only for the use of CGI animals, but for even slightly “heightened” ones. Bigger, more ferocious, slightly “alien” (as an example, I wouldn’t mind a lion with brown stripes and even bigger teeth). Burroughs had to invent a whole new species of ape to fit his story. They have a language! Movies adaptations paint themselves in a corner somewhat by sticking to “realistic” aspects of a story that isn’t made for them in the first place (to me that plagues some superhero adaptations as well, as what WB does currently to the DC movie universe). I can understand why at the beginning of the 20th century, when there was no technology to speak of, but nowadays there are other ways. Making seems “realistic” adds the tempation of bringing real-life issues into the mix. Tarzan is the fantasy of the ultimate alpha male as seen by Burroughs, a superhero in that regard in his own right, an “uber-man”.

    I didn’t read a single complaint when Peter Jackson filmed the natives of Skull Island, maybe because they were painted white (David Yates apparently uses the same trick), and maybe because the whole sequence was filmed in an exaggerated way, and so over-the-top, and maybe because the setting itself, Skull Island, was imaginary, as is the small jungle corner where most of Tarzan of the Apes takes place. And the savages of Skull Island had no redeeming quality whatsoever, opposite to the compassion that Burroughs showed in some selective sentences of Tarzan of the Apes. Was the sequence acceptable because the natives preyed on the Whites?

    Notice how the jungle filmed by David Yates seems so much other-worldly than anything in John Carter. To me this instinct is definitely good, and most of the viewers were surprised by that aspect of the teaser. They were expecting a jungle, just not this one, so different looking. So the movie is probably onto something deeper and spot-on. If the adaptation is only half as smart as it seems to be, we’re in for a real treat.

  • I dunno. I think Mbonga and his tribe are sort of the biggest problem. Tarzan is shown to be inherently superior to them intellectually even though he was raised by apes and had no exposure to civilization. On the other hand I think Burroughs was smart to have Kulonga kill Kala to get the ball rolling on Tarzan’s hostilities with them — what better than revenge over killing beloved Kala.

    There are just so many landmines waiting to be stepped on when you try ot do a story today that involves a white guy interacting with indigenous people anywhere. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Maybe the only solution is to send Tarzan to Barsoom . . . . . or some other fantasy environment in the next one. Opar, or Pal-ul-don at least.

  • What I would like to add for the moment to my previous comment is that Tarzan of the Apes is characterized on the contrary by a will of NOT portraying a colonial-type situation. Mbonga’s people is subservient to no one. They fled white oppression to stay free. All of the novel’s action takes place in an enclosed environment, mostly preserved from white men’s actions. That’s precisely why the Disney movie could get away so easily with featuring no native in the narrative. And Burroughs, for obvious story reasons, needed the tribe to be hostile, which would not have been possible with the more intelligent and less superstitious Waziri-types.

  • Great thoughts from Norman Ray! “Burroughs wasn’t subtle.” Very key to the discussion. The other thing that I notice in these kinds of over-thought, pseudo-intellectual critiques is that the fomenter usually says something like, “Burroughs promotes the white, aristocratic English, over other races…” These statements completely miss the fact that when Tarzan is compared to his English relatives, they lose because they are effete, over-civilized, soft, ineffectual, etc. Tarzan isn’t better than anyone because he’s white or because he inherits noble British traits. He’s simply strong, intelligent and capable where most humans are not. The Waziri respect him and elevate him because he’s different and still fits in with their tribe. That respect becomes loyalty. He respects them for their ability to live in a primitive but organized way — they are surely the tribe he feels he belongs in. There is also a place in RETURN (can’t find it at the moment) where he is among a tribe of Arabs and he feels that it is a place he would be comfortable in and would stay — but he chooses not to. Prejudice against blacks and arabs? A complete mis-reading of the character.

  • Thanks …. these are interesting questions that challenge conventional thinking about some of these commonly cited points. Please stay engaged on this.

