How Old Is Tarzan?

This is a question that no person could ever answer beyond a shadow of a doubt, except the author, and he chose not to.  One must keep in mind that Burroughs is taking special pains to hide the true Tarzan's identity, and at times he deliberately inserts false information to lead the researcher astray. On other occasions he will provide a time lapse as a stumbling block.

For example, Burroughs states in Tarzan Of The Apes, chapter 1, that the Clayton's set sail on a bright May morning.  The author is very careful not to mention the specific day of the month, and there is no possible way one could positively prove which day that was with the information that
is provided.

A second example can be found in Tarzan Of The Apes, chapter 3.  The exact day the Mangani bull attacks Clayton, which is Tarzan's birth date, can not be positively proven because Burroughs skips some time without telling us how much.  "One afternoon while Clayton was working upon an addition to their cabin he was interrupted by a group of fleeing monkeys." Although the exact day and exact month can not be proven as unquestionable fact, a hypothesis can be formed.

One must first collect the bits and pieces of recorded information concerning Tarzan's age that Burroughs provided throughout the series and other places.  Then each must be arranged together in sequence to see which statements back each other up and which do not.

A prime example of this is the difference in ages reported  in Tarzan Of The Apes and The 
Return Of Tarzan.  In Tarzan Of The Apes, chapter 9, Burroughs informs us Tarzan is eighteen when he sees his first man. In The Return Of Tarzan just after Tarzan nearly killed Count de
Coude the ape man told the Countess that he was fifteen when he seen his first man.  We now
have two different dates, both given by Burroughs, but it is plainly evident one is purposely misleading to protect Tarzan's identity.

To deduct which statement is correct we must search other passages and collect information that backs one or the other.  Both findings then must be inserted into a chronology to see  which one matches all the other statements provided in other passages.  By this slow process one can screen through all the given information and deduct the true statements from the false.

Although Burroughs was primarily an adventure romance writer he did like to branch off into other categories, and mystery writing was one of them.  Beware, or The Scientist Revolt as the later revision is called, is a classic example of Burroughs' talented skills in the who done it type mystery. Working in  a very like manner the author has provided hints and clues throughout the Tarzan series and elsewhere to suggest the ape man's true birth date. but one must be clever enough to find and recognize them.

The most principal element to obtaining the year the ape man was born is by combining the age
of Tarzan and Korak at the outbreak of World War I (1914) and backtracking.  Then test the
findings to make sure Tarzan is twenty when the lunar eclipse occurs in Jungle Tales Of Tarzan.

The principal element to obtaining the month and day of Tarzan's birth is primarily the beginning of Tarzan Of The Apes and the author's own family genealogy.  It has always been a notorious habit of Burroughs to insert real life names, places, and dates into his fiction stories.  In my article, Beyond The Narrator, I pointed out a host of examples.  Using these two methods I will attempt to prove that Tarzan was born in the year of 1872.

Before altering the Greystoke's sailing date, as provided by Burroughs, we must prove for an absolute fact that 1888 is not the true departing date.  To do this we must gather evidence throughout the series that supports the year 1888 and evidence that disproves it.  First let's examine the positive evidence.

