Thursday, 19 May 2022

La planète des singes [The Planet of the Apes] (1963) by PIERRE BOULLE

Pocket/Le Livre de Poche France, 2017

Ce fut bientôt mon tour.  Pendant qu'un des gorilles montait la garde, l'autre pénétra dans ma cage et plaça devant moi une terrine contenant la pâtée, quelques fruits et un seau.  J'avais décidé de faire mon possible pour établir un contact avec ces singes, qui paraissaient bien les seuls êtres civilisés et raisonnables de la planète.  Celui qui m'apportait à manger n'avait pas l'air méchant.  Observant ma tranquillité, il me tapota même l'épaule d'un geste familier.  Je le regardai dans les yeux; puis, portant la main à ma poitrine, je m'inclinai cérémonieusement.  Je lus un intense surprise sur son visage, en relevant la tête.  Je lui souris alors, mettant toute mon âme dans cette manifestation.  Il était près de sortir; il s'arrêta, interloqué et poussa une exclamation.  J'avais enfin réussi à me faire remarquer.  Voulant confirmer mon succès en montrant toutes mes capacités, je prononçai assez stupidement la première phrase qui me vint à l'ésprit.
    << Comment allez-vous?  Je suis un homme de la Terre.  J'ai fait un long voyage. >>

It was soon my turn.  While one of the gorillas stood guard, the other entered my cage and placed in front of me a clay bowl containing mush, some fruit and a bucket.  I had decided to do everything possible to establish contact with these apes, who appeared to be the only truly civilized and reasonable beings on the planet.  The one who brought me my food was not spiteful.  Observing my tranquility, he even made the familiar gesture of patting me on the shoulder.  I looked him in the eye; then, bringing my hand to my chest, I  made a ceremonious bow.  I read intense surprise on his face as I raised my head.  I smiled at him then, putting all my soul into this demonstration.  He was close to me; he stopped, taken aback, and let out an exclamation.  I had at last succeeded in getting myself noticed.  Wanting to confirm my success by displaying all my capacities, I spoke the first foolish phrase which came to mind.
    'How are you?  I am a man from Earth.  I have made a long voyage.' 

Excerpts translated by 

The Novel:  Many of the world's most intriguing works of science fiction are based on what, on paper at least, appear to be the unlikeliest of premises.  A scientist gains the ability to travel backward or forward in time or discovers the secret to making themselves invisible or super strong or ant-sized.  Technology develops an agenda of its own and turns against its creators, pitting man against machine in a ruthless battle for control of Planet Earth.  An expedition sets out to explore a remote galaxy and discovers a world where apes have become the dominant species and human beings have devolved into their naked, speech-deprived inferiors, housed in zoos or laboratories where they're routinely subjected to arduous scientific experiments designed to test their intelligence and measure their physical capacities.

It is the latter scenario that French writer Pierre Boulle explored so effectively in his influential 1963 novel La planète des singes, known to the anglophone world as The Planet of the Apes.  His protagonist, a journalist and volunteer astronaut named Ulysse Mérou, is portrayed as a kind of baffled and embattled Christ figure, estranged from his fellow human beings and a source of suspicion to his incredulous ape overlords who view him and his uncanny gifts for engaging in abstract thought and learning their language as potential threats to their dominance.  He is, in effect, the Last Man –– an isolated survivor of the human race seemingly doomed to end his days on the remote planet Soror as a marginalized member of a simian society he will never understand but can never hope to escape.

Boulle tells Mérou's story using the literary device of a framing narrative, beginning with the discovery of his journal by two young travelers named Jinn and Phyllis who are spending their honeymoon in space 'le plus loin possible des astres habités' [as far as possible from the inhabited stars].  This journal –– the space-age equivalent of the 'message in a bottle' once so popular with earthbound castaways –– recounts Mérou's long voyage into space with his mentor the brilliant Professor Antelle and a young doctor named Arthur Levain, their mission to explore the Betelgeuse solar system and determine if there might be any planets in it capable of sustaining human life.  

They stumble upon what they believe to be an inhabitable planet and descend to it in their landing capsule accompanied by Hector, their pet chimpanzee and mascot.  Here they discover a lush and healthy world dotted with many cities and hundreds if not thousands of smaller, well established settlements.  Yet they find no visible signs of life and wonder if the population has been destroyed by some cataclysm until they discover a footprint which, after much debate, they conclude can only be that of a female human being.  They soon encounter this girl swimming in a pool created by a waterfall –– a beautiful naked creature, immediately christened Nova by Mérou, who is incapable of normal human speech as are her companions who, illogically terrified by the presence of Hector, impulsively slaughter the unfortunate beast in cold blood.

