Revisiting a series that keeps you hanging

Published 7:30 am Saturday, January 28, 2023

Did I hear you right? “Twenty-three Tarzan paperback books?” I asked my husband as he placed a cardboard box on the kitchen table. Twenty-three?” I repeated. He nodded. I should not have been surprised. I was certain he ran upon a yard sale and couldn’t resist the temptation to rummage through containers of books.

I used to tell him that is how I got hooked on books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I wondered how I escaped my childhood without reading the Tarzan books. After his dumping all those books on our kitchen table that day, I picked one up and began reading it. I kept on and on. At that time I must have considered it a challenge to start to read a Tarzan book every chance I got when I reached past half of them. The author amazed me at how his words had the ability to hold the reader’s interest. One of the things I admired most was the way he kept several situations moving simultaneously.

Yes, he certainly knew how to keep the reader hanging. Time after time, Tarzan faced doom at the end of a chapter and the next chapter dealt with another set of characters that were in equal peril. I found myself reading on and on when I really meant to cover a couple of chapters and put the book down until another time.

His writing aroused my curiosity. Who was Burroughs, what was his family background? He was born in Chicago in 1875 and began writing in 1910. According to a preface in one edition of Tarzan and the apes published by Ballentine Books, he was born of wealthy parents but wound up broke and jobless as a young man. He had all kinds of jobs, from cowpuncher to clerk to policeman. He failed in each. With no job, he apparently read much and daydreamed considerably. Some believe he could have been influenced by a book about Mars, which helped him launch his Martian Series. He said he wrote Tarzan of the Apes to support his wife and two children.

Not everyone was pleased with his books. Some critics said his writing was inferior. To that, he replied that his purpose for writing was for those seeking entertainment and escape. The books are clean, but the first time I read about Tarzan eating raw meat it raised my eyebrows a bit. Certainly, too, there is violence because he wrote of violent, cruel, greedy men.

As I plunged into those scenes, I pretty much came to the conclusion that if his character Tarzan likes you, you are his friend. If he doesn’t and you cross him, watch out.

After my appetite was wetted on the Tarzan books, I was anxious to read one of Burrough’s Martian Series. Since I was engrossed in Tarzan and the Castaways, I had to wait a while to get back in the jungle to see how he was getting along.

By the way, out of that twenty-three, I still enjoy one now and then.