Burroughs was born in Chicago in 1875. As an adult and working as a penicil sharpener salesman, he tried his luck at writing novels. He wrote nearly 80 novels over his lifetime, including the Martian adventure, John Carter. Tarzan of the Apes first appeared in a magazine in 1912, then was published as a book in 1914. He would go on to write 25 sequels.
Science fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, once called Burroughs the “Most influential writer in the history of the world…By giving Romance and Adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become something special,” according the Paris Review. Tarzan’s masculinity would come under scrutiny however, as time went on, particularly when the character of Jane was introduced.
Jane (played by Margot Robbie in the new film), was written in the books as a stereotypical damsel in distress. She existed to allow Tarzan to express his male dominance and become the hero everytime he rescues her. She and Tarzan have one son named Korak.
British primatologist, Jane Goodall, was facinated by the Tarzan books as a child, but reacted strongly to Jane’s lack of courage. “Oh, I was in love with Tarzan. I was so jealous of that wimpy Jane. I knew I would have been a better mate for Tarzan myself. I was jealous,” she told Alternet.org.
When Tarzan’s parents, Lord and Lady Greystoke, are forced to survive in the African jungle, Tarzan’s mother becomes insane from fear and is dead in about a year’s time. Of course, Tarzan wouldn’t be who he is if his parents survived and he was rescued, but she didn’t have to be portrayed as mentally weak. At least in the animated Disney film Tarzan from 1999, both parents are killed by a leopard.
Burroughs created an ape language, spoken by Tarzan and Mangani Apes, a fictional group of apes said to be unknown to scientists, perhaps slightly higher on the evolutionary scale than chimpanzees. The name Tarzan means “white skin” in the ape language and Korak means “Killer.” But it would be decades after Tarzan was written that scientists would discover that great apes do have a “language” of their own. Evolutionary biologist Mark Bekoff told LiveScience.com, “All the great apes — of course, including chimpanzees — have very complex communication systems. They communicate using vocalizations, facial expressions, gestures, postures, gait…They can send very subtle signals with a lot of nuances by varying any one of [those] components.”
Like many writers of his day, including Rudyard Kipling who wrote The Jungle Book, Burroughs beleived that the white race was superior to other races. This is apparent when Tarzan first introduces himself to Jane, he says he is, “Tarzan, the killer of beasts and many black men.”
According to the biography of Burroughs called Tarzan Forever, authorJohn Taliafero said Burroughs believed in eugenics and wanted “instinctive criminals” and “defectives and incompetents” to be sterilized so they couldn’t reproduce. Adolph Hitler also shared these sentiments.
Tarzan is the child of British nobility who found themselves marrooned on the coast of Africa. After both his parents tragically died, Tarzan became a feral child who was adopted by apes. As an adult, Tarzan is both in touch with his animal instincts and his noble ancestry. When he meets Jane, she is a little disgusted by the uncouth man, but also attracted to his male prowess and physique. Tarzan manages to tap into his chivalrous side, even relinquishing a knife to her to prove he means her no harm. It’s possible Burroughs saw the dichotomy of Tarzan, who was half-noble, half-animal, a metaphor for the men of his day who struggled with balancing their intellectual and animal selves.
In 1999, Disney made the animated film Tarzan with Tony Goldwyn as the voice of Tarzan and Minnie Driver as Jane. In an effort to eschew any racist undertones from the books, Disney didn’t portray any black African characters at all in the movie.
This talking teapot in Tarzan is clearly the same teapot that belonged to Belle in Beauty and the Beast. So how did it get to the jungle? Some people think that Jane from Tarzan is actually a relative of Belle’s, perhaps her great, great granddaughter, who inherited the fine china set from Belle.
According to the IMDb, The Legend of Tarzan director David Yates asked Margot Robbie to punch Alexander Skarsgård while they were filming their sex scene, saying, “It is an earthy moment of her enjoying sex with Alex. So I told her just slap Alex while you’re making love, give him a punch.” We’re happy it wasn’t the other way around.
Actor Johnny Weismuller portrayed Tarzan in the early films from the 1930s and 40s. Years later, he was playing golf in Cuba when a group of rebel soldiers surrounded him in a menacing way. Unable to speak Spanish, Weismuller instead did his famous Tarzan yell and luckily, the men recognized him. He was treated like a king after that.