Book Review – Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration is Epic!

The Geek Mundo gift guide continues!  If you’re looking for an excellent gift for a bookworm, Tarzan fan, art geek, or just an epic gift in general, check out our book review of Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration featuring 22 hi-res images from the book that will leave you totally impressed. You might even want to keep the book for yourself.

You might not believe it, but Tarzan turned 100 years old this year and in that time this icon of American masculinity and badassery (among other things) has been featured in hundreds of books, movies, comics and memorabilia.  The foremost expert on Edgar Rice Burroughs–the creator of Tarzan–Scott Tracy Griffin brings us this massive book that is a must-have for anyone who is a fan of good art, comics, film, Americana, Tarzan and/or nostalgia.  The art alone in Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration made me a fan of the book.

As you would expect, Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration is a hefty book coming in at about 5-7 lbs. give or take and is what most would consider a coffee table book.  A book like this definitely needs to be shown off and on display.  After a cool introduction by Ron Ely, the book begins with a biography on the man that went on to create Tarzan.  We get a glimpse at Edgar Rice Burroughs’ early years, with vintage pictures of the acclaimed author attending the Michigan Military Academy as an adolescent or posing as a cowboy dressed up as an “Idaho cowpoke”.  From these pictures and the brief biography on Burroughs, one can see just why Burroughs went on to write A Princess of Mars (one of the novels that inspired the Disney film John Carter starring Taylor Kitsch) and Tarzan of the Apes.  

The book totally immerses the reader in Burroughs’ world by offering tidbits about the times and world that influenced him in general.  For example, a chapter titled “The World in 1912” highlights significant events from the year that saw the releases of Tarzan of the Apes and John Carter.  For example, 1912 saw the Mayor of Tokyo send over 3,000 cherry blossoms to Washington D.C. as a gift and Harriet Quimby became the first woman aviator to fly across the English Channel.  The world was becoming smaller–albeit slowly–and it’s reflected in Burrough’s storytelling in the Tarzan books.   In essence, it’s impossible to lose sight of what motivated  Burroughs and influenced his writing.  More importantly, you get an idea as to what society valued back then: rugged masculinity (Roosevelt’s Rough Riders come to mind), larger than life cowboy personas, and imperialism (“White Man’s Burden”).  It’s also worth mentioning that the US had just gotten out of the Spanish-American War just 14 years earlier.

Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration is also seriously in-depth look at all of the literary works that feature Tarzan, including the kids’ story books.  Each of the 24 novels authored by Burroughs are featured, including a quick summary of  each novel, Burroughs’ writing process and the public’s  reception.  Again, Griffin motivates readers by touching on subjects like Tarzan’s femme fatales, how race is depicted in the series, his most formidable allies and adversaries, and of course, Jane.  What would a Tarzan book be without Jane, right?

If you think that it stops there, the book is a juggernaut of information on Tarzan, so naturally it covers every aspect from memorabilia, Tarzan comics, and Tarzan filmography from the silent era to 1998’s Tarzan and the Lost City starring Starship TroopersCasper Van Dien.  Griffin clearly did his research, but instead of just listing off a litany of information about the book, he provides a deeper understanding of this deeply American literary establishment.

As a comic book fan, Griffin’s exploration of Golden Age and Silver Age comics was fascinating to me, but the vivid artwork and vintage cover art from the comics, as well as the books, really make this book pop.  You don’t have to be artsy to appreciate the creativity and the talent it took to bring a legendary figure to like Tarzan to life.  My brother is not  a big fan of comics or Tarzan, but this book captivated him so much, he became engrossed within one minute of cracking it open.

With that said, I would be remiss if I didn’t discuss the elephant in the room.  Yes, some of the art depicts certain stereotypical images of Africans.  However, if Griffin were to remove every controversial piece of art from the book, it wouldn’t be a complete book.  As a history geek, I know that looking back at certain things will not be pleasant.  If you can separate your personal feelings from the fact that some images were drawn at a time where stereotypical tropes and images were commonplace and part of the way the Western world saw places like Africa and Asia, then you won’t be negatively affected by the images.  I found myself fascinated with these depictions because in a non-globalized America, you’ve got to come up with something, right?  It’s interesting for me to get a peek at the way Burroughs obviously saw the world he was living in at the time.

The book itself is high-quality.  I might sound a little weird here, but it even smells good.  I’m a true to form bibliophile and this book has joined my prized collection of books.  The paper is high quality and the images are vibrant and colorful.  Even the black and white photos featuring Johnny Weismuller are vivid.

This book is an excellent glimpse at so many different worlds that geeks can appreciate: pulp magazines and fiction, comics, cool toys and artifacts, movies, books, etc.  This is why Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration is a versatile book, especially for geeks.  The list price is $39.95, but it’s absolutely worth it.

Check out our gallery of images from Tarzan: The Centennial Celebration below:

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