Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

In sf, apes (and cavemen) have long served as emblems of evolution, and offer through their clearly evident kinship with Homo sapiens a series of lessons and arguments about time, progress and the human condition. Fantasy, where evolution tends to be understood in terms of Metamorphosis, does not normally provide that sort of perspective, and fantasy apes tend consequently not to represent arguments about the human condition but Allegories of it. A partial exception to this principle would be the Prehistoric Fantasy, but most examples of the form – which is almost entirely restricted to tales written after Charles Darwin (1809-1882) published Origin of Species (1859) – simply demonstrate how close to sf (or indeed to mundane fiction about the deep past) this subgenre is.

Some pre-Darwin tales involving apes invoke early versions of Anthropology in a fantasticated fashion, and can be thought of as satirical fantasies. Thomas Love Peacock's Melincourt, or Sir Oran Haut-on (1817) features an educated orang-utan who becomes a Member of Parliament. The Lost-Race ape culture featured in The Monikins (1835) by James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) is similarly fantasticated. Les Emotions de Polydore Marasquin (1857; trans anon as The Man Among the Monkeys, or Ninety Days in Apeland. To which is Added the Philosopher and his Monkeys, the Professor and the Crocodile, and Other Strange Stories of Men and Animals 1873 UK; vt The Emotions of Polydore Marasquin 1888 UK; vt Monkey Island 1888 UK) by Léon Gozlan (1806-1866), with illustrations by Gustave Doré, comes close to fantasy in telling the story of a man who becomes king of the monkeys on an unknown Island.

After Darwin, the ape is mostly found playing two roles. He (or she) may represent the "ape of God", and in this guise embody a Parody of humankind or deity. Examples include: the humans (who are seen as apes in a game of Perception) in Wyndham Lewis's The Apes of God (1930); the chimp in John Collier's His Monkey Wife (1930), eventually preferred to a human woman; the ape who dresses in lions' skins the donkey who plays Antichrist in C S Lewis's The Last Battle (1956); the man perceived as an ape in Herbert Rosendorfer's German Suite (1972) because his mother had slept with one before she became pregnant; and the ape of God who is the final teller of the Arabian-Nightmare tales in Robert Irwin's The Arabian Nightmare (1983). The ape may represent the face of innocence in a nightmarish human world, usually in tales which can be described as Beast Fables; examples include: Wilhelm Hauff's "The Monkey as a Man" (1827), which Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012) adapted into an Opera, Der Junge Lord ["The Young Lord"] (1965), where he is specifically an ape; Jenny Diski's Monkey's Uncle (1994), which features a talking orang-utan; and Scott Bradfield's Animal Planet (1995), one of whose protagonists is an ape who becomes a sexually exploited au pair in New York.

Almost certainly the most famous ape in fantasy is the Librarian of the Unseen University in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. [JC]

see also: Beauty and the Beast.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.