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Book Review: Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan By Robin Maxwell

08/01/2012 06:03PM ● Published by Denise Brown

Book Review By Delphine Lucas

Local hi-desert writer, Robin Maxwell, author of O, Juliet, and many other popular works of historical fiction, has written a book about another famous pair of lovers, Tarzan and Jane. The story focuses on Jane, a brilliant strong- minded woman and her relationship with apeman Tarzan.

Maxwell had to contact Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. to get permission to write her book. The estate is very protective when it comes to copyright issues. She used her expertise in writing historical fiction and her life-long interest in paleoanthropology and history to create the storyline she presented to ERB. Her ideas were well received and Maxwell began extensive research to write Jane. The book will be released this September, in the centennial year of the original Tarzan story.

Now, one hundred years later, Jane is given the role in literature as a budding paleoanthropologist and pioneering scientist. She is a dynamic part of a relationship instead of an unknown two-dimensional character who swings around the African jungle on vines following Tarzan.

The story begins by placing her in historical context, in early twentieth century Edwardian England, a time when the roles of women were starting to change from the Victorian period. Her father supports her as the only medical student in Cambridge University, and invites her to accompany him on another one of his African expeditions where he will continue to search for a missing fossil link.

Jane’s relationship with her father is close. She holds him in high esteem and he has nurtured her intellectual abilities since childhood. He is the most important person in her life.

Highly influential in Maxwell’s creation of the Jane charac- ter was Mary H. Kingsley’s late 19th century autobiographical travel book, Travels in West Africa. Kingsley traveled alone to West Africa, to continue her late father’s research on native spiritual practices, and she too had been exceptionally close to her father.

Ral Conrath, a sexy, self-serving, unscrupulous con-artist, attends one of her father’s lectures, and he convinces them that he knows the location in the Gambia where they can find their fossils. Jane’s father, taken in by him, turns over all the preparations for the expedition to his expertise. Conrath uses this opportunity to finance another trip to West Africa where he was recently expelled for his dirty dealings. Jane, dealing with her own sexuality as a young woman, comes to terms with their lustful attraction to one another on the ship bound for Africa.

The real adventure begins in Africa. The plot unfolds quickly and reads like watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. Jane is attacked by a leopard and her father is later presumed dead, Conrath abandons Jane in the jungle, and Tarzan rescues her and brings her back to health and well-being.

Everything seems to be grounded in reality and is believable, except for the fact that Jane never seems to go through a real grieving process once she discovers her father is dead. Once healed of her wounds, she and Tarzan develop a system of communication, and evolve into a powerful couple. Their jungle adventures take them into the locations of the Mangani tribe, the living “missing link,” and another tribe who leads them into their spiritual underground labyrinth, based on a real Egyptian labyrinth, where they have their final encounter with the evil Conrath.Jane wants to return to England to share her discoveries to the scientific community, and she wants to bring Tarzan back with her. She has to get him ready, though, to meet polite society. No more loin cloths or eating raw animal kills. When she instructs him in making polite conversation, what to wear and how to interact, it is hilarious. On the morning they plan to leave for England, Jane wakes up to find Tarzan has bailed on her. She has to choose between getting on the ship and return- ing home alone, or staying in Africa with Tarzan. Is it possible to have both, a life with Tarzan and a career in England as a scientist?

One of Robin Maxwell’s strengths is thoroughly researching her subject matter. The Man Who found the Missing Link: Eugene Dubois and His Lifelong Quest To Prove Darwin Right was instrumental in her creation of the Mangani tribe.

Maxwell’s greatest strength in her writing is her ability to create a story with complex plot developments that do not get bogged down and move along at a pace appropriate for an adventure story. At times, especially at the beginning of the story, she tends to tell the reader about Jane’s personality and character, rather than show the reader through dialogue and other writing devices, making some of the work seem more suited to a movie script. Perhaps Maxwell’s book will be turned into a movie, as the trend in cinema tends to be now, movies based on books. This did detract somewhat from the book’s strength as literature, keeping the reader more emotionally removed from the characters. Nonetheless, Jane is extremely creative, and a worthwhile and fun read. 
Culture, In Print joshua tree robin maxwell fiction writers edition book review historical fiction
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