Mérou and his fellow travelers have little time to mourn the death of their beloved mascot, however, as they and their fellow humans are attacked the following morning by a group of talking gorillas decked out in hunting attire and carrying loaded guns.  Levain is killed in the raid, while Mérou and Antelle are taken into captivity along with Nova and dozens of her scared and quickly subdued brethren. They are transported by cart to a nearby settlement where, after their dead companions have been photographed by the gorillas who treat the human corpses as hunting trophies, Mérou soon finds himself locked in a cage inside a building known as l'Institut des hautes études biologiques [The Institute of Advanced Biological Studies].  Bewildered, frustrated and concerned for the fate of Antelle, Mérou unsuccessfully attempts to communicate with his gorilla attendants before becoming the research project of Zira, a female chimpanzee scientist.  

Unibolso Portugal, 1968


Zira's research is supervised by an elderly orang-outan named Zaïus with whom Mérou also tries to communicate, only to have his efforts met with patronizing scorn.  Desperate to make the Director understand that he's intellectually superior to his fellow captives, he imitates Zaïus's actions and speaks his name, making the orang-outan nervous but impressing Zira who cannot help but applaud what she deems to be his extraordinary gift for mimicry.  But Zaïus does not share his colleague's enthusiasm.  'Il dicta encore des notes à sa secrétaire, donna des instructions détaillées à Zira, qui les écouta d'un air peu satisfait, et finit par s'en aller aprés m'avoir lancé un dernier regard grognon.'  [He dictated more notes to his secretary, gave some detailed instructions to Zira, who listened to them with an air of dissatisfaction, and finished by walking out after throwing me a final grumpy look.]  The implications of Zaïus's reactions are obvious –– the freakish newcomer must be closely monitored to ensure he doesn't inspire his fellow humans to revolt against the established simian order.

In time Mérou is placed in a cage with Nova, only to be punished, after a reluctant Zira is ordered to describe his recent disruptive behavior to Zaïus, by having the girl moved to another cage occupied by a different male, ostensibly so the human mating ritual can be more meticulously observed.  Losing Nova –– a creature Mérou describes at one point as 'une des plus belles filles du cosmos' [one of the most beautiful girls in the cosmos] –– proves too much for his addled reason to bear, reducing him to a primitive state which earns him a rare smile from Zaïus who, sensing that a crucial victory has been won, orders that his lost companion be immediately restored to him.  (As Mérou admits, spending his days and particularly his nights caged up with such an attractive unclad girl is not without its compensations.  He is, after all, a red-blooded Frenchman despite his baffling predicament.)  

Mérou is no longer subjected to such close scrutiny by Zaïus following this incident, earning him the time required to learn the language of the apes and win the trust and respect of Zira.  With this sympathetic chimpanzee serving as his teacher and protector, Mérou makes rapid progress, eventually engaging in philosophical discussions with the female ape during which she makes it clear that her species descended from man and not, as he believes, the other way round.  Zira also warns her new friend not to antagonize Zaïus and his fellow orang-outans, explaining that this could easily result in him being murdered by them in the name of science –– a warning echoed by Zira's fiancée Cornelius, a chimpanzee professor at the city's prestigious scientific academy who uses his growing influence to arrange for Mérou to address a specially convened session of Soror's ruling congress. 

Zira and Cornelius also arrange for Mérou, who has now been given access to books and a suit of clothes to cover his nakedness, to be reunited with his lost friend and mentor Professor Antelle.  But their reunion is not a happy one.  Antelle has not fought his subjugation by the apes, becoming as torpidly uncommunicative as his fellow zoological specimens, his days now spent putting his arms through the bars of their enclosure to silently beg snacks from passing children.  The sight of this depresses Mérou, prompting a request that Antelle be removed from the zoo as soon as possible.  "Après le congrès," Zira promises, "quand tu auras été reconnu et accepté comme un être raissonable, nous nous occuperons de lui."  ['After the congress… when you've been recognized and accepted as a reasonable creature, we'll occupy ourselves with him.']

