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Gurglings of a Putrid Stream

Thoughts on books and other assorted topics.

See also:  http://goppf.wikidot.com/swstart

My name:  Brian Martin

Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle

Planet of the Apes - Pierre Boulle, Xan Fielding

I don't know. That's it, in a nutshell. I don't know if you will like this book if you've seen the movie. It will probably depend on (a) how long it's been since you've seen the movie and (b) how much you liked the movie in the first place. I don't know because the movie was such an amazing piece of adaptation that you might get bored with the book and find that it's too predictable for you. On the other hand, if it's been a long time since you've seen the film or if you enjoyed it when you did, you might love this book as a kind of alternate version, one that hits a lot of familiar territory but always from a slightly different angle. I fall into this last category.

The book, of course, was written by the Frenchman Pierre Boulle. The hero isn't an American astronaut, he's a French reporter. His traveling companions are a brilliant scientist and a physician. But really their occupations are meaningless. What matters is that the physician is a coward, the scientist is bored with humanity, and the reporter is neither of these things.

Now, maybe there's someone out there whose cave is even deeper than mine and who has neither read the book nor seen any of the movies that sprang from it. So let me say this much: the idea is that these companions set out from Earth to explore the Betelgeuse system and land on a planet where men are animals living in the jungle and apes are civilized creatures who hunt man both for sport and for scientific experimentation. Naturally the companions fall into this trap and the main body of the book describes how our hero, Ulysse Mérou (the reporter), attempts to get out of it.

I first read this book as a young boy and ever afterward I held the impression that it was quite different from the film. I believe this is because what impressed me most at the time was its depiction of ape society, which is, in fact, in the little things, a whole different animal. Having only to put words to paper rather than visualize the thing on screen, Boulle was able to show us something more of what an ape society might really look like. Crosswalks, for instance, that include an overhead trellis for them to swing across, the floor of the stock exchange that isn't merely the floor at all, but a room with ladders and trapezes allowing full three-dimensional movement, and so on. But even here Boulle doesn't follow this out very far because, for his purpose, the idea is that these apes are just like the men of Earth. (At times, the novel verges on satire, but never so consistently that it could be called anything other than a science fiction fantsasy. Unless one chooses to see the premise itself as satirical.)

Reading it again, I see plainly how near to each other are the book and the movie. But, again, the joy here is to be found in the details and in those parts of the book that didn't manage to find expression in the film. For instance, Ulysse spends much more time with the apes here and even gets to see -- as if he enjoyed it! -- some of the experiments being conducted on human beings. One of them, in fantastical fashion, reveals the prehistory of their civilization. Once you get over the weirdness of the device, the information is a lot of fun (though it also is reflected in one of the POTA movies). Ulysse's relationship with Nova -- yes, she, too, is here -- is more fully explored and is, by turns, funny and frustrating, and ultimately almost moving (at least on Nova's side). And then there's the fate of our scientist -- about which I will say nothing more than that it is uniquely appropriate to a man of his temperament.

If people remade books the way they remake movies, I'd be interested in the remake of this one -- if it were longer and more detailed. Boulle has a lot of ground to cover and he does it pretty quickly. It makes for a fast read, but sometimes a superficial one. This is a fairly minor quibble, though. The basic premise and the hero's plight are so engaging that, in the main, the book is great fun.