‘The Beasts of Tarzan’ and the Burden of Fatherhood

The Beasts of Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the third Tarzan book in a long series, wastes no time in getting its plot underway. Immediately we’re informed that Rokoff, a dangerous enemy from the previous novel, has escaped prison and is perhaps planning revenge on the Ape Man. Soon enough a letter comes informing Tarzan his son has been kidnapped. The desperate father rushes home and receives a mysterious phone call telling him to meet someone down on a dock. Before Tarzan realizes it, he’s walked into a trap aboard a steamer heading out to sea.

Rokoff, of course, is behind all this. He strands Tarzan on a jungle island and plans to give his son to a cannibal to be raised among the man-eaters. But the Ape Man doesn’t give himself to total despair, he befriends a panther and a tribe of apes and forms a new family of beasts. When a small tribe of Africans arrive on the island and foolishly attack, Tarzan captures the chief and wins him over to his side. In a short while, Tarzan, the chief, and an unusual animal company drift into an African river and begin a desperate chase to stop Rokoff.

As the plot progresses, one thing becomes clear: Tarzan’s gotten soft since settling down. His reflexes are slower, he gullibly trusts people that he knows are untrustworthy, and makes dumb decisions. He’s so concerned for the safety of his son that he constantly lets his guard down and opens himself to attack. He drives himself to the brink of exhaustion for a chance of rescuing his child and getting revenge on Rokoff.

While Tarzan’s situation is (very) extreme, it’s still relatable in an odd way. Becoming a husband and a father does soften you. Your mind is constantly concerned with pleasing your wife or child. The freedoms of single life are gone. You can no longer go galavanting wherever you wish, buying whatever you want, or doing whatever pleases you. You are not alone; you have others to think about.

I don’t mean to sound negative about these things. It’s good to be softened. It’s good to have selfishness chipped away until you selflessly give your heart and soul for the sake of your family. Fatherhood might seem like a burden that restricts freedom. But it’s really the gateway to a new joy and a new life.

I may groan as I watch Tarzan make mistakes over the course of the novel, but as I await my own son, I can understand his behavior. His family is everything to him and he is committed to their safety even at the cost of his own. May I show the same commitment.

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