The day for Mérou to address the congress arrives, seeing him eloquently plead his case for freedom to a packed house containing all of Soror's leaders and its most important dignitaries.  Mérou tells the assembled apes, including a disapproving and soon enraged Zaïus, about Earth and the differences between ape and human evolution on their respective planets, ending with an impassioned plea for his own liberation so that his knowledge can be utilized to help establish contact between the two worlds.  So stressful is the situation Mérou now finds himself in — particularly after Zaïus angrily storms out of the chamber in contempt — that it causes him to faint, only to regain consciousness soon afterwards in a different room where he's informed by a beaming Zira and Cornelius that his speech was a resounding success.  They're going to do great things together, Cornelius predicts before announcing that the Grand Council has decided to grant Mérou his freedom and provide him with his own apartment at the Institute.  

A few days later the newly freed human is the guest of honor at a lavish civic reception –– an experience he also finds troubling because he can't escape his memories of Professor Antelle or come to grips with the idea that he too may be on the verge of losing his humanity.  A second attempt to communicate with the Professor does nothing to dispel these fears.  Visiting Antelle in his new home –– a cage at the Institute –– Mérou finds the older man cuddled up to a young girl and still unwilling or, he fears, incapable of communicating with him.  Mérou begs his former mentor for a word, repeating his request after the apes have tactfully left them alone together, only to be greeted by a long loud howl.

Luckily, some good new does await Mérou following this disturbing setback.  He now has the freedom of the city (plus several suits of tailormade clothing and a television set of his own) while his old enemy Zaïus has been replaced as Director of the Institute by Cornelius, a power shift which does much to mitigate the intellectual if not the physical loss of his friend Antelle.  He's also free to visit Nova as often as he likes, although this 'privilege' likewise raises some disconcerting questions for him.  Isn't Nova simply a beautiful animal?  An attractive member of what, at the end of the day, is and will probably always be an inferior species?  While the girl responds better than most humans to his efforts to teach her to speak, she still has a long way to go before she can be said to have mastered the concept of vocalized language.

Pocket/Le Livre de Poche France, c 1990


Mérou is distracted from these problems by an invitation to visit Cornelius at an archaelogical dig the ape is supervising in a far off desert region of Soror.  He flies to the site with Zira, engaging in another discussion during the journey about the differences between ape and human evolution, and is confronted upon arrival by what he soon becomes convinced must be the ruins of an ancient human city –– a conviction apparently confirmed by the discovery of a doll that's been preserved beneath the sand more or less intact and which, unlike the dolls given to ape children, is not a representation of an animal and is also fully clothed.  But another, even more profound surprise awaits the visitor when he's finally permitted to handle this precious archaelogical object.  'La poupée parle.  Elle parle comme une poupée de chez nous… Elle a prononcé un mot, un simple mot de deux syllables: pa-pa.'  [The doll spoke.  It spoke like one of our dolls… It pronounced a word, a simple word of two syllables:  pa-pa.]  Like Mérou, Cornelius is overwhelmed by the discovery of this artifact.  But not so the orang-outan specialist whose task it was to unearth it.  The ape prefers to treat it as a distant relic of ape history and not as what Mérou believes it to be –– concrete proof that homo sapiens was once the dominant species on Soror. 

Mérou is sent away from the dig the following day, taking with him far more questions than he can possibly hope to answer regarding the relationship between apes and mankind and the role imitation must have played in the accelerated evolution of the former.  What happened to the human population of Soror?  'Choc brutal?' he asks himself.  'Cataclysme?  Ou bien lente dégradation des uns et ascension progressive des autres?'  [Brutal shock?… Cataclysmic event?  Or the very slow degradation of one species and the progressive ascent of the other?]  Shaken to his core, he decides to calm himself by paying another visit to Nova.  But he arrives to find Nova gone, transferred to another part of the Institute because, Zira informs him, the beautiful 'creature' is now pregnant with his child.  

Mérou's joy at the prospect of becoming a father proves to be shortlived.  With Cornelius, he visits the surgical wing of the Institute where he's introduced to the work of another young chimpanzee, a doctor named Hélius whose job it is to conduct lobotomies and what are sometimes barbaric and degrading anatomical experiments on expendable human subjects.  One of these subjects, a comely young girl who has had electrodes attached to various parts of her head and body to help simulate the effects of epilepsy, reminds the horrified visitor of Nova –– an association which forces him to cry out in protest at what's about to be done to her.  Cornelius hurries him from the room, reminding him that he has only been shown these experiments because it is in his own interest, as his future scientific partner and collaborator, to comprehend their purpose.  But this is too much for Mérou, who fears the apes may have learned to imitate their human masters a little too well during the course of their uncannily rapid evolution from sub-dominant to dominant species.

