Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Tarzan of the Apes is a book I haven't read in decades. I'd actually thought that the Disney version was much closer to the written material than it is. Tarzan is a prototype of the savage hero, more outcast than even Conan in terms of civility and equipment. His reliance on training and instinct couped with awesome intellictual gifts and a few trusty weapons, make him a fierce lord of the Jungle.

I'll be pinging some thoughts from reading the book that will contain spoilers but it's not like this is a new story. Indeed, I got my latest version free from Amazon and their Kindle books. Remember how I keep harping on price points for e-books? It's because of some great free literature like this, that well, I'm able to. If several Tarzan and other Edgar Rice Burroughs books are free and available, what's to stop someone from having weeks ir not months of reading enjoyment for free?

Anyway, onto thoughts of the book.

Orphan Outcast. One of the standards of most characters, Tarzan is essentailly an orphan for most of the book. Sure, he initially has his parents and even his ape mother, but she's taken from him relatively early in the tale.  This gives Tarzan a bit of freedom that characters 'burdened' with family don't necessarily have, but in time, the action revolves around him saving outsiders who essentially become his new family. Ties are what makes characters interesting. Without them, games like Final Fantasy VII just become pretty pictures on a screen and Tarzan just becomes another savage.

Technology. I'm not saying Tarzan is running through the Jungle with Phase Plasma Rifle with a 40 Watt Range or anything, but even something like his knife makes a huge difference when he finds himself pitted against the strongest adversaries the jungle can throw against him. And this is something that doesn't automatically grant success mind you, but a well equipped and armed party, especially with missle weapons, shouldn't necessarily have much to fear from normal animals as the opportunity to finish them off before a single blow can be struck in retaliation should be fairly high.

Physically Gifted: Tarzan, like many heroes of his era, is simply not human. He is capable of straight leaps into the air of something like twenty feet at a stretch. He is able to carry more than four people put together. Not only that, but he is the owner of an awesome intellict as well. With no mentoring, he teaches himself to read and picks up information like an insatiable sponge. And he isn't the only one of this era. Doc Savage is the 'perfect' human who has a group of gifted allies and he's better than all of them. These guys really make Bat Man look like some little bored rich kid who decided it'd be a gas to dress up and fight crime. The problem with them is they can set some highly unrealistic standards when players try to use them for inspiration. When doing something like a Champions or GURPS game, and the GM wants to emulate their physical abilities and weird talents, be generous with the points.

Rogues Are Everywhere: Tarzan's parents are stranded in Africa because the people who they took passage with were lead by an unkind captain who in turn, is murdered by his crew. Jane and her father and cohorts are stranded on the same island because... well, untrustworthy pirates! Tarzan's first meeting with another group of men is stained because those men has in turn been mistreated and have taken it out on all they then meet. It doesn't matter the time or distance, the civility or the savegry, rogues are everywhere.

Scars: Initially there are a few fights that take Tarzan months to recover from but leave no blemish upon his 'brown skin'. Later on though he almost has his scalp ripped off and whenever he's pissed that scar shows red in contrast to the rest of his face. Think about some defining characteristics for your characters, both as a player and as a Game Master. I know that in some of his Conan writings, Robert Jordan wouldn't even name the thug villains that Conan battled, merely referring to them by their scars and other physical afflictions.

Evolution: Tarzan in some instances and incrantion is popular for his "Me Tarzan you Jane" bit, but by the end of the first novel, he's speaking multiple languages, knows how to drive a car, and fully understands the value of money and its ability to influence the world about him. Characters that don't change or evolve can indeed be fun to play, but stretching those initial character concepts and letting the game play take you to new places can test out different role playing muscles.

Tarzan has inspired many artist like Joe Jusko, as well as many writers, and many movies and cartons and other media. It's worth giving the original a read not only to see where it all started, but what people have done with it since.