  • How exactly is “the baiting of blacks was Tarzan’s chief divertissement” racist? Why? He shouldn’t “bait” them just because they’re Blacks? That’s not racism on Burroughs’ part, it’s excessive political correctness on the interpreter’s part. He also baited his fellow apes, was Burroughs accused of prejudice against apes? Mbonga’s tribe is cannibal, guess what, the Manganis also are, during the dum dum. Was making them cannibal racist? Cannibal tribes existed in Africa, should we rewrite History to fit our contemporary sensitivities? Would a racist state that Mbonga’s tribe found itself near the Manganis because they were expelled by the White’s oppression in Congo, thus making white people indirectly responsible for Kala’s death? And why would a racist explain Kulonga’s actions as a deep misunderstanding? The vocabulary may hurt over-sensitive modern ears, but in digging deeper into what’s really in the novel, even Tarzan of the Apes shows examples of Burroughs’ stance in those matters. We should not stop our analysis to the choice of words. Again, Burroughs wasn’t subtle. If he was racist, we would know for sure, without the need for deep-thinking analysis. That’s how I see this subject matter anyway.

  • As frequently happens these days, the conversation is happening on Facebook. I want to make a record of it here because there are some good points being made, and this is my archive. These are from Erbzine, a public group, so the comments have already been made public. If however you are a commenter in the thread below and you don’t want it to be visible here, just let me know and I’ll remove it.

    Marco Tremblay Lovecraft faces the same critics. But I adore them both. Some people have nothing to do. If you want to fight racism. Face problems that we have now. Not problems that you think happened then. We’re not talking about Hitler here.
    Like · Reply · 4 · 6 hrs
    J.d. Charles
    J.d. Charles While ERB accepted many common cultural biases of his era he was not a bigot or a virulent racist as Lovecraft was. For every weasle of a white Ed gave us for a villian he gave us a noble heroic Mugambi and so forth.
    Like · Reply · 4 · 6 hrs
    Weasley James
    Weasley James I resent the weasel comment on several points (spelling and it’s my name) but I agree
    Like · Reply · 5 hrs
    Michael Sellers

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    Julian Perez
    Julian Perez If you judge people in the past based on the standards of today, not a single person will pass. That said, yes, it is absolutely correct that Tarzan operates on some racist ways of looking at the world that a thoughtful adaptation may sidestep by being conscientious.
    Like · Reply · 3 · 6 hrs
    Michael Sellers
    Michael Sellers One of the articles I read pointed out that Disney’s solution was to depopulate Tarzan’s Africa …there are no blacks living there. I’m so glad this isnt’ a Disney film.
    Like · Reply · 4 · 6 hrs
    Michael Goodwin
    Michael Goodwin Me too! Just based on that idiotic way of thinking.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 5 hrs
    Geoffrey A. Hamell
    Geoffrey A. Hamell The Disney TV series introduced the Waziri and Tarzan’s friendship with them.
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    Michael Sellers

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    Marco Tremblay
    Marco Tremblay John Carter saved the red men of Mars. I hope the Martians won’t press charges since a white man saved the red men ????
    Like · Reply · 2 · 6 hrs · Edited
    Phil Matthews
    Phil Matthews I got that in college. Instructors insisting on applying modern values to authors of the past. I couldn’t believe how such closed minded people could be teaching.
    Like · Reply · 5 · 5 hrs
    Kenneth Frizzell
    Kenneth Frizzell Don’t get me started on how close minded universities are these days. I’m taking online classes and it’s horrible. Universities are supposed to encourage diversity and discourse, but it is becoming ‘think like me or you are wrong’.
    Like · Reply · 1 hr
    Michael Sellers

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    Russell Voce
    Russell Voce I’m so much of the same “2015 values for 1912 work” mindset that I’ve lost all interest in anything anyone has to say on the topic. I try to just block out the negativity.
    Like · Reply · 4 · 5 hrs
    Martin Smiddy
    Martin Smiddy I’m not even going to participate in this discussion, it’s a ludicrous allegation. I am in total agreement with Russell. It is hypocritical though that all the discussion revolves around Burroughs attitudes towards the black natives of his Africa. No o…See More
    Like · Reply · 6 · 5 hrs · Edited
    Jesse Johnson
    Jesse Johnson Tarzan And the Foreign Legion was published on 1947. Burroughs as a war correspondent probably read first hand accounts of Japanese war attrocities that may have biased his opinion.
    Like · Reply · 5 hrs
    Martin Smiddy
    Martin Smiddy …….Your last comment confirms what we have been saying. Judged by the standards of the day, ie 1947, it was okay to slag of the Japanese, read today however some of the things ERB says in TFL are very near the knuckle. Similarly, things written in 1912 should not be judged by today’s standards. Just what sensible people above have been saying!
    Like · Reply · 4 hrs
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    Michael Sellers

