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Entry updated 20 September 2021. Tagged: Character, Comics, Film, TV.


This potent twentieth-century myth, created by Edgar Rice Burroughs in Tarzan of the Apes (October 1912 All-Story; 1914), may seem only marginally sf on the strength of the detail that Tarzan – who is both Lord Greystoke, scion of English aristocracy, and Pastoral lord of the African jungle – was raised by great apes (see Apes as Human). As with other proto-Superheroes, though, Tarzan's long Series of adventures regularly strayed into genuine sf territory. His cartoon-like Africa is studded with Lost Worlds and infested with Lost Races – the now degenerate folk of Atlantis, for example, in The Return of Tarzan (June-December 1913 New Story; 1915) and subsequent stories featuring the City of Opar. Tarzan encounters Dinosaurs in Tarzan the Terrible (29 January-26 February 1921 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 1921), is temporarily Miniaturized in Tarzan and the Ant Men (2 February-15 March 1924 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 1924; rev 1924) and explores the Hollow-Earth realm of Burroughs's Pellucidar in Tarzan at the Earth's Core (September 1929-March 1930 Blue Book; 1930).

Several predecessors of Tarzan may be cited, in particular from nineteenth-century French adventure fiction. A notable example is Léon Gozlan's Les Émotions de Polydore Marasquin; ou, Trois mois parmi les singes (1856 Journal Pour Tous; 1857; trans anon as The Man Among the Monkeys; Or, Ninety Days in Apeland. To Which Are Added The Philosopher and His Monkey, The Professor and the Crocodile, and Other Strange Stories of Men and Animals, anth 1873), which directly inspired Albert Robida's Voyages très extraordinaires de Saturnin Farandoul dans les 3 our 6 parties due monde et dans tous les pays connus et même inconnus de Monsieur Jules Verne ["The Very Extraordinary Adventures of Saturnin Farandoul in the 5 or 6 Continents of the World and in All the Lands Known or Even Unknown to Mr Jules Verne"] (1879; rev 1883). Later examples include Jules Lermina's "To-Ho le Tueur d'Or" (1905 Journal de Voyages; trans Georges T Dodds as To-Ho and the Gold Destroyers 2010), each of whose protagonists is raised from a child by a race of man-apes. "When the World Was Young" (10 September 1910 Saturday Evening Post) by Jack London has been suggested as a likely source. Rudyard Kipling's Mowgli, the boy raised by wolves in The Jungle Book (coll 1894), is an obvious and famous possible influence. As Kipling himself sardonically remarked in Something of Myself (1937):

And, if it be in your power, bear serenely with imitators. My Jungle Books begat Zoos of them. But the genius of all the genii was one who wrote a series called Tarzan of the Apes. I read it, but regret I never saw it on the films, where it rages most successfully.

Tarzan has in turn been much imitated. He was a partial inspiration for the likewise jungle-dwelling crime-fighter The Phantom, who made his debut in February 1936. Further examples include: the House Name John Peter Drummond's 1938-1954 Ki-Gor tales for Jungle Stories magazine; Howard Browne's Tharn stories, Warrior of the Dawn: The Adventures of Tharn (December 1942-January 1943 Amazing; 1943) and its sequel; Bob Byrd's Ka-Zar, King of Fang and Claw (October 1936 Ka-Zar as "King of Fang and Claw"; 1937); William L Chester's Kioga, John Russell Fearn's The Gold of Akada (1951) and Anjani, the Mighty (1951), both as by Earl Titan; the Azan the Apeman series by Marco Garron (a House Name); William Gilmour's Tarzan and the Lightning Man (1963 chap); Otis Adelbert Kline's Jan of the Jungle; Victor Norwood's Jacaré the Untamed; the Bomba the Jungle Boy books by John W Duffield writing as Roy Rockwood (a House Name); and Robert Moore Williams's Jongor.

There have also been many outright Tarzan Parodies, among the most notable being Philip José Farmer's bravura "The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod" (1968 Broadside vol 4 #2) – recasting the myth in the manner of William S Burroughs – and Damon Knight's "Tarcan of the Hoboes" (October 1982 F&SF). The film novelizations Tarzan and the Valley of Gold (1966) by Fritz Leiber and Tarzan, King of the Apes (1983) by Joan D Vinge are authorized (by the Burroughs estate) Sequels by Other Hands; but Barton Werper's unauthorized Tarzan: The New Series titles were legally suppressed (after publication) by the Burroughs estate. Philip José Farmer also wove the character into his complex Wold Newton Family sequence – slightly disguising Lord Greystoke as Lord Grandrith in the uninhibited A Feast Unknown (1969) – and produced a semi-spoof biography in Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke (1972). Another contribution to the Tarzan universe is Tarzan: The Epic Adventures (1996) by R A Salvatore.

As befits a twentieth-century Icon, Tarzan and his love-interest Jane appeared in a long-running Comic strip beginning in the weekly UK magazine Tit Bits (20 October 1928) and achieving US newspaper syndication from January 1929. Television incarnations include the animated Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (1976-1978); animated segments in The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour (1977-1978), Tarzan and the Super 7 (1979-1980) and The Tarzan/Lone Ranger Adventure Hour (1980-1982); and two live-action serials with the same name: Tarzan (57 episodes 1966-1968) starring Ron Ely, in which Jane did not appear, and Tarzan (50 episodes 1991-1993), starring Wolf Larson as Tarzan and Lydie Denier as Jane. In Cinema there have been a great many Tarzan films, beginning with Tarzan of the Apes (1918) starring Elmo Lincoln; the well-remembered Johnny Weissmuller first played the part in Tarzan the Ape Man (1932). These movies are discussed at length in the entry for Tarzan Films. [DRL]

see also: Stuart J Byrne; Gerard F Conway; J T Edson; Kamishibai; George Langford; Will Murray; Josef Nesvadba; Margaret Peterson; Planetary; Richard Reinsmith; J Allen St John; Sheena, Queen of the Jungle; Charles B Stilson; Boris Vallejo.


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