You have to be really fucking confident in your badass cred to not only be willing to sprint through the forest in a leopard-print man-thong with a combat knife between your teeth, but to then have the utmost certainty that you'll be able to brutally and remorselessly disembowel anything that stands between you and whatever busty maiden you're currently trying to rescue from the merciless clutches of whatever foul beasts, savages, monsters, or dinosaurs happen to be imprisoning her at that point in time.
While the insanely-iconic jungle hero Tarzan more or less these days is considered some brainless one-with-nature neo-transcendentalist Jungle Book "Can You Feel the Love Tonight" motherfucker with a grasp of English grammar that makes the big guy from Of Mice and Men look like Patrick Stewart reciting a soliloquy from Hamlet, but the real Tarzan – the one that was created by Edgar Rice Burroughs back in 1912 when men were fucking MEN and all they wanted out of life was to make out with hot chicks and take warm relaxing showers in the arterial blood spray of their enemies – was a hardcore pipe-hittin' assripper with the uncompromising sense of honor of a chivalrous English gentleman, the intelligence and cunning of a globe-trotting international man of mystery, and the vine-swinging agility of an Olympic Pitfall gold medalist, all wrapped up in the body of a giant naked monkey man with fists strong enough to knock a twenty-foot boa constrictor snake unconscious with one swing.
And, oh yeah, pretty much every illustration of the guy looks roughly like this:
Even though Disney tried to soften him up a little, make no mistake about it – Tarzan will fuck your ass up.
Tarzan was born with the name John Clayton the Third, Lord Greystoke, and his life kind of went from boring to awesome when his idiot dad took the family out on a three-hour tour and ended up getting everyone shipwrecked in the fucking Congo. Greystoke the second tried to Bear Grylls a log cabin and some other crap together like a dumbass but was so cripplingly inept that his wife spontaneously died of embarrassment and then he was beaten to death by some giant asshole talking gorilla. The homicidal Super-Ape then decided he couldn't really just kill Lord Greystoke's little baby, so he took the kid back to his village and passed him off to some super-nice lady Ape who named him Tarzan (meaning "White Skin" in Monkeyspeak), spit river water in his mouth baby bird style to nourish him, and eventually taught him how to swing around on vines and choke panthers to death with one clenched fist while headbutting the teeth out of a crocodile. Tarzan grew up, pounded his chest a lot, trained himself to be a badass by eating only the raw meat of animals he'd run down on foot and killed with his own hands, and basically was just out-of-control crazy all the fucking time.
Well one day while Tarzan was out in the jungle killing pterodactyls by grabbing their leathery flap-wings and then swinging them head-first into trees, he accidentally stumbled upon the cabin his dad had built. Tarzan went in, learned about his family's roots, taught himself to read, learned to speak French, ate some lunch, and then returned home to find that some asshole band of local cannibals had come to town Imperial Stormtrooper style and smoked a bunch of Apes out of existence – including Tarzan's adopted mom.
This was bad.
Tarzan responded by setting traps all through the jungle, hanging entire hunting parties of cannibals upside down by their ankles, then going down the line stabbing every one of them in the stomach until they died painful deaths. Then he burned their village down. By the time he was done with them, the only surviving cannibals were leaving tribute in the jungles so Tarzan wouldn't come fuck their shit up. The talking monkeys were so psyched about this recent turn of developments that they started calling Tarzan the hero of their people. This didn't work for the Ape Leader (you know, the dude who killed Tarzan's real dad), but when the Ape Chief tried to have Tarzan whacked our hero beat the shit out of him and took over as King of the Great Apes. Because seriously fuck that guy.
Tarzan the Ape-Man is pretty fucking awesome because he represents the ultimate duality of human heroic badassitude. On the one hand, he's the ultimate noble leader – he's tall, handsome, friendly, considerate, well-spoken, and has a sense of chivalry and honor that always compels him to defend the weak, do the right thing, and help out anyone in need. Of course, on the other hand, he's a fucking psychotic savage who runs around in a loincloth killing tigers with a combat knife and his pearly whites, and as you have just seen, his sense of vengeance compels him to utterly fucking violently murder the shit out of anyone who wrongs him and then grind their de-meated bones into the faces out of all their family members.
