Thursday, 8 December 2016

Thoughts on Tarzan & Adaptations

By UlaFish (deviantart)
I'm currently taking a course called 'Adapting to the Novel' and I'm absolutely loving it. Especially because it's addressing a lot of novels I'm really interested in (Peter Pan, Tarzan, Lolita, Jane Eyre, etc). I really want to write an essay on Peter Pan so I won't go into that story just yet, to avoid plagiarism ( I will probably address it after January). This gives me the opportunity to write about Tarzan now, because I can only write about one novel for my essay. Also, it's super interesting to look at. I will talk about the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Disney's Tarzan, Tarzan the Ape Man (1932 film, just a little because it's a bore) and the Legend of Tarzan (with Margot Robbie). Before I start addressing the novel and it's adaptation I would like the state that the novel, published in 1912 (holy.. that's more than a century ago. I just realised this), is rather racist, sexist and a lot of other things. And as a person I was not amused by this but I forced myself to look passed this.

That being said, I really enjoyed the novel. A few class members stated that our generation can only view the book through the aforementioned Disney film, because most of us were exposed to the film before reading the novel. However, that only applied to me for the first couple of pages, after that I  experienced it much like I would any other new story; namely as an independent experience. I could not view this Tarzan as the same character I know (and love) from the film, simply because they are extremely different. I did, however, experience this when watching The Legend of Tarzan. I went into that with no expectations whatsoever due to what I heard from other people (namely that it's crap).  I watched this film through the novel (having finished the novel a few hours prior to watching this film). And I don't know, maybe that's why I enjoyed it so much.

The new Tarzan film really paid attention to detail. In the Disney film it begins with Tarzan and his parents, who are shipwrecked and build a tree house together to live in the jungle. We see Kala lose her baby and we learn that Tarzan's parents were killed by the Sabor (as well as the baby, though in the novel it dies because it falls from it's mothers back). So Kala takes Tarzan and raises him as her own. She does not die, nor does Tarzan find the cabin his parents stayed in. In fact the first time he sees Jane is the first time he ever sees another human-being (because the African Tribe is completely omitted from the equation in this version). However, in the novel Alice Clayton (his mother) and Lord Greystroke (his father) are put on the beach by pirates. The pirates killed the captain and then took over and while they were doing so the Clayton's stayed out of it causing them to live but putting them in an unfortunate position. Thus they are abandoned on the coast of Africa. 

Lord Greystroke (or Clayton) builds a cabin while his wife is pregnant and does nothing (in Disney they build it together). At one point she has to kill an animal to save her husband, after which she faints and goes insane (as I said.. the novel is rather sexist). She gives birth to a baby boy and a year later she dies due to weakness (no actual cause of death is given). When Clayton is burying her, he forgets to take a weapon with him. Unfortunately for him that's when the Apes decide to strike the beast that has been killing animals in their jungle and thus he is killed by the alfa male of the tribe. Kala has lost her baby at that point and leaves the body of her dead baby in Tarzan's crib while taking Tarzan in it's stead. She raises Tarzan as her own and he becomes mighty strong. Nobody in the tribe really likes him (safe for Kala). At one point he finds the cabin and he educates himself to such an extent that he can read and write proper English. He also finds some of the weapons in the cabin and later on takes some weapons from a near by African Tribe. That's how he eventually becomes King of the Jungle considering he's smarter than animals and uses the aforementioned weapons to his advantage, which causes him to be able to defeat the animals that are physically stronger/heavier than he is. At that point he is skilled enough to be able to kill a dangerous animal in a matter of minutes (piece of cake, that's how its portrayed in the novel). Kala gets killed by a teen from the African tribe and he thus kills the boy. 

The  whole novel is a struggle of Clayton adapting to the Jungle, following Tarzan trying to adapt to civilization. It's an interesting story and it's more or less used in the new Tarzan film (which is (I think) based on one of the 22 sequels). His mother dies for no apparent reason (very dramatically I might add), then his father is killed by the Apes, Kala is killed by a boy and Tarzan kills the boy (which causes the father to want to kill him, which is basically the reason why Tarzan was send to Africa in this story). However, it has also changed the plot on other elements. For example, he meets another African tribe after meeting Jane (who lives with the tribe), even though he previously killed the boy and thus had already seen humans. So even though the tribe  is not omitted in this version, it has slightly changed the essence of the tribe. Why? Well, because (in the novel) the African tribe appears to be more savage than the apes with whom Tarzan lives. They are said to be cannibals and they are not as friendly or kind as the apes. This is  also why Disney deleted the tribe, simply because the racism surrounding these people would have been problematic. They decided to delete it all together to avoid these problems (which in turn also makes it racist but hey, they tried I guess. Disney is known to be racist anyways).

Reading the novel made me see the Disney film in different light, but it also gave me the opportunity to view the new film as 'not bad'. I can really appreciate his silent nature in this version, simply because I read what he had to go through to get to that point. It really addresses his brooding nature. He's too happy and cheeky in Disney's but that makes sense too because it had to be family friendly. Making him silent and brooding also gives depth to the relationship between Jane and Tarzan. She's happy, sweet and almost childish; he's strong, sweet and silent. It made it feel so raw and real. There are loads of films in which couples are separated and then there's some suspense before we (as a viewer) know whether one of them survived or not. And some may think it was dramatic, I just perceived it as painfully real. I now realise that I haven't really talked about Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), but guys.. it's so boring. Tarzan does not talk at all. He's really dull in this version simply because he never taught himself to read/write, nor did anyone teach him to speak. So it's basically Jane screaming and babbling the whole time. Also the plot is changed dramatically. To such an extent that I wouldn't even have recognized it as Tarzan in different circumstances. It almost reminded me of George of the Jungle. I hope you enjoyed this entry. Let me know which tale you'd like to know more about next :)

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