Among our oldest stories are the myths of human children raised by animals. The beast-reared Enkidu became the best friend of the Sumerian demigod Gilgamesh. Raised by birds, Semiramis became Queen of Assyria, founded Babylon, and won fame for her wisdom, beauty, and sexual excesses. Suckled by a wolf, Romulus and Remus grew up to found Rome.
These ancient legends indicate a belief that a human raised by beasts will be superior in accomplishment. They also suggest that the "Dr. Doolittle" yearning—to "talk with the animals"—is very old. And, as Wikipedia notes, animal-reared humans, "because of their upbringing, represent humanity in a pure and uncorrupted state." Given these beliefs and desires, it’s no surprise that there’s a considerable amount of modern feral fantasy.
The Wild Man of the Woods: A Story of the Island of Sumatra (as L'enfant des bois, 1865; English translation, 1868) by Elie Berthet and The Child of Ocean (1889) by Sir Ronald Ross are notable early examples of modern feral fiction. But the most famous feral child of nineteenth-century literature is Mowgli, the wolf-raised East Indian boy who enjoys remarkable jungle adventures in Rudyard Kipling's classic collections The Jungle Book (1894) and The Second Jungle Book (1895).
Two decades later, an American author melded Mowgli with another influence: the Romantic-Era concept of the Noble Savage, who, in contrast to civilization-corrupted humans, is believed to exist in a more natural—and therefore morally superior—state.
In mixing these two influences, the American author created an English nobleman who, orphaned in infancy, was raised by wild African apes. Of blue blood, he's a bloody-handed killer unfettered by civilized laws or morals; yet he possesses a strong and chivalrous code of honor which is more admirable than the hypocritical rules of civilization. He prefers the jungle to the House of Lords, and his wilderness explorations frequently bring him in contact with lost cities whose inhabitants are descendents of Atlantis, Crusaders, ancient Greece and Rome, and other vanished or imaginary civilizations. He is Tarzan, created by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
Introduced in Tarzan of the Apes (1912; book edition, 1914), this feral hero struck a chord so powerful that it reverberates to this day. The Lord of the Jungle has appeared in twenty-five and a half books by Edgar Rice Burroughs (with the final volume, Tarzan: The Lost Adventure, 1995, completed by Joe R. Lansdale); in countless authorized and unauthorized novels by other writers; and in innumerable movies, TV shows, comic strips, comic books, video games, and Broadway shows. Tarzan ranks with Superman and James Bond as one of the best-known characters created in the twentieth century. And new novels, comics, and movies may keep Tarzan a fantasy-fiction giant in the twenty-first.
Characters this well-known and well-loved are enormously influential. In Tarzan's wake, entire magazines—including two different pulp magazines called Jungle Stories (1931 and 1938-1954)—were launched to publish fantasy about feral human characters (not all of them animal-reared). As George Hatcher reports in Another Friday in the Jungle:
from roughly 1925 or so to the early '80's, a month did not go by without some feral jungle-savage hero—maybe Tarzan, maybe Ka-Zar or Sheena, but somebody—made available to consumers either in a pulp magazine or in comics.
Many of these "jungle savages" became stars of their own movies and/or comics and/or TV series. Like Tarzan and Mowgli, "Roy Rockwood" (Edward Stratemeyer)'s Amazon-jungle adventurer, Bomba the Jungle Boy (1926), moved from novels to movies and comics. Created by comics legends Will Eisner and S.M. "Jerry" Iger in 1942, Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, became so popular that she moved from the comics to the pulps, first to Jungle Stories and then to a magazine bearing her name, with stories bylined as by "James Alderson Buck." From there, she moved to television, movies, and further comics.
Created by "Bob Bird" in King of Fang and Claw, the lion-raised English nobleman/savage Ka-Zar first appeared in his own magazine, Ka-Zar #1, in 1937; in 1939, he moved to comics for a time. In 1965, he reincarnated in the Marvel Universe, recreated by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby as an English lord raised by a telepathic sabre-tooth tiger in a warm, Pellucidar-like Antarctic valley inhabited by dinosaurs; his adventures include team-ups with the X-Men and other Marvel Comics superheroes. In what is probably the first and only such pair-up, the reinvented Ka-Zar has married a fellow feral human, the Marvel Comics heroine Shanna the She-Devil.
