The past few weeks, I’ve been listening to Librivox audiobooks of the Tarzan books. Partially because I’ve always meant to, and partially because they go down easy at work, and heavier stuff, not so much.
And I have a confession: besides being fairly sexist and a bit more than fairly racist (it was just how thought processes were in the day), I actually have been really enjoying these books.
In case you haven’t read them, let’s get one thing straight: the “Me Tarzan, you Jane” version of Tarzan from the movies is not from the books. Tarzan is the son of an English Lord, who teaches himself to read with the books left in a cabin built by his dead father. He wins himself the kingship over the Bull Apes (not gorillas, these are a fictional species Burroughs thought up that were smarter than gorillas, though not as smart as man).
He manages all of this due to his “higher-than-average intellect.” And of course he is faster and stronger and has better hearing and vision than any normal man, because of his upbringing with the apes. In fact, they use the words “super man” to describe him more than once.*
Now… this is once in a while seems a little contrived, sure. This might have been a problem, if not for his higher-than-average intellect. Okay, this might be a bit of an exaggeration, but that is how most problems in the first two books are solved. I can forgive this, though because usually there is a good explanation. For example, he doesn’t just automatically teach himself to read. He spends staring at “little insects” on the page (letters) and starts to figure out that they make names for things because of an illustrated dictionary. And he doesn’t go from learning how to read English words to knowing how to say them. In fact, he learns French first. Of course.
But there is a lot of action, there is a lot of Escapism (um, hello, dark African jungle full of dangerous animals?), and the hero takes action. I know I’m using the word action twice, but it is relevant. There is fighting AND decision making! And all of the above makes the books very fun to enjoy.
And while reading through the first book, I had a realization. This was a book my mom read when she was a kid. She read a lot of the Tarzan books, actually. There are two dozen of them, after all. But my point is, this is the type of hero she grew up with. The strongest, smartest, bravest guy around who goes out and gets things done, and who always knows more or less what to do.
This is not the type of hero I grew up with. Most of the books I read when I was young were about fairly normal people, facing huge obstacles. They were usually not the strongest or bravest, and while probably a lot of them were pretty smart, some of them weren’t even that. They didn’t always immediately know what to do, or if they did, they didn’t always choose the right thing first.
And let’s be honest, in my moonier times, I read and loved a lot of books where nothing earth-shaking happens on a big scale, they were all about character – losing friends, and what not. Judy Blume books.
So it’s not too much of a surprise that my mother and I don’t really enjoy the same books. It’s not much of a surprise that she reads action- and plot-driven stories, and that I lean more towards character-driven novels. We learned what made a good story in vastly different circumstances. By the time my mom was the age I was when I started reading feels-y young adult novels, she was reading adult stuff—because young adult novels didn’t exist.
It’s interesting, though, because at the moment she and I are somewhat reaching out towards each others’ reading habits. I’ve been reading Tarzan, and she’s been reading Les Mis (which I haven’t read, but I’m sort of considered the Classics reader in the family). And surprise, surprise, we’re both enjoying each other’s worlds.
*Interesting fact, Tarzan of the Apes was published in 1914 while Superman was introduced in 1932).
In other news, I have to send out a late THANK YOU to everyone who participated in Books are for Lovers and bought a book on Valentine’s Day. I bought A Tiger’s Destiny by Colleen Houck, and The Mr bought Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, which we’d been looking for in hardcover for a long time.
And last but not least, we have a winner for the Books are for Lovers giveaway thanks to random.org, and that is SHELLY BROWN! Congrats, Shelly! 🙂