Was Tarzan A Real Person? 'The Legend Of Tarzan' Comes From A Literary History
There are some characters in the canon who have been employed and adapted so many times that they seem to have taken on a life of their own outside of the stories artists tell about them. Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, and Detective John Munch of the Baltimore Homicide Unit and later the NYPD's Special Victims Unit all fit this bill. So does Tarzan, the "King Of The Jungle" and the main character in the new adventure filmed helmed by Harry Potter director David Yates. The Legend Of Tarzan puts True Blood alum Alexander Skarsgård in the title role with Suicide Squad star Margot Robbie as Tarzan's wife Jane and Oscar Winner Christoph Waltz as the villain of the piece. It's a solid cast, but it comes from an even more powerful story. Tarzan was not a real person, but the staying power of that character is a testament to imagination itself.
Tarzan was created by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs for a number of magazine serials that began to appear in print in 1912. Burroughs is also responsible for the space traveling everyman John Carter, a character with a similarly lengthy but not as popular run as Tarzan. (Taylor Kitsch played John Carter in a 2012 live-action Disney movie that fared poorly with critics and audiences.) Anyway, Tarzan was conceived by Burroughs as the child of British nobility. (His given name may be John Clayton, depending on what Tarzan story you're reading.) Tragic circumstances lead him to be left in the African jungle as a child and raised by a tribe of apes as one of their own. Upon his return to society, Tarzan takes his place as Viscount Greystroke but can't be satisfied by a mundane, city existence and often returns to the jungle. That's where The Legend Of Tarzan picks up, skipping the jungle meeting of Tarzan and his first introduction back to humanity, his future wife Jane.
Burroughs wrote 24 books about Tarzan's adventures before he died in 1950. His estate still holds the trademark for Tarzan the character, but has been generous in allowing its use. Other artists have used the jungle dweller in novels, comics, television series, radio dramas and countless films. Tarzan's presence on film dates back to the silent film era, showing the near-instant popularity of Burroughs' stories. He was portrayed for many years on screen by Johnny Weissmuller, a former Olympic swimmer. (A ripped Tarzan isn't just a 2016 thing.) My personal favorite incarnation of the character so far is the Disney version. In 1999, the studio produced an animated Tarzan feature with a soundtrack by Phil Collins and voice work by Tony Goldwyn and Minnie Driver. It's loosely based on the 1984 live-action film Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes.
Tarzan is not based on one real person, though there are many real life and alleged cases of "feral" children, or children who spent a long period of their development without experiencing human contact. They exhibit social and physical deficiencies because of that. As a story, Tarzan therefore speaks to a deep interest in what makes us human.
Image: Warner Bros. Pictures; Giphy