HOW TRUE IS TARZAN?
(Investigator 189, 2019 November)
Jungle hero Tarzan was born in 1888 but is, if we believe Philip Jose
Farmer, still alive, 131 years old this year, 2019. Tarzan's wife,
Jane, and other family members likewise have indefinite youth with
health. So does the lion "Jad-bal-ja" who is both family pet and
Tarzan's ally against bad guys.
Philip Jose Farmer in Tarzan Alive (1974) claims to provide a biography
that separates fact from fiction and presents the true life-story of
Farmer gives Tarzan’s pedigree, identifying him as John Clayton, Lord
Greystoke, of the British nobility and related to Sherlock Holmes. Yes,
Sherlock Holmes is historical too, not merely a literary invention of
Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).
In 1968 Farmer even met Tarzan:
He was the most beautiful, but at the same time undeniably masculine,
man that I’ve ever seen. This was so despite the scars on his forehead
and neck of which Burroughs speaks and many more on his face and hands
that Burroughs does not mention. I was silenced by the exceedingly
charismatic force which he radiated even when he was quiet…
I got the feeling that I was in the presence of an immortal, though I
knew that he could bleed and die even as I could. That he was eighty
years old then but looked about thirty-five seems unbelievable now that
I am no longer in his presence. (pp 10; 337)
Is it true? Did Tarzan exist, still lives, and has eternal youth?
EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS
Tarzan's creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875 – 1950) was an American
fiction writer in the adventure and science-fiction genres. His most
notable creations are:
• The jungle hero Tarzan,
• John Carter, adventurer on Mars, and
• Pellucidar, a continent inside the hollow Earth.
Burroughs was born in Chicago. He enlisted in the 7th U.S. Cavalry in
Arizona in 1895 after which he worked for a Chicago battery factory, a
mining company, a railroad, and finally a pencil-sharpener wholesaler,
after which he turned to writing. He married his childhood sweetheart,
Emma Hulbert, in 1900,
Burroughs' first story Under the Moons of Mars was serialized in 1912
and published as a book titled A Princess of Mars (1917). This began
his Barsoom (his name for Mars) series, numbering 11 books. His Tarzan
series (24 books) began in 1912. There is also Burroughs' Pellucidar
series (7 books), Venus series (5 books), Moon series (3 books), Jungle
adventure novels (5 books), Western novels (4 books), and others.
In 1923 Burroughs set up Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., to print his
books. He also purchased a ranch near Los Angeles, which he named
"Tarzana", around which a community sprang up which adopted the same
name in 1927.
Burroughs divorced Emma in 1934 and married former actress Florence
Dearholt whom he divorced in 1942 and became a war correspondent. After
WWII Burroughs moved back to California and is buried at Tarzana.
Royalties from 27 Tarzan movies got him $2 million!
Burroughs' "Tarzan canon" consisted of 24 adventure novels published between1912 and 1965.
The publishing sequence and story sequence do not fully align
chronologically i.e. several later books have their setting earlier in
Tarzan's life. The following is the publishing sequence:
1 Tarzan of the Apes (1912)
John Clayton II and Alice Clayton II, Lord and Lady Greystoke of
England, are marooned in western Africa in 1888. Their son John Clayton
III is born and adopted after his parents' death by a tribe of talking
apes called "Mangani". As a boy he discovers his parents' cabin and
teaches himself from their books. Later a fight to the death with
Kerchak the ape leader makes Tarzan king of the apes. When he is 18
another group is marooned on the coast, including 19 year old Jane
Porter. This leads Tarzan to civilization and discovering his identity
as Earl of Greystoke.
2 The Return of Tarzan (1913)
Tarzan returns to Africa and is adopted into the Waziri tribe and
becomes their chief. Around 1910 he goes to the lost treasure city of
Opar deep in the jungle, finds Opar's hidden treasure, is captured by a
race of short-legged, long-armed, hairy, gnarly-faced men with ape-like
jaws, and condemned to be sacrificed to their Flaming God (the Sun).
High priestess La, about 20 years old, white-skinned and incredibly
beautiful, fancies Tarzan and helps him escape. Meanwhile Jane survives
the sinking of a yacht off West Africa and gets kidnapped by Oparian
ape-men. Tarzan saves Jane from being sacrificed. La offers herself to
Tarzan who spurns her and marries Jane. They return to civilization
with some of Opar's treasure.
3 The Beasts of Tarzan (1914)
Tarzan has established an estate on Waziri lands and now has a baby son
named Jack. Enemies kidnap Jack, Tarzan and Jane. They exile Tarzan to
a jungle island, informing him that Jack will be raised by cannibals.
