The original story that started it all. Movie and TV versions have changed many aspects of the story. Here is the original. The novel tells the story of John Clayton, born in the western coastal jungles of equatorial Africa to a marooned couple from England, John and Alice (Rutherford) Clayton, Lord and Lady Greystoke. Adopted as an infant by the she-ape Kala after his parents died (his father is killed by the savage king ape Kerchak), Clayton is named "Tarzan" ("White Skin" in the ape language) and raised in ignorance of his human heritage. (Amazon)
Reviewed by L. Danielle
When a mutiny forces the young Lord and Lady Greystoke to be abandoned on a lonely and unfamiliar part of Africa the two try to make the best of the situation- even though Lady Greystoke is about to give birth to her firstborn child. The two build a home on the beach and things begin to go well for them. As anyone who has seen the Disney movie knows their bliss is short-lived (though not in the fashion of the movie).
Kala, an ape who has recently lost her child in a gruesome way (again, not at all like the movie) stumbles across the infant Tarzan and takes him as her own. This causes an uproar among the apes, but eventually things are settled and the apes begin to forget that Tarzan was ever anything but a part of their family. This includes Tublat, Kala’s mate, who finds his hairless white offspring an embarrassment and frequently tries to make Tarzan’s life miserable and treats him as an outcast.
Due to his mistreatment by the other apes, Tarzan frequently finds himself striking out on his own and eventually comes across the house his biological family had once resided in. There, Tarzan discovers his father’s books and eventually teaches himself to read. He spends many hours poring through his father’s collection and becomes quite proficient in the task by the time the young Jane Porter finds herself marooned along the same shoreline.
TARZAN OF THE APES is absolutely nothing like the Disney movie I grew up with, but I found myself oddly obsessed with it. It’s an undeniably gritty and violent book with a death occurring in the very first pages. Tarzan gets into a number of scrapes, fighting a large white gorilla on the beach outside of his parent’s cabin. He butts heads with Kerchek, leader of the apes, a number of times before usurping him to become leader of the tribe. There is an undeniable racist tone throughout the book (it was published in the early 20th century) as Tarzan takes pleasure in harassing the local African tribes (lynching several of them to avenge the death of his most-loved ape).
Naturally, I can’t recommend this book to everyone; it certainly has its hard to digest moments, and a bittersweet ending (which the sequel takes upon itself to fix). Jane is not the intellectual young woman excited by her father’s research, but a scared and danger-prone damsel in distress, constantly in need of saving. Tarzan is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I’ve motored my way through the majority of the series my first semester of college, and I can’t help but be oddly fascinated by it. I know this isn’t the sort of thing that gets reviewed on this site much, but I couldn’t stop myself from penning this review. I like this book.
Mature Themes: Racism is prevalent, character deaths, don’t pick up this book lightly