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    Alexis Vivallo
    Alexis Vivallo His stories may seem racist by today’s standards, but the same thing can be said about Flash Gordon,Doc Savage and other pulp characters. I don’t think he was a racist, but the colonialist stuff is there. Most of writers back then thought the rest of the world was populated by “uncivilized tribes”…or wanted to give that impression. Burrows showed us noble black warriors and evil white hunters and vice versa.
    Like · Reply · 5 · 5 hrs
    Norman Ray
    Norman Ray I usually quote Tarzan the Terrible to sum up Burroughs’s views on “race”: “Tarzan smiled. Even here was the racial distinction between white man and black man—Ho-don and Waz-don. Not even the fact that they appeared to be equals in the matter of intel…See More
    Like · Reply · 3 · 5 hrs
    Julian Perez
    Julian Perez Yeah, it’s a stretch to say Burroughs was a racist on the level that Lovecraft was. But I think people are right when they say he works by a set of assumptions coded into the work that are racist, which is a subtle and different point.
    Like · Reply · 5 hrs
    Norman Ray
    Norman Ray I don’t believe in subtlety when it comes to Burroughs. He wasn’t subtle in the least. I think it was his grandson that said at the centennial celebration that he went mad when people called him a racist. He very consciously made the Black men as the n…See More
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    Michael Sellers

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    David Clark
    David Clark Having been dragged down this dreary path recently with one of my other favorite long-dead authors, HP Lovecraft, I’m just not going here again. These men were the product of their times, just as all of us are the product of ours. Passing judgement on …See More
    Like · Reply · 3 · 5 hrs
    Charles Hoffman
    Charles Hoffman The most prominent blacks in the Tarzan novels are the Waziri, and they’re good guys. In Tarzan and the Lion Man there is a racist character and he is presented in a negative light.
    Like · Reply · 3 · 5 hrs
    Michael Sellers
    Michael Sellers It’s interesting that this theme (ERB as racist) comes up a lot in the comments about the trailer, and in commentary by journalists and bloggers — but then when you watch the “trailer reaction videos” by just ordinary YouTubers who are looking at is …See More
    Like · Reply · 2 · 5 hrs · Edited
    Julian Perez
    Julian Perez In fairness, I don’t think anyone is saying Tarzan stories were racist. They said something more nuanced, that it had some built in racist assumptions.
    Like · Reply · 5 hrs
    Michael Sellers

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    Michael Goodwin
    Michael Goodwin I won’t bother arguing with nimrods who think like this. These are the uninformed. Trust me, they’ll Bitch, piss and moan…then go see the movie.
    Like · Reply · 5 hrs
    Michael Sellers
    Michael Sellers Also — I agree that if you look at this only as a matter of history — then it’s useless. This writer in 1912 wrote in a way that we today consider racist. So what. But . . . .”this movie studio in 2016 is investing $300M in producing and marketing …See More
    Like · Reply · 1 · 5 hrs
    Julian Perez
    Julian Perez It is interesting to me that Esmeralda never made it into any of the film adaptations. The Dynamite comics used her, but in a satirical way to undercut racist ideas, as she had a great deal of common sense.
    Like · Reply · 5 hrs
    Geoffrey A. Hamell
    Geoffrey A. Hamell Esmeralda is in the first silent film, and in the DTV ripoff of thee Disney cartoon. I liked Dynamite’s version of her, nontraditional though it was.
    Like · Reply · 4 hrs
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    Michael Sellers