  1. Burroughs plainly states in Tarzan Of The Apes, chapter 1, that the Greystoke's set sail on a bright May morning in 1888. 
  2. The date on the letter Jane Porter wrote to Hazel Strong,Tarzan Of The Apes, chapter 18, is February 3, 1909.  This would indeed make Tarzan twenty when he seen his first whites as reported in two separate passages.
  3. The 1908 auto descriptions Burroughs provided to us was definitely in favor of the 1888 chronology. Tarzan Of The Apes described Canler having a purring six-cylinder (1905-1909) in Wisconsin. The Return Of Tarzan, chapter 3, Olga de Coude is riding in a limousine.  The word limousine, a newly-coined French word did not come into being until 1902. The Beast Of Tarzan, chapter 1, describes a motorized Taxi with running boards and doors.  French cars were the first to come out with doors in 1905.
  4. In The Return Of Tarzan we have Countess de Coude saying,  "I was but recalling with admiration those stupendous skyscrapers, as they call them, of New York."  Encyclopedia Americana states New York at the beginning of the 20th century appeared horizontal but it now began to acquire its famous vertical look.
  5. In chapter 1 of The Beast Of Tarzan Burroughs described the jungle lord's car as being a roadster.  The term 'roadster' did not exist for 1894 autos.  "As Tarzan leaped from the roadster that had met him at the station and ran up the steps to his London house he was met by a dry-eyed but almost frantic woman."  ERB-The Beasts Of Tarzan.
  6. When baby Jack Clayton is believed kidnapped in The Beasts Of Tarzan, the kidnappers auto is described as being a closed taxicab with doors and running-boards.  There were no autos like this in 1894.  "The baby's nurse had been wheeling him in the sunshine on the walk before the house when a closed taxicab drew up at the corner of the street.  The woman had paid but passing attention to the vehicle, merely noting that it had discharged no passenger, but stood on the curb with motor running as though waiting on a fare from the residence before which it stopped."  ERB-The Beasts Of Tarzan.

A further description of the kidnappers getaway car.  "Just before she reached the vehicle, Carl leaped in beside his confederate, slamming the door behind him.  At the same time the chauffeur attempted to start the machine, but it was evident that something had gone wrong, as though the gears refused to mesh, and the delay caused by this, while he pushed the lever into reverse and backed the car a few inches before again attempting to go ahead, gave the nurse time to reach the side of the taxicab.

Leaping to the running-board, she had attempted to snatch the baby from the arms of the stranger, and here, screaming and fighting, she had clung to her position even after the taxicab had got under way; nor was it until the machine had passed the Greystoke residence at good speed that Carl, with a heavy blow to the face, had succeeded in knocking her to the pavement."  ERB-The Beasts Of Tarzan.

Now let's take a look at the negative evidence.

In Tarzan Of The Apes, chapter 1, Burroughs openly states he is trying to protect the Clayton's identity, so it is common since the author would not provide the Greystoke's true names, the ship's true name, or the true sailing date.

  1. We know that Tarzan was twenty when the total lunar eclipse occurred in Jungle Tales Of Tarzan because of two statements made by Burroughs.  In chapter 10 it is stated, "On the floor lay the skeleton of a man - all that remained of the former Lord Greystoke - lay as it had fallen some twenty years, had saved his son's life."  Again in chapter 10 it is stated, "He did not know that the dead father of Tarzan Of The Apes, reaching back out of the past across a span of twenty years had saved his son's life." From  these two passages we know the eclipse had to occur after late August 1908, when the ape man turns twenty, and before February 1909 when he sees his first whites.There was no lunar eclipse between those dates.
  2. In Tarzan Of The Apes after D'Arnot discovered the fingerprints in Greystoke's diary he told Tarzan about a new method of proving one's identity by using fingerprints.  Fingerprinting was introduced as a method of identification around 1880, and the French were among the first to experiment with it.  Around 1900 fingerprinting became generally accepted in police work.  We know Tarzan left Africa at age twenty so his police fingerprinting had to occur after late August 1908.  If fingerprinting had been in general use for eight and one half years why did D'Arnot call it a new process, and why did a trained police officer have to wait for an expert to compare prints?
  3. In The Return Of Tarzan, Burroughs says Tarzan is twenty-two when he and Countess de Coude meet regularly.  That would mean the event took place after late August 1910.  If Tarzan and Jane were yet unmarried by this date, how could they have a son old enough to fight in W.W. I in 1914?    Some chronologist have theorized Jack Clayton and Korak are actually two different persons, but to do this you drastically alter ERB'S story line.  The author plainly lets us know that the two are one and the same in The Son Of Tarzan, Tarzan The Untamed, Tarzan The Terrible, and Tarzan And The Golden Lion.
  4. If Tarzan and Jane married in 1911, had a son a year later, and married at age seventeen, the year would be 1929.  This would also be the year The Son Of Tarzan would come to a close since it covers those events. Yet according to Burroughs' own notebook the author pinned Jack Clayton's adventures between January 21 through May 11, 1915.  How could he record the past when it has not even happened yet?
  5. In The Son Of Tarzan, chapter 4, it is stated, "Her Skopf - was baffled.  He had never heard of Sherlock Holmes or he would have lost no time in invoking the aid of that celebrated sleuth, for here was a real mystery."  Sherlock Holmes retired from practice in 1903, so why would Burroughs have mentioned him if this event occurred  around 1923?  That's twenty years after Holmes' retirement.

