These mental images come from movies and TV series, such as the Disney animation "Tarzan" (1998). But I wonder how many people have actually read the original Tarzan stories written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan? Personally, though I have seen a lot of movies and TV series based on his literary inventions, such as John Carter and Tarzan, I have never read any of the works by Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB). One day, when I was browsing in the bookshop, I came across this omnibus collection, and decided to add this to my "to read" list.
When Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote the first Tarzan book, he was at the bottom of his financial status. At that time, ERB was struggling to find a good job to support his family, as a pencil sharpener salesman, ERB was exposed to and was attracted to the pulp fiction market. He disliked the pulp fiction materials of his era, so he decided to write his own. As a result, Tarzan was born. Little could anyone guess Tarzan would go ahead and become one of the most well known fictional characters to embrace the world, and ERB became a millionaire with it.
This book, is a beautifully made omnibus, collecting the first 6 Tarzan novels published from 1912 to 1919. It comes in both hardback and paperback format, both covered with leather binding. At 976 pages, this is a big tome, and if you decide to purchase this book. I would recommend the hardback format, because a hardback book is more durable, especially with a big volume such as this one. The price difference between the hardback and the paperback format is only 10 dollars. The hardback format of this book costs approximately 35 dollars, which is a reasonable price for a book such as this.
So, the appearance is good, and the price is good, but what about the content of this book?
As I mentioned earlier, this omnibus collects the first 6 Tarzan novels published through the 1910s. I will briefly provide synopsis for these six novels below:
Tarzan of the Apes:
This is the first Tarzan story published in 1912. This is the "origin" story of Tarzan. The story told how Tarzan's parents, Lord and Lady Greystoke, became lost in the wild African jungle. After giving birth to Tarzan, Lord and Lady Greystoke died, leaving Tarzan as a helpless baby orphan unprotected in the savage African jungle. At the same time, a mother gorilla lost her baby after an accident. By a whim of chance, the grief stricken mother gorilla came across baby Tarzan, and adopted Tarzan to replace her lost baby. The rest of the story entails the journey of Tarzan from boy to manhood, growing up thinking he is an ape, his first contact with the civilized men, and the eventual pursuit of his romantic love interest, Jane Porter.
The Return of Tarzan:
Following the conclusion in the first book. Tarzan was living in Europe with his friend. The ape man struggled to comprehend with the civilized mannerism in his new environment. Furthermore, Tarzan made a mortal enemy in Europe, a villainous Russian spy Nikolas Rokoff. The story progressed, where Tarzan eventually traveled back to the African jungle, and encountered a series of adventures which will ultimately pave his way to his romantic love interest, Jane Porter.
The Beasts of Tarzan:
Tarzan is now married to Jane Porter, and the couple has a son named Jack. Their peaceful life were ruined by Tarzan's long time enemy, Nikolas Rokoff. Tarzan's wife and son were stolen by the evil villain, and Tarzan attempted a desperate mission to rescue his family from the clutch of the villain.
The Son of Tarzan:
In this story, Tarzan's son, Jack, was in his teenage years. When a mysterious gorilla entered into the life of Tarzan's family in Europe. After a series of events, Jack landed up in Africa with the gorilla, and spent the remaining of his teenage years as a jungle man, acquiring the survival skills as his father had, and finally became his own man.
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar:
Tarzan and his wife lived in their African estate. Tarzan often ward off against the elephant tusk hunters, and made some enemies. When Tarzan finally ran out of money, he traveled back to the ruined city of Opar (mentioned in The Return of Tarzan), to acquire more treasures. His enemies were on his trail and plotted revenge against Tarzan by kidnapping his wife, and taking his treasures. Once more, Tarzan must engage a rescue attempt to be reunited with his beloved wife, Jane.
The Jungle Tales of Tarzan:
This part of the omnibus, is actually not a novel. Rather, this is a collection of 12 short stories of Tarzan, featuring Tarzan in his younger years. The stories mostly revolved around Tarzan's first love interest, a female gorilla. As strange as the idea sounds, but some of these short stories are very interesting, and serves as "tie-in" stories to fill in the gaps about Tarzan's time as a young man.
