First I was distracted by the beautiful cover illustration by Neal Adams.
Then I was distracted flipping through the book to find the other full-page Adams illustrations, the ones originally used for the covers of the Tarzan paperbacks by Ballantine Books.
I also became lost in the “How To Speak Ape” list, and the memories started flooding back of my teenage years spent reading all the Tarzan novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
I was fully hooked by Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration: The Stories, The Movies, The Art.
It’s a gorgeous coffee table book that takes readers through the origins of the Tarzan stories, offers summaries and the path to publication for each story, plus the movies, including some great stills from the various productions, touches on the television shows, fanzines, the comics, Burroughs later years, and how Tarzana, California came to be.
As a comic fan, I especially liked seeing examples of artwork from the comics and the comic strips, including samples from Mike Grell and Gil Kane. The book also includes the original covers from all the Tarzan novels along with some interior illustrations.
It begins with a short biography of Burroughs and his early writings for the pulps. It’s good background but anyone expecting a full biography of Tarzan’s creator will be disappointed as the book is focused on his exploring his most famous fictional character. The bulk of the book is taken up by a summary of each story in the series, the artwork, and essays about Jane, Pellucidar, Korak, Real Life Feral Children, Opar, and even Burroughs’ fascination with grey eyes, among others.
The most interesting of the essays to me was one focused on the Waziri, the native African tribe that was so often Tarzan’s ally in the books. It’s a defense of how Africans are treated in the novels, pointing out the Waziri as a positive example and yet they rarely make an appearance in the movies, leading to a somewhat mistaken impression that the books (and, by extension, Burroughs) thought the white men superior to the Africans.
I’m not so sure this defense is good enough to overcome some of the issues in the original stories. The Waziri are definitely portrayed as good, noble and capable in the books but they’re not so much Tarzan’s allies as they tend to be his people and he has command over them. There are plenty of examples of tribes in the books that are cannibals or ignorant or just plain evil, and this essay points out some of the racism in the language of the books. Whether this impinges on one’s enjoyment of the books is up to the individual and perhaps it’s asking too much of a book celebrating Tarzan’s long literary life to have more about this issue.
Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration is a must buy if you ever loved Tarzan. The book is a perfect way to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the jungle man’s first appearance. And now I want to go back and dig out my old Tarzan paperbacks from storage and begin a full re-read.