Tarzan of the Apes is very much a product of its age: replete with bloodthirsty natives and a bulky, swooning American Negress, and haunted by what zoo specialists now call charismatic megafauna (great beasts snarling, roaring, and stalking, most of whom would be out of place in a real African jungle). Burroughs countervails such incorrectness, however, with some rather unattractive representations of white civilization–mutinous, murderous sailors, effete aristos, self-involved academics, and hard-hearted cowards. At Tarzan’s heart rightly lies the resourceful and hunky title character, a man increasingly torn between the civil and the savage, for whom cutlery will never be less than a nightmare. The passages in which the nut-brown boy teaches himself to read and write are masterly and among the book’s improbable, imaginative best. How tempting it is to adopt the ten-year-old’s term for letters–“little bugs”! And the older Tarzan’s realization that civilized “men were indeed more foolish and more cruel than the beasts of the jungle,” while not exactly a new notion, is nonetheless potent. The first in Burroughs’s serial is most enjoyable in its resounding oddities of word and thought, including the unforgettable “When Tarzan killed he more often smiled than scowled; and smiles are the foundation of beauty.”
I had this story from one who had no business to tell it to me, or to any other. I may credit the seductive influence of an old vintage upon the narrator for the beginning of it, and my own skeptical incredulity during the days that followed for the balance of the strange tale.
When my convivial host discovered that he had told me so much, and that I was prone to doubtfulness, his foolish pride assumed the task the old vintage had commenced, and so he unearthed written evidence in the form of musty manuscript, and dry official records of the British Colonial Office to support many of the salient features of his remarkable narrative.
I do not say the story is true, for I did not witness the happenings which it portrays, but the fact that in the telling of it to you I have taken fictitious names for the principal characters quite sufficiently evidences the sincerity of my own belief that it MAY be true.