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Edgar Rice Burroughs

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The Enduring Legacy of Tarzan: Exploring Edgar Rice Burroughs' Iconic Book Series


In the vast realm of literature, certain characters transcend time and cultural boundaries to become iconic figures. One such character is Tarzan, the jungle-dwelling hero created by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The Tarzan book series, spanning numerous novels, has captivated readers since its inception, offering a thrilling blend of adventure, romance, and exploration. This article delves into the origins of the Tarzan series, its evolution over the years, and the lasting impact it has had on both literature and popular culture.

Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Mastermind Behind Tarzan

The Tarzan series owes its existence to the imaginative genius of Edgar Rice Burroughs, an American author who wrote prolifically in the early 20th century. Born in 1875, Burroughs introduced the world to Tarzan with the publication of "Tarzan of the Apes" in 1912. Little did he know that this character would go on to become one of the most enduring and beloved figures in literary history.

Burroughs, known for his ability to craft compelling narratives set in fantastical worlds, was inspired to create Tarzan after reading popular adventure stories of the time. Drawing from a rich well of influences, including Rudyard Kipling's "The Jungle Book" and H. Rider Haggard's "King Solomon's Mines," Burroughs envisioned a character who would not only survive but thrive in the untamed wilderness of Africa.

Tarzan of the Apes: A Literary Triumph

The first novel in the series, "Tarzan of the Apes," introduces readers to John Clayton III, the son of an English lord and lady who are stranded in the jungles of Africa. Orphaned at a young age, the infant is adopted by a tribe of apes and raised as one of their own. Thus, Tarzan, or "White Skin" as the apes call him, grows up mastering the ways of the jungle.

Burroughs' storytelling prowess shines through as he weaves a tale of survival, self-discovery, and the clash of civilizations. Tarzan's journey from a feral child swinging through the trees to a sophisticated and articulate man navigating the complexities of human society creates a narrative arc that resonates with readers on a profound level.

The Evolution of Tarzan

The success of "Tarzan of the Apes" spurred a series of sequels, each contributing to the evolution of the character and his world. Tarzan's adventures took him from the heart of Africa to the lost city of Opar, and even into outer space in the later novels. Burroughs' imaginative storytelling expanded the scope of the Tarzan universe, introducing new characters, civilizations, and challenges.

One notable addition to the series was Jane Porter, Tarzan's love interest. The introduction of Jane added a romantic element to the stories, further captivating readers and humanizing Tarzan's character. Their love story became a central theme in many of the subsequent novels, adding depth to the narrative and exploring the dynamics between the jungle and civilized worlds.

Tarzan in Popular Culture

Beyond the pages of the novels, Tarzan's influence permeated various forms of popular culture. The character made a seamless transition to the big screen, with numerous film adaptations bringing the jungle hero to life. Actors like Johnny Weissmuller and Christopher Lambert became synonymous with the role, contributing to Tarzan's iconic status in cinematic history.

In addition to film, Tarzan found a home in radio broadcasts, comic strips, and television series. The character's adaptability to different mediums showcased the enduring appeal of the jungle hero. Tarzan became a cultural phenomenon, inspiring merchandise, theme park attractions, and even a Broadway musical.

Criticism and Controversy

While the Tarzan series enjoyed widespread popularity, it did not escape criticism, particularly for its portrayal of Africa and its indigenous people. Some critics argue that Burroughs perpetuated colonialist stereotypes and exoticized the African continent. The author's depiction of Tarzan as a white, European man who dominates the African landscape has been a subject of ongoing debate and reevaluation.

In modern times, there is a growing awareness of the need to approach classic literature with a critical lens, acknowledging the inherent biases that may be present. Tarzan's legacy is thus viewed through a more nuanced perspective, appreciating its cultural impact while also recognizing its shortcomings in terms of representation and cultural sensitivity.

Legacy and Continued Relevance

Despite the controversies, the Tarzan series remains a significant literary achievement. The character's enduring legacy is a testament to Burroughs' storytelling prowess and the universal themes embedded in the narratives. Tarzan's ability to traverse the boundaries between the primal and the civilized, the wild and the domestic, resonates with readers across generations.

In contemporary literature, echoes of Tarzan can be found in works that explore the complexities of identity, the clash of cultures, and the untamed aspects of human nature. The archetype of the hero raised in the wild, navigating a world unfamiliar to them, continues to captivate audiences in various forms.


The Tarzan book series, born out of the creative mind of Edgar Rice Burroughs, stands as a literary landmark that has left an indelible mark on popular culture. Tarzan's journey from the jungle to the hearts of readers worldwide is a testament to the enduring power of storytelling. As we navigate the complexities of the 21st century, the legacy of Tarzan reminds us of the timeless allure of adventure, the exploration of self, and the enduring quest for connection in the wilds of life.