As George Hatcher notes, "[t]he most successful of the Tarzan swipes...in the pulp era [was] Ki-Gor the Killer, the star of Jungle Stories Magazine." Introduced in Ki-Gor, King of the Jungle (1938) by "John Peter Drummond" (John M. Reynolds), the lion-reared Ki-Gor ultimately appeared in fifty-nine novels (more than double Burroughs's Tarzan output). Some of the Ki-Gor fiction has fallen into the public domain, it seems, as several of his adventures are newly available in a variety of electronic and hardcopy reprints, including at least one free e-book.
Big cats proved to be popular parents and guardians. Along with Ki-Gor, the original Ka-Zar, and the foundling in Alexander McCall Smith’s Morality for Beautiful Girls (2001), lion-fostered feral characters include C.T. Stoneham's Kaspa, of The Lion's Way (1931; variant title, King of the Jungle) and sequel Kaspa, the Lion Man (1933), and H.M.E. Clamp's Miota (a rare female protagonist) in Wild Cat (1935). Additionally, there is Burroughs's leonine self-pastiche, The Lad and the Lion (1938). Bomba the Jungle Boy had a jaguar companion and Harvey D. Richards’s Sorak of the Malay Jungle (1934) a tiger companion. A white tigress raised Tam Evans in Otis Adelbert Kline's Tam, Son of the Tiger (1931; book edition, 1962). Feral boys were raised by leopards/panthers in William Murray Graydon’s The Jungle Boy (1905) and F.A.M. Webster's Lord of the Leopards (1935).
Some of the non-feline foster parents/tutors not identified above include:
- Monkeys and apes:
- Bomba the Jungle Boy
- Burroughs's The Son of Tarzan (1914)
- John Eyton's Jungle-Born (1925)
- Otis Adelbert Kline's Jan of the Jungle (1931; book edition, 1937, under variant title Call of the Savage)
- "Paul Regard" (Perley Poore Sheehan)'s Kwa of the Jungle (1932; book edition, 2005)
- Azan the Ape Man: The Missing Safari (1950) by "Marco Garron"
- and Bride of the Beast Man (Titanic Tales, 1998) by Allan Gross.
- Berthet's The Wild Man of the Woods: A Story of the Island of Sumatra L'enfant des bois)
- Philip Jose Farmer's Lord Tyger (1970)
- Badgers: Incident at Hawks Hill (1971) by Allan W. Eckert.
- Condors: George Bruce’s Scream of the Condor (publication date unknown).
- Dogs and snakes: Mark Richard's Fishboy: A Ghost's Story (1993).
- Hyaenas: Nicholas Luard's Kala (1990; female protagonist).
- Jackals: Orme Sackville's The Jungle Goddess (c. 1935; female protagonist).
- Olaf Baker's Shasta of the Wolves (1919)
- David Malouf’s An Imaginary Life (1978)
- Jane Yolen's Children of the Wolf (1984)
- Judith Moffett’s Surviving (Two That Came True) (1991)
- Alice Hoffman's Second Nature (1994)
- Patricia Gaffney’s Wild at Heart (1996)
- Pat Murphy's Wild Angel: by Mary Maxwell, by Max Merriwell (2000; female protagonist)
- Wen Spencer's Alien Taste (2001)
- Jane Lindskold's Through Wolf's Eyes (2001; female protagonist)
- Patricia Briggs's Moon Called (2006; a female were-coyote raised by werewolves).
- Edward O'Reilly's Saga of Pecos Bill (1923)
- Philip Kimball's Liar's Moon: A Long Story (1999).
- Roy Meyers's Dolphin Boy (1967)
- Karen Hesse's The Music of Dolphins (1969; female protagonist).
