Planet of the Apes by Pierre Boulle – The Folio Society Edition

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Well if you’ve found your way to this review you’re either a fan of Planet of the Apes, Folio Society or a consumer of fiction – well if that’s the case you are in for a mighty fine time. If you’re a space travelling lost soul and discovered this (a message in a bottle if you were – floating through the depths of space) then there is hope… almost!

When I heard that The Folio Society were releasing this book, two things sprung into my mind. 1) How amazing is this book going to look, knowing that Folio use some fabulous artists and the source material alone is going to get those creative juices flowing. And 2) I just had to get a copy to review, there’s something very special about the way Folio put a book together that makes it a treasured item, something to enjoy – like a fine wine or a cigar – with Folio books its an experience, a full bodied one at that and this edition didn’t let me down.

Having known a little bit about the book before reading it (what can I say I’m a child of the 80’s so I’ve seen pretty much every adaptation of this work and the television was a babysitter for me growing up) I was pleasantly surprised at how different some of the elements of the book were and what had been chopped out of the various adaptations to appease the audience – source material which is in fact so imperative to the power of the story Boulle has deftly created.

Having said all of this there are elements of the book that have not aged well, one of these is role of women – but if you can put this aside and enjoy it for what it is, and the time in which it was written, and the place it was written in (at that time) – there is much to enjoy and so much more to discover if you can suspend your feminist morals (like I had to).

The book opens with a couple of space tourists on an interplanetary trip who discover on their journey something floating in space, they cool their jets and fish this strange relic aboard. Once they have it on board they soon discover that it’s a bottle, with a message inside it, could this be a confession? A plea for help? A warning? As they open the bottle and begin to read the manuscript, they soon discover that it is the story of Ulysse Mérou, a French journalist, and his space journey toward the Betelgeuse star, 300 light years far away from Earth. The format of the story is epistolary with the manuscript forming our gateway into the life of Ulysse Mérou – I’m not a fan of this storytelling format generally – but with this split between our two space tourists and the conversations they have about this discovery it held my attention and brought me deeper into this quite brilliant Science Fiction spectacular.

What I also loved about Planet of the Apes is that once you’ve read it (and many times during it I found myself discussing ideas with my wife), it’s a book that raises some very interesting questions and debates – such as evolution, fear and anxiety of the unknowable, the power humans have over other species, human nature and human devolution (reverting back to a primitive state of being), what would happen if we were not at the top of the food chain and the morality of experimentation – test subjects (I searched up Monkeys in space after reading and was shocked at what I found – I knew that this happened but was it ethical?).

The film version of this source material focus a lot more on the themes of time travel and other dimensions, whether this was a conscious effort to distance ourselves from our own decline into beasts or if it were to appease an audience who knows. But the book and Boulle’s version of events seem to follow a more evolutionary method of one species paired with devolution of another – which I feel is better and more hard-hitting in its original version.

Obviously there are other elements at play – and one of the biggest questions I had from Boulle’s material is was Boulle holding up a mirror to the human race, was he trying to show us a glimpse of a near dystopian future, with regards to our animal testing etc. The book focuses quite heavily on the experiments the apes are performing on captive humans – Planet of the Apes shines a light on the fact that we are all animals and how far is there for us to fall before we become beasts. It’s great food for thought and also distinguishes itself from the Hollywood remakes that barely scratch the surface of this deeply embedded theme of Boulle’s work.

David de las Heras’ illustrations that grace the books interior and exterior are fabulous. The cover illustration of the Gorilla is beautiful whilst also conjuring up feelings of a regal nature and menacing intent (just look at those eyes) and sets the tone perfectly for the book. The internal illustrations also convey majestically the feel of the place and time of which Planet of the Apes is set, this other worldly place – the landscape illustrations give the futuristic world added depth and work at world building in the readers mind, whereas the other character profiles of the apes are deftly accomplished and add to the drama and scope of the book (since PG Tips stopped dressing up chimpanzees for their commercials apes wearing clothes have never looked so brilliant).

Because I had been coloured by the various adaptations of this book, especially the original version – I thought to myself that I knew where this book was heading, that I’d seen the ending and knew what was going to happen, that Boulle wouldn’t be able to hoodwink me, but how wrong could I have been… discover the real ending for yourself and be changed!

Planet of the Apes is a timely addition to The Folio Society bookshelves, in essence it is a cautionary tale and a social criticism of our time, how we treat the world, the creatures within it and how society can devolve as well as evolve. A powerful book that deserves your attention.

The Folio Society edition of Pierre Boulle’s Planet of the Apes, translated by Xan Fielding, introduced by Frans de Waal and illustrated by David de las Heras, is available exclusively from www.FolioSociety.com

Pierre Boulle

Pierre Boulle (1912–94) was a French engineer and novelist. Born in Avignon, he studied at the prestigious Ecole supérieure d’électricité where he received an engineer’s degree in 1933. At the outbreak of the Second World War, he was working as an engineer on the rubber plantations in Malaya, but soon became a secret agent with the Free French in Singapore, where he was captured by the Japanese army and subjected to two years’ forced labour. He was later made a chevalier of the Légion d’Honneur and was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance. After the war Boulle went on to produce over 20 novels and several short story collections, receiving most acclaim for Le Pont de la rivière Kwaï (1952; The Bridge over the River Kwai) and La Planète des singes (1963; Planet of the Apes), both of which became international bestsellers and were adapted into Oscar-winning films.

David de las Heras

David de las Heras has a bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of the Basque Country, and graduated in Illustration at the Escola Massana, in Barcelona. His paintings have been exhibited in several countries including Spain, Portugal and Germany, and as an illustrator he has published several books, including recently illustrating ‘The Tiger’, a story by Joël Dicker. His editorial work for newspapers includes El País, the cultural supplement of ABC and several covers for El País Semanal. In 2015 he won best book cover at the Junceda Awards for Kalimán en Jericó, published by Bambú.

Review by Ross Jeffery

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