Aided by a panther, a tribe of apes led by Akut (an intelligent ape),
and Mugambi, a native warrior, Tarzan reaches the mainland and defeats
the kidnappers. Mugambi relocates to live at Tarzan's Waziri estate.
4 The Son of Tarzan (1915)
Alexis Paulvitch, who escaped Tarzan's vengeance in the previous novel,
is taken onboard a European ship. There he meets the ape Akut and takes
him to London to display him.
Jack knows nothing of his father's past but finds out after seeing Akut
and Tarzan converse in ape-talk. Jack and Paulvitch decide to return
Akut to Africa. In Africa Paulvitch attacks Jack who kills him and
flees with Akut into the jungle. Jack learns survival skills and meets
the Mangani, the talking apes who raised his father. Their language is
the same as Akut's, and they call Jack "Korak". At age 13 Jack
meets Meriem, several years younger, and teaches her survival skills.
Meanwhile Tarzan and Jane return to their Waziri estate and after six
years reunite with Korak.
5 Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar (1916)
Tarzan heads for Opar to get more gold but is injured in an earthquake
and loses his memory, even forgetting Jane. La still fancies Tarzan and
tries to win him over while ugly priests prepare to sacrifice him.
6 Jungle Tales of Tarzan (1919)
A collection of 12 short stories set in the two years before teenage Tarzan met Jane.
7 Tarzan the Untamed (1920)
In 1914 German troops from Tanganyika destroy Tarzan's plantation.
Tarzan finds burned corpses including, apparently, Jane. Seeking
revenge he captures a lion which he unleashes in the trenches killing
many Germans. He also faces challenges from Bertha Kircher whom he
believes to be a German spy. The rest of the novel is a mishmash of
fights, escapes and chance meetings involving Mangani apes, Bertha
Kircher, German army deserters, a British aviator whose airplane has
crashed, a tribe of cannibals, another lion who fights for Tarzan,
warriors of the lost city Xuja, and finally a search party from the
8 Tarzan the Terrible (1921)
Tarzan searches for Jane who has again been kidnapped and discovers a
hidden valley called Pal-ul-Don, the home of huge dinosaurs and two
adversarial races of humans with tails, one race hairless, white and
city-dwelling, the other hairy, black and hill-dwelling. After many
fights and escapes Tarzan finds Jane after which both of them are saved
9 Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1922)
Tarzan trains an orphaned lion cub who becomes Jad-bal-ja the Golden
Lion. Flora Hawkes, a housemaid of the Claytons, assisted by a Tarzan
look-alike leads an expedition to the treasure city of Opar. Tarzan
also heads for Opar but is captured again by the Oparians. Queen La,
still in love with Tarzan, escapes with him. Assisted by Jad-bal-ja
Tarzan restores La to power.
10 Tarzan and the Ant Men (1924)
Tarzan enters a remote land named Minuni inhabited by18-inches-tall
midgets who live in magnificent cities which wage war with each other.
Tarzan is taken prisoner during a battle, reduced to midget size by a
scientist, and enslaved.
11 Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (1927)
Tarzan finds an outpost of European knights and crusaders in a hidden, forbidden valley.
12 Tarzan and the Lost Empire (1928)
Tarzan finds a lost remnant of the Roman Empire in the mountains of
Africa. This novel introduces Tarzan's monkey companion Nkima.
13 Tarzan at the Earth's Core (1929)
Tarzan and his Waziri warriors join an expedition to Pellucidar, a
world inside the Earth's core, accessed via an opening at the South
Pole. They get scattered and struggle against inner Earth pirates and
14 Tarzan the Invincible (1930)
Tarzan, his monkey friend Nkima, and Chief Muviro and his Waziri warriors, thwart Russian communists from looting Opar.
15 Tarzan Triumphant (1931)
With his faithful Waziri warriors Tarzan battles Soviet agents, and
also a lost and horrid tribe descended from early Christians.
16 Tarzan and the City of Gold (1932)
Tarzan finds the lost city of Athne, capital of the land of Thenar.
Captured by insane Queen Nemone of rival city Cathne, the City of Gold,
Tarzan is forced to fight her pet hunting lion, Belthar. Fortunately
Jad-bal-ja arrives, kills Belthar, saving Tarzan.
17 Tarzan and the Lion Man (1933)
Tarzan discovers a mad scientist and a city of talking gorillas.
Meanwhile a Hollywood film crew shoots a Tarzan movie in Africa,
employing an actor who looks exactly like Tarzan. Mayhem ensues as
various personas interact.