The feral hero is not confined to Earth. SF master Leigh Brackett melded Burroughs's Tarzan with Burroughs's interplanetary adventurer John Carter of Mars and such noir detective-fiction heroes as Sam Spade, to create one of the greatest feral action heroes: N'Chaka, the Man Without a Tribe. Raised by Mercury apes, this dark and driven wildman travels to Mars in People of the Talisman/The Secret of Sinharat (1964), and to a distant planet in The Ginger Star (1974) and its sequels. An inferior Tarzan/John Carter cross, Balzan of the Cat People, begins his extrasolar adventures in Wallace Moore (Gerard F. Conway)'s The Blood Stones (1975). Though the titular character isn't directly ape-reared, J.T. Edson's Bunduki (1975) and its sequels present the authorized adventures of Tarzan's adopted son on an Earth-like alien planet. In an interesting reversal, the wolf-raised, Earth-based protagonist in Wen Spencer's Alien Taste is an alien.
The feral hero is not confined to a modern or future period. Philip Jose Farmer has decidedly Tarzan-esque characters in the prehistoric Tarzan tie-in novels, Hadon of Ancient Opar (1974) and Flight to Opar (1976), and his time-travel novel Time’s Last Gift (1972).
Farmer is undoubtedly the most important feral-fantasy author since Burroughs. In addition to the above-mentioned Opar novels and Lord Tyger, Farmer has written the Nine trilogy—A Feast Unknown (1969), Lord of the Trees (1970), and The Mad Goblin (1970)—which adds a decidedly sexual charge to not only the Tarzan archetype, but the Doc Savage archetype. In The Adventure of the Peerless Peer (1974), a Tarzanian jungle lord meets a character greatly resembling Sherlock Holmes. Additionally, Farmer wrote a biography of Burroughs's fictional ape-man, titled Tarzan Alive (1972). In 1999, Farmer wrote the authorized Tarzan novel The Dark Heart of Time. And there's another Tarzan-inspired Farmer tale below.
The Tarzan influence is so strong, it has inspired several revisionist and/or satirical titles. In addition to the above Farmer titles, this list includes Farmer’s The Jungle Rot Kid on the Nod (1968), which melds Edgar Rice Burroughs with William S. Burroughs; Relic (1966) by Mack Reynolds; George of the Jungle (TV, 1967; movie and novel, 1997); The Death of an Apeman (translated 1971) by Josef Nesvadba; Tarzan of the Grapes (1972) by Gene Wolfe; The World's Greatest Athlete (movie and novel, 1973); The Death of Tarzana Clayton (1985) by Neville Farki; Nigel Cox's now-unavailable Tarzan Presley (2004), which, in the words of Wikipedia: "combines aspects of Tarzan and Elvis Presley into a single character named Ted Nugent" (!); and Bride of the Beast Man (1998) by Allan Gross.
Despite the above evidence, Tarzan is not the sole influence on the feral fantasies that followed him. Kipling's Mowgli was the inspiration for Olaf Baker's Pacific Northwest-set Shasta of the Wolves and Post Wheeler's Hathoo of the Elephants (1943). Both Mowgli and Tarzan influenced Murphy's wolf-girl novel Wild Angel.
But it's hard to see much of either Mowgli or Tarzan in Edward O'Reilly's Saga of Pecos Bill and its cyclone-riding, rattlesnake-whip-wielding, Paul-Bunyan-esque protagonist. The same can be said of John Barth's literary masterpiece, Giles Goat-Boy (1966), in which a boy nursed by the titular farm animal becomes a "Grand Tutor." Alice Hoffman's Second Nature, about a wolf-raised modern man, is a novel of character, romance, and suburban American life. In Passager (1996), the first novel of her Young Merlin trilogy, Jane Yolen gives the boy magician a rather more realistic year of wilderness animal-fosterage, after which he must be domesticated by a falconer. And anime master Hayao Miyazaki’s movie Mononoke Hime (1997; U.S. title, Princess Mononoke), about a girl raised by a Japanese wolf goddess, likely owes nothing to Tarzan and Mowgli.
As Passager may have suggested, real-life feral children have become the dominant influence on recent feral fiction. Jane Yolen's earlier young-adult novel, Children of the Wolf (1984), is based on the real-life children Amala and Kamala, who were found in a Midnapore (India) wolf's den in the 1920s. The historical figure Victor, the Wild Boy of Aveyron (France), inspired Mordicai Gerstein's children's book Victor: A Novel Based on the Life of the Savage of Aveyron (1998); Jill Dawson's novel Wild Boy (2003); and T. Coraghessan Boyle's novella Wild Child (2006, McSweeney's Issue #19 [McSweeney's Quarterly Concern]). Jill Paton Walsh's Knowledge of Angels (1994) considers the moral problems of a feral child reentering human society. Aware that real feral children do very poorly when returned to civilization, Alexander McCall Smith has his fictional Botswana detective, Mma Ramotswe, make a wise decision about a lion-fostered child in Morality for Beautiful Girls.