Everything comes to a head with the birth of Mérou's son, a healthy baby boy whom he names Sirius.  He has great expectations for the child, seeing in him a new cause of hope for humanity.  (He even compares the boy to Christ and his mother to the Virgin Mary while watching him sleep on Nova's delightfully lush bosom.)  But this sudden surge of optimism is again cut short by the knowledge that his son's only chance of reaching his full potential will be to leave Soror and return to Earth, albeit to an Earth which has advanced seven hundred years in his absence.  (The original three man expedition traveled into space at light speed, hence the accelerated passage of time since its departure.  Or something to that effect, anyway.)  

Not even Cornelius can deny this after three more months pass and word spreads that Sirius, the child of the freak, is already able to talk –– a fact which makes him a serious threat to the planet's orang-outan administrators just as the continuing existence of his suspiciously intelligent father continues to challenge and frustrate them.  This time, Cornelius warns, Zaïus will not be dissuaded from taking action to ensure that any threat the boy may pose to simian superiority is ruthlessly and permanently neutralized.  Their only option, he declares, is to send Mérou and his family back to their home planet in the mother ship which is still orbiting Soror and can be accessed, he believes, using its original landing capsule which has now been recovered and repaired.  There is enough fuel, food and water aboard the mother ship to allow them to safely complete the return journey to Earth and several more besides, so the plan is quickly finalized.  Mérou, Nova and Sirius will be exchanged for the three human test subjects the apes shortly plan to launch into space inside the repaired landing capsule.  

Mérou is grateful and relieved, cheered by the belief that he can use the voyage to improve Nova's communication skills and teach Sirius everything he needs to know about life on his true homeworld.  The only task remaining, it appears, is to bid farewell to Zira who, while aware that her strange new friend definitely needs to leave, is nevertheless oddly upset to see him go.  'Elle est aussi bouleversée que moi.  Je vois une larme couler son mufle.  Ah!  qu'importe cette horrible enveloppe matérielle!  C'est son âme qui communie avec mienne… Je me force à appuyer ma joue contre sa joue.  Nous allons nous embrasser comme deux amants, quand elle a un sursaut instinctif et me repousse avec violence… <<Mon chéri, c'est impossible.  C'est dommage, mais je ne peux pas, je ne peux pas.  Tu es vraiment trop affreux!>>  [She was as overwhelmed as I was.  I saw a tear roll down her muzzle.  Ah, what does this material envelope matter!  I forced myself to put my cheek against her cheek.  We were going to kiss like two lovers, when she gave an instinctive jump and violently pushed me away… 'My dear, it's impossible.  It's a shame, but I can't, I can't.  You are really too ugly!'] 

Julliard France, 2001


Cornelius's plan goes off without a hitch and soon Mérou and his new companions –– Antelle does not join them for the return journey to Earth because he's clearly beyond help and seems content enough in his restrictive new environment –– are on their way to Earth.  The journey, which takes several years, allows Sirius and Nova to develop their communication skills as planned, with the latter becoming noticeably more rational and markedly less animalistic in her behavior by the time they reach their destination.  Finally they arrive, their capsule touching down at the Orly space port in Paris –– a city, Mérou is pleased to see, which has retained its famous Eiffel Tower.  Expecting a grand reception, Mérou is disappointed to see only one truck, and a very old truck at that, driving out to meet them.  And, to make matters worse, its driver and passenger aren't human.  They're gorillas, the mere sight of which is enough to send Nova and her son fleeing back to the capsule which a shattered Mérou pilots back to the mother ship that will be home to all three of them, he grimly realizes, for the remainder of their lives.

The story ends as it began, with the honeymooning Jinn and Phyllis reacting to what they've read in Mérou's journal and feeling, at least in the case of the latter, strangely moved by it.  But they don't dwell on these events or the emotions they've aroused for long.  Soon they too are on their way home, Phyllis pausing only long enough to give her hairy ears a scratch before powdering her adorably cute muzzle.

Like all worthwhile science fiction, La planète des singes is much more than a fantastic tale of space exploration gone horribly awry.  Unlike the string of uneven Hollywood films it inspired –– beginning with the excellent Planet of the Apes in 1968 and continuing with its gradually less engaging sequels throughout the 1970s before the franchise was successfully rebooted in 2001 –– the novel asks difficult questions about human nature and humanity's treatment of so-called 'dumb animals' that have never lost their relevance.  By copying us, the apes are able to create and maintain a civilization which, aside from a few technological advances, is virtually a mirror image of human civilization.  Yet in doing so they also inherit all of our most deplorable characteristics –– our penchant for violence and cruelty, our lack of compassion and misguided sense of superiority, our racism and, in the important and ironically drawn character of Zaïus, our pedantry and instinctive fear of anything that threatens to replace or even challenge the prevailing status quo.  The human inhabitants of the planet Soror hate and fear their sometimes brutal simian masters, most of whom dismiss them as so much disposable cattle, as easy to kill as they are to capture, imprison and use as subjects for their barbaric experiments.  Neither species understands the other nor makes any genuine effort to do so –– a situation eerily reflective of today's widespread culture of xenophobically-driven intolerance.  

