Who is the Tarzan created by Edgar Rice Burroughs?
Edgar Rice Burroughs named him John Clayton, Lord
Greystoke, and Tarzan of the Apes. In the primeval jungles of
the west coast of Africa in 1888, he was born in a cabin built by
his marooned father and mother, John and Alice Clayton, the
aristocratic Lord and Lady Greystoke. Orphaned as a infant
when his parents died on that terrible coast, young Clayton was
adopted into a tribe of great apes unknown to science and now
Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ feral child, would grow up to
become a superman such as Nietzche could not have envisioned.
Burroughs described him as youthful, active, restless, tanned,
and athletic beyond even Olympic standards. Courage, loyalty,
curiosity, and steadiness are hallmarks of his character. Adding
an element of sexual frisson, Burroughs made him exceedingly
attractive to women, and faithful only to one, Jane, nee Porter,
his mate for life.
Burroughs’ own ideas of ethical conduct are the foundations
of Tarzan’s personal virtues and inform all of the Ape Man’s
conduct, in particular his loyalty to true friends, kindness to
women, partiality for the underdog, and killer-angel callousness
in the pursuit of justice. Burroughs also infused the character
with the hallmark trait of any super hero—an internal moral
compass belonging only to him. Finally, Burroughs gave him a
complete contempt and dismissal of the traditions and laws of
civilization. At home only in a natural setting, both being
immortal, Tarzan and his mate have rejected the civilized world
for a home in Africa.
P. J. Monahan. December 9, 1922 cover for the first in a seven-part serialization of
Tarzan and the Golden Lion in Argosy All-Story Weekly. This is not the wimp of the
movies; this is a Tarzan of real-strength, of body and character. He has a confident
grasp on his world and our imaginations. In this illustration Tarzan is the
experience-sharpened power in his universe---a mythic, jungle world that lived only in
the minds of the Colonial-era Europeans and an American public who romanticized them,
a world recast in each adventure novel of Victorian and depression-era writers of
escapist adventure, most notably Rudyard Kipling, H. Ryder Haggard, and, of course,
Edgar Rice Burroughs.