18 Tarzan and the Leopard Men (1935)
Tarzan, suffering amnesia again, is taken captive along with Nkima by
an African warrior. Conflict ensues with a secret society of murderous
19 Tarzan's Quest (1935)
Jane finds a bloodthirsty lost tribe and witchdoctor who possess
eternal-youth-pills. Also in the story are Tarzan, Nkima, Chief Muviro
of the Waziri warriors, and Muviro's lost daughter. Nkima becomes a
recipient, along with the humans, of the age-beating "Kavuru pills".
20 Tarzan and the Forbidden City (1938)
Tarzan guides an expedition to the lost city Ashair to rescue
adventurer Brian Gregory and find the world's biggest diamond. Along
with a rival expedition everyone arrives at Ashair as prisoners
destined to die horrible deaths.
21 Tarzan the Magnificent (1939)
Tarzan supported by Chief Muviro and the Waziri warriors revisits the lost cities of Cathne and Athne.
22 Tarzan and the Foreign Legion (1947)
Tarzan, serving in the R.A.F. under his civilian name John Clayton
during World War II, is shot down over Japanese-occupied Sumatra.
23 Tarzan and the Madman (1964) Written by Burroughs in 1940 but not
published. Tarzan tracks down another impostor who resembles him.
24 Tarzan and the Castaways (1965)
A collection of three short stories written in 1940-1941
Additional Tarzan books were authorized by Burroughs estate and authored by other writers after Burroughs' death.
PHILIP JOSE FARMER (1918-2009)
Philip Jose Farmer authored 70 books, mainly science fiction.
He lived mainly in Illinois and grew up on adventure stories and Greek
mythology. He studied journalism at the University of Missouri.
In 1952 Farmer broke into science fiction with "The Lovers" published
in Startling Stories about a man who has sex with an insect-like alien.
His first book, The Green Odyssey (1957), dealt with an escape from an
alien planet. He gained acclaim with The Maker of Universes (1965), the
first of five novels set in parallel universes.
Jesus on Mars (1979) displayed Farmer's enduring interest in religion.
The Adventure of the Peerless Peer (1974) featured Sherlock Holmes and
Tarzan. In 1999 he published his first Tarzan novel.
In Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke
(hardcover1972; paperback 1974) Farmer alleges Tarzan is a real person.
He examines the psychological make up of John Clayton (Tarzan's real
name) and Tarzan's peers, based on close readings of Burroughs books,
broadly accepts Burroughs' stories as factual, but rejects as fiction
whatever is too outlandish or obviously unscientific.
Farmer claims that since the apes described by Burroughs spoke language
they must have been "pithecanthropoids" i.e. "rare hominids now
extinct" and not ordinary apes.
Tarzan Alive links the characters from Burroughs' Tarzan books to many
other fictitious literary characters, claiming all were real. Farmer
proposes that a radioactive meteorite crashed in Yorkshire (England) in
the 18th century and endowed descendants of local people with
extraordinary powers giving rise to Tarzan, Doc Savage, Sherlock
Holmes, Bulldog Drummond, Jack the Ripper, James Bond, and others.
Burroughs' Opar was a colony of Atlantis located in central Africa,
stockpiled with jewels and gold, and practiced human sacrifice. The
population due to human cross-breeding with apes and selective
infanticide consisted of physically normal women but monstrous males.
Beautiful La, Opar's high priestess and queen, meets Tarzan in Book 2
(The Return of Tarzan, 1913). They are able to communicate because both
speak the same ape language. It's La's duty to sacrifice Tarzan to the
Flaming God but she fancies him and helps him escape. A posse of
Oparian ape-men go in pursuit but instead capture Jane whom La is happy
to sacrifice as substitute. But Tarzan comes to the rescue, chooses
Jane over La, leaving La heart-broken.
La's love re-ignites every time Tarzan returns which he does in Books
5, 9 and 14. In book 5, set in 1914, La treats Tarzan, who is
helplessly tied down ready to be sacrificed, to "burning caresses and
kisses and the frenzy of her passion" all night long. (Farmer, p. 162)
In Book 14, set in 1929 when La is 39 Tarzan meets her for the last
time. Her destiny was to breed with a brutish, ape-look-alike — a fate
which, after falling for handsome Tarzan, she detested — but Burroughs
never conveys what happened.
Farmer describes Tarzan's final visit to Opar in 1946. He finds the
city deserted and, with his Waziri warriors, dismantles it and diverts
a river over the ruins.
