Ape-Man: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to 100 Years of Tarzan by Sean Egan, Book review

APE-MAN: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to 100 Years of Tarzan by Sean Egan, Telos, p/b, £15.99, http://www.telos.co.uk/

Reviewed by David Brzeski

The first thing that struck me on opening this book was the total lack of photographs or illustrations. This is very unusual for a non-fiction work about books, comics and especially movies.

Thankfully, it reads well enough that it doesn’t suffer too much, in fact it was refreshing not to have to keep stopping to refer to assorted illustrated examples.

The major bugbear with this sort of work is, of course, accuracy. The problem for this reviewer was my personal lack of in-depth knowledge about the subject at hand, and so I cheated. I googled for other reviews, to see if the author’s accuracy had been brought to task by people more knowledgeable than I. It’s a new book, so there weren’t many reviews around, but I did find one who complained that much of the movie related information is inaccurate and that the author relied too much on anecdotal information from people who were around at the time. Sadly, the reviewer neglected to cite any examples, so I can’t agree, or disagree with that view. I will say, however, that the way Egan intersperses his text with quoted anecdotes makes for a very readable book, and it’s interesting to read how various people remember things, even if it might not be 100% accurate,

I did, however have the chance to run the chapters concerning Philip José Farmer’s contributions to the Tarzan legacy past a couple of genuine experts and I’m pleased to say that, while they didn’t exactly love his take on it, they didn’t find any huge errors of fact, albeit they thought the claim that Farmer spent the 70s “dodging legal bullets” from the ERB estate, by avoiding using Tarzan’s name on his pastiches to be somewhat overstating the case. There is no evidence to suggest that PJF was ever under legal threat from the estate. They objected to the Dell paperback edition of ‘The Adventures of the Peerless Pee’r and it was withdrawn, but that seems likely to have been down to the use of a photograph of Ron Ely as Tarzan on the cover. No action was ever taken against Farmer and other editions of the book went unhindered. The author also points out a discrepancy in when the theory as to Tarzan’s longevity was first posited, claiming that Farmer, due to ineptitude, mentions it in his Tarzan novel, ‘The Dark Heart of Time, which takes place a decade and a half before the events of  ‘Tarzan’s Quest’, in which ERB first suggests that Tarzan doesn’t age like a normal human. He can perhaps be forgiven for not realising that PJF had theorised that Tarzan got his immortality long before that in his book Tarzan Alive, and was referencing his own earlier book in the novel.

So, it’s an enjoyable book overall, if occasionally a little smug in tone. Maybe one day there will be an illustrated edition, albeit that would likely be a lot more expensive. As an overview of the character in the media, it’s not bad at all. I liked the way it sticks mainly to a chronological listing, rather than splitting the book into separate sections for books, films, TV and comics. I actually learned some information about the history of Tarzan in British comics that has had me place some issues on my wants list, and I have a list of old Tarzan films that I quite fancy viewing again after all these years, so it was a worthwhile reading experience.