Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Me Earl, Like Jane

Robin Maxwell's Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan is a delightfully revisionist, reflexive and feminist take on the Tarzan story. The novel's framing story introduces Jane to one Edgar Rice Burroughs, casting him as the steward of the Tarzan legend, a device Burroughs himself used for his John Carter of Mars stories. But while Burroughs' Tarzan tales grew increasingly fantastical with time, Maxwell's version of the tale is far more grounded, taking only a few liberties with science and probability.

This, then, is the "true" story of Jane and Tarzan, in which we learn that Jane is a budding scientist, proto-feminist and libertine. She's reflective, capable, intelligent and brave in all senses of the word. But Maxwell doesn't ignore Tarzan; her version of the character is just as heroic, brawny and brilliant as he is in the original stories, if slightly more realistic in his capabilities.

The bulk of the story covers Jane's early relationship with Tarzan - their first meeting, their efforts to communicate, their growing respect and love for one another. Meanwhile, they must contend with Jane's enemy, a cutthroat treasure hunter, and Tarzan's mortal foe, the mangani Kerchak, killer of his parents and his mangani foster mother.

Maxwell writes with clarity and sensitivity that Burroughs may have envied. While she's certainly a better prose stylist than Burroughs (this may be damning with faint praise, however much I love the man's work), not once does Jane parody or disrespect Burroughs' achievements. Indeed, published as it was during Tarzan's centennial year, 2012, Jane is a celebration of an enduring cultural icon -Jane, the woman who loved Tarzan, returned to prominence as one of the great women adventure characters of the 20th century. 

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