When you look at the evidence for an 1888 chronology you basically see Burroughs' descriptions intending to modernize the Greystoke's sailing date by sixteen years in an effort to protect their true identities.  Burroughs makes no secret about trying to protect the Clayton's true identity, so therefore he has changed the main characters names and inserted fictitious ones. Although Burroughs mentions nothing about changing dates it is plainly evident he did so, because of the conflicting statements about Tarzan's age when he sees his first man in Tarzan Of The Apes and The Return Of Tarzan.  Also, in Tarzan The Untamed the author leads us to believe the battle of Kilimanjaro occurs in 1914, but in reality it was in 1916.

If you will notice one could easily move the Greystoke's sailing date back sixteen years to 1872. Change Jane's letter date (1909) by sixteen years to 1892.  Let Chanler drive a four-cylinder instead of a six-cylinder.  The taxi cab in The Beasts Of Tarzan  would become a horse drawn carriage instead of a motorized one. The Countess de Coude wouldn't have used the word skyscraper and limousine. With these slight modernization changes Burroughs' main story line would not be any different than originally told.  All these modernized descriptions could have deliberately been added by the author to make the story appear to occur much later than it actually did, and their changing does nothing to disturb the main plot.

On the other hand if one was to accept that the jungle lord was born in 1888 you would have to do away with 'Tarzan Rescues The Moon' in Jungle Tales Of Tarzan.  There would also have to be a contradictory theory to explain that Jack Clayton and Korak were not the same person. Basically the whole book of The Son Of Tarzan would have to be eliminated, or rewrote. To do any of these things you would be drastically changing the story as presented by Burroughs.  By the collected evidence the author has provided, it should be quite clear 1888 is not the year the Greystoke's set sail from Dover.

To discover the true year of Tarzan's birth we must do a little backtracking.   We know that Tarzan The Untamed begins in early August 1914, so the events of The Son Of Tarzan had to occur before this date.  Since John Clayton IV (Jackie) is mentioned in The Eternal Lover in the spring of 1913. Korak and Meriem most likely were married in early 1912.  They both were early seventeen so we can now trace back to 1895.  We know Tarzan was seeing the Countess de Coude at early age twenty-two, and allowing time for his spy mission in North Africa he most likely married Jane on the backside of twenty-two. Allowing one year for Korak's conception and birth we can trace back to the year 1872, and the most probable date for Tarzan's birth.

To test 1872 we must now combine it with the total lunar eclipse in Jungle Tales Of Tarzan.  We know Tarzan was twenty when the eclipse occurs because of the two passages in chapter 10 of Jungle Tales Of Tarzan.  If 1872 is the correct year of Tarzan's birth the eclipse should occur after Tarzan turns 20 in the year 1892, and at least two months before the date on Jane's letter February 3, 1893. (1893 revised date).  There was indeed a total lunar eclipse visible over Africa during this time, and it occurred on November 4, 1892.  This eclipse passes the test of the date on Jane's letter.

From Tarzan Of The Apes, chapter 1, we learn that the Clayton's set sail from Dover, England on a bright May morning in 1888.  We have already proven within a reasonable doubt that the false year 1888 was recorded to protect the Clayton's true identity.  In reality the Greystokes' set sail in May 1872.

