It all began with some social commentary.
See, the Lord and Lady Greystoke were on their way to Africa to investigate some abuses of the colonial system when the ship they were on fell under mutiny and marooned them on the farthest piece of jungle possible.
You would think two people, having grown up in the lap of luxury, would probably die a lot in this situation. You would be wrong, because they are ENGLISH NOBILITY. Being ENGLISH NOBILITY is very important in this book. Despite not doing much manual labor at all, somehow Lord Greystoke builds a house that keeps out the vicious wild animals whose main motivations are to kill anything that happens to move a bit. (Word is out on whether or not the incredibly lost lions were chasing leaves.) However, an attack by an ape colony leaves the two dead, and their infant son alone. Luckily, he is adopted by the ape Kala who promptly names him Tarzan (which means “Whiter Than Vanilla Ice”).
These are special apes. They have their own language and weird drum rituals. As Tarzan grows, and realizes he’s basically the wimpy nerd of the tribe, he starts using his special ENGLISH NOBILITY intelligence to compensate, first by devising traps for vicious animals, then by stealing weapons from some of those abused natives mentioned before. (Despite being abused natives, they are still a mad cannibal tribe. Well…E for effort, Mr. Burroughs.)
He also finds the house where he was born, and learns English by reading children’s books.
Meanwhile, yet another group has been marooned by Death Jungle. This includes young American woman Jane Porter, her father whose Alzheimer’s is played for laughs, his beleaguered assistant, and the young William Clayton, who, due to Tarzan being presumed dead, is set to inherit the Greystoke estate. He is also not an egotistical big game hunter, despite Disney’s insistence to the contrary. Also there is Jane’s hilariously offensive black servant who screams and faints at literally anything. (Including confused lions chasing leaves.)
You can see it coming a mile away: Jane gets into various troubles, including being kidnapped by an ape (because the apes were AFTER THE WIMMENZ in those days), and falls in love with Tarzan because…um…he’s strong and pretty.
While Tarzan goes around doing AWESOME THINGS, Jane frets and broods over her love for Tarzan versus societal expectations (while the author frets and broods over the natural man versus the socially constructed man), her father wanders off dangerously into the forest, and the helpful Frenchmen who arrive to rescue them get kidnapped by the evil abused native cannibal tribesmen.
Tarzan is also awesome at this point, and while he helps D’Arnot overcome his wounds, he learns French.
No, not English, he learns to speak French.
What follows next is the most surreal sequence ever: Tarzan easily incorporating himself into civilized society because he is ENGLISH NOBILITY and can speak French, a race to Wisconsin (presumably to root on the Packers), and a helpful forest fire to prevent the Evil Suitor Who Wasn’t Mentioned Until Last Minute from Enacting His Evil Plan.
I’ve been flippant in this review, but it really was a fun, wild little ride. Despite some cringe-worthy moments (you know, the cannibal natives and the horrifying portrayal of Esmeralda the servant), the book is good escapist fantasy. I will probably read the next one just to see how much more surreal it can get.
Also, it led to one of the most fantastically cheesy 80's songs ever.
Enough cheese for the whole of Wisconsin.