Before delving into the review itself, it's important to note several relevant biographical details about Edgar Rice Burroughs.
The guy was not a writer. At the age of 36, he was a life-time loser who had failed at every job he had ever had, including ranch hand and pencil sharpener. His own father had fired him.
Then, one day he read a work of pulp fiction in a magazine. Despite having no writing credentials or experience, he felt he could do better. And unlike a million other people who had thought this, Burroughs did precisely that.
The beginning of Tarzan of the Apes
, dealing with the protagonist's parents, is very rough. It's shoddily-written, dull, and filled with childish cliches. The ship mutiny opening was so bad, I seriously considered dropping the work. I'm glad I didn't.
Because once the story begins centering around Tarzan himself, it picks up. Burroughs had some genuinely amusing and creative ideas, and at its best, Tarzan of the Apes
is an incredibly thrilling tale of adventure.
Tarzan's battles against apes, lions, and a tribe of African cannibals are all vivid and tense, with a real sense of high adventure. While his writing ability is poor, Burroughs made up for it by creating an exciting world filled with lost treasure, savage beasts, evil and dangerous men, and of course, its larger-than-life hero Tarzan. Tarzan is a "noble savage" who ruthlessly kills wild animals and wicked humans, but is also a perfect gentleman towards Southern belle Jane Porter.
Tarzan's interactions with Porter's group, especially his unknown identity, introduce some suspense and complexity to the work. However, it's difficult to sympathize with them, especially her father Archimedes Porter. While he is supposed to be a likable, absent-minded professor, I saw him as a greedy, dangerous idiot who ruins his daughter's life with his irresponsibility, is perfectly willing to sacrifice her to a brute, and comes very close to causing the death of her and their entire group.
That's the limitation of Burrough's non-Tarzan characters; they are all one-note caricatures, even Tarzan's mentor and close friend, French officer Paul D'Arnot.
I had initially picked up the book because Tarzan was the most beloved childhood character of Philip Jose Farmer, one of my favorite writers, and I wanted to find out why. (Farmer's own series of Tarzan works are even better)
I got my answer. While hardly "great" literature, I highly recommend Tarzan of the Apes
for any fans of the pulp genre. Just be ready to brave a poor start.