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Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Tarzan of the Apes

I have finished rereading Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I first read it about 30 years ago and liked it so well that I read the next three books in the series and had thought I would enjoy rereading them. I don’t think I will go on with the series though. There are good things about the books, and there are lots of flaws. You have to read it for the good things.

The book takes lots of suspension of disbelief. When you count up all the things that are unbelievable in the book, you realize that you should be treating it like a fantasy, and then you’ll be all right. Otherwise, there’s rain forest in a part of Africa where it doesn’t belong; animals that don’t exist in real life; animals living where the real animals wouldn’t be found; a man learning to read but not speak, and to write down unique names but not be able to say them (how would he know which letters to use?)—and the list could go on and on.

You have to ignore the plot holes and the marvelous coincidence that lands three separate mutinies on the same beach in Africa. You have to ignore the character inconsistencies and stereotypes.

You have to wince at and mentally rewrite the appallingly racist attitudes toward native Africans. Same goes for the idea that British aristocratic bloodlines are superior to rest of the world.

Then at last you can enjoy the story of Tarzan, a self-made superman who has amazing adventures and saves the day every time Jane Porter gets into trouble of any kind. The only other drawback is that terrible cliff-hanger ending that ensured in its day that every reader would be back to buy the second book. I did!

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