Except in the occasional comic book, the traditional Tarzan-style feral hero has pretty much vanished from original fiction in the new millennium. However, Tarzan has a couple of intriguing modern literary sons. One is Marvel Comics' most famous X-man, Wolverine, who has inherited Tarzan's ongoing struggle between his civilized (human) and wild (animal) selves. Alas, I have not been able to confirm the existence of a novel or comic book titled The Irregulars, which reputedly presents an alternate reality in which Wolverine is Lord Greystoke, a.k.a. Tarzan!
The other literary son is Tom Strong. Created by Alan Moore and Chris Sprouse, this non-super-powered comics hero is a conscious modern recreation of the pulp hero, melding (non-animal) aspects of Tarzan’s origin with Doc Savage, Superman, and the Skinner box. His adventures are reprinted in the graphic novels Tom Strong: Book One (2000) et seq. and Tom Strong's Terrific Tales: Book One (2004) et seq.
Good starting places for further exploration of feral fantasy are:
- The British Tarzans: A Bibliography (Paperback Parade #23, 1991), compiled by Philip Harbottle;
- Richard A. Lupoff's literary overview, Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure (1965; revised, 1968; revised with a new introduction, a foreword by Michael Moorcock, and an essay by Phillip R. Burger, 2005, under the new title Master of Adventure: The Many Worlds of Edgar Rice Burroughs), which discusses numerous feral-fantasy works and authors;
- "Edgar Rice Burroughs" and other individual author entries in The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1993), edited by John Clute and Peter Nicholls;
- "Feral Children" and individual character entries in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997), edited by John Clute and John Grant;
- the Feral Children site's "Feral Children of Myth and Legend" and their site fiction list;
- George Hatcher's Friday in the Jungle and Another Friday in the Jungle, which discuss numerous jungle lords and ladies of prose and comics;
- the forthcoming fiction and nonfiction anthology The Incunabular Ape-Man: Writings from The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box (2007?);
- the anthology Mother Was a Lovely Beast: A Feral Man Anthology: Fiction and Fact About Humans Raised by Animals (1974), edited by Philip Jose Farmer;
- Pulpdom #45 (2006), which covers the pulp characters (animal-reared and otherwise) that were inspired by Tarzan (send $7 payment by check or money order to C.E. Cazedessus, P.O. Box 2340, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147, or via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org)
- the Wikipedia entries on Edgar Rice Burroughs and other individual authors; on Feral Children in Mythology and Fiction; and on Tarzan, Mowgli, and other individual characters.
Readers curious about real-life feral children should start with the Feral Children site and Michael Newton's nonfiction book Savage Girls and Wild Boys: A History of Feral Children (2003).
Note: The Feral Children site's list of "Feral children books: Science fiction stories and novels" is mostly focused on other forms of feral SF/F, such as children raised by aliens (as in Robert E. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land ) or humans treated as animals by aliens (as in Gordon R. Dickson's Wolfling ).
A warning: To varying degrees, the earlier titles (above and below) reflect the sexual, racial, and colonial attitudes of their era. Feral females were rare in prose, yet common in comics, where they functioned more often as fur-bikini-clad pin-ups than as characters. Tarzan's name is the great apes' word for "white skin," a distinction it's unlikely animals would remark upon (if they noticed at all). And, of course, there's the inherent racism of white European or North American characters being naturally better at life in the jungle or frontier than the indigenous peoples. Readers who cannot overlook the socio-cultural assumptions and attitudes of earlier decades should probably avoid the older works. (The nadir of feral-fiction attitudes is probably the Bomba series by Roy Rockwood [pseudonym for Edward Stratemeyer], which, among other offenses, theorizes that white men's souls are awake, while the Native Americans' souls are asleep. Not recommended.)