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    Dean Cohen
    Dean Cohen I’m getting tired of politically correct b s
    Like · Reply · 1 · 5 hrs
    Robert Lugibihl
    Robert Lugibihl rac·ist
    ?r?s?st/
    noun…See More
    Like · Reply · 5 · 4 hrs · Edited
    Robert Lugibihl
    Robert Lugibihl There should be a derogatory term for those who cry “racist” where it does not exist. Other than “PC asshole”. wink emoticon
    Like · Reply · 4 · 4 hrs
    Geoffrey A. Hamell
    Geoffrey A. Hamell I’ve had this discussion with numerous people, all of them black, none of whom had ever read a word of Burroughs, It’s not based on anything he wrote, for better or worse. It’s just an assumption based on the concept that all whites are inherently racist. I don’t know if telling them that Tarzan is the adopted son of an African king really changes their views, but it always shuts them up.
    Like · Reply · 3 · 4 hrs
    Robert Lugibihl
    Robert Lugibihl Zeitgeistphobia: An irrational fear of the intellectual fashion or dominant school of thought that typifies and influences the culture of a particular period in time.
    Like · Reply · 4 · 4 hrs
    Martin Smiddy
    Martin Smiddy I can’t even pronounce your surname Robert, never mind that huge Z word!
    Like · Reply · 1 · 4 hrs
    Michael Sellers
    Michael Sellers Geoffrey A. Hamell I’m of the school that believes he wasn’t meaningfullly racist or imperialist and I cite as evidence his authorship of Black man’s Burden; the multi-racial setup on Barsoom; the fact that John Carter, a Confederate Captain, happily m…See More
    Like · Reply · 5 · 4 hrs · Edited
    David Frederick Morrill
    David Frederick Morrill Absolutely, Michael. I also remember that Thomas Mallon in an intro to TARZAN OF THE APES wrote about the racism that we have to squirm through to finish the book (it’s definitely there), but he says it’s mitigated somewhat by total misanthropy. Indeed, pretty much everyone in the novel is far from noble, save for a tiny few. Everyone else just enjoys inflicting suffering and death.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 4 hrs
    Geoffrey A. Hamell
    Geoffrey A. Hamell I think the fact that the issue has always been complex and confusing is illustrated by the fact that ERB wrote “The Black Man’s Burden”, a poem condemning racism, as an attack on Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden”, which was intended as an attack on racism. Even then people tended to read ill intent where none was meant.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs · Edited
    Michael Sellers

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    Robert Lugibihl
    Robert Lugibihl LOO-guh-bill. Originally Lügenbühl from the German area of Switzerland but messed up at Ellis Island.
    Zite-guyst-phobia.
    Like · Reply · 2 · 4 hrs
    Martin Smiddy
    Martin Smiddy Brilliant thanks………I get called Smiddy or Smitty by almost all my American friends who assume my name is really “Smith” and that they are using a friendly version! In reality I feel like I’m being addressed by my surname, like a squady, all the time, lol.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 4 hrs
    Michael Sellers

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    Michael Goodwin
    Michael Goodwin Hey, that’s the first way I was pronouncing it! Ok. Cool. (And can we ignore ignorance?)
    Like · Reply · 1 · 4 hrs
    Robert Lugibihl
    Robert Lugibihl Well said, Michael! But I still think Burroughs was writing in the zeitgeist (“the intellectual fashion or dominant school of thought that typifies and influences the culture of a particular time period) of his time and most of the current detractors are just overly sensitive politically correct weenies. smile emoticon
    Like · Reply · 2 · 4 hrs
    Michael Goodwin
    Michael Goodwin Yeah, pussification of America. And like some others have pointed out as well, excellently said…or explained away. Are there Germans out there saying the same? He killed a lot of German Nazi’s, both in the book and the old movie.
    Like · Reply · 2 · 4 hrs
    Robert Lugibihl
    Robert Lugibihl Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Steinbeck have all been accused of racism in their writing as well. And let’s not even get into the comic books of the Golden Age. But this is all moot in regard to the upcoming movie which was not written by ERB. And his c…See More
    Like · Reply · 3 · 4 hrs · Edited
    David Frederick Morrill
    David Frederick Morrill Can the goddamned weenies shit, Robert. It sounds really redneck.
    Like · Reply · 2 · 4 hrs
    David Pierce
    David Pierce Nicely said, David. And I would add that, if “politically correct” means “being polite,” then I am all for it.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 hrs
    Michael Sellers

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    Jeff Long
    Jeff Long Well said Michael Sellers If you try to shout down the “ERB was racist” comments without acknowledging the stuff that is uncomfortable to read today, you do a disservice. It’s possible to say that ERB was ahead oh his time on racial issues, but recognize that he was still very much of his time and that in many ways it is indeed hard to read today without sonetimes cringing.
    Like · Reply · 3 · 4 hrs
    Michael Sellers
    Michael Sellers Jeff Long …exactly. I think the day to deal with this is to a) contextualize ERB and what he wrote and believed, and b) look at how WB has reinterpreted it — and apply reasonable standards of racial sensitivy to that, not to the underlying literary…See More
    Like · Reply · 4 · 4 hrs
    Geoffrey A. Hamell
    Geoffrey A. Hamell Henry Hardy Heinz said it long ago: “Burroughs had good people and bad people of every kind, because there are good people and bad people of every kind.” If his villains are stereotypes, so are most of his heroes; we just don’t get offended by the positive stereotypes.
    Like · Reply · 6 · 4 hrs
    Michael Sellers
    Michael Sellers I’m reminded that there is a test screening viewer — a forty-something black viewer — who said: ” The film doesn’t trample on existing lore but it does update it appropriately. As a black man, I’ve sometimes found “white savior” films to be difficult…See More

