The tale of the white British aristocrat who is Africa’s most famous son and saviour sits awkwardly with contemporary mores. Yet Tarzan, the original superhero inspiring the creators of Superman and Batman, and his tale of noble humanity in savage equatorial depths continue to grip popular imaginations, with a brand now worth millions. Audiences still crave his cinematic superhero thrills.
Tarzan’s author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, never set foot in Africa in his life. A youthful drifter and US Army reject and failed businessman, Burroughs began writing in desperation to pay his bills. Tarzan was first published in 1912 and Burroughs would go on to sell more than 100 million books. When Tarzan Of The Apes debuted in cinemas in 1918, it became the first film ever to earn $1million. Since then Tarzan has been adapted many times for radio, television, stage and cinema – it has been adapted for the latter more times than any book except Dracula.
Yet the real heroes of the African forests are unsung. Little is heard of the Gorilla Doctors dedicated to conserving mountain and eastern lowland gorillas through life-saving veterinary medicine. Even less of the rangers who protect parks and forest. Unlike Tarzan, the threat of death for a ranger is high. Yet a ranger’s greatest fear is not losing his life, but the impact his death will have on family members left behind. Theirs is a legend we should not forget