Super-Blog Team-Up: Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone
Karen: I'd like to welcome my old blogging partner Doug from Bronze Age Babies to the Satellite today! It's always a pleasure to work with him, and we both love Planet of the Apes. We're taking part in the amazing Super-Blog Team-Up, celebrating the theme of Expanded Universes. You can find our review of a Marvel Comics Planet of the Apes story over at Doug's Black & White and Bronze blog today, and over at our old Bronze Age Babies site, we have a smorgasbord of old Apes posts! So if you like Apes, we got 'em!
Karen: Certainly, the Planet of the Apes has crossed over all media and exists now in many different forms. A couple of years ago, an anthology was published called Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone. This collection featured a number of short stories set in the POTA universe but many of which diverged from the universe of the films in certain ways. We have selected a story to review by Bob Mayer called The Pacing Place.
Doug: For those who have never partaken in Apes prose, you are missing out. In addition to today's fare, you should get your hands on Conspiracy on the Planet of the Apes and Death of the Planet of the Apes, both by Andrew E.C. Gaska. Page-turning reading, friends!
Doug: And before we go any further, I need to shout out a big "Thanks!" to my partner for having me on today. We have spent a lot of time collaborating over the past decade+, cobbling together our various questions and missives. It's pretty cool, though, that as our paths have somewhat diverged over the past four years, we find each other guest-writing at each other's space.
Karen: The Pacing Place features George Taylor, the astronaut character portrayed by Charlton Heston in the original film. The story deviates from the timeline of the movies in that the destruction of the planet never occurs. After encountering the remains of the Statue of Liberty, Taylor and Nova flee across the Forbidden Zone, finally finding safety in a wooded glade after surviving the rough desert. In a few short years, they have a son, Adam,who at the age of two begins to speak. It is this breakthrough - first with the son and later, the children of other primitive humans who Taylor teaches to speak - that saves Taylor from despair.
Doug: In anticipation of all of our Apes-talk today, I bought myself a used copy of Pierre Boulle's seminal novel, Planet of the Apes (also known as "Monkey Planet" in various countries). I read that book when I was around 8 years old and had not laid eyes on it since. As the sands of time have washed away any recollection of my earlier digestion of the story, I basically came to it fresh as a now-54-year old. The protagonist is Ulysse Merou, a French astronaut who basically endures the same fate as our George Taylor. The Nova character is more bestial in the novel, although Boulle stresses her near-perfect form and beauty. Merou eventually mates with her, and the child she bears is unlike the other human children - it cries as we would know a baby's cries. It's at that point that Cornelius and Zira determine to help Merou and his family escape, and they eventually find their way back to Earth.
Karen: Wow, like you, I had the original novel as a kid, but I haven't read it since I was young, and I recall very little. That's coll you got your hands on a copy!
Karen: With the arrival of more humans to "Fort Wayne" as Taylor names his little village, a new society begins to take root and grow. Human qualities of empathy and love, absent in the barely surviving humans before, are now brought to light and nourished. A true sense of community is created. And Taylor begins to realize that he has changed as well. No longer is he the cynical, misanthropic hard-ass we saw in the films. Rather, he has found purpose and contentment. It seems some of this comes from the responsibility of fatherhood, but he is also profoundly affected by the harmony of his new people. Is this a realistic depiction of how people little more than animals could develop in 10, 20 years? I don't know. But I think there are more than a few allusions to a new Eden in this story. I didn't find it heavy handed.
Doug: I found it interesting comparing Merou to Taylor. Boulle's hero wants so much to be heard, to reason with his captors and dominators; Taylor seemed so overcome by his upside-down circumstances that hostility was the only emotion he could emanate. So as I read the two stories a few weeks ago, I found myself wondering what Merou would have done had he stayed on Soror and lived out the life we find for Taylor in Mayer's short story. Likewise, how would Taylor have reacted to the chance of fleeing Ape City and its surroundings with Nova and Adam, to return to his 20th Century Earth? One thing that rang true in Boulle's novel that you mention here is the issue of a "return" to intelligence in just a generation. For Boulle, he showed us through one of Merou's colleagues that man could be mentally destroyed by barbaric circumstances, and reduced to the mindless humans we see in our film versions of POTA. In either case, the crashing down or rising up, it seems the message of nurture overrides that of nature.
