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4 July 2012

Planet of the Apes (1963)

I've had a longstanding love affair with Planet of the Apes. I remember being terrified and fascinated by the films as a child. Later I collected the books and annuals from the films and watched the TV series. Much later I happened across an ancient copy a book in a charity shop that claimed to be the inspiration for the films. What! This was in the days before the internet and I was the only Planet of the Apes expert I knew! I had no idea that such a book existed. The book in question was of course Planet of the Apes by frenchman Pierre Boulle. I was in heaven! What a discovery!

Imagine a world not unlike our own...
Ape Gothic!

That was all a very long time ago. Very recently I got hold of another copy of this book and today I’ll tell you whether it has stood the test of time.

But first a little bit about the author...

Author Pierre Boulle acted as a secret agent in World War 2 going under
the name Peter John Rule. Here we see him as I imagine all secret agents
must look!

Pierre Boulle has some 24 novels to his name. Most have been translated into English. His first novel debuted in 1950 and was called William Conrad. What a coincidence... You will recall that the last book I read was by a gentleman by the name of Conrad Williams. Hmmm. Despite the large back catalogue, Pierre is probably best known for just two: Bridge Over the River Kwai (published in 1952); and Planet of the Apes (published in 1963). He died in 1994 at the ripe old age of 81.

Here's how it all starts...

Planet of the Apes (or La Planète des Singes in its original French) was originally marketed as Monkey Planet in the UK and only renamed later to cash in on the success of the films. If you’ve seen the films then you’re not going to be completely surprised by the plot of the book. We join a couple of intergalactic tourists Jinn and Phyllis as they stumble across some unusual space debris. Floating through the inky darkness is a bottle. Within the bottle is some paper and on that paper is a tale so twisted that it cannot fail to enthral and amaze! Given the length of the tale, it must have been one hell of a bottle! The story chronicles the ordeals of three explorers who leave Earth to travel to the nearby system of Betelgeuse. What they discover is a world populated by Apes... where Man is the animal!

There are a couple of different themes running throughout the story, but of course the main one is the flipping of the master/slave relationship. Somehow Apes are at the top of the social tree and Man is a forest-dwelling beast to be hunted. Pierre has fun calling out the craziness of the situation, but it isn’t long before he’s wondering how it might have happened. Is there more at play here than meets they eye? You betcha! And at the same time Pierre delivers a neat parable warning us of the dangers of one-eyed science.

I'm sure the beautiful Nova had a bit more about her
than Pierre lets on

Actually, there are social messages all over the place if only I was clever enough to understand them. The main character Ulysse Mérou is a bit of a cad. I found his treatment of his ‘mate’ Nova pretty shocking at times, but in truth, he really doesn’t have much respect for anyone. He journeys through the story treading a very fine line that often verges on madness. Even though he’s obviously confused, deluded and incredibly impatient, I couldn’t help but root for him. Is Pierre questioning who the civilized characters really are? Yeah, he probably is. Is Ulysse some sort of anti-hero? Yeah, he probably is.

Something that stood out to me the first time that I read this book (and again re-reading it this week) was the charm of the language. I put it down to a combination of it being a translation and the age in which it was written. Granted we’re talking about a sci-fi book, but the writing feels otherworldly in its own right. It really helped the story to snag me and reel me in. I struggled to put the book down even knowing how it was going to end. That takes some skill.

If monkeys played ukuleles then this would be the ukulele
they would play!

Okay, I’m going to close off this review. You know that I love this book. I love all the things that this book has inspired (with the exception of Tim Burton’s film). Will it make me go out and watch the latest film: Rise of the Planet of the Apes? I haven’t made my mind up on that one. It doesn’t matter - I still have the book and this is all I need!

On the Triple-B I’m going to try and convince 9 apes that I’ve got a brain... Do you reckon I can do it? ;-P


  1. A 9?!?!

    Does it really say 9?

    Are you feeling ok?

    It is worthy of a 9 but I never thought you would be giving anything that high! You must be over your spell of low scores now then..

  2. Re:
    " The story chronicles the ordeals of three explorers who leave Earth to travel to the nearby system of Betelgeuse."

    No wonder Tim Burton did the remake when he heard they were heading for Betelgeuse.

    and "On the Triple-B I’m going to try and convince 9 apes that I’ve got a brain."
    Maybe you should have had a banana scale where 9 bananas would be very "a peeling" indeed.-)

    P.S. love the William Conrad, Conrad Williams sync,by the way.

  3. I know StoobyDoo... I must be losing my tiny mind! I hadn't even been drinking when I rated it! A 9 it is and I'll fight any ape that thinks otherwise! 9 bananas indeed Daz! Ha ha. Yes, that Conrad sync is an odd one. I wonder if there is anything to it...