And so, 100 years after the Lord of the Apes first swung into the world’s pop culture window, there is “Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan,” a lush, romantic take on the English lord raised by primates — told from Jane’s point of view.
“We’re calling it ‘50 Shades of Green,’ ” Maxwell says.
This is just one leaf on the vine, however. A century after his birth, Tarzan is affixed as one of literature’s most enduring creations. Edgar Rice Burroughs’s archetype of primordial man in an atavistic jungle, more trusting of nature than mankind, struck a chord that still resonates. He is free of religion, politics, nationality and any of the oppressive rules, regulations, oversights, traffic cameras, parking tickets and other indignities imposed on modern man.
“Tarzan of the Apes,” an 80,000-word adventure about an orphaned boy in the jungle, was a wild sensation when it debuted in the October 1912 edition of The All-Story Magazine. Published in book form in 1914, it spawned a series of 24 novels (and two for teens), selling an estimated 100 million copies in at least 35 languages. It is recognized by the Library of Congress as one of the “Books That Shaped America.” It has been turned into 52 authorized films, a radio show, a comic strip, a Broadway musical, merchandising without end, and even Tarzana, a city in California centered around Burroughs’s property.
To mark the anniversary this year, there’s even more: “Tarzan: the Centennial Celebration,” a hefty coffee-table book covering art, movies and stories; numerous conferences, including the “Tarzan Centennial Conference,” Nov. 1-4 at Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Va.; a documentary about the first Tarzan film (“Tarzan of the Louisiana Jungle”); a German stop-motion animated feature. Warner Brothers has picked up the option for another Tarzan flick, according to the Burroughs estate, 80 years after Olympic swimming gold medalist Johnny Weissmuller portrayed him.
Globally, there are new editions of Burroughs novels (“The Return of Tarzan,” “The Beasts of Tarzan,” “The Son of Tarzan,” etc.) coming out in at least a dozen countries. This isn’t new. Post-Czarist Russia printed so many pirated copies that a Moscow publisher told the New York Times in 1924: “They read it in offices, read it in street cars, read it in trains, read it in factories. Go to the villages and you find the educated young soldier reading ‘Tarzan’ to a circle of peasants with mouths agape.”
Gore Vidal, in 1963, on the prevalence of Tarzan in this country: “There is hardly an American male of my generation who has not at one time or another tried to master the victory cry of the great ape as it issued from the androgynous chest of Johnny Weissmuller.”