Before they fell, humans were clever. That may be what undid them. But in their cleverness, they developed a means by which one could make marks that meant words, making stories last longer than the breeze of the moment. In time, apes learned this as we did their hand signs. While wild stories have been told of Caesar, of his coming and of his mighty powers. The orangutan Maurice made his marks that the true story may be known, first to Caesar’s son, Cornelius, and ultimately for all apes.
Maurice tells of Caesar’s origins in the world of humans — too strange to believe, I know! — but Maurice believed. He tells of the medicine that made apes smart, of how Caesar was the first born to the change, of how Caesar united us — apes together strong — and gave us the mist of change. Maurice tells of the Liberation and the Battle of the Orange Bridge, the first of many battles with the humans that Caesar wished to avoid, but which Koba, the Betrayer, welcomed.
The fight to survive against the humans was secondary, tells Maurice, to the search for food in a forest that grew smaller every day. The apes had legends of the Forest of Fruit, where food did not come from boxes nor water from tubes, where one merely reached out and found food within grasp.
As human cities diminished and the space between fights increased, apes learned to organize and adapt as we learned more about our world. Many apes thought as Koba once did, and Maurice tells of how Caesar was able to heal the split among us. But eventually the humans would encroach upon us once more in a desperate bid to rebuild their world, and the mighty Caesar would ultimately face his greatest foe: the human known as The Colonel.
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I love books like this, told from within the story itself from the perspective of the characters. As the title says, this is from Maurice’s point of view, but he does incorporate the tales of other apes, such as Rocket or Oak. I sometimes think of Caesar as the ape equivalent of William Wallace, so to hear Maurice tell early on of the wild tales that sprang up so early on, I can’t help but hear Mel Gibson declare how Wallace would “consume the English with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse.” Don’t you just love it when movies are powerful enough to hold up even when those who make them fall from grace? *ahem* I know, that’s not a popular sentiment in today’s world, but I’ve learned a great deal from history about how art transcends in spite of the artist, or sometimes even because of them. But that’s the subject of another post.
Anyway… the story here clearly follows the story of Caesar as told in the latest Planet of the Apes trilogy — Rise, Dawn and War. I still believe you need a Dawn before you get a Rise, but that’s just me. What I truly appreciate, beyond just the perspective of Maurice, is that it’s more than just a simple reframing of the story. There’s an expansion of the tale that fills in the gaps between movies, such as the great fire that began the end of human civilization as we know it, and adds more depth to characters like Koba and Rocket. If you watch the films, there is only one gorilla (Buck, who is killed at the Golden Gate Bridge) and one orangutan (Maurice) who undergo the change, so there’s some ‘splaining to do as to how the changed apes organized and integrated with the rescues from zoos and such. We see the template for the later hierarchy established before Caesar and company leave the shelter, but that’s a far cry from the formation of the gorilla guard or the chimpanzee hunting parties. This books tells about such things in the interim when the humans weren’t much of a threat. As for Caesar himself… there’s more to a great leader than simply winning battles. Through Maurice’s eyes, we see why Caesar is more worthy of his name than any human who ever bore it.
There are very few dystopian stories I actually enjoy, let alone admire. Dystopia is easy — so easy, in fact, that any
stoopid monkey random blogger like myself with a keyboard and a little focused determination can bang one out over a weekend and find an audience too eager to know better. As Princess Leia once said, “If money is all that you love, then that is what you’ll receive.” Seems to work too. After all, why would so many try their hands at it? That’s why most bestsellers read like they fell off the cookie cutter assembly line. To each their own; love what you love without apology. As much as I get accused of and mocked for “not liking anything,” I sometimes envy those who fall in love too easily. But like anyone else, I love what speaks to me. I just have to work a little harder to find it, climbing above the piles of that which plays down to the lowest common denominator. Thankfully, I’ve learned over the course of a lifetime how to sniff out the good stuff that now gets lost in the shuffle of social media marketing. I can’t tell you how many years I potentially reclaimed just in whittling down the unending options in fantasy or horror, for example, where everything lives in the shadows of Tolkien or Stoker. To my mind, relevance is the key that 98% of these stories just don’t get. Most dystopian fiction beats the same drum over and over again while missing the rhythm entirely. Without music, there is only noise.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the original film and, lesser known, the 55th of the novel that started it all. The older I get, the more I appreciate why stories like these persist and withstand the test of time. The entire Planet of the Apes story, from the original novel, through the film and television franchise, and into the modern era has had a great many hits and misses. And as any fan of a franchise in any genre or medium can tell you, the whole has to be greater than the sum of its parts, else the franchise dies no matter how hard the marketing machine tries to resuscitate. Just ask Tim Burton. To my mind, while not perfect, the latest prequel / reboot (requel?) trilogy not only got it about as “right” as it could be, it even improved on a great many aspects of what made it work in the first place, all the while holding true to the spirit of original intent.
The opportunity to explore what those movies put in place with a little more depth is welcome. All in all, this isn’t a great book by any stretch of the imagination, but certainly a fun one, especially if you’re a fan of the films as I am. And as I say, it fills in a lot of gaps that are worth filling, so it’s anything but frivolous, especially in regards to the actual development of ape civilization. There are surprising little nuggets of wisdom in here that people seem to have forgotten. The factors that comprise the collective soul of the films are intact, and the perspective shift is certainly interesting. And if nothing else, it makes for a good palette cleanser between heavier reads. After all, it’s only dystopian fiction if you see it through the eyes of the humans. Hope is where you find it.