Publisher's Description

"On Tarzan is a wonderful read . . . a great introduction to cultural studies, to American studies, and also to the 'American Century.' The book hinges neatly on Vernon's continual discovery of paradox and/or contradiction both within relevant contexts (gender, sexuality, colonialism, etc.) and across them."—Kevin Kopelson, author of Sedaris

On Tarzan is a sometimes playful, sometimes serious, and always provocative consideration of the twentieth century's best-known fictional character. It is also the first book-length investigation of a century's worth of Tarzan's incarnations and our varied imaginative responses to them. As Alex Vernon looks at how and why we have accorded mythical, archetypal status to Tarzan, he takes stock of the Tarzan books, films, and comics as well as some of the many faux- and femme-Tarzan rip-offs, the toys and other tie-in products, the fanzines, and the appropriation of Tarzan's image in the media.

Tarzan first appeared in 1912. To ponder his journey from jungle lord then to Disney boy-toy now is, as Vernon writes, to touch on "childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, especially for the male of the species; on colonialism and nationhood; on Hollywood and commerce, race and gender, sex and death, Darwin and Freud. On nature—is Tarzan friend or foe? On imagination and identity."

Vernon exposes the contradictions, ambiguities, and coincidences of the Tarzan phenomenon. Tarzan is noble and savage, eternal adolescent and eternal adult, hero to immigrants and orphans but also to nativist Americans. Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan story is racist, but Tarzan himself is racially slippery. Although Tarzan asserts his white superiority over savage Africans, his adventures flirt with miscegenation and engage our ongoing obsession with all things primitive.

As the 2012 centennial of Tarzan's creation approaches, the ape-man's hold on us can still manifest itself in surprising ways. This entertaining study, with its rich and multilayered associations, offers a provocative model for understanding the life cycle of pop culture phenomena.


▪   Times Literary Supplement: “On Tarzan has the excited tone of a schoolboy beating his chest and speedily explaining the great Tarzan books, comic books and movies that he has just digested all while, yes, having done his homework. And what an A+ this homework deserves….On Tarzan is a highbrow romp through a low­brow craze that influenced both Amos Oz and Gore Vidal. It is a study that deserves to be influential in its own right.” (19 & 26 Dec 08, Issue 5516/5517, 36)                           

▪   Midwest Book Review: “A work of seminal and impressive scholarship, On Tarzan is strongly recommended for academic and community library Literary Studies and American Popular Culture reference collections, as well as a singularly important contribution to the reading lists for all dedicated Tarzan fans.” (Nov 08;                             

▪   American Library Association: An “intelligent, revelatory, meditative series of essays [that] demonstrates a remarkable grasp of [a] wide range of disciplines….Vernon’s stylistic approach to the subject matter is unorthodox and refreshing….The writing is so thoughtful and daring that Vernon seems to be breaking new ground in cultural studies. Highly recommended.” (Choice v46n09, May 09).                              

Journal of Popular Culture: “On Tarzan consistently lodges its analysis within the context of the time that   these pop culture artifacts were produced….While Vernon rigorously debates these controversies, he refrains from criticizing in the vein of 20 - 20 hindsight; he allows the texts to be seen in their natural, historical habitat, which   creates an observational space of neutral inquiry. As his centennial approaches, Tarzan is in decline and this book feels like a loving eulogy mixed with comedic roasting and arm chair therapy.” (v42n4, Aug 2009,   773-774)             

▪   Arkansas Democrat-Gazette: "entertainingly subjective” (9 Nov 08)                           

▪   Curled Up With A Good Book: "A vacation [….] Vernon's book will entertain and inform you about the Ape-Man and his adventures, largely viewed as something that captivated us then, way back when.” (23 Nov 08;                              

▪   Toronto Globe & Mail: “Vernon excels at historical context,….[a]nd with a vast wealth of material from   which to pick and choose….Vernon proves one thing: Tarzan is what we make him.” (4 Apr 09;                              

▪   Mooresville Tribune: “On Tarzan turns out to be very smart yet, at times, challenging. There's an urge to say, leave my icon alone. For the bold speculator, the book is fascinating.” (25 Jan 09;                              

▪   Arkansas Review: A Journal of Delta  Studies: “In all, the book, with its multiplicity of interpretations and conversational style, is an engaging read for cultural studies researchers and casual fans alike. Vernon has succeeded in taking campy, sexy, macho, colonial, racist, violent Tarzan seriously as a subject of study without taking the ‘fun’ out of him.” (v40n1, Spring 09, 61-62).                              

Author Comments

The Page 99 Test  (;

Inside UGA Press (Fall 08;;

Rorotoko ( Aug 09)