On Tarzan

Alex Vernon

Exploring our fascination with the King of the Jungle

Reviews

"On Tarzan is an elegantly written foray into the cultural jungle that has grown up around Tarzan."
—Matt Cohen, editor of Brother Men: The Correspondence of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Herbert T. Weston

"On Tarzan is a wonderful read . . . a great introduction to cultural studies, to American studies, and also to the 'American Century.' The book hinges neatly on Vernon's continual discovery of paradox and/or contradiction both within relevant contexts (gender, sexuality, colonialism, etc.) and across them."
—Kevin Kopelson, author of Sedaris


"On Tarzan is an intelligent, revelatory, meditative series of essays on the place of Tarzan within Western culture. Vernon demonstrates a remarkable grasp of the wide range of disciplines that contribute to this book, including history, psychology, and film theory. The writing is so thoughtful and daring that Vernon seems to be breaking new ground in cultural studies."
Choice

"On Tarzan is a highbrow romp through a lowbrow craze that influenced both Amos Oz and Gore Vidal. It is a study that deserves to be influential in its own right."
Times Literary Supplement

"On Tarzan consistently lodges its analysis within the context of the time that these pop culture artifacts were produced. Tarzan plots revolve around cultural imperialism, American capitalism, miscegenation, problematic portrayals of ethnicity and gender, and orgies of violence replacing sexual love. While Vernon rigorously debates these controversies, he refrains from criticizing in the vein of 20 – 20 hindsight; he allows the texts to be seen in their natural, historical habitat."
Journal of Popular Culture

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Description
On Tarzan is a sometimes playful, sometimes serious, and always provocative consideration of the twentieth century's best-known fictional character. It is also the first book-length investigation of a century's worth of Tarzan's incarnations and our varied imaginative responses to them. As Alex Vernon looks at how and why we have accorded mythical, archetypal status to Tarzan, he takes stock of the Tarzan books, films, and comics as well as some of the many faux- and femme-Tarzan rip-offs, the toys and other tie-in products, the fanzines, and the appropriation of Tarzan's image in the media.

Tarzan first appeared in 1912. To ponder his journey from jungle lord then to Disney boy-toy now is, as Vernon writes, to touch on "childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, especially for the male of the species; on colonialism and nationhood; on Hollywood and commerce, race and gender, sex and death, Darwin and Freud. On nature—is Tarzan friend or foe? On imagination and identity."

Vernon exposes the contradictions, ambiguities, and coincidences of the Tarzan phenomenon. Tarzan is noble and savage, eternal adolescent and eternal adult, hero to immigrants and orphans but also to nativist Americans. Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan story is racist, but Tarzan himself is racially slippery. Although Tarzan asserts his white superiority over savage Africans, his adventures flirt with miscegenation and engage our ongoing obsession with all things primitive.

As the 2012 centennial of Tarzan's creation approaches, the ape-man's hold on us can still manifest itself in surprising ways. This entertaining study, with its rich and multilayered associations, offers a provocative model for understanding the life cycle of pop culture phenomena.

Page count: 240 pp.
Illustrated
Trim size: 6 x 9

 



Paper
List price: $26.95
978-0-8203-3205-5
10/15/2008

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Alex Vernon is an associate professor of English at Hendrix College. His books include The Eyes of Orion, Soldiers Once and Still, Arms and the Self, and most succinctly bred.