Karen: Yes, it's a little hard to swallow, but apparently the humans of that far future don't have anything anatomically wrong, or even neurologically. They lost their culture. Maybe the repression of the apes kept them from ever regaining enough of a foothold to devise tools or language. It still seems far-fetched, but I can go with it, for the story.
Doug: So... all that being said. I enjoyed the softening of Taylor's personality. He was simply brutal to Landon when we first met the trio of lost astronauts, and even as the 1968 film progressed Taylor dripped sarcasm and pessimism throughout. At the climax, in the cave, he focused on the fragility of man, while championing his superiority to Zaius. So this mellower Taylor was a person to ponder. I appreciated his introspective nature, and his embracing the role of caretaker of his little colony. That he was still old school, as seen by drawing up the rope ladder long past when that was necessary, was both quaint and unaware concurrently. And to your posit of "Fort Wayne" as a new Eden... Do you think there would be a Cain to kill an Abel, or do you think the apes would eventually find courage to cross the Forbidden Zone, discovering this colony? Or perhaps, in a distant future, would we see an Eden populated by both humans and apes, akin to the opening scene of Battle for the Planet of the Apes?
Karen: Yes, I liked that little touch of Taylor still pulling up the rope ladder -"locking the front door" as he put it. Or when he asks Adam if they are still maintaining the night patrol and Adam says no, they didn't see any reason for it, and it makes Taylor uncomfortable. Taylor has been outside the Garden, he knows all the evils that lurk there, and he can't shake his fears. I also thought it was telling that he warned them about having sore feelings if a group splintered off and started their own village. He was trying so hard to help them be that "something better than man" that he had been seeking all his life. Maybe they will make it. Maybe they will remember what Taylor taught them.
Doug: So Taylor, the discontented rebel, the "I've gotta get out of here and go find something better, or die trying" man of his time. I was struck by the air of homogeneity across Fort Wayne and Taylor's encouragement of tolerance. I don't want to say the ideals are bad, but it does strike me that Taylor saw the Man of his age as universally corrupt, negligent, and failing. Yet we know it is individuality and independence that breeds progress. I need to read this story again and meditate on this further.
Karen: Maybe after everything he had seen, and went through, he just wanted peace for his children? Mayer takes us all the way through Taylor's life, through the birth of more children, Nova's unfortunate death, and to Taylor's passing as well. I have to say, I found parts of this story quite moving. I always felt that Taylor was a man who wanted to believe in something. I could see him gaining a sense of purpose through rebuilding humanity. I do feel that the story fizzled a bit at the end, but this is a quiet story, not a blockbuster.
Doug: It's interesting, isn't it - that given Taylor's worldview when we first met him, he was basically in charge of imprinting these tabula rasa humans with perspective, knowledge, and skills. I agree that he took on that purpose, but I was always under the impression that he seemed yet overwhelmed by the trajectory his life had taken. He was part of a nuclear family, but not one he would ever have pictured in his mind's eye decades earlier. And the war and pestilence man had wrought on his Earth? Seemingly gone, but through what price? Nuclear holocaust and evolution inverted? I felt in the end he was distant, a man out of time and place. Mayer's description of the last day's of Nova's life were indeed touching, and the lines, "He suspected cancer, but what did it matter? What did that word even mean here?" served as a catchall to Taylor's circumstances.
Now it's time for you to jump all over the blogosphere and enjoy some cool content from our #SuperBlogTeamUp partners. Leave 'em a comment!
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