OK.  Here comes in the personalization.  When you are making a calendar of events you need a May sailing date for the Greystokes.  Burroughs did not provide one, but you need one.  No matter what you do some people will be unhappy.  Picking random dates because they work in a calendar is not cool with me.  Burroughs was very much into his family genealogy and he loved inserting them into his fiction stories.  Some of his characters are named after family members.

Following Edgar Rice Burroughs' lead I have chosen to use the Burroughs family genealogy for coming up with dates that are left unprovided.  Using this method let's see if we can find an important May event in the Burroughs genealogy.  When we run a check, we discover Burroughs' brother Frank was born May 14, 1872.  Also May 14 is the day Tarzan Of The Apes was completed.

There is no possible way to prove for an absolute fact that any May day is the Greystoke's sailing day, but since a working date is needed this chronology is going to use May, 14.  Judging from Burroughs' recurrent pattern of implanting true life dates in this manner it is highly possible.  When May 14, 1872 is inserted into a chronology based on information provided by Burroughs the date passes every test applied.  Since we need a starting date regardless, I will use it until someone supplies a better one.


  • A month later, June 14, 1872, the Greystoke's arrived in Freetown and chartered the barkentine Fuwalda.

  • Two days out of that African port, June 16, 1872, Captain Billings shot Black Michael in the leg.

  • Two days after the wounding of Black Michael, June 18, 1872, while taking a walk Clayton saw four sailors carrying the limp form of one of their comrades.  The first mate stood nearby watching them with a belaying pin in his hand.

  • On the fifth day out of Freetown, June 19, 1872, at mid-afternoon the Greystoke's were warned of an upcoming mutiny.

  • On the morning of the sixth day, June 20, 1872, the mutiny occurred and all the ship's officers were killed.

  • Five days later, June 25, 1872, the  Fuwalda sighted land at three o'clock in the afternoon and was anchored in a natural landlocked harbor by nightfall.

  • The following morning, June 26, 1872, the Greystoke's and their belongings were put ashore.

  • On the morning of the thirteenth day, June 27, 1872, Clayton begin work on a one room cabin which took the better part of a month to build, excluding a door and furnishings.

  • By the end of the second month, August 27, 1872, the door had been hung, the furniture built and the Greystoke's were moved in and well settled.  Burroughs then states the Englishman likes working hard for it kept his mind off their predicament.  From this statement it is only logical to assume that once the cabin was completed and furnished, Clayton immediately began working on the second addition.

When the Mangani bull attacks John and Alice, Burroughs states Clayton was cutting a particularly perfect tree for his building operations.  From this passage we can assume Clayton is still at the early building stages of the second room, for if it had been the latter he would have been working on the roof or coating the outer walls with mud.  In fact, the second addition was so early in its beginning stages that Clayton was merely cutting logs for the walls, and no actual construction had yet begun.

When Tarzan investigated the lair by the sea nowhere in any of the descriptions does it hint at a semi erect second room.  The Greystoke cabin is described as having only one room.  When the Porter party arrived twenty years later there is no hint of a semi erect second room. Again the cabin is described as having only one room.

Since Clayton was still cutting logs and not actually building, the Mangani attack must have occurred within days after the first addition was completely finished around August 27, 1872. Burroughs does not supply us with that exact date.  More than one date could successfully fit into the chronology, but like I mentioned earlier, I don't like picking random dates.  Going back to the practice of using the Burroughs genealogy to discover an untold date let's see if anything important happens at the end of August or the first of September?  Burroughs was born September 1, 1875 in Chicago, IL.  It is all too evident that Tarzan and Burroughs were born on the same day.

Just like the May 14, Burroughs' brother Frank's birthday, Greystoke sailing date, there is no possible way to prove as absolute fact that September 1, Burroughs' birthday, is Tarzan's birth date.  Trying to prove these two dates is like trying to prove there is a God.  All one can do is collect the circumstantial evidence that is available, present it, and let each individual make up their own minds. All I can tell you is, that both missing dates in Tarzan Of The Apes provided by the Burroughs family genealogy work like a dream in an 1872 chronology.



James Michael Moody





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