1 OUNCE BACARDI
1 TEASPOON COINTREAU
JUICE OF 1/2 LIME
1/2 TEASPOON SUGAR
Shake Well with Shaved Ice Until Enough Ice is Melted to have a 2 Ounce Drink
-From So Red the Nose (No clever quote about the drink this time. The SRTN blurb only speaks to Tarzan’s skill with the ladies. )
I have been careful, when making the drinks from So Red the Nose, to follow the directions exactly as written in order to recreate the 1930’s drinking experience as precisely as possible. This has already caused some problems, what with the liquor brands that have stopped production sometime in the past 79 years, or ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek instructions like: “Select…six of your finest McIntosh trees and place a hive of bees under each.”
So when mixing up the Tarzan cocktail, I very dutifully filled my cocktail shaker with shaved ice, and the result was…a very watery drink. The moral: don’t be overgenerous with your ice and only give it one or two shakes. Or maybe just don’t expect ice to keep when drinking in the desert in July.
Once I managed to create a drink that didn’t taste like the inside of my freezer, the Tarzan was actually pretty tasty. After all, it’s basically the same ingredients of a margarita with Bacardi swapped out for tequila, an even trade if there ever was one.
The Tarzan is much weaker than the last two drinks I made; I guess it’s a toss up on whether you consider that a positive or a negative. I’m also amazed at how small these drinks are compared to modern cocktails (Canary was also teensy). Mid-century drinkers apparently were sippers rather than guzzlers.
“Tarzan of the apes, little primitive man, presented a picture filled, at once, with pathos and with promise – an allegorical figure of the primordial groping through the black night of ignorance toward the light of learning.”
-From Tarzan of the Apes (You should always explain your symbolism to your readers directly. That’s just how allegory works)
Everyone already knows the story of Tarzan. Even if you think you’re an exception, I guarantee that you have absorbed more than you realize. As for myself, I thought I was coming to this book with a pretty clean slate, since I’ve never seen anything but the Disney version as a child (and we all know how faithful Disney usually is to its source material). Nevertheless, it took only a sentence or two for me to mentally recreate the jungle man Tarzan, his well-bred love interest Jane, her absent-minded professor of a father, and even Tarzan’s sort-of antagonist/lost relative Clayton.
Because of this, I will skip the synopsis and just tell you what I did learn from diving into this 100-year-old pulp novel:
1. This book is super racist. This surprised me not at all. As a teacher of world literature, I knew a book written in 1914 and set in Africa could not lead to anything good in that department.
A large chunk of the novel, before Jane and the other, better-known characters arrive, is dedicated to Tarzan tormenting– and several times even killing– a tribe of “savage blacks.” At first I was hopeful that the cartoonishly barbaric tribe was meant to make a statement about the bloodthirstiness of mankind as a whole, a major theme of the novel. At one point, for instance, Tarzan watches the men and women of the tribe literally rip apart and eat a live, human captive and “wonder(s) at the cruel brutality of his own kind” (emphasis mine).
But then things take a sudden turn to the white supremacist.
For the most part, I can just skim over casual racism in a book this old (e.g., Years of Grace uses words like “darky” in passing), but the descriptions of these minor characters seemed unnecessarily vicious. Their speech is “the bastard tongue that passes for language between the whites and the more degraded tribes.” Jane “shudders” with horror when it occurs to her that Tarzan might have an African wife and “wild, half-caste children.”
On the other hand, I’ll take scathing hatred over the chillingly casual way which Edgar Rice Burroughs describes the eventual slaughter of this tribe at the hands of some of the alleged heroes of the story, a group of French soldiers passing through Tarzan’s peninsula. This is portrayed as an absolutely necessary act on their part, and not one character in the novel second guesses for even a moment the idea that every man in the village — and some of the women too– needed to be rounded up and shot.
The book also takes pains to assure readers that, though he may have been raised by animals, Tarzan is — by the magic of heredity — a good, civilized, white man at heart. And he is not just white, but the best kind of white: the son of an English lord.
His supposed birthright manifests itself in all kinds of silly ways. For instance, Tarzan never feels even the hint of desire for a woman until he sees his first white woman (that would be Jane) and “instinct”(ively) realizes that bowing and kissing her locket might be more gentlemanly than carrying her off into the jungle.
I will concede, though, that Tarzan’s honorable birth is a large part of what makes him interesting and appealing as a character. He can be a savage and primal, the epitome of manly strength, without having to sacrificing wealth, status, or grace.
2. Jane is actually a pretty good female character for the time period. She is rational, level-headed, and not afraid to fire a weapon if the situation calls for it. Her father, Professor Porter, does speak to her with a sexist “now don’t you worry your pretty little head” tone. Surprisingly though, the book uses this as an ironic way of poking fun at the scientist, as Jane is actually the sensible one, while he is a bit of a bumbling idiot.
Don’t get me wrong; she’s not exactly a feminist icon. She’s basically the poster child for damsels-in-distress, after all. Still, I was pleasantly surprised and think a lot of interesting routes can be taken (and maybe have been taken; I don’t watch enough movies to know) when adapting her character for modern audiences.
3. The book has an unsatisfying, sad, cliff-hanger ending. Tarzan of the Apes is the first of a twenty-six (!) book series. I will have to continue with the sequels if I want to find out if Jane and Tarzan get together, or if Tarzan inherits his rightful estate. Yeeeaahhh. I’m not doing that.
Forgotten classic or better left in the past?
I can understand why this book was so popular. I can especially understand why it is so popular as a film adaptation. It is action-packed, from the violent ship mutiny that begins the first chapter right up until the escape from a burning town that concludes that last. It unflinchingly portrays cannibalism, torture, dead bodies desecrated by apes, Tarzan gorging on raw meat — all kinds of things that must have shocked Edwardian audiences (It certainly surprised me that these elements were included).
Besides that, the whole archetype of the feral child is a really sound basis for a good story. Questions about nature vs. nurture, society vs. the individual, destiny vs. free will etc., can be addressed in all sorts of interesting ways. I’m actually surprised that the concept is not used in storytelling more often, although maybe that’s because Tarzan and The Jungle Book spoke the last word on the subject (And I will say, as someone who has read both, there is little difference between them).
Tarzan is energetic and entertaining, but at the end of the day, it’s pulp. And pulp, by its very definition, exists by the thousands. If you are a fan of any of the literally hundreds of film versions, — and can overlook the blatant racism — it may be fun for you to check out the source materials. It had enough entertainment value that I don’t particularly regret reading it, but it’s not something I think is worth going out of your way for.
Tarzan of the Apes is available for free through Project Gutenberg. Too many of the film versions to link to can be found on YouTube.
Next time: We join The Great Man (and drinker) for some bullfighting and absinthe with Death in the Afternoon, the very cocktails that spawned this blog. ¡Olé!