Enter Jane, wearing furry bikini and examining coconut in her hand.
Jane (shouting): Oh Tarzan! Would you help me break open this coconut?
Enter Tarzan, wearing trademark loincloth and expression of Class A meathead. Takes coconut from Jane and taps it gingerly against his forehead.
Tarzan: Hum! This hard coconut! Tarzan go and find rock!
Jane (contemptuously): Oh give it to me!
Snatches coconut from Tarzan and smashes it against his skull, causing it to break into roughly equivalent hemispheres. Tarzan staggers about in a daze.
Tarzan (muttering): Humphwurumph.
Jane rubs some coconut oil on her tummy and looks at Tarzan coyly.
Jane (in hoochie mama voice): Does Tarzan want to rub oil on Jane’s boobies?
Tarzan opens eyes wide, turns to face audience and then looks at Jane.
Tarzan: Not tonight Jane. Tarzan got headache!
The couple took their bow amid raucous laughter and cheers. After leaving briefly to change into more formal dress, they returned to bask in the praise of their fellow guests. For some reason they were particularly interested in what I had to say, and awaited my appraisal of their performance as if I were the Ape from Del Monte.
“Quite splendid!” I enthused. “If Johnny Weissmuller were here today his pecs would be throbbing with envy. And his co-star who played Jane would be rushing off to get her boobs enlarged. You have put a teaspoon of chilli powder into a dish growing bland with age!”
They beamed with delight and asked me for my autograph, which I was happy to provide.
We gorillas have no particular animus towards Tarzan, although it was rather presumptuous to call him “Lord of the Apes”. There are no titles in the jungle and a solo man is in no position to lord it over anyone, no matter how much beefcake he is carrying. Other than that, the story is pretty flattering to us. A human infant of noble birth is adopted by a mysterious band of apes and suckled by a surrogate ape mother. They bring him up to be a model jungle citizen who always tells the truth and repels dastardly interlopers with vigorous and well-aimed flying kicks. The only point against him is that he never really lets his hair down and boogies like an ape. Perhaps his tribe were devout Presbyterians or something. But basically he is a good egg.
Jane is obviously thrown into the story to complete the fantasy for the human male. Her presence implies that you can live like a real jungle ape, swinging wildly through the trees, while cohabiting with a hoity-toity mistress. It does seem a little far-fetched though. A woman like Jane might well have consented to a roll in the undergrowth with Tarzan, but I can’t imagine her willingly moving into the tree house with him. Yet before we pour scorn on the fable, let us recall that it inspired a little girl called Jane Goodall to respond to the lure of the jungle. As my well-informed readers will know, she went on to become a celebrated chronicler of chimpanzee society and the best-looking white woman in
While the Tarzan books have their place in popular fiction, the Tarzan films are something else. When I saw my first Tarzan movie, I hooted with laughter on hearing the ape-man’s famous ululating cry. You see, it actually means something in baboon language. A rough translation is:
“Look! Look at my erection! Look at my erection!”