Most of us have heard of Tarzan of the Apes. Since 1912, the famous character by Edgar Rice Burroughs has been featured in pulp fiction magazines, novels, comic books, countless films, radio programs and even the Broadway stage. He was forever immortalized in a leopard print loin cloth by Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller in 1930s and '40s. Tarzan's story was even an animated feature film by Disney.
Tarzan, it seems, has really never gone out of style. But not many movies or even books showcased his sultry blond love interest, Jane, to the fullest extent. But that's all changed with the recently published Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan by Robin Maxwell.
The historical action-adventure is the first Tarzan novel written by a woman, and has been endorsed by the Edgar Rice Burroughs' estate. What inspired Maxwell to tell Jane's story? She explains:
The inspiration for Jane comes way out of left field...or more to the point, from deep in my subconscious. I had never read even one Burroughs' Tarzan novel as a kid, but I did watch the old black and white Johnny Weissmuller/Maureen O'Sullivan Tarzan flicks on TV. And I was a Sheena Queen of the Jungle TV series junkie (loved her outfit)! I had a serious jones for African adventure, wild animals, lost civilizations and the fantasy of swinging through the forest with a gorgeous, next-to-naked wild man. The rules of civilization -- piffle! Young and free and breaking all the rules. I was there.
As the years passed, the ape-man and his main squeeze faded from Maxwell's memory. But several decades later, the historical novelist, who was working on her retelling of Romeo and Juliet, was driving down the road with her husband, Max, when he asked her which literary character she would like to write about. She says:
Without missing a beat I blurt out, 'Tarzan and Jane!' [Max] looked at me like I'd lost it, but I said, 'No, no, hang on. What wilder or sexier couple is there on earth than these two? This could be good!' It was as though my deep-seated, long-lost fantasies, like boiling magma, suddenly erupted volcano-like from my brain. Nobody was more surprised than I was.
After explaining in a letter that she had a new twist on the old classic, Maxwell, who had already penned eight successful historical novels, was contacted by Jim Sullos, the president of the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate. She pitched the idea as 'Tarzan's story from Jane's point-of-view.' After receiving an enthusiastic response, Maxwell's partnership with the estate began. But her journey wasn't quite over yet. She traveled to Tarzana, California, where Edgar Rice Burroughs set up his empire. Maxwell says she pitched her idea for a record-breaking five hours, explaining in detail all her points of the story. The Edgar Rice Burroughs Board of Directors approved her request, but she wrote the book on spec giving Sullos and board members, including Edgar Rice Burroughs' only living grandson, John R. Burroughs, drafts of the novel. Maxwell says the toughest part of writing the whole book was the sex parts. Why?
Well, there's a list of rules, which she learned, is called the 'Tarzan Universe.' For instance, Tarzan can't harm women, he may not be racist, smoke, or drink...you get the idea. But number 17 specifically stated Tarzan couldn't engage in illicit premarital sex. That was a problem for Maxwell. She explains:
My book was squarely aimed at adults. It wasn't porn, but the whole point was to write a sexy adventure about two beautiful young people swinging around the jungle in not much more than their birthday suits. How could they not have sex? I told Jim that if there was no sex allowed, there would be no book.
Sullos negotiated with the Board and number 17 was amended to read, "Tarzan and Jane may have sex...if handled tastefully." The estate has thrown its full weight behind Jane, including high praise from Jane Goodall, founder of the Jane Goodall Institute and UN Messenger of Peace. Maxwell is extremely grateful for the estate's support.
Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan is definitely romantic, and the chemistry between the two main characters is well worth the 320 pages. Personally, my favorite parts of the novel are when Jane is in the jungle. The novel switches back and forth between Jane Porter's adventures in the dangerous African jungle and her life at Cambridge University. Jane, a student in the medical school, wants more than anything to be a paleontologist like her father. Jane challenges conformity to be her own person and follows her dreams. She's a strong, fiercely independent woman in an all male world, and she fits perfectly in Tarzan's world. As for the male who comes to Jane's rescue, Maxwell explains:
While he is primal and savage, he is haunted by fleeting memories of life, language, learning and emotions with his civilized parents before their deaths. These are all deeply buried until he meets Jane. He has the capacity for tenderness. He nurses her when she is badly injured. He allows her to help him uncover what he has forgotten. Tarzan is not just Jane's protector and teacher, but he allows her to be his teacher, and even his protector at times. It is a relationship of equality between a man and a woman.
Maxwell conducted copious amounts of research for Jane -- from the role of women at the beginning of 20th century to the study of Darwin's theories and influence. Not only is it wildly entertaining and more swoon-worthy and tastefully erotic than Fifty Shades of Grey or any of its knock-offs, but also, Jane has heart and soul. If you are looking for a stellar historical romance and adventure story, Jane should definitely sit on your bookshelf. It has charming and fascinating characters and sociopath villains who scare the living daylights out of you. Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan has positively reinvented the beloved couple for the modern age.
What would Maxwell like readers to take away with them after reading her novel?
For people who might not have read Burroughs' Tarzan novels, I'd like people to take a wild ride -- enjoy an old-fashioned rip-roaring adventure. For Edgar Rice Burroughs purists, I'd like them to see and accept the story told from another perspective. At its core, Jane is a wonderful and unique love story, and the romance reflects what I consider the best kind of relationship; one of equality between the partners. Neither dominates the other. There's give and take, mutual respect, true passion and uninhibited sexuality. And in Jane I hope there is a role model (like so many of my other heroines) for women. Not being afraid to defy convention. Stand up to a parent who would keep you from fulfilling your destiny. Take a risk. Give your heart fully. Leap into the void.
An award-winning and bestselling novelist, Maxwell is a Huffington Post blogger, and writes about women who are 'ahead of their time.' Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan was released on September 18. Pick up a copy and enjoy!