Who is the Tarzan created by Edgar Rice Burroughs?
Edgar Rice Burroughs named him John Clayton, Lord
Greystoke, and Tarzan of the Apes. In the primeval
jungles of the west coast of Africa in 1888, he was born in
a cabin built by his marooned father and mother, John and
Alice Clayton, the aristocratic Lord and Lady Greystoke.
Orphaned as a infant when his parents died on that terrible
coast, young Clayton was adopted into a tribe of great apes
unknown to science and now probably extinct.
Tarzan, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ feral child, would
grow up to become a superman such as Nietzche could not
have envisioned. Burroughs described him as youthful,
active, restless, tanned, and athletic beyond even Olympic
standards. Courage, loyalty, curiosity, and steadiness are
hallmarks of his character. Adding an element of sexual
frisson, Burroughs made him exceedingly attractive to
women, and faithful only to one, Jane, nee Porter, his mate
Burroughs’ own ideas of ethical conduct are the
foundations of Tarzan’s personal virtues and inform all of
the Ape Man’s conduct, in particular his loyalty to true
friends, kindness to women, partiality for the underdog,
and killer-angel callousness in the pursuit of justice.
Burroughs also infused the character with the hallmark
trait of any super hero—an internal moral compass
belonging only to him. Finally, Burroughs gave him a
complete contempt and dismissal of the traditions and laws
of civilization. At home only in a natural setting, both
being immortal, Tarzan and his mate have rejected the
civilized world for a home in Africa.
P. J. Monahan. December 9, 1922 cover for the first in a seven-part serialization of
Tarzan and the Golden Lion in Argosy All-Story Weekly. This is not the wimp of the
movies; this is a Tarzan of real-strength, of body and character. He has a confident
grasp on his world and our imaginations. In this illustration Tarzan is the
experience-sharpened power in his universe---a mythic, jungle world that lived only in
the minds of the Colonial-era Europeans and an American public who romanticized them,
a world recast in each adventure novel of Victorian and depression-era writers of
escapist adventure, most notably Rudyard Kipling, H. Ryder Haggard, and, of course,
Edgar Rice Burroughs.