Boulle was a clever writer who understood that the most frightening force in the universe is not some bug-eyed monster or acid-spitting alien hell bent on annihilating us, but rather ourselves and our unconquerable urge to act in ways guaranteed to bring about our own destruction.  Nowhere is this message more powerfully delivered than in the character of Professor Antelle, a genius who abandons his humanity to live in a cage where his most basic urges –– those for food, sex and shelter –– are readily and consistently satisfied, quickly reducing him to a state of total if blissful dependence on his ape overlords.  How far away are any of us, Boulle seems to be asking, from joining this gibbering simulacrum of a man inside his cage?



The Writer:  It is interesting to speculate if the name Pierre Boulle –– author of twenty-four novels, seven collections of short stories and numerous works of nonfiction –– would be remembered today were it not for the fact that two of his books were adapted into iconic Hollywood films.  His third novel Le Pont de la rivière Kwaï [The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1952] was adapted for the screen by British director David Lean in 1957 and won its star Alec Guinness that year's Academy Award for Best Actor.  Boulle's tenth novel La planète des singes [The Planet of the Apes, 1963] was adapted by North American director Franklin J Schaffner in 1968 and is now considered a classic of cinematic science fiction, so influential that it earned a place on The 500 Greatest Films Of All Time list as selected by the readers of Empire magazine in 2008.  In neither case did Boulle have anything to do with the adaptations of his work, although he did receive a screenwriting credit for The Bridge on the River Kwai because its true writers, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, had been blacklisted by the US government as a result of their alleged Communist affiliations.

Pierre François Marie Louis Boulle was born on 20 February 1912 in the city of Avignon in southeastern France, the son of an eccentric lawyer who preferred writing theater reviews for a local newspaper to practicing his chosen profession.  (Boulle's mother Thèrése was the daughter of the newspaper's managing editor.)  Boulle spent a peaceful childhood in Avignon with his sisters Suzanne and Madeleine, attending Catholic mass each Sunday with them and his parents. In 1918 he entered the local petit lycée –– a school for the students of privileged families who were expected to attend high school before continuing on to university. 

Boulle's father, with whom the future writer shared a lifelong love of literature, hunting and games, died of heart disease in 1926.  Feeling he had a duty to support his widowed mother, the fourteen year old Boulle worked hard to gain entry to the prestigious engineering school L'École supérieure d'électricité from which he graduated in 1933 with an engineering degree.  In 1936, at the age of twenty-four, he left France for what was then known as British Malaya where he became a technician on a rubber plantation located fifty kilometres from its capital Kuala Lumpur, experiences he would later incorporate into his second novel La Sacrilège malais [The Malay Sacrilege] published by Julliard in 1951. 

Boulle was still working in Malaya when World War Two began in September 1939 and immediately traveled to Vietnam (then known as French Indochina) to enlist in the French army.  After the fall of France in May 1940 and its subsequent occupation by the Germans he returned to Singapore where, as a loyal supporter of General Charles de Gaulle, he joined the Free French Mission whose commander, a former rubber planter named François Girot de Langlade, worked out of the British military base in the soon to be conquered and occupied island city.  Boulle was given the rank of Lieutenant and appointed the mission's liaison officer, responsible for coordinating the respective Free French and British war efforts and quickly recruited into Force 136 –– a unit of the British-run Special Operations Executive entrusted with the task of fomenting revolt among the local population and doing whatever else it could to hamper and deter the invading Japanese.  He was also issued with a false English passport which identified him as 'Peter John Rule.'  

Boulle was working for Force 136 in Indochina when he was captured in 1942 by French troops loyal to the Nazi-backed Vichy government.  Condemned as a traitor, he was sentenced to hard labour for the remainder of the war.  Two years later he managed to escape his captors and flee to Saigon and then to British-held Kolkata (then known as Calcutta) where he rejoined Force 136 and continued to engage in sabotage and other clandestine operations behind enemy lines, earning the Légion d'honneur, the Croix de Guerre, the Médaille de la Résistance and several other high level military decorations for his attendance to his patriotic duty.  In 1966 he published a memoir titled Aux Sources de la rivière Kwaï [translated as My Own River Kwai] which recounted his war experiences as both a prisoner and a spy.