    At last! A Tarzan 2016 Test Screening Viewer Gives David Yates a Solid…
    THEJOHNCARTERFILES.COM
    Like · Reply · Remove Preview · 5 · 4 hrs
    Geoffrey A. Hamell
    Geoffrey A. Hamell I don’t think we should expect the Waziri, simply because the long cast list has no one listed as anything like “Waziri Warrior # 3”. Maybe in the sequel.
    Like · Reply · 4 hrs
    Michael Goodwin
    Michael Goodwin Yeah, I read this when you first posted it. I was so happy and thrilled at what this unknown guy was saying.
    Like · Reply · 4 hrs
    Michael Goodwin
    Michael Goodwin Man, I beg and pray for the Waziri to finally make it on film. If done and portrayed right, they would be an awesome enhancement to the Tarzan film.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 4 hrs
    Johnny B. Gerardy
    Johnny B. Gerardy It was a different time and different world. Prejudices still exist today and will always exist where the human “race” is concerned, so long as there ARE human beings on this planet. We ALL have it inside of us, and we are, in some respects, products o…See More
    Like · Reply · 4 · 4 hrs
    Robert Lugibihl
    Robert Lugibihl Sorry if I have offended you, David Morrill. Is there another term for those who are overly sensitive and thrive on an absurd sense of political correctness that you would prefer I use?
    Like · Reply · 2 · 4 hrs
    Geoffrey A. Hamell
    Geoffrey A. Hamell I think the point David is expressing is that we will get more respect for our own views if we don’t use words that ridicule others. We may privately think they’re imbeciles, but saying so in public makes us sound opinionated ourselves, and makes people whose minds are undecided stop listening. And they’re the ones that we need to reach, not the PC extremists nor the people who already agree with us.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 4 hrs
    Johnny B. Gerardy
    Johnny B. Gerardy We live in the most pathetic of ages, Robert. There’s no pleasing certain individuals these days, because conflict and debate is ALL they live for. And incidentally, “redneck” is not only racist, but hypocritical, because my father and his side of the family are from Missouri. Practice what you preach, David. It’s not Robert who should apologize for being objective, but you for the insulting slander.
    Like · Reply · 2 · 4 hrs · Edited
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    Michael Sellers

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    Michael Goodwin
    Michael Goodwin I just watched the new released trailer of Tarzan’s competition – Independence day 2. Looks better than the original, but no hairs lifted on my arms and neck like the Tarzan trailer did. But that could just be me…
    Like · Reply · 1 · 4 hrs
    Rob Donkers
    Rob Donkers (excerpt from “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar”, Edgar Rice Burroughs – 1916) Chapter 24 “Home”) In itself the hunt was a success, and ten days after its inauguration, a well-laden …See More
    Unlike · Reply · 10 · 4 hrs
    Michael Sellers
    Michael Sellers How about “apostles of PC”? wink emoticon
    Like · Reply · 1 · 4 hrs
    Michael Sellers
    Michael Sellers Nice one Rob….need more like that!!!
    Like · Reply · 3 · 4 hrs
    Michael Sellers
    Michael Sellers I’m a going to steal that one and put it into the intro of the blog post. Thanks for finding it. Hoping for more citations like that. wink emoticon
    Like · Reply · 2 · 4 hrs
    Jeff Long
    Jeff Long I dislike when people use “politically correct” as a pejorative. To me, “politically correct” just means don’t be an ass.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 4 hrs
    Julian Perez
    Julian Perez Recent events have shown that “I don’t like being politically correct” is a phrase that covers a rot of the soul that is rapidly festering into ugly, fascist instincts – and I don’t use that term casually.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 hrs
    Michael Sellers

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    Geoffrey A. Hamell
    Geoffrey A. Hamell I’ve many times been told “That’s not politically correct” as a way off saying “You have to agree with me or you’re wrong and ignorant”. It’s like the difference between the friend who says “I’ll pray for you” and really means he thinks it may bring you good fortune, and the guy who says it to imply that you’re hopelessly damned.
    Like · Reply · 3 hrs · Edited
    Marco Tremblay
    Marco Tremblay To quote Jack Nicholson in Mars Attacks. “Why can’t we just get along”
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 hrs
    Johnny B. Gerardy
    Johnny B. Gerardy LOL! Yeah, but look what they did to poor Jack for saying it!
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 hrs
    Marco Tremblay
    Marco Tremblay Hilarious ????
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 hrs
    Michael Sellers

