Johns Hopkins Press: The Legend and Literature of Tarzan by Jerry Griswold


Johns Hopkins University Press:  Directed by David Yates and starring Alexander Skarsgård as the ape-man, The Legend of Tarzan (Warner Brothers) is a movie meant for the Summer of 2016 but it is also one more incarnation of a timeless and familiar story. Jerry Griswold considers the Tarzan Myth in his Audacious Kids: The Classic American Children’s Story, from which the following remarks are excerpted: 

First appearing in All Story Magazine and then published as a book in 1914, Tarzan of the Apesimmediately jumped on to the bestseller lists and has remained an enduring favorite. Among those who have singled it out for special praise have been Ronald Reagan, Ray Bradbury, Gore Vidal, and Arthur C. Clarke. In the years which followed, readers would demand some twenty-five sequels from Burroughs. The statistics are staggering: by 1970, for example, there were more than thirty-six million Tarzan books in print in thirty-one languages; in addition, there have been more than fifty Tarzan films (from the countless Saturday matinees where Johnny Weissmuller let out his famous Tarzan yell to the more recent incarnations like “Greystoke” and “George of the Jungle.” Surveying all of American culture, scholar Russel Nye concluded, “Tarzan remains the greatest popular creation of all time.”

Burroughs’ private dream spoke to millions of readers and became a shared dream, a public dream, a myth. Burroughs offered to take us Back, to the fierce Origin, to the “wild” and “hairy.”  That means loincloth nakedness! Strip away the accretions of civilization. And that means apocalyptic truth! . . . . . On the appeal of Tarzan, Burroughs said: “We wish to escape the narrow confines of the city streets [the restrictions of man-made laws and the inhibitions that society has placed upon us] for the freedom of the wilderness,” Burroughs called himself a “subconscious” writer and added, “Psychologists tell me that, as the subconscious does not reason, too close a scrutiny might prove anything but flattering.” Indeed, when Burroughs opens his Pandora’s box, what spills out in his books are a number of sordid things: hostility to anything  “other,” manifested in blatant racism and sexism; voyeuristic and sadomasochistic erotics, where white women often seem to be in danger of “the fate worse than death” at the hands of hairy brutes while the hero looks on from concealment with his knife or sword in hand; and, most conspicuously, the wish for dominance, evident in the anti-social behavior of this solitaire and self-made man who is pictured in retrograde fantasies of self-importance which sometimes make Tarzan seem kin to comic-book characters like Superman and the Hulk. Here, then, is no repression or embarrassment. Here comes spilling out all the violent and erotic fantasies of the white male. Here, unchecked, is naked id.

Read more.  (Comment: some pretty annoying stuff…)