Boulle returned to his former profession after being discharged from the army but, wishing to make something of his adventures, returned to France in 1949 with the intention of becoming a writer, selling everything he owned to finance the trip and support himself while he pursued his risky new profession.  Unable to afford an apartment of his own, he lived in a Paris hotel for a time before receiving permission from his recently widowed sister Madeleine to move in with her.  It was in her spacious apartment, temporarily free of financial burdens, that he began to write in earnest, using his young niece Françoise –– a child he helped to raise and unsuccessfully attempted to adopt –– as a sounding board for his ideas. 

His first novel William Conrad, a popular spy tale which earned encouraging reviews from the French critics, was published in 1950.  (It was later adapted for television in both North America and France.)  But it was the 1952 publication of his third novel Le Pont de la rivière Kwaï  [The Bridge on the River Kwai] that made his reputation, winning him the Prix Sainte-Beauve and introducing him to international readers via its translation into English and several other languages.  Although he continued to publish at least one book per year until 1992, it was La planète des singes, a self-described 'minor' novel that appeared in 1963, that made him a household name, with its original cinematic adaptation and subsequent spinoffs ensuring that it has never fallen out of print. 

Now recognized along with Jacques Spitz, René Barjavel and José Moselli as a pioneering figure in the field of French science fiction, Boulle continued to write and publish in more or less self-imposed seclusion until two years before his death, in Paris, on 31 January 1994 at the age of eighty-one.  He was survived by his beloved niece Françoise who, in 2005, oversaw the publication of what was to be his final novel, a previously unpublished manuscript probably written between 1949 and 1951 which appeared under the title L'Archélogue et le Mystère de Néfertiti [The Archaelogist and the Mystery of Nefertiti].  Françoise and her husband Jean Loriot also discovered a previously unknown sequel to La planète des singes among Boulle's papers, written in the form of a screenplay, which has yet to be published.


Use the link below to read an August 2014 article about the life and literary legacy of PIERRE BOULLE:



Several books by PIERRE BOULLE, including La planète des singes and Le Pont de la rivière Kwaï, remain available in English translation and may be available to borrow or purchase from your local library, bookstore or preferred online provider. 


Film Poster, 2017

The various cinematic adaptations of Planet of the Apes have all been released on DVD and via streaming services at some time in most regions of the world.  The latest addition to the franchise, The War For the Planet of the Apes, was released in July 2017 and, like its predecessors, should not be hard to find.

The original 1968 film –– which starred CHARLTON HESTON as a North American version of Mérou renamed George Taylor, KIM HUNTER as Zira, RODDY McDOWALL as Cornelius, MAURICE EVANS as Zaïus and LINDA HARRISON as Nova –– also spawned a shortlived 1974 live action television series which was followed, one year later, by an equally shortlived animated series titled Return to the Planet of the Apes.     

Planet of the Apes has been adapted many times in comic book form, beginning in 1974 with a Marvel Comics version of the original 1968 film and continuing to the present day with various companies, including Dark Horse and Boom! Studios, offering readers their own interpretations of ape-related material.  

Marvel Comics, 1975

Dark Horse Comics, c 2001

Boom! Studios, 2011

Boom! Studios, 2018

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Thursday, 12 May 2022

The Write Advice 167: WILLIAM H GASS


If there is anything in writing that comes easy for me it's making up metaphors.  They just appear.  I can't move two lines without all kinds of images.  Then the problem is how to make the best of them.  In its geological character, language is almost invariably metaphorical. That's how meanings tend to change.  Words become metaphors for other things, then slowly disappear into the new image.  I have a hunch, too, that the core of creativity is located in metaphor, in model making, really. A novel is a large metaphor for the world.
Interview [ADE Bulletin, Number 70, 1981]
Use the link below to read an article about what he considered to be the most important books in his life by North American novelist, essayist, critic and academic WILLIAM H GASS (1924–2017):

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Thursday, 5 May 2022

Words for the Music 023: KATE BUSH

KATE BUSH c 1980

from the 1978 EMI LP The Kick Inside

Out on the wiley 
Windy moors
We'd roll and fall 
In green
You had a temper 
Like my jealousy
Too hot 
Too greedy
How could you leave me
When I needed to 
Possess you
I hated you
I loved you too

