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File:Tarzan 1836.png

After a brutal mutiny aboard the ship Fulwada, the English lord, John Clayton, is marooned in an African Jungle along with his pregnant wife, Alice (Respectively Lord and Lady Greystroke). John builds a secure treehouse to protect from the beasts of the jungle, and spends a year providing for his wife and infant son before the two English nobles both die. A band of apes lead by the savage Kerchak goes to explore the Clayton's tree home shortly after John's death. The female ape, Kala, finds the young Lord Greystroke and adopts him, naming him "Tarzan", meaning "white skin".

Kala raises Tarzan among the apes and he grows up as a creature of the jungle, fighting lions/tigers[1] (but no bears, oh my!), and having many unseen encounters with the natives. Tarzan finds his old cabin and teaches himself how to read over the course of a decade. One day a group of foreigners become stranded in the jungle by boat as well, one of them being his cousin William Cecil Clayton, and another being an American girl named Jane Porter. And we all know how that turns out.

Tarzan of the Apes was published by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1912[2] and takes place in roughly the same time period. It is the first of his Tarzan series, which spans over two dozen published books, most of which are now in the public domain[3]. Can be read here.

Tropes used in Tarzan of the Apes include:

  • Abhorrent Admirer: Canler
  • Absent-Minded Professor: Professor Porter, Jane's father.
  • And Now You Must Marry Me: Canler and Jane seem to take it as a given that Jane must marry him to absolve her father's debt.
  • Animal Skin Attire: Subverted -- Tarzan kills a big cat and plans to wear its skin: "But he found the hide had dried as stiff as a board, and as he knew naught of tanning, he was forced to abandon his cherished plan." He later reverts to stealing properly-tanned skins.
  • Animal Talk: All animals are implied to have their own separate languages.
  • Apocalyptic Log: John Clayton's diary.
  • Badass Boast: "I am Tarzan. I am a great killer. There be none among you as mighty as Tarzan. Let his enemies beware."
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Being raised in the jungle among apes not only makes Tarzan fit and athletic, but many times stronger, faster and more agile than any Olympic athlete. Tarzan also has superhuman senses because:

 Man's survival does not hinge so greatly upon the perfection of his senses. His power to reason has relieved them of many of their duties, and so they have, to some extent, atrophied, as have the muscles which move the ears and scalp, merely from disuse.

The muscles are there, about the ears and beneath the scalp, and so are the nerves which transmit sensations to the brain, but they are under-developed because they are not needed.

