Happy Birthday, Tarzan

A belated birthday greeting to Tarzan, who debuted on August 27, 1912 in the pages of All-Story Magazine.  The title was Tarzan, King of the Apes, and the story was written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, who had failed at a whole list of occupations before he tried writing.  His inspiration came from the pulp magazines popular at the time.  He said, “…although I had never written a story, I knew absolutely that I could write stories just as entertaining and probably a whole lot more so than any I chanced to read in those magazines.”

He wrote the John Carter stories, later novelized as The Princess of Mars (1912), but it was the creation of Tarzan that would give him lasting fame.  The name “Tarzan” supposedly meant “white skin” in ape language.  Tarzan was an immediate hit, ultimately becoming 25 novels and more than 40 films.

The Tarzan novels had a major impact on pop culture and science.  Even anthropologist and primatologist Jane Goodall, renowned for her work with chimpanzees, credits them with inspiring her determination to work in Africa.  Ray Bradbury spent his childhood memorizing passages from the Tarzan novels and reciting them to his friends.

It’s interesting to compare the novels, in which Tarzan is well-spoken and thoughtful, with the movies, where the ape-man is portrayed as being much rougher and less literate.  Burroughs didn’t care for the film versions; lines like “Me, Tarzan, you, Jane,” never appeared in the books.

Fortunately , Edgar Rice Burroughs was a savvy businessman and made sure he controlled all the rights.  He made so much money from the character of Tarzan that he formed his own publishing house and bought 550-acres of land east of Los Angeles, calling it “Tarzana Ranch.”  Today, it’s the city of Tarzana.

Excerpted from The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor, of August 27, 2016.  the original entry is at http://writersalmanac.org/page/14/

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