Bad dreams 
In the night
They told me 
I was going to
Lose the fight
Leave behind 
My Wuthering
Wuthering Heights

It's me
I'm Cathy
I've come home
I'm so cold
Let me
In your window
It's me
I'm Cathy
I've come home
I'm so cold
Let me
In your window
Oh it gets dark
It gets lonely
On the other side
From you
I pine a lot
I find a lot
Falls through
Without you
I'm coming back love
Cruel Heathcliff
My one dream
My only master

Too long I roam
In the night
I'm coming back
To his side
To put it right
I'm coming home 
To Wuthering
Wuthering Heights

It's me
I'm Cathy
I've come home
I'm so cold
Let me
In your window
It's me
I'm Cathy
I've come home
I'm so cold
Let me
In your window
Ooh let me have it
Let me grab
Your soul away
Ooh let me have it
Let me grab 
Your soul away
You know it's me
It's me
I'm Cathy
I've come home
I'm so cold
Let me
In your window
It's me
I'm Cathy
I've come home
I'm so cold
Let me
In your window
It's me
I'm Cathy
I've come home
I'm so cold
Words and music © 1978 Kate Bush
EMI/Noble & Brite Ltd
While it's rare for a famous literary novel to serve as the inspiration for a contemporary pop song, Emily Brontë's 1847 Gothic romance Wuthering Heights did precisely that for the eighteen year old Kate Bush, becoming the British singer-songwriter's first substantial hit and one of the defining performances of the 1970s following its release by the EMI label on 20 January 1978.
What makes the song so remarkable, apart from the haunting and haunted quality of Bush's astonishing lead vocal, is the way it seems to capture the gloom-laden Gothic atmosphere of the novel in language that cleverly echoes and occasionally borrows from it.  At least three of its key lines — 'I'm so cold,' 'Let me in' and the all important hook line 'Bad dreams in the night' — are Brontë's own, underscoring the essential tragedy of the song's subject matter despite its lush arrangement and equally 'big' production style.  In fact, it would not be stretching the point to suggest that Wuthering Heights could be the most purely atmospheric pop song ever recorded, a three minute excursion to a different place and time narrated by a ghost forever haunted by her enforced separation from her cruel but nevertheless sorely-missed lover.  It manages to feel like Romantic poetry without relying on any of the traditional tropes of nineteenth century Romantic poetry to achieve its effects and remains one of the finest examples of 'sonic cinema' created by any artist anywhere.
Kate Bush has released many fine singles since her 1978 debut, none of which has replicated either the commercial success or the sheer emotive power of Wuthering Heights.  If the song has persuaded even one of her fans to read the original novel then that can only be a good thing, a fitting tribute to an author who was forced to publish her work under the male pseudonym 'Ellis Bell' and died before the age of thirty in almost total obscurity.   

Use the link below to visit Fish People, the website of British singer/songwriter KATE BUSH:

Special thanks to everyone who takes the time to upload music to YouTube.  Your efforts are appreciated by music lovers everywhere.
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Thursday, 28 April 2022

Think About It 074: DWIGHT MACDONALD

Our mass culture –– and a good deal of our high, or serious, culture as well –– is dominated by an emphasis on data and a corresponding lack of interest in theory, by a frank admiration of the factual and an uneasy contempt for imagination, sensibility and speculation.  We are obsessed with technique, hag-ridden by Facts, in love with information.  Our popular novelists must tell us all about the historical and professional backgrounds of their puppets; our press lords make millions by giving us this day our daily Facts; our scholars –– or, more accurately, our research administrators –– erect pyramids of data to cover the corpse of a stillborn idea…
Against The American Grain (1962)
Use the link below to read a short article about the work of North American writer, social critic, philosopher and activist DWIGHT MACDONALD (1906–1982):

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Thursday, 21 April 2022

The Write Advice 166: LAILA LALAMI

People talk a lot about the right to tell stories.  And I think we really need to shift the conversation to the responsibility that comes with writing these stories.  I welcome people writing about characters from different backgrounds, but there's so much homework you have to do, and you can't be lazy about it.
      I think there needs to be more effort if you're going to write from a different perspective… There are all kinds of choices you face as a writer.  And I think the first step is just being aware of it.  Being aware that you are writing about other people and that means you have to work at understanding them if you're going to write them.
Quoted in The Writer's Library: The Authors You Love on the Books That Changed Their Lives (2020)
Use the link below to visit the website of Moroccan-North American novelist, essayist and academic LAILA LALAMI:

