Society Turned Upside Down
Tripwire’s editor-in-chief Joel Meadows takes a look at The Folio Society’s edition of Pierre Boulle’s classic sci-fi novel Planet Of The Apes…
Planet Of The Apes
Writer: Pierre Boulle
Translated by Xan Fielding
Illustrations: David De Las Heras
Introduction: Frans De Waal
La Planété des singes was published in French back in 1963 and its English translation Monkey Planet came out back in 1964. This book follows most of the text of Monkey Planet with a few amendments.
The story of Planet Of The Apes is one that has become such a familiar one thanks to the 1968 film with Charlton Heston as American astronaut George Taylor who finds himself on a world run by apes.
Bouille’s notoriety as a writer is because of this also because he was the writer of book Bridge Over The River Kwai, which was translated in 1954 and made into the film Bridge On The River Kwai directed by David Lean and starring Alec Guinness.
Planet Of The Apes the novel has its French astronaut Ulysse Merou as its protagonist who finds himself crash landing on planet Soror, which is Latin for sister, which orbits the star Betelgeuse. Separated from his fellow scientists, he soon falls into the clutches of ape society but he finds allies in the shape of chimpanzee Zira and her boyfriend, fellow scientist Cornelius. Ulysse forms an attachment to fellow human Nova and manages to eventually escape Soror with her and the child he has fathered. But a little like the film, there is a twist in the tale here too.
Primatologist De Waal places the book in context, making a very credible argument that the book is there to hold a mirror up to human society, using the apes as a powerful analogy to our behaviour when it comes to both ourselves and our treatment of other animal species.
The concepts behind Planet Of The Apes are ones that have become fairly familiar to us in more recent years, with the idea of an Earth that’s like ours but one step beyond. However in the early sixties when this book was first published it would have felt very revolutionary indeed.
Fielding’s prose feels a little antiquated at times but he does move the action along with style and punch, building up a vivid picture of a world ruled by apes. Illustrator De La Heras’s images are stylised but accomplished, with their simplicity belying a very accomplished technique that lends a great deal to the prose. His use of very rich tones also gives his images a painterly feel which makes them very effective indeed. His cover which features an ape in military garb is a wonderfully striking image which sets out the book’s intentions from the very start.
Planet Of The Apes is a short book, albeit only 172 pages long, but it manages to pack enough in that it leaves an impression on the reader long after you have finished reading it. It is also obvious once you have read it why it seems to lend itself so well to an adaptation on the big screen. Another beautifully created Folio edition of a classic novel, and after years of wondering how it compares to the film, I can say that it definitely deserves people’s attention. A science fiction classic…