This year marks the 100th anniversary of the creation of one of the most recognizable and enduring figures in pop culture history–Tarzan of the Apes. And this month will mark the publication of Jane, the first version of the Tarzan story written by a woman, authorized by the estate of the prolific novelist Edgar Rice Burroughs, or ERB.
Robin Maxwell is the author of several historical novels featuring female protagonists, most notably The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn. Her recruitment to pen a woman-centric spin on the Tarzan saga is clearly an attempt to court a new generation of female readers who have only a limited familiarity, if any, with the original work.
The popular conception today of Tarzan and Jane is unfortunately not so much formed by ERB’s novels as deformed by the old Johnny Weismuller movies of the ‘30s and ‘40s, which falsely portray the Ape-man as more ape than man, and Jane as a (tree)housewife in animal skins. In fact, Burroughs’s Tarzan was an educated English nobleman, Lord Greystoke, and Jane was a bold lady of their African manor.
The books were pulp adventure fare written long before today’s action heroines became as kick-ass as their male counterparts. But Burroughs’s fictional women weren’t mere helpless damsels in distress rescued by brawny he-men. His female characters like Jane and Martian princess Dejah Thoris, featured earlier this year in Disney’s movie John Carter, were not only feminine but, well, ballsy, and worthy adventuresses in their own right.
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