A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Tarzan of the Apes, the 1912 book by Edgar Rice Burroughs that launched a pop-cultural empire, is a thrilling page-turner with a minefield on nearly every one of its 400 pages. Murder and mayhem abound, as humans and animals kill each other, as well as members of their own species, with gusto. And there are cannibals. Tarzan himself is fond of snaring members of a jungle tribe with a noose, strangling them, and dropping their bodies from treetops; vengeful soldiers wipe out a village; seafaring scalawags hack and bludgeon one another to death. There are also plentiful, outmoded stereotypes, especially regarding gender roles and race. There's more innuendo about primeval behavior than actual lurid detail in the Tarzan-Jane romance, which involves numerous rescues but only one scene of intense kissing (it ends quickly and leads to much internal conflict).
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What's the story?
In 1888, Lord and Lady Greystoke, a young aristocratic couple on a diplomatic mission to a British colony in Africa, are marooned on a remote coastline after a deadly mutiny on their boat. She dies not long after giving birth to their son, and, after a giant ape kills Lord Greystoke, Kala, a female ape who's recently lost her baby, adopts the infant and calls him "Tarzan," "white skin" in the ape language. As Tarzan grows, he's torn between the world of the apes and the secrets of the shoreline cottage where he was born, though he doesn't know this. The conflict only grows more intense when another crew of nautical no-goodniks abandon their passengers -- including an absent-minded American professor and his spirited daughter, Jane -- on the beach.
Is it any good?
Readers who come to the original from one of the much-sanitized Hollywood versions may be startled to discover a Tarzan tale that's more Quentin Tarantino than Walt Disney. Written for the adult pulp-fiction audience of 1912, TARZAN OF THE APES offers plenty of imaginative adventure, an intriguing premise, and the start of one of pop culture's most notable romances. From the 21st-century viewpoint, it also delivers shocking racist stereotypes (both of African "blacks" and of Jane's cartoonishly useless servant, a "Negress"), lots of gleeful violence, and hilariously improbable plot developments (such as Tarzan teaching himself to read from the children's books his parents left behind). It's a classic adventure and one that's likely to lead to some interesting discussions of what the moviemakers chose to leave out or change -- and why.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about stories of human children raised by wild animals. What other examples can you think of? Why do you think it's such a popular theme?
When this book was written, almost no Westerners had ever been to Africa or even seen pictures. Today, if you want to check out a local scene there, you just have to search YouTube. Do you think this helps people have a better understanding of each other's cultures and lives, or does it cause more problems?
If this story took place today, how would it be different?
- Author: Edgar Rice Burroughs
- Genre: Fantasy
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs, Pirates, Wild Animals
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Dover Publications
- Publication date: October 1, 1912
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 11 - 18
- Number of pages: 400
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: June 19, 2019
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