Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, is a character that needs no introduction. The rope swinging hero is a staple literary character and a staple of pop culture. He’s gotten around plenty considering his humble beginnings as a pulp magazine character created in 1912. It’s hard to consider him a missing person, as his legacy still reigns on. How did he start? Who is he today? Let’s find out.
I know I said he needs no introduction, but I’ll give you one just in case. Tarzan’s parents were European royalty marooned in Africa who’ve died, leaving Tarzan to be raised by gorillas. He grows into a strong man, living amongst the apes until he meets Jane, who’s been also marooned, with her father, and the two fall in love. Tarzan goes on many adventures.
Tarzan, as mentioned above, started as a pulp magazine series. Pulp magazines were pieces of cheap fiction generally of a low quality, and an exploitative, sensational manner. The name came from the material it was printed on: cheap wood pulp paper. Despite its reputation as being “low culture”, a lot of genre fiction started off this way. Tarzan, while not genre fiction, also got its start this way, as a commercially successful but critically panned series.
Tarzan was the character who shouldn’t have succeeded, but did. After all, he’s a character, in the source material and many of the adaptations, with no flaws. He has strength, intelligence, and kindness. He’s in love with his girlfriend Jane and never strays from her despite the numerous attempts to seduce him. The original book also has an inconsistent timeline, which fans have tried to write off as the author trying to hide Tarzan’s identity, who they believe is real. I’ll repeat that: people think the book about the man raised by gorillas and swinging from vines is nonfiction. The Tarzan community is strong, I’ll only say that.
Considering Tarzan started off as a series, the media adaptations have also taken that format as well, with there being many film and television series and few individual movies or TV specials.
The first iteration of the character was in silent films. There were eight in total, starting in 1918, only six years after the release of the first book, and ending in 1929, after the final silent movie’s Tarzan lost the role due to his insufficient voice. In 1932 Johnny Weissmuller, an Olympic swimmer, took over Tarzan for twelve films. His movies gained attention because the movie featured a scantily clad hot Olympic athlete.
Johnny Weissmuller had the same appeal as Justin Bieber, and the films had the same quality as “Baby.” The effect of Weissmuller’s toned body was so great they decided not to bother including Jane after the sixth movie featuring the actor. After Weissmuller got older, other actors took the mantle, and had the same appeal, though not the same acclaim. It was in these films that Tarzan was unable to speak proper English was introduced, as in the novels he could speak perfect English.
There were radio and comic adaptations. The two radio series were direct adaptations of the book, and were successful. (They’re also free on Youtube, and of decent quality.) The comic adaptation appeared as a successful comic strip starting in 1929 which was reprinted in comic books by small publishers such as Sparkler and TipTop Comics. DC and Marvel both, at one point, had their own Tarzan series, with Dark Horse and other indie publishers creating their own series as well. There were also several manga featuring Tarzan, including one from legendary mangaka Osamu Tezuka.
Going back to the movies, while many weren’t good, there are two that stand out: one being the Disney film Tarzan and the other being Tarzan and the Valley of Gold. The first is an excellent animated movie I first saw. It was known not only for it’s beautiful and dark retelling of the classic, but also for being the last film in Disney’s “Renaissance Era.” The latter is if Tarzan were half-naked James Bond. Tarzan has cool lines, there’s great action, and overall it’s a fun time. Tarzan shoots guns and takes down helicopters. If you like that there are also two sequels.
Tarzan also made his way into television. There were several live action series, and two animated ones: one a sequel to the Disney movie and one a cheap Saturday morning cartoon done by Filmation. None of the television series’ are exciting, some being average and some being terrible given today’s standards.
The most recent television and movie adaptations both occurred recently, to mediocre acclaim. Netflix’s Tarzan and Jane is a children’s television series which I’m sure is great for kids, and The Legend of Tarzan was a summer blockbuster which failed at the box office despite the high budget.
And that’s it. That’s Tarzan. Despite his humble beginnings, Tarzan was able to inspire enough adaptations to require three days of research. There’s even a suburb of Los Angeles named after the character, called Tarzana. I suppose if you were looking for a moral from this article it would be that maybe you should post your silly ebook that no one may read. It could turn into a media franchise.
Tarzan: The Pulp Book Series that Turned into a Media Empire
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