Amazingly enough, in this internet age of ebooks, audiobooks, netflix, youtube, facebook, and a million other distractions, I still find time to read old-fashioned paper books. I don’t get as many out of the library as I used to–there are perhaps a thousand books just waiting for me to pick them up and really read them in my own home, but when I heard about this book, I did use my Phoenix Public Library to track it down, and I’m glad I did.
I discovered Tarzan when I was a boy–millions of us did. He was everything I wasn’t and what I wanted to be. I still idolize him, and if something that is new and tarzannish comes out, I get it. Up to a point. I will never go quite as ape as Bill Hillman and the Erbzine crowd. So, I tracked down this book, read it, enjoyed it, and am about to do a brief book review as I would have done if I were reviewing it for Library Journal. (Back when I was a librarian, I did at least one book review a month for years, and some of those reviews covered truly famous authors. I quit reviewing in 2010. All good things come to an end.)
Jane, the Woman Who Loved Tarzan by Robin Maxwell. New York, Tor, c2012. illus. 320 p. Where did Edgar Rice Burroughs get the story of Tarzan? He claimed that he got it from an unknown man whose name he could not reveal. Robin Maxwell offers us a much more likely source. Burroughs got his story from Jane, and things didn’t happen exactly the way he said they did. There was an expedition to West Central Africa led by Professor Archimedes Porter and his daughter Jane. They did encounter the ape-man and he did abduct Jane and they eventually mated. Tarzan’s father and mother, heirs to the Greystoke title in England were marooned, did build a cabin, and were eventually killed by the great apes. There are other similarities, but things just didn’t happen the way Burroughs told them in TARZAN OF THE APES. First of all, Jane was not a pampered society lady from Baltimore. Instead she was an early feminist–a scientist with training in human and primate anatomy, who thoroughly enjoyed cutting up cadavers to see how they worked. She was smart, fit, and capable. Early in the book she shoots down a charging bull elephant–a gun heavy enough to do that would probably break my shoulder from the recoil, but she did it–oh well. Adrenaline, I guess. After an African expedition led by an unscrupulous villain of a guide, the Porter expedition reached the Ubuntu escarpment (that’s probably a nod to the Weismuller Tarzan movies) and found the Waziri and gold and traces of a lost civilization. Jane got mauled by a leopard and left for dead. Tarzan killed the leopard and nursed her back to health. He taught her how to survive in the jungle. She taught him how to speak English and to read. A healthy young man and a healthy young woman eventually did what healthy young people do when they spend a lot of time together. Tarzan killed Kerchak and was chosen as leader of the Mangani people (posited by Maxwell as a missing link between apes and Neanderthal man–an intelligent species with language and primitive culture not yet in the Stone Age). So, there you have it, Tarzan, King of the Apes. If you ever loved the Tarzan stories, you should read this one. Maxwell handled her topic with finesse, respect, and intelligence. Her focus is on Jane, and Jane really is the protagonist of the book. Highly recommended for all fiction collections in public libraries.
Heh! I have about 3 times too many words in that review. I’m out of practice.
As a Tarzan fan I’m used to people taking liberties with the Tarzan legend. The movie Tarzan is quite a different creature from Burroughs’ book version. The Disney cartoon Tarzan is different still. The comic book versions are also different, and there are far more than one comic book version of Tarzan. Then there are all the Tarzan imitations–some of them quite good. I’ll talk about one, Thun’da, in a future blog. So, I knew I wasn’t going to get the story as Burroughs told it when I picked up the book. And it really isn’t the same story. Maxwell is a modern writer. She didn’t just wander off into her daydreams the way Burroughs did. She has done a ton of research. As a result, although her tale is still fantastic, it seems much more plausible than Burroughs version. (Not truly plausible, mind you, but more plausible). Maxwell’s Tarzan is different from all of them–a bit less superhuman, but still way larger than life. One thing that bothered me a little is that Maxwell crowded things from later in the Tarzan series into the first book, notably the Waziri and a reference to Opar.
I don’t want to give away too much about the book. As an adventure novel, it is superb. As a romance novel, and I’ve read quite a few romances just to see what the genre is like, and because some of my author friends write them, it is fair to good. Although the romance is the heart of the story, Maxwell writes more like a biographer than a romance writer. There are the requisite two passion scenes hidden in the last third of the book (as per many romances), but they are tastefully done, and not nearly juicy enough to make this a hot book. Overall, Jane is a fun book, and she’s a fine heroine, and a great role-model for young women.
There are a lot of loose ends and a cliffhanger ending, leaving room for sequels. I wonder if Robin Maxwell plans to write one. According to her Author’s Note, it took about 2 years for her to write Jane. At that rate it will be 2015 before we see THE RETURN OF JANE. (Somehow, that title doesn’t work quite as well as THE RETURN OF TARZAN does.)
As I get ready to return the book to the library, I’m willing to think of it as the best Tarzan novel of the 21st century. In some ways it is a better novel than TARZAN OF THE APES. In others, it falls short. Burroughs has more action, and his apes are better. Burroughs’ Tarzan is more savage than Maxwell’s. The writing styles are different. But, I really enjoyed reading Jane, and if I weren’t highly impressed by it, I wouldn’t have written this review. If you ever liked Tarzan or Jane, you owe it to yourself to seek out JANE THE WOMAN WHO LOVED TARZAN and read it.
If you’ve read this book, or if you’re a member of the Burroughs Bibliophiles, or if you’ve ever visited the offices of ERB Inc. in Tarzana, California, why not leave a comment?