Tarzan of the Apes (1912) was wildly successful. But subsequent Tarzan
books got cooler receptions, criticized as too derivative, coincidences
too many, dialogue too wooden, adventures too contrived, and characters
The Tarzan novels don't display zoological knowledge beyond what high
school students might know, and about botany virtually nothing.
In Book 1 Tarzan carries Jane off by swinging from vines, but
vine-swinging is not mentioned in Burroughs' other books. In the movies
vines hang at an angle and are fixed at the top and loose at the bottom
which, although necessary for swinging, doesn't make botanical sense.
Farmer says it's an invention of the movie-makers, although "Burroughs
does exaggerate, at times, the ability of Tarzan to travel through the
trees." (p. 197) Farmer implies Tarzan actually moved by scampering
along large branches and swinging from smaller ones.
I don't recall Tarzan ever fighting a chimpanzee — perhaps because
chimps look like wimps compared to lions, and on television appear
In Stamford, Connecticut, in 2009, a 13-year-old, pet chimp ripped
55-year-old Charla Nash's face and hands off. Five years of
reconstructive surgery included a face transplant, glass eyes and new
teeth. (Bucktin 2014)
Chimps can switch instantly from docile to beserk. Adult chimps can be
stronger than weight-lifters, more flexible than gymnasts, faster than
Olympic sprinters and their feet are as flexible as their hands. In the
wild they are vicious predators. They can rip muscles off, smash bones,
and bite off body parts.
Leavenworth (2006) reports that in Sierra Leone, chimps killed one man,
bit part of another's hand off, and punched through a taxicab's window
to attack the driver. In Uganda chimps mutilated or killed 15 children
in seven years. In 2005, in a California sanctuary, a man had his
genitals mutilated and lost all his fingers, an eye, and parts of his
nose, cheeks and buttocks when attacked by two chimps.
Burroughs introduced many lost cities and civilizations. Besides Opar these include:
• Xuja in Book #7;
• Pal-ul-Don (#8);
• "Half-human, half-gorilloid hybrids" who wore
clothes encrusted with diamonds and lived in a 15-acre granite castle
• Minuni (#10);
• Leopard city of Nimmr where lived "the most beautiful women in the world" (#11);
• Valley of the Holy Sepulchre in SW Abyssinia with
two antagonistic castle-dwelling civilizations descended from 12th
century English knights (#11);
• Roman Empire descendants, located in two cities, still holding gladiatorial combats (#12);
• Tribe of early Christians (#15);
• Athne and Cathne of the land of Thenar (#16);
• A city of talking gorillas (#17);
• Ashair (#20).
Farmer says, "It is doubtful that the real Tarzan ever found more than
two lost cities…" (p. 14) However, none are reported in archaeology
journals; all vanished when Africa opened to thorough exploration!
The 18-inch-tall Minunian people Farmer calls "science fiction" but
also suggests they descended from a Dutch midget. (p. 193) Pellucidar,
a dinosaur-filled world inside Earth's core (#13) is so weird that even
Farmer concedes "it is all fiction." (p. 203) Of the "Mangani" Farmer
says: "It is no wonder that, with their rarity, they had not been
discovered by science." (pp 50 & 186) The "Great Thorn Forest" near
the SW coast of Lake Victoria and 100 miles from Tarzan's plantation:
"does not exist now, having fallen to the flame thrower and the axe…"
Similarly, everything else peculiar to Burroughs' novels but
potentially checkable has disappeared! Tarzan in the 1920s worked on
the "Mangani grammar and dictionary". (p. 196) But there's nothing —
linguists can't get copies.
Farmer writes "Opar is somewhere in the mountains of central Africa…"
on a plateau surrounded by mountain ranges. (p.125) He adds that
Burroughs gave "many purposely misleading descriptions" and Opar might
be in Gabon, the Eastern Congo, or East Africa or somewhere else.
That's Farmer's standard ploy: Inconsistencies, empirical errors and
claims subject to disproof occur because Burroughs altered details to
Conflicts in chronology are explained by, "Burroughs often purposely
collapsed or expanded time…" (p. 179) But La's birth-year is
inconsistent without any need to thwart potential explorers. In Book
14, set in 1929, she's 39 (Farmer, pp 207; 209) therefore born in1890.
But in 1946 Farmer says she would be, "if still living, fifty nine…"
(pp 238-240; 337) i.e. born in 1887.
The immortality pills that Tarzan obtained from a witchdoctor, he
shared with family members, various allies, and Nkima the monkey and
Jad-bal-ja the lion besides getting them analyzed and synthesized.
(Farmer, p. 214) It's strange that their African inventor didn't share
them with Africans and that modern science has nothing similar.
