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Lord and Lady Greystoke, sent by the Queen of England on a diplomatic mission to South Africa, are abandoned in a remote jungle when the crew of their ship mutinies. Greystoke constructs a shelter in which the couple survives for a time, but Lady Greystoke dies a year after her son is born, and the earl is killed by wild apes. A female ape whose offspring was also killed that day adopts and rears the child. While Tarzan learns the ways of the jungle, his cousin, the new successor to Greystoke's title, is reared in England. At the age of twenty, Tarzan becomes king of the apes; his cousin, however, courts a barmaid, even though his mother had wished him to marry Jane Porter, an attractive and wealthy young American. When Binns, an old sailor, reveals that the rightful earl of Greystoke is alive, an expedition that includes Jane and her father is organized to find him. The party narrowly escapes death in the jungle several times, and after Tarzan rescues Jane from hostile tribesmen and a lion, she falls in love with the apeman.