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Thursday, 14 April 2022

Poet of the Month 076: OODGEROO NOONUCCAL

They came in to the little town
A semi-naked band subdued and silent
All that remained of their tribe.
They came here to the place of their old bora ground
Where now the many white men hurry about like ants.
Notice of the estate agent reads: 'Rubbish May Be Tipped Here'.
Now it half covers the traces of the old bora ring.
'We are as strangers here now, but the white tribe are the strangers.
We belong here, we are of the old ways.
We are the corroboree and the bora ground,
We are the old ceremonies, the laws of the elders.
We are the wonder tales of Dream Time, the tribal legends told.
We are the past, the hunts and the laughing games, the wandering camp fires.
We are the lightening bolt over Gaphembah Hill
Quick and terrible,
And the Thunderer after him, that loud fellow.
We are the quiet daybreak paling the dark lagoon.
We are the shadow-ghosts creeping back as the camp fires burn low.
We are nature and the past, all the old ways
Gone now and scattered.
The scrubs are gone, the hunting and the laughter.
The eagle is gone, the emu and the kangaroo are gone from this place.
The bora ring is gone.
The corroboree is gone.
And we are going.'
Australian black rights activist, poet, environmentalist and educator Oodgero Noonuccal was born 'Kathleen Jean Mary Ruska' on 3 November 1920 in the Queensland city of Brisbane.  Her father Ted was of Noonuccal descent while her mother Lucy was the product of a union between an Aboriginal woman and a Scottish immigrant.  Their daughter, the second youngest of their seven children, grew up in a settlement near Dunwich on North Stradbroke Island or 'Minjerribah' as it was known to its traditional owners, the Noonuccal people.  She was educated at the Dunwich State School, leaving at the age of fourteen to take up employment as a domestic servant, a job for which she was paid substantially less than a white employee of the same age and sex would have been paid at the time.
Kathleen Ruska, as she was known until 1943 when she married Bruce Walker, a childhood friend whose people came from the Logan and Albert Rivers region of Queensland, served in World War Two as a signaller and administrator, eventually rising to the rank of Lance Corporal.  She had already begun to write by the end of the war but, after giving birth to a son named Denis and the breakdown of her marriage, had to put her literary ambitions aside to focus her energies on raising him.  This saw her return to domestic work, primarily for the Brisbane doctor Sir Rafael Cilento and his family.  In 1953 the doctor's son became the father of her second son Vivian.
In the late 1940s Kath Walker joined the Communist Party of Australia, the only party which openly opposed racial discrimination in a country which still treated its indigenous people as third class citizens.  She remained with the party, learning how to plan and organise and write speeches, until its leadership began to interfere with the latter activity, leading her to resign.  She subsequently joined the Brisbane Realist Writers Group where she was encouraged in her literary endeavours by fellow member James Devaney.  It was Devaney who sent a selection of her poetry to Dame Mary Gilmore, the 'grand old lady' of Australian literature.  Walker would eventually go on to win the literary medal named in honour of her fellow poet.
Walker's first volume of poetry, titled We Are Going, was published in 1964 by the Brisbane-based Jacaranda Press whose reader, the poet Judith Wright, had been its greatest and most outspoken champion.  It was the first volume of poetry ever published by an Aboriginal Australian and was followed in 1966 by a second volume titled The Dawn Is At Hand.  Although her work was dismissed by some critics as 'protest poetry,' this didn't prevent Walker from becoming the second highest selling poet in the country and using her public profile to become a tireless campaigner for Aboriginal land and civil rights.  She also tried to enter politics in 1969 by standing as the federal Labor candidate for the safe Liberal seat of Greenslopes.  She ran again for State Parliament in 1983 as the Democrat candidate, again without success.  Despite these defeats, she remained a powerful presence in both Australia and internationally, visiting Fiji, Malaysia, the United States, Nigeria and China to speak out for her people and against racism in whatever form it took.  She also became an actress, appearing in Shadow Sister (1977) and The Fringe Dwellers (1986), serving as advisor to director Bruce Beresford on the latter production.
In 1988 she co-wrote the script for The Rainbow Serpent Theatre with her younger son Vivian — a project which saw them renounce their white names and take the traditional names Oodgeroo (paperbark) and Kabul (carpet snake) to replace them.  Her son died of an AIDS-related illness in 1991 but, despite her grief, she continued to campaign for land rights and reconciliation until her own death from cancer on 16 September 1993.
Use the link below to read two more poems by indigenous Australian poet OODGEROO NOONUCCAL (1920–1993):

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