Truly weird is that Farmer links Tarzan's pedigree to numerous fiction
heroes, especially crime fighters, claiming they were historical,
including Sherlock Holmes, the Scarlet Pimpernel, Doc Savage, the
Shadow, Bulldog Drummond, etc. (Farmer 258; 289) A Google check
confirms they're all fictitious and tells about the novelists who
Farmer refers to Burke's Peerage claiming, "I have identified Tarzan,
the real 'Lord Greystoke,' through research in Burke's Peerage and
other works and have met him." (Farmer 337) Burke's Peerage was
originally published in 1839 as The Peerage and Baronetage of Great
Britain and Ireland (John Burke, 1839) and gives the family connections
of Britain's upper class including lords and dukes going back
Farmer supplies a tree-chart of Tarzan's family (pp 6-7) showing how
Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and 90 others are related, and Addendum 3
titled The Greystoke Lineage discusses supposed relationships of
hundreds of names. But none of this confirms Tarzan as historical:
If the reader cares to spend as much time as I did, four years, in
tracing lineages through the several thousand pages of closely set
print of Burke's Peerage and correlating his finds with historical
phenomena and the Tarzan books by Burroughs and various works by Doyle
and many other writers of fiction or fact, then he too, may track down
the real Tarzan. And then he will find that the real Tarzan is reported
as being dead. I say reported because the man himself has faked his
death and taken a new name. The tracker-down will not be as lucky as
myself, who got permission from the genuine 'Lord Greystoke' to write
this biography. (p. 15)
Philip Jose Farmer claims to have uncovered the hidden facts which Burroughs had combined with fiction to obscure them.
Everything in Burroughs' Tarzan novels that can't be confirmed or is plainly wrong Farmer claims:
1. Was deliberately wrongly described [e.g. directions and distances] by Burroughs to misdirect researchers;
2. Has since perished [e.g. various tribes, cities and landscapes];
3. Was deliberately obliterated [e.g. Opar];
4. Died out without leaving any remains [e.g. various tribes of talking apes].
Farmer makes even his meeting with Tarzan dubious, "I did not have any
proof that he was really 'Lord Greystoke'; it is possible, I suppose,
that I was the victim of a hoax." (p. 11)
Farmer ultimately offers nothing verifiable to support his claim that Burroughs' Tarzan is based on fact.
Farmer, P.J. 1974 Tarzan Alive, Panther Books
Bucktin, C. https://ww.facebook.com/DailyMirror
Jesse Leavenworth, The Attacks Of The Killer Chimpanzees, Hartford [CT] Courant, May 1, 2006
Wairagala, W. 'Drunk and Disorderly' Chimps Attacking Ugandan Children, East African, 9 February 2004
TARZAN and CHIMPANZEES
(Investigator 190, 2020 January)
subheading "Assessment" in the article "How True is Tarzan"(#189) I
assessed the scientific accuracy of Burroughs' Tarzan novels.
there on the strength and potential viciousness of chimpanzees, even
tame ones sometimes going berserk. The reason for those comments may
not have been clear.
The point was
that a lifetime of living with animals and plants should have made
Tarzan an expert able to correct biologists where they are wrong as
well as faulty impressions held by the public. But Burroughs never
seems to do that. In the novels Tarzan displays no scientific insights
on any plants, and only schoolboy knowledge about animals.
movies often portrayed chimps as meek, playful and friendly, including
the first Tarzan movie in 1918 and Cheeta in the Weissmuller movies.
After Burroughs' death there was "Bonzo" in Bedtime for Bonzo (1951), which starred Ronald Reagan the future president, and Bonzo Goes to College (1952), and in the 1960s several TV sitcoms.
novels only mention chimps twice and only incidentally. Tarzan in the
novels encountered lots of talking apes and all sorts of bad guys but
never chimpanzees. His monkey friend, Nkima, makes his first appearance
in Volume 12, Tarzan and the Lost Empire (1928), but is only called a "monkey", not a chimpanzee, and often behaves human-like.
therefore, not only failed to convey anything biologically profound but
didn't even correct a potentially dangerous public assumption.
"Anonymous" has argued that the Bible mentions that lions kill prey by
strangling (throttling) and that crocodiles have a tongue — these
points being unknown to most commentators until the 20th century.
Tarzan, despite frequent encounters with lions and crocodiles in the
novels, appears like everyone else to not have noticed.
about 20 different chimps, both male and female, played Tarzan's
sidekick, Cheeta, in the movies. The real name of the longest-lived was
Cheetah-Mike who supposedly died aged 80 in 2011.