La Passion du Gorilloïde
Or; Is Edmond Haraucourt the True Founder of the Planet of the Apes?
“Four thousand centuries have passed. The face of the world has changed. Our continent has been swallowed up by new seas; the glacial waters of the Pole descend as far as the shores of Africa. The only inhabitable regions girdle the globe between the two tropics. All our animal and vegetable species have been transformed during the Quinary period and the majority have ceased to exist. Humankind no longer exists.
On the other hand, several races of apes have been perfected, and among them, the Gorillas, having reached the highest degree of development, constitute the superior being. They live in societies, and their civilization, like their science, is highly advanced…”
- Opening paragraphs of Le Gorilloïde (1906), “I. Of Others,” by Edmond Haraucourt, as translated/adapted by Brian Stableford (2011/2012).
As frequent Myrant readers know by now, I’ve a soft spot in my post-simian skull for the Planet of the Apes mythos—the precursors, the original novel La Planète des Singes (1963) by Pierre Boulle, the movies, the comics, the knockoffs, the successors (see links at the end of this post, if that’s news to you).
But thanks to my long-time friend Jean-Marc Lofficier (and Black Coat Press publisher) and the legendary, incredibly prolific and productive Brian Stableford, we at last have access—for the first time in English!—to the true predecessor and wellspring of all things Planet of the Apesian.
Ladies and gentlemen, if you’ve never heard of the gentleman before—or never before in this particular context—allow me to introduce once-famed, once-revered French poet, author, and scholar Edmond Haraucourt (born October 18, 1856; died November 17, 1941); the grandfather of the Planet of the Apes.
As you may have just noted, Edmond Haraucort passed away on tomorrow’s very date in 1941, hence my saving this post for today. This means you fellow Apesoholics out there can circulate this link on Haraucourt‘s actual, uh, ‘deathdate,’ if you care to.
While I’ll wander a bit—just a bit—the focus here is Haraucourt‘s story Le Gorilloïde, which was first published in Le Journal, the Paris daily newspaper, and afterwards as the first (and, in his lifetime, only) self-standing volume of Haraucourt‘s science-fiction as a chapbook in 1906.
This long-lost classic of the genre was rescued and reprinted at long last as Le Gorilloïde et Autres Contes de L’Avenir (2001, Editions Apex), with an essay by Jean-Luc Buard on Haraucourt‘s legacy and sf creations.
Ever-attentive veteran sf author, scholar, and translator Brian Stableford took note, and thanks to Brian and his ongoing (and quite magnificent and sadly overlooked) run of translated editions of long-lost masterworks of French science-fiction, fantasy, and horror for Black Coat Press, we now can read Le Gorilloïde and eight other previously-untranslated, undiscovered Haraucourt classics.
But the silence, thus far, has been deafening.
On his own website, Brian writes, “Edmond Haraucourt (1856-1941) was amongst the pioneers of French scientific romance influenced by H. G. Wells, easily ranking alongside the better-known Maurice Renard and J.-H. Rosny Aîné.
In this collection of nine ground-breaking science fiction stories, published beween 1888 and 1919, he describes the rise of the Antichrist, the cataclysmic consequences of the discovery of an immortality serum, a journey across the ruins of Paris in the Year 6983, the fall of the Moon upon the Earth, the last of the Great Wars that ends all life on Earth, and even a fututistic “Planet of the Apes” where evolved gorillas wonder, “Are Apes descended from Humans?”…”
It is impossible to read Le Gorilloïde for the first time and not be rocked by the realization that Pierre Boulle had to have read this story, or at least heard of it. Even in its format, Haraucourt‘s story seems prescient: it is structured, in three parts, as a lecture by one Professor Sffaty, interrupted by the reactions of his audience of “five hundred Gorillas of the noblest birth, the most illustrious apes in politics, finance and the various Institutes…assembled in the hall…”
Other than swapping around the Planet of the Apes cinematic pantheon of futuristic primate society’s class rank to place the Gorillas at the top of the sciences instead of the evolved Orangutans and Chimpanzees, here we are in the topsy-turvy imaginary future we know and love—only it’s not Boulle‘s invention, it’s Haraucourt‘s, circa January, 1904 (Le Gorilloïde was originally serialized in three installments in Le Journal that month and year).
There are other structural similarities that are striking: remember, too, Boulle also framed his journey to the planet of the apes via a framing story, related by Jinn and Phyllis, a couple who found the account of the voyage (which comprises the novel) in a bottle; in the coda, Boulle reveals Jinn and Phyllis to be chimpanzees who simply disbelieve what they’ve read, since no lowly human would be capable of writing such a saga, much less experiencing it. That twist, too, is anticipated by Haraucourt, in a way.
Haraucourt‘s story was published a full 59 years before the original publication of Boulle‘s La Planète des Singes in France (from publisher René Julliard), and its US publication as Planet of the Apes (Vanguard Press, June 1963); 60 years to the month before it was published in the UK under the title Monkey Planet by Secker & Warburg of London (and subsequent March 1964 American paperback debut via Signet / New American Library).
This is science-fiction gold, folks. Holy Grail stuff for Apes devotees.
The rest of Illusions of Immortality is equally entertaining and astonishing, too. The other stories Stableford has translated are “Immortality” (“Immortalité, Conte Philosophique,” originally published in 1888), “The Madonna” (“La Madone,” 1890), “The Antichrist” (“L’Antéchrist,” 1893, and of particular interest to me, prompting a complete overhaul of my ongoing revisions to the ever-growing essay on Christian horror literature and films*), “The End of the World” (“La Fin du Monde,” 1893), “A Trip to Paris” (“La Traversée de Paris,” 1904), “A Christmas Gift” (“Les Sabots de Noël,” 1906), “Doctor Auguérand’s Discovery” (“La Découverte du Docteur Auguérand,” 1910), and “The Supreme Conflict”(“Le Conflit Supreme,” 1919), with a full biographical introduction and notes throughout by Brian Stableford.
Illusions of Immortality is a relatively new book (published by Black Coat Press in February 2012), but sad to note, like almost all Black Coat Press‘s incredible sf/fantasy/horror translated editions (two of which I’ve contributed artwork to, including a cover collaboration with Cayetano “Cat” Garza, Jr.), it’s simply been ignored by whatever sf fandom has become in the 21st century, far from the notice of the very audience that would most treasure it.
Brian‘s delicious introduction and notes provide ample historical and biographical information on Haraucourt, all of which was new to me and prompted my immediately digging further, to find out more. This is one of the most rewarding sf rediscoveries of the year, to my eyes, and deserving of far, far greater attention and far, far more readers.
Lithograph poster art by the great Alphonse Mucha for La Passion d’Edmond Haraucourt, a “drame sacré en six parties,” music by Jean Sébastien Bach; this dates from 1904 (source : Bibliothèque nationale de France).
Now, get your hands on Illusions of Immortality, fellow post-and-pre-primate PotA devotees, and read it for yourself!
- You can order your copy (print-on-demand paperback, or as a digital