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    Geoffrey A. Hamell
    Geoffrey A. Hamell Everyone relax, take a deep breath, and let’s converse with the easy familiarity that comes to honest and intelligent people of all races. smile emoticon
    Unlike · Reply · 6 · 3 hrs
    Robert Lugibihl
    Robert Lugibihl Yes!
    Like · Reply · 2 hrs
    Michael Sellers

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    David Pierce
    David Pierce I believe that ERB did struggle with ideas about ethnicity in his early books, but later came to value individuals not by skin-color or culture, but by bravery. In “Tarzan of the Apes” there is a scene I sort of remember that, I think, has an African f…See More
    Unlike · Reply · 4 · 3 hrs · Edited
    Michael Sellers
    Michael Sellers Well said, David. I agree.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 3 hrs
    David Pierce
    David Pierce Thank you Michael.
    Like · Reply · 3 hrs
    Robert Lugibihl
    Robert Lugibihl I personally consider the term “politically correct” to be a pejorative in and of itself, i.e. me saying I’m offended at being referred to as a “white man” rather than a “Caucasian” is me being PC and insisting that everyone be hyper sensitive to my fe…See More
    Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs
    Julian Perez
    Julian Perez Very nice “I’m sorry you were offended” apology.
    Like · Reply · 2 · 2 hrs
    Geoffrey A. Hamell
    Geoffrey A. Hamell We now return to our discussion of “Tarzan of the Differently Evolved”.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 2 hrs
    Michael Sellers

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    David Pierce
    David Pierce Thank you. As with other words, “PC” is defined variously by differing sources. I don’t use the term myself because of its inherent assumptions and high level of abstraction, but when I am in a room with people who disparage others for being “PC” or “h…See More
    Like · Reply · 3 · 2 hrs · Edited
    Julian Perez
    Julian Perez “I’m not politically correct” covers a rot of the soul that, as we are now seeing in Western nations, covers over ugly, undisguised, and explicitly fascist instincts (I use the term specifically and without hyperbole). There was a wonderful article th…See More
    Like · Reply · 2 · 2 hrs
    David Pierce
    David Pierce Julian, your argument might be more persuasive if you prefaced your comments with, “In my opinion.” It can work wonders in a conversation.
    Like · Reply · 2 · 2 hrs
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    Michael Sellers

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    Robert Lugibihl
    Robert Lugibihl True enough. One last thing: I love this group and its almost complete lack of bickering and in-fighting as opposed to many of the other groups here on FB. I don’t want to offend, alienate or irritate any of you! smile emoticon. I agree with Geoffrey, let’s now return to our regularly scheduled enlightened and evolved ERB discussions.
    Like · Reply · 3 · 2 hrs
    David Pierce
    David Pierce (Yes. The issue that would get me into the trenches with critics is tree houses and vine-swinging, but since it is unlikely they’ll ever progress to a fundamental level of knowledge of the source material, no one will need to restrain me.)
    Like · Reply · 2 · 2 hrs · Edited
    William Streckfus
    William Streckfus Here’s a thought. Tarzan was written in 1912 the first year he had ever been published and basically trying to make a living at this writing thing. Until he was established I’d think maybe he was writing more to what the editor wanted vs what he real…See More
    Like · Reply · 3 · 2 hrs
    Lorie Goldfeder Schultz
    Lorie Goldfeder Schultz Robert, you can delet this if you find it may start discussions all over again. I read all this ‘late’. I guess I never thought about it before because I always took into account when it was written. My fear is that Tarzan will go the way of the Con…See More
    Like · Reply · 54 mins
    Amado Narvaez
    Amado Narvaez I’m coming to the discussion late, but I thought one of the main themes of _The Return of Tarzan_ was the Ape-Man’s realization that not all Black warriors were like the ones he encountered in Mbonga’s village in the first novel.
    —–quotes from _The …See More
    Like · Reply · Just now · Edited

  • The topic hardly rates a response except to say that Burroughs’ constant praise for the Waziri puts paid to any suggestion he was racist. Burroughs’ description of all groups was moreover a pretty accurate description of reality.

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