In 1912, Burroughs invented all space action heroes with John Carter Of Mars, and all adventure heroes with Tarzan. (In the second book, Burroughs essentially templates every aspect of Doc Savage, James Bond, and Indiana Jones.)* The royal heir with a primal heart is the cultural throughline of modern genre media, swinging through pulps, books, radio, serials, films, comics, cartoons, and series, and the collective unconscious.
Rooted in Mowgli and Rima, Tarzan the jungle lord branched out as Sheena,Tor, Ka-Zar, Kraven, Black Panther, Shanna, Kamandi, Vixen, Moore's Tom Strong, and Ellis' Lord Blackstock. His impact is so vast that Philip Jose Farmer's Tarzan Alive (1972) cleaverly posits a complex geneology in which all literary action characters are real and literally related.
Tarzan has never been done right in film, like Frankenstein's creature reduced to a blunted shadow of himself. Fresh of the Oscar-winning Chariots of Fire, director Hugh Hudson's 1984 film Greystoke rejects the imposter cliche in a bold, bittersweet film closer in tone to Truffault's The Wild Child. Ghostwritten by Robert Towne (Chinatown), it is not a literal telling of the first two books, but retains the spirit of everything that matters and had never been portrayed: the regal heritage, the primal upbringing, the conflicted heart, the soulful intelligence, the revelatory romance, and the schism of self. Trad viewers expecting the imposter found it melancholy and strange,** but it is a compassionate portrait of who he really is.
*The essential Tarzan book to read is Robin Maxwell's "Jane: The Woman Who Loved Tarzan" (2012), a centenary revision in every right way.
**If you want more fun, the animated Tarzan (1999) is pretty darn reverent and great, too.