Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs

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AFRICA: Tarzan's Birthplace

Ed Burroughs' Africa is unlike any vistas we might find in the area once known as The Dark Continent. Magicial, mystical, even empheral might more closely describe the dense jungles with goregous orchids and a majestic canopy above thick undergrowth and twisting animal trails. The beasts which inhabit the savage, yet poetically-related jungle appear familiar in physical description but are endowed with emotional traits that are more pure and directed than any human's.


Kerchak, the mighty ape leader of the tribe of mangani into which the infant Tarzan is brought, is a brutal and sadistic specimen. From the beginning this huge ape has little use for the tiny "white-skin" that Kala has taken as her own.

Tublat, too, hates the human baby. The mate of Kala despises the human tarmangani (white people) child, but the unalloyed mother love that Kala has for baby Greystoke protects the infant from not only the indifference and contempt of her nomadic tribe, but from the terrible claws of Numa the lion, the cold coils of Histah the snake or the slashing hooves of Horta the boar. Though Tarzan matures at a slower rate than other balus (babies) Kala never falters or gives up hope. She passes on her wild knowledge to the boy, who eventually grows into a powerful man.

The image at right is facetious, but does address the question of Tarzan's ape tribe in Darwinian terms. Initially the reader assumes "ape" in the Tarzan stories to mean those species of primates known to man--the gorilla, the chimpanzee, and monkeys, but as we move deeper into the series we learn that the mangani are a different species of primate and is, perhaps, more closely related to man than the apes. We are shown a social structure, language, rudimentary laws and customs, as well as emotional contexts which mirror the relationships between human beings such as family, friendship, and love. However there are other indicators in the stories revealing Tarzan's affinity and ability to communicate with disparate ape species, such as orangutans, baboons and mandrills. It appears that Ed Burroughs was suggesting that all primates have some language and intelligence, or at least the ones in his wonderful stories do!

Lost Cities

The Tarzan Mythos is divided into two distinct realities. The first seven books are rooted in the real world, our world of the late 1800's and the terrifying events of World War I. Each of the early stories have a believable framework for all the fantastic elements therein. Beginning with Tarzan the Untamed the series takes a different turn, moving toward fantasy adventure. Lost civilizations, splinter groups of humanity. The strange and unusual become the grist mill for the Tarzan epic. The middle books take us from one lost civilization to another.


Opar, a lost colony of ancient Atlantis, appears early in The Return of Tarzan and again in Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, but we find it easy to accept Opar as a possibility where our suspension of disbelief is strained with Pal-U-Don, the land of the Antmen, English speaking gorillas, Roman cities at war and ... the list is quite long. By the time Ed Burroughs was done with Tarzan, the African continent was shoulder to shoulder with lost civilizations that Tarzan had visited.

Yet, for all the similarity of plot and framing device, the reader is swept away by each adventure. We gladly join Tarzan with each excursion into the lost cities and strange worlds of Ed Burroughs' Africa. We find beautiful women, dangerous creatures, good and evil men, wrongs to be righted and honor to be upheld. Some literary critics view the middle series Tarzans as lackluster and repetitive, and for some that might be true, but I suggest that anyone reading a middle series Tarzan for the first time will not be disappointed. Burroughs' formulaic writing works, first book to last.

The location of Tarzan's birth place is not accurately described by Burroughs. The only geographical indications we have are the west coast of Africa near the equator. Many have attempted to pinpoint the exact location by sifting through internal evidence in the stories, but in my opinion, Tarzan's Africa does not exist in our world, rather it is a magical place born of imagination and is located exactly between the ears and right behind the eyes.

The Tarzan Series


The origin of one of the most popular of all literary characters. The orphaned infant son of an English lord is raised by great apes in the African jungle.

The tale continues.
Tarzan and Jane's infant son is abducted.
Young Jack Clayton follows in his father's footsteps, living with apes and earning the name Korak the Killer.

Returning to Opar, the ape man loses his memory and La, high priestess, seeks to turn Tarzan's heart.
Twelve short stories look at Tarzan's youth before the events of Tarzan of the Apes.
Tarzan the Untamed

Tarzan goes to war when he returns home and finds his plantation burned and his wife murdered.

Tarzan the Terrible

The ape-man's search for Jane continues in this sequel to "Untamed" as he braves the dangers of Pal-U-Don.

Tarzan and the Golden Lion
Tarzan and the Antmen
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle
Tarzan and the Lost Empire
Tarzan at the Earth's Core
Tarzan the Invincible
Tarzan Triumphant
Tarzan and the City of Gold
Tarzan and the Lion Man
Tarzan and the Leopard Men
Tarzan's Quest
Tarzan and the Forbidden City
Tarzan the Magnificent
Tarzan and the "Foreign Legion"
Tarzan and the Madman
Tarzan and the Castaways
Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins
Tarzan and the Tarzan Twins with Jad-Bal-Ja the Golden Lion