The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Xan Fielding’s translation of La Planète des singes was known in some quarters by another title, Monkey Planet (1964), a phrase lacking the dignity Pierre Boulle had conferred on his simian civilization. The dignity of a simian society that, whatever its many ineradicable imperfections, has eliminated war and the serious consequences of racial and class conflicts is somehow associated less with the prank-suggestive adjective “monkey” than with the more substantial noun “apes.” It is dignity, or the quality of worth, with which the story is largely concerned.

The story’s frame is the discovery of a manuscript inside a bottle that is floating in space. Its retrievers are Jinn and Phyllis, a wealthy couple enjoying a holiday as they cruise in their private spaceship. Jinn, who knows the Earth language in which the manuscript is written, reads it to Phyllis, after which both react to it incredulously.

The manuscript contains the account by a French journalist, Ulysse Mérou, of his two-year stay on an Earth-like planet on which the Earth’s situation of civilized humans and wild apes has been reversed. Humans lack intelligence and speech, live naked in the wild, and are preyed on by apes, who use them as objects of study in physiological research. Ulysse and his companions, scientist Professor Antelle and physician Arthur Levain, are captured by gorillas after landing on the planet, which they christen Soror because...

(The entire section is 447 words.)

Form and Content

(Survey of Young Adult Fiction)

In Planet of the Apes, two space travelers, Jinn and Phyllis, discover a manuscript in a bottle. The manuscript’s narrator, a journalist named Ulyssé Merou, tells of accompanying Professor Antelle, his disciple Arthur Levain, and a chimpanzee named Hector on a journey to the star Betelgeuse. Discovering a habitable planet, they leave their spaceship in orbit, taking a launch to the planet’s surface.

They christen the planet “Soror, because of its resemblance to our Earth.” The first human they see, who “possessed the most perfect body that could be conceived on earth,” they name Nova. Nova’s bodily perfection is matched by her apparent weakness of mind. Human voices frighten her, and she is agitated when the Earthlings don clothes. When Nova kills Hector, the Earthlings begin to suspect that all is not well. These suspicions are exacerbated when they meet more humans: All, like Nova, are naked and nonverbal. Before the Earthlings act, however, the indigenous humans destroy their clothes, take their weapons, and disable their launch. Merou, Antelle, and Levain, therefore are physically indistinguishable from the native humans when they encounter one of the intelligent species on the planet: a band of gorillas on horseback who hunt, shoot, and capture humans. Professor Antelle is lost, Levain is killed, and Merou is captured in a net and taken to the city.

There, Merou is placed in an individual cage, as are several other captives, including Nova. Merou quickly realizes that the apes are...

(The entire section is 630 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Greene, Eric. “Planet of the Apes” as American Myth: Race, Politics, and Popular Culture. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1999. Analyzes the American film adaptation of Boulle’s novel, as well as the film’s four sequels, television spin-offs, and further episodes published in Adventure Comics. Compares these various American texts to the original French novel.

Haraway, Donna. Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science. New York: Routledge, 1989. Written by a leading theorist of the construction of the human/nonhuman dichotomy. Chapter 7, “Apes in Eden, Apes in Space: Mothering as a Scientist for National Geographic,” and Chapter 16 “Reprise,” discuss interspecies communication; the issues it raises concerning human sexual, gender, and racial identity; and animal rights.

McHugh, Susan Bridget. “Horses in Blackface: Visualizing Race as Species Difference in Planet of the Apes.” South Atlantic Review 65, no. 2 (Spring, 2000): 40-72. An alert, broadly based cultural critique, focused on how the American film version problematizes and blurs the boundaries between genders, species, and races.

Porter, Laurence M. “Text of Anxiety, Text of Desire: Boulle’s Planète des singes as Popular Culture,” The French Review 68, no. 4 (March, 1995): 704-714. Focuses on the French novel, while contrasting it with the American film, and emphasizes how Boulle, without being himself a racist, exploits France’s anxiety over losing its colonies in Africa and Southeast Asia between 1954 and 1962 by surreptitiously representing people of color as various species of apes.