Tarzan, along with Sherlock Holmes, is one of the universally recognised literary heroes. Famous all over the world for over a century, he is part of the fabric of life.
Indeed, my father used to get irked if people mispronounced the name — Dad insisted on the stress on the first syllable:"TAR-zun".
Edgar Rice Burroughs may not have been one of the greatest prose stylists, but he was a genius. And he was by no means a one-hit wonder. His Martian adventure stories, starting with A Princess of Mars, were colourful, vigorous pulp science fiction and enormously successful.
But Tarzan is his finest and most enduring creation. Written under the influence of Rudyard Kipling and Jack London (and the legend of Romulus and Remus), Tarzan of the Apes nonetheless was unique and vividly original.
It was first published in All Story Magazine in 1912, the same magazine and the same year as A Princess of Mars (what a year!). Burroughs was paid $700 for it.
An immediate hit with readers of the magazine, Tarzan didn't instantly command a wider audience. When Burroughs sent off copies of the story to book publishers, he was initially turned down flat.
I love the anecdote of what happened next. Burroughs promptly wrote a sequel, but the editor of All Story, Thomas Newell Metcalf, didn't think much of it. In fact, he rejected it.
In a classic piece of meaningless editor-speak, he said the story "lacked balance". So Burroughs just turned around and sold it, without a word being changed, to another magazine for $1,000. Of course, it was a big success.
Burroughs then proceeded to play the magazines off against each other and thereby jack up his fee.
All writers love anecdotes like that. This one is true, and it's documented in John Taliaferro's Tarzan Forever, one of three books I have about Burroughs on my shelf (as opposed to the several dozen by Burroughs). The others are Edgar Rice Burroughs Master of Adventure by Richard Lupoff and Edgar Rice Burroughs The Man Who Created Tarzan by Irwin Porges.
The Porges book is huge, big enough to stun an ox — or, if you're Tarzan, probably a rhino. And the Lupoff biography is beautifully illustrated. But I'd recommend the Taliaferro as the best introduction to the fascinating subject of Tarzan and his creator.
(Image credits: The beautifully stylish cover of the first edition, by Fred Arting, is from Wikipedia. The Taliaferro cover is from Simon & Schuster. The Porges is from Good Reads. The Lupoff green Frazetta cover is also from Good Reads. The earlier red Frazetta cover is from James Reasoner's blog.)