Friday, January 14, 2022

1. Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

I've been meaning to read Burroughs for a long time now, though was hoping to stumble on the first John Carter of Mars.  Instead, I found a cheap copy of this at the great (and thank god still alive) Moe's on Telegraph in Berkeley.  It won't be a big surprise to tell you that this book is racist.  But damn, it's not just racist from 1913.  It's got levels and at times can be kind of difficult to read.  I like to think I'm pretty woke, but also able to recognize historical context and actually read the content.  There is some shit in here though that made me feel uncomfortable, particularily the portrayal of Jane's maid Esmerelda, who I guess was supposed to be a humourous character.  It's the worst stereotype with her eyes rolling around, fainting at every shock and talking in colourful, goofily erroneous language.  Oddly, there is a contrasting moment where the suitor to Jane compliments her and agrees on her calling the jungle lonesome.  Despite that and even though there are super racist portrayals of the African tribespeople (cannibals with sharpened teeth) and even more insane ideology of genetic aristocracy (Tarzan's lineage makes him a gentleman by nature despite his upbringing), it is the portrayal of Esmerelda that I found the most cringey and painful. 

I do understand and even appreciate the core tenet that makes Tarzan so appealing.  It is the fantasy of the shedding of the protective veneer of civilization.  All the scenes of him swinging through the jungle and fighting beasts are pretty exciting (though fuck can we stop killing lions, already!).  I do feel like he doesn't milk it (and none of the movie do either) enough.  When he does return to civilization, he demonstrates his badassedness only twice and they aren't very satisfying.  In the first, the victim is a drunken black guy (racistly described of course), whose wrist Tarzan breaks and then sends packing.  It is described after the event so there is no real thrill.  In the second, he shows a bunch of white hunters how to hunt for real and that is cool, except for the gratuitous lion slaughter.

I am tempted to keep reading them, especially with the truly surprising failure of the romantic ending where he doesn't get Jane.   I also am intrigued by the world building.  I may at least keep an eye out for the second one, but review I read say they get pretty formulaic.  I think this is do for a modern "woke" anti-colonalist re-interpretation.

No comments: