Book Review: Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan
Some months ago, and very much by happenstance, I was browsing through Amazon.com and found that a new Tarzan novel was coming out. This was a fortunate thing for a Tarzan fan such as myself, so I found myself interested in what the premise of this book was. For starters, it wasn’t a new Tarzan book in the strictest sense. Yes, Tarzan featured heavily within, but for the first time in a century it was Jane who got to tell her side of the story. So it was, that I pre-ordered this book and upon its arriving I started to read Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan by Robin Maxwell.
The book follows Jane as we discover what sort of woman she truly was, as she tells her story to a young, aspiring writer; Edgar Rice Burroughs. The story starts out at a Chicago Library in 1912 as she is putting on a presentation to a group of men who are calling her a laughing stock. She has brought with her a skeleton of “the missing link” and academia is doing all it can to discredit her on that front. They feel her work to be an outright forgery.
Upon the lecture breaking up, Burroughs approaches her and asks to be told her story. She agrees, and after discussing where this might take place, he take her back to his apartment for the full details of what lead her to this moment.
Without going into a lot spoilers, for those who wish to read this book, I want to say that what Ms. Maxwell does with Jane is a marvel. She’s not shy, nor mousy by any stretch. One of the biggest pet peeves I’ve ever had was the idea that she, much like Lois Lane, were always delegated to damsel-in-distress mode. This isn’t what’s happened here. She’s created a complex and hard to pin down woman. In early 20th century English Society, that’s not something that was in abundance within the affluent. It was unheard of for a woman to go to an Ivy League college dedicated to the study of anatomy. Such women were allowed to go colleges meant for women to do what society considered “womanly.” Such boldness was frowned upon, but in the case of Jane she almost thrived on that as a driving motivation to keep forward. That, and she loved her father very much, and wanted to be a partner.
This goes through a lot of why she does the things she does, and goes into a great deal of detail on how things unfolded before her or her father ever stepped foot on African soil together. To some, this might seem a bit tedious. To me, it gives me an insight into a mindset. She’s detail oriented, and allows you to see through her eyes why the world works. This is invaluable to me, because I want to see what she’s seeing in a lot of instances.
As to the characters they introduce, of course you have Jane’s father; Archimedes Porter, or Archie for short. Ral Conrath who is responsible for getting the expedition together in the first place and Paul D’Arnot, who too is a character from the original books and goes through a rather large metamorphosis himself. In some cases, I really wish she hadn’t brought them into the book at all. D’Arnot change wasn’t a welcomed one to me. I felt there was a great disservice to the original material by changing his character that much. Of course, I also understand that this story was intended to be a “This is what really happened” story vs. just being her side of what Tarzan of the Apes put down. Still, there’s more than a little of me that wishes there were a little more of that in here.
Tarzan was exactly what I hoped for. Early reviews had him far too broody and terrified of every little thing, and made me wonder what the hell was going on. What I found was a Tarzan that wasn’t quite what the books would have him be, but not so far away as to make him completely a separate character either. What I got was a very intelligent man that was raised by the Mangani (great apes). If he had fears of things, it was Jane’s safety and certain things from a childhood mostly forgotten, with the exception of a few shades that never seemed to let go. When the chips were down, and as usual in a novel like this they were, Tarzan acted exactly as I would have hoped he might. There was a proper Lord of the Jungle there. Somewhere in between the novels and the various versions from film. The love of him was there, and it shined through perfectly.
Let me be very clear in saying this was a romance novel. It came across clearly as one, when the action wasn’t pumped up. There were times that details of the two main character’s sex life entered into the picture. This wasn’t meant for the younger readers. I don’t know that I necessarily needed those details myself. I know they were going there, but it did have to be directly stated. To Ms. Maxwell’s credit, she never got graphic with it. I wrestled with the idea that she was actually telling all this to ERB, but then when I considered what sort of woman she was then it made sense to me that she might do so.
I will say this about the ending; it did disappoint me. For those comic fans out there, it ends a little too much like “What Ever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?”
It’s very Hollywood in that way, where instead of a fully fleshed out piece, we get a wink at the camera. Okay, there’s a bit more of an ending than that, but not much of one. Nothing another 10 or 15 pages might have covered. I’m sure there were plenty of reasons why she did it this way, but the detail-oriented Jane went very broad on certain details and vague on others. It didn’t set well with me after all that back there.
One person (perhaps the author herself, as I can’t find the quote directly anymore) said that Jane had to be an extraordinary woman to stay with Tarzan through all the adventures and messes that their abnormal life gave them. She had to be strong to deal with all the things that life might actually throw her way. This book delivers that with gusto.
3 ½ out of 5 stars for certain character changes and the ending not paying off all that well. You’ll get a small smile at that bit, but it promised to be so much more. Strong characterizations on the two I was really looking for in this book. For Tarzan fans, I think you’ve got a must read.
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