Not long ago, I bought a used paperback copy of Tarzan of the Apes. I had read a version of
the tale when I was a child and, of course, had seen Tarzan movies on TV. Like many a young
boy, I imagined myself to be the mighty “Lord of the Jungle” and spent hours swinging wildly on ropes through the tree in our yard while uttering a fierce and savage cry as I flew. Since I was quite young, the mushy, romantic, “Me Tarzan, you Jane” portion of Tarzan’s life held no
interest to me whatsoever.
Jane was introduced in the original Tarzan adventure. Interestingly, Jane’s full name is Jane Porter. It struck me that the names Gene Porter and Jane Porter were somewhat alike. This started me thinking, and I realized that there were similarities between Gene’s character
Freckles and the famous ape-man. Freckles was published in 1904 and Tarzan in 1912. Had
the author of the Tarzan books, Edgar Rice Burroughs, read Freckles and been inspired by it in some small way?
Like Freckles, Tarzan was an orphan who did not know of his true blue-blood identity.
Freckles was of Irish ancestry and his real name was Terence Maxwell O’More of the Dunderry House in County Clare. Tarzan was of British ancestry and his real name was John Clayton, Jr., Lord of the house of Greystoke. Freckles was a hungry, weak, and desperate young man when he came to the wild Limberlost swamp and forest where he strengthens in body and mind. Freckles was adopted in a way by the Duncans, McLean, and even the Bird Woman. Tarzan is a weak, hungry infant who will surely perish after his mother dies and his father is killed, when a she-ape that has lost her baby adopts him. He grows up in the jungle and becomes strong of body and mind.
Freckles and Tarzan each have close relationships with animals: Freckles with the wild birds of the Limberlost and Tarzan with many of the jungle creatures. Even their names both relate to the appearance of their skins—Freckles by the obvious freckling on his body, and Tarzan by the color of his skin. “Tarzan”, in the language of the fictional ape species he lives with, means “white skin.” People around them notice that both Freckles and Tarzan have natural, inborn traits that weren’t diminished with the circumstances of their upbringings—they are far more than they should be given the conditions of their lives.
Eventually, both Freckles and Tarzan learn the truth of their lineage and heritage. Lord and Lady O’More journey from Ireland in search of their missing nephew and fate brings them together with him in Chicago. Tarzan learns he is Lord Greystoke after he leaves Africa to go to the civilized world in search of Jane. Neither man wishes to return to his ancestral home. Freckles goes back to the Limberlost to be with his love, the “Swamp Angel,” instead of going to Ireland. Tarzan chooses to go back to the jungle with his love, forsaking the luxuries of civilization for the world he grew up in.
So was Tarzan influenced by Freckles? Probably not, but it is fun to speculate!