Tuesday 24 May 2011

Review: Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy by Andy Briggs

What lies in the depths of the jungle? Escaping a dark secret, Robbie Canler joins an illegal logging team in the Congo jungle. Now they're under siege from a sinister force. When the daughter of the camp's boss, Jane Porter, goes missing they assume bloodthirsty rebel soldiers have kidnapped her. Robbie sets out on a rescue mission - unaware he is being watched... Are the rumours of a feral man raised by wild apes true? If so, can the mysterious untamed savage be trusted to help them?

Unless you are a die-hard fan of the original books by Edgar Rice-Burroughs, if you are of a similar age to me then the name Tarzan will most likely conjure up one of two images: Johnny Weissmuller in black and white or Ron Ely in colour. For many years this is what I thought Tarzan was all about, until that is, well into adulthood, I read ERB's Tarzan of the Apes. Where was the cultured, well-educated do-gooder I knew so well from the repeats of the NBC TV series that I used to watch every Saturday (?) in the 70s? Or if not that, where was the strong, silent character portrayed by Johnny Weissmuller in the films that seemed to be repeated ad infinitum every school summer holiday? More to the point, where the hell was Cheeta? It was only on my first read of Tarzan of the Apes that I realised just how much my understanding of a classic character from literature had been affected by Hollywood and the US TV network. And let's not even get started on the Disney adaptation (damn you Phil Collins!!). These screen portrayals have very little in common with ERB's original - a savage, man who at times is closer to being an animal than a human, in a bloody, brutal story.

Fast forward to last September, and an email conversation I had with author Andy Briggs, who had contacted me asking if I would be interested in reading his books. In that first email he mentioned that he was rebooting the Tarzan franchise as part of the Tarzan centenary in 2012, but more than that he was not permitted to say. Come the new year, Andy was able to give us a little more information in his "Coming Up In 2011" post that he wrote for The Book Zone, and by this time I was almost salivating in anticipation of what was to come. There have been a number of classic characters who have been successfully 'rebooted' for the younger market over the past few years, Young Bond and Young Sherlock Holmes being the most obvious examples, and I have loved all of these books so far. Having really enjoyed Andy's previous books I was therefore pretty confident that this classic character was in a safe pair of hands as well, and I was not wrong - Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy is in my opinion nothing short of brilliant, a genuine single-sitter book that you just will not want to put down.

Andy used the word 'reboot' to describe his new Tarzan books, and that is exactly what it is. Whereas Young Bond and Young Sherlock are set in time periods that would make them adults when the original characters' stories were set (making Young the operative word in their titles), this book is set in the modern day. Andy Briggs's books are not being billed as 'Young Tarzan'; instead he has crafted a new, modern tale using the classic character, and in this book the character is closer in style to the ERB's original that any of those screen outings I mentioned earlier. I am not going to give too much away as to how Tarzan grew up in the jungle, surrounded my gorillas he calls family. Neither am I going to explain how he learned to speak English. All that will quickly become apparent when you read this book. Andy has obviously taken care to ensure that the story is realistic to a point, without leaving any gaping plot holes that will have Tarzan enthusiasts screaming in anger.

Hmm... whilst on the subject of fanboys, I know there will be some Tarzan purists who will not have a great deal of love for this book, for no other reason than that they refuse to remove the blinkers that can occasionally affect their objectivity so much. Back when I published Andy's piece about Tarzan back in January, it received the following comment from a reader: "So do these books tie in with Burroughs' originals, or are the making the mistake of trying to do some kind of "reboot" version of the character? I sure wish people would quit trying to remake things that were just fine to begin with." Sorry mate - yes it is a reboot. But here is a question for you - why shouldn't people remake things, however good they are? It has been happening for years in the film and TV industry, occasionally producing a work that is superior to the original. In this case, a classic character will be introduced to a brand new audience, a number of whom will some day search out the originals, this meaning the legend will live on. Believe me when I say I would much rather read an excellent "reboot" of a classic book character, than watch a sanitised Disney version of the original book.

Andy Briggs's Tarzan: The Legacy of Greystoke has everything that an adventure hungry 9+ year old could ask for in a book. Right from the very first chapter the action scenes are superbly written, and the fight scenes will leave you breathless, whether they be man vs beast or man vs man; this is no cultured, westernised Tarzan like we saw in the Ron Ely series, this is a man who has grown up surrounded by the fight-to-survive savagery of the African jungle, and as such his actions towards the men he sees as destroyers of his home are similarly brutal. There is also a great cast of characters in the book: there may not be a Cheeta but there is a Jane Porter, a thoroughly modern girl dragged away from her friends and high street stores, and whisked off to the jungle whilst her father tries to make a quick fortune through illegal logging. There are also some pretty nasty villains, in this case Rwandan guerrillas who don't think twice about killing or kidnapping foreigners if it will further their cause or make them a bit of extra cash to spend on weapons.

Add to all this the tight plotting, the ecological theme of the plot, and a hero that will have boys desperate to run off to the jungle, don a faded pair of shorts, and climb high up into a huge tree to emit a "victory bellow radiating power and dominance of all living things", and I believe that this will fast become one of this summer's most talked about books. I will certainly be recommending it to anyone and everyone who will listen.

Tarzan: The Greystoke Legacy is scheduled to be released as a paperback on 2nd June, although I have spotted it that it is already available to buy from a certain online retailer. My thanks go to the generous people at Faber for sending me a copy to review.  


  1. I have not heard much about this book, but will read it out of curisouity. Unlike you, my first exposure to Tarzan was from the ERB books. I still have the original paperbacks with the the superb cover art

    As for your comment that the reboot will be better than the original, I can think of only one - Battlestar Galactica. Most reboots are pale imitations.

    I wish this book luck.