While it's true that every woman Tarzan has ever met was so desperate to jump into his banana hammock that basically the entire female population of the Congo spent the majority of the 1910s trampling each other in an epic continent-spanning cat fight over his nuts, Tarzan's only true love is Jane Porter, a super-hot American babe who coincidentally found herself shipwrecked on the exact spot Tarzan's family crashed, exactly twenty years from the date of Tarzan 's wreck. Tarzan saves her from some bastards, gets her to fall in love with him, lets her go home to the States, then tracks her to the exotic woods of rural Wisconsin, where the sheer sight of his ultimate manliness (and his ability to kill lions with a spear) convinces her to ditch her loser husband and live with Tarzan in some crazy Ewok tree fort he built with his bare hands and a bag of nails he drove through the lumber with his teeth.
Unlike other badasses from literature, despite not being able to walk to the grocery store without having to fight women off with a club he always stuck with the one woman – which is admirable in itself – and you can be damn sure that any time some savages or cannibals or giant pissed-off rhinos threatened this chick and she was being menaced threateningly on the cover of some pulp fiction mag with half of her clothes ripped off Tarzan was just seconds away from dive-bombing her antagonist knife-first from the tallest tree in the forest like some kind of psychotic blade-wielding Stuka with a malfunctioning altimeter.
As if this isn't crazy enough shit for you, things get really out of control after the first couple books. Sure, there's the normal shit you'd expect – Tarzan fights every single kind of jungle animal, poachers, foresters, cannibals, savages, and other shit. He rides elephants, panthers, and lions, has a pet spider monkey, rules over an army of sentient talking Apes, and face-punches a man-sized sea horse because what the fuck is a man-sized sea horse doing having the audacity to stand around like an asshole doing whatever the fuck it is that sea horses do. Typical stuff. But there are also some pretty insane adventures as well – like one time he was captured by Beast Men who lived in a temple filled with the treasures looted from the Lost City of Atlantis, so Tarzan got the high priestess to fall in love with him, tricked her into letting him go, robbed the treasury, escaped, and used the cash to build himself a stately fucking plantation in England. Another time his son was kidnapped by evil Russian Counts and sent to live with a tribe of cannibals, so he charges into their village Skeletor-style on the back of a black panther, burns it to the ground, saves his kid, and kills the Count. During World War I Tarzan mistakenly though the Germans incinerated Jane to death, so he fucking went ape, declared war on Germany, fed the German commander and a bunch of his closest advisors to a lion, destroyed some random lost desert civilization that happened to get in his way, and then realized, oh snap, Jane's actually alive, sorry about that guys, my bad. Then he flew to the Earth's core on an airship, ended up in some a prehistoric Land of the Lost place, killed a carnivorous triceratops with his fists, and broke her out of captivity. He drinks an immortality elixir that means he never dies. He learns to speak every human language. He serves with the RAF over the South Pacific in World War II. He fights the Japanese, the Romans, the Knights Templar, the Soviets, Leopard Men, Beast Men, Ant Men, and Frenchmen. He's left for dead in the desert at one point, fakes death, then grabs the closest vulture with his fist and eats it raw, the nutrition giving him the strength to go on and walk the other half of the way through the desert.
And, yeah, sometimes Burroughs gets some shit for being racist, sexist, and/or for making fun of every race and culture that isn’t England or the United States, but that hasn't prevented him from enduring as an iconic hero for 100 years after his creation. He's been in 26 books, 80+ movies, and hundreds of comics, radio programs, and TV shows. He's been a musical on Broadway. There's Tarzan on Ice. He was in the first graphic novel ever made, 1972's Tarzan of the Apes. He inspired Jane Goodall to go into the forest and research chimps and shit, and inspired Gene Roddenberry to write some fucked-up TV pilot filled with weird freaky fetishist sex stuff, which is weird as hell, but probably less weird than the Bollywood flick Tarzan the Wonder Car, which is apparently about a purple sports car that becomes possessed by dead spirits and tries to kill all of its former owners. I honestly have no idea what the hell that is all about.
Edgar Rice Burroughs official site