Tarzan of the apes is 100 years old this year, and will be celebrating with the publication of a new book: Tarzan the Jungle Warrior, by the author, comics writer, screenwriter and Stan Lee collaborator Andy Briggs. "When a baby gorilla is snatched from its family by the world's most infamous hunter, Tarzan will stop at nothing to track him down – crossing the wild jungle and hostile African savannah to bring him to justice. Meanwhile, Jane is trying to learn more about Tarzan's past, and must decide whether reuniting him with his lost Greystoke family is the right thing to do …"
Tarzan first came to life in 1912, in an All-Story Magazine series which earned its author, Edgar Rice Burroughs $700. After being rejected by several publishers, the book was eventually bought by AC McClurg & Co and became a best-seller in 1914. Burroughs eventually wrote 27 Tarzan novels, spanning 40 years. In addition, there have been three authorised books by other authors (including Briggs's The Jungle Warrior and The Greystoke Legacy), 89 feature films, hundreds of radio and TV programmes, 400 original comic books, and all manner of merchandise.
Burroughs originally named his hero Zantar, and then Tublat-Zan. Tarzan (the third try) is the son of aristocrats – real name John Clayton, Lord Greystoke – and a member of the House of Lords. And – not that you'd know it from the films – he is a sophisticated world traveller and a master of languages including English, French, German and Swahili.
In a recent Radio 4 documentary about Tarzan's centenary, Geoffrey Richards, the professor of cultural history at Lancaster University, said: "Some scholars have seen Tarzan as an embodiment of the ideas of Rousseau and Nietzsche ... I find that unlikely." Professor Richards sees him more in Darwinian terms, he went on.
The early Tarzan books were really quite racist. In the ape language of the books, Tarzan literally means "white skin".
The first Tarzan film was released in 1918, and starred Elmo Lincoln as the jungle hero. It was one of the first films ever to make more than $1m at the box office. With his share of the profits, Burroughs bought 150 acres of LA real estate, from which he commuted to work each morning on horseback. During filming, Lincoln accidentally stabbed a lion to death.
In the books and the 1932 radio serial, Tarzan's cry sounds like "Taarmaanganiiiii!" Reports vary about the unique yodel of the Johnny Weissmuller films. Some say that the cry comprised Weissmuller's own voice, overlaid by MGM sound engineers with the howl of a hyena, the growl of a dog, the bleat of a camel and the pluck of a violin's G-string. Weissmuller, on the other hand, claimed that it was all him.
As well as Tarzan the Musical currently touring Europe (with an award-winning original score by Phil Collins), there are currently two Tarzan films in development. Constantin films is working on a 3D animation starring Twilight's Kellan Lutz, and Warner Bros is working on a version, possibly with a Harry Potter director in charge.
Tarzan the Jungle Warrior, by Andy Briggs (Faber & Faber, £6.99) is published on Thursday.