What I think about the book (Civilization vs. barbarism part 2 - The noble savage):
To be honest, after reading almost 1000 pages of Tarzan. I think Tarzan stories are quite repetitive. There are too many repeated scenes; Tarzan fights/kills lions and panthers, battles against giant gorilla for supremacy etc.. At about half way into this massive tome, I was a bit bored with repetitive scenes. I struggled to read through the last 200 pages of this book. In addition, ERB's writings can be a bit monotone at some places. In the last 50 pages, all I wanted to do was to finish this book and shelve it, because it was becoming such a laborious task. In my opinion, other than the first book "Tarzan of the Apes", the other Tarzan novels and stories are mediocre at best.
Based on the quality of the stories, I don't really understand why Tarzan has gained such fame, that after 100 years, Tarzan remains to be a well known legend. I speculate, the element behind the lasting success and the charms of Tarzan, is the romanticism of the idea "the noble savage".
The noble savage (nature's gentlemen, originated in the 19th century), is the idea that uncivilized men have innate goodness if they are unexposed to the corruption of the civilization. This is a highly controversial idea, and no doubt it was highly criticized by many. For example, some Christians might rebuke this romanticized idea, because the idea that men have innate goodness/unselfishness/righteousness is in contradiction with a branch of theological teaching within the greater Christian community, who believe that after the fall, human are born completely selfish, and are utterly incapable of being good/unselfish/righteous unless God works in his/her heart. At the same time, I speculate some proponents of neo-atheism might rebuke the idea of noble savage as well, probably because the concept that human can be good without civilization, must sound appalling to those who believe that civilization, human progress, and technology is the answer to solve all problems facing humanity. In other words, the idea of noble savage is probably being battered by both ends whenever the it is brought to the discussion table.
In this review, I am not going to argue against, nor will I support the idea of the noble savage, because I realized people's views on this subject are going fluctuate according to their personal experiences in life. Instead, I will like to propose a new perspective, to explain why Tarzan, and the idea of noble savage is a subject of immense fascination.
Why the fascination with noble savage? Very simple, I think the reason can be summarized in one word: Hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy and the corruption in the civilization, from my speculation, is probably the reason why some people adore the concept of noble savage. And perhaps this is also the trigger for this romanticized idea. In ERB's Tarzan stories, it is evident that while ERB always refer to the jungle beasts as savage and brutal creatures (not very positive descriptions), but the jungle beasts lack the greed, cowardice and evilness compared to his descriptions of civilized men.
In other words, I realized, the idea of the noble savage is not romanticizing the possibility that human beings are better off without civilization. Rather, the idea of the noble savage, seems to be a complaint against the hypocritical treatment people give out and receive in each other, within the human world. In other words, many people had the experience of meeting someone who appears nice, perhaps with good clothes, good table manners, good taste in food, music, literature, highly educated, and speaks of noble things, after civilized mannerisms. Then after all the nice things on the surface faded, they are somewhat hurt (and sometimes being hurt) to discover this person is actually NOT as he/she appears (or claims) to be. So some people complain about such hypocrisy, by arguing that civilization only brings corruption (as ERB tended to describe civilization in the Tarzan stories). But the question is, are barbaric people really "better" than civilized people? What about cannibalism in the primitive tribes? I think while some hypocritical behaviors unique in civilization might be absent in a more primitive human settlement. However, I do not think the primitive human settlement is necessary more ethical. Rather, it must also have some problems unique in barbarism, with the absence of civilization (such as cannibalism, strong dominate against the weak etc..). To me, it seems that the argument of civilization vs. barbarism arrives at this conclusion: Neither barbarism nor civilization can bring a perfect justice system to the human world to achieve absolute righteousness.
I wonder how many people realized, at this crucial point of reflection. The general theme of the Bible comes in agreement with our observations in the human world. The Bible says that after the fall, human beings are corrupted with sin and this is why we have all the human induced tragedies. While it is true that the level of evilness/selfishness is not the same across the spectrum of humanity. But equally is true that no human beings in this world can truly, and honestly say that he/she has never wronged, or hurt others by our selfish nature. So what hope is there for us? Very simple, the Gospel tells us that God loves us so much, that He has send his son, Jesus, to come and take away our sins, so that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). This means in God's divine plan, those who repents and believes in Jesus as his/her savior and starts to live a new life, will be saved, and enter the kingdom of heaven, where the hypocrisy/corruption of human civilization, and the brutality and the savageness of barbarism will both cease to cause suffering and tragedies.
It seems, that in contrast to the ideologies of secular humanism and neo-atheism, Christianity is the ultimate answer to all the problems in the human world.
|I do not own this artwork. The copyright of this image belongs to Frank Frazetta Properties LLC|