Tarzan: King of the Bookshelves
Tarzan remains one of the most recognisable characters in storytelling – a genuine cultural icon. He has appeared in books and comics, and his adventures have been broadcast on radio, television and cinema (80 plus movies). Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation first appeared in an issue of the pulp publication All-Story Magazine in October 1912 and a book version followed two years later.
This first story, Tarzan of the Apes, lays the foundation for the series. It explains how Tarzan is the son of British aristocrats stranded on the Atlantic coast of Africa when he was an infant. After the deaths of his parents, the boy was left to grow up feral in the jungle in the company of apes. As he grows older Tarzan learns of his human heritage and teaches himself to read after finding his parent’s deserted cabin. Tarzan’s real name is John Clayton, Earl Greystoke. Jane Porter is also introduced after also being marooned and Jane becomes a central character in future stories. Burroughs wrote 25 further Tarzan books.
Tarzan has many skills. He is a master of numerous languages and dialects, a physical freak in terms of strength and agility, able to converse with animals, and would win many swimming medals if he competed at the Olympics. Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli is thought to have influenced Burroughs’ creation of Tarzan – Mowgli’s first appearance was in a short story in 1893.
When it comes to collecting Tarzan books, Tarzan of the Apes is easily the most precious. The 1914 edition will almost certainly be worth around £30,000, when accompanied with a dust jacket. As the series progressed and became more popular, the books were issued with larger first printings, so the cost to acquire each subsequent Tarzan story becomes cheaper. For example, a high-end copy of Return of Tarzan (1917) might fetch £6,500, Tarzan and the Golden Lion (1923) would be around £4,000, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core (1930) would come in at about £1500, and later novels like Tarzan and the Leopard Men (1935) can be under £500.
Burroughs’ books were pulp novels so collectable copies are often well read and finding them in fine condition is difficult. The book pricing guide Collected Books by Allen and Patricia Ahearn suggests that one often finds chipping and wear to dust jackets of Tarzan volumes and they even go so far as to base their price estimates on this expectation.
Burroughs was not the world’s greatest writers but he was an excellent storyteller. His Tarzan character has become so iconic that it has been parodied again and again. The American was also versatile, also producing science fiction, historical fiction, westerns and adventure novels.