  • Conveniently an Orphan: Alice Clayton dies in her sleep, and John Clayton is killed shortly after by the ape Kerchak while distracted by his grief. Their infant son is adopted and raised by an ape mother whose own infant had died.
  • Cultural Posturing: Jane at one point privately wishes William Clayton could have been American, and thinks that is the highest compliment she can give him.
  • Damsel in Distress: Jane, more than once.
  • Darkest Africa: The setting of the novel.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Tarzan is hostile to black people. D'arnot even calls him out on this.
    • Mind, Tarzan is hostile because a black warrior killed his ape-mother, Kala, in an unprovoked attack.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The novel begins with an explicit statement that Burroughs was told the story by one who was there, and that the names have been changed to protect the etc.
  • Everything's Better with Monkeys: The book's called Tarzan of the Apes after all.
  • Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Don't ever fuck with Kala if you want to live.
  • Evolutionary Levels: Caucasians are said to be more evolved than blacks, and humans in general are more evolved than apes.
  • Face Death with Dignity: D'Arnot from the cannibal tribe; and later Jane when facing death by forest fire.
  • Frazetta Man: The apes of the novel, called "Mangani" in later books. They're said to be the step between gorillas and chimpanzees.
  • Genius Bruiser: Tarzan is very intelligent, and contrary to his usual depiction in adaptations can speak fluent English (as well as French) by the end of the book.
  • Gray Eyes
  • Honor Before Reason: Jane's approach to marriage. First she agrees to marry a man she hates so her father won't face the dishonor of defaulting on a debt. Then she's released from the debt, agrees to marry another guy in a moment of emotion. And when the man she loves shows up shortly thereafter she decides can't possibly back out. She apparently believes that saying "yes" counts as bond of honor, even if she changes her mind an hour later, and the actual marriage is just a formality.
  • Hungry Jungle: Where he lives.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Tarzan, at the end, recognises that Jane feels honor-bound to marry William Clayton, and not only gives up his own hopes of marrying her but also chooses not to pursue his birthright to Clayton's title and fortune.
  • Lamarck Was Right: Tarzan of the Apes was written around the time Lamarckism was a popular theory and is incorporated heavily in the novel. Tarzan is said to have a "hereditary instinct of graciousness which a lifetime of uncouth and savage training and environment could not eradicate".
  • Marked Change: Tarzan has a scar on his scalp that flushes when he's angry.
  • Mighty Whitey: A basic trope.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Tigers in the African jungle? What madness is this! Burroughs later retconned them to be lions, which in turn brings up a number of other problems[4]. Gorillas on the other hand, don't live in the same areas as lions either, preferring dense jungles and swamps.
  • The Mutiny: the crew of the Fulwalda mutiny and maroon Lord Greystoke and his wife on the African coast; and later, the mutinous crew of the Arrow abandons the second party on the same exact stretch of coast. Amusingly, it's explained that the second party was following up on a treasure map garnered from the survivor of a previous mutinous pirate ship.
  • Noble Savage: Tarzan, of course. The apes are also depicted this way: violent, brutal and simple, but honorable in their own way.
  • Noisy Nature: Burroughs claims that all big cats roar when they attack to paralyze the victim with fear.
  • Nubile Savage: Despite being raised on the same diet as apes, Tarzan is not malnourished and has an impressive and perfectly toned physique. Even though the only meat he eats is raw and is often buried in the dirt for days in the tropical jungle, he doesn't suffer from tapeworms, echinococcosis, hep A or any sorts of internal parasites or diseases. Tarzan doesn't have headlice or fleas either, even though he's lived with apes his whole life. If he's got bad teeth, no one ever talks about it. Less egregious than everything else, though, is the fact that he's clean shaven most of the time. Tarzan got the notion from his picture books that civilized men should be beardless and have short hair, which he presumably emulates by using his hunting knife to shave and cut his hair.
  • Officer and a Gentleman: D'Arnot.
  • Omniglot: Even before he actually converses with another human, Tarzan can speak three or four animal languages and can read English writing.
  • Orwellian Retcon: Tarzan fights tigers in the earliest editions of the book, but Burroughs had this changed to lions in later editions when he found out that tigers are not native to Africa.
  • Raised By Apes: The picture on the article is even from an adaptation of Tarzan.
  • Rescue Romance: Jane realizes she's in love with Tarzan in the midst of her third rescue.
  • Romantic False Lead: William Clayton.
  • Screaming Woman: Jane's maid Esmerelda screams her head off at the slightest provocation.
  • Stock Animal Name: To apes, all male lions are Numa, all lionesses are Sabor and all leopards are Sheeta.
  • Take That: William Clayton ends up on the wrong side of several targeting his Englishness.
  • That Was Not a Dream: Alice Clayton, early in the book: "I have had an awful dream, dear. I thought we were no longer in London, but in some horrible place where great beasts attacked us."
  • Touch of the Monster: Jane when kidnapped by Terkoz.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: D'Arnot's reaction to Tarzan when he's about to shoot some black natives on sight without even seeing if they were hostile first.

 In the distance were several buildings surrounded by a strong palisade. Between them and the enclosure stretched a cultivated field in which a number of negroes were working. The two halted at the edge of the jungle. Tarzan fitted his bow with a poisoned arrow, but D'Arnot placed a hand upon his arm.

"What would you do, Tarzan?" he asked.

"They will try to kill us if they see us," replied Tarzan. "I prefer to be the killer."

"Maybe they are friends," suggested D'Arnot.

"They are black," was Tarzan's only reply.


  1. In the original edition, Tarzan encounters tigers in the African jungle, which was later retconned to lions.
  2. In a magazine. The novel was published in 1914
  3. in the United States at least. It's still in copyright in Europe.
  4. Lions prefer savannahs and dry scrublands to forests, and even then they only live in very dry forests. They aren't native to anywhere near the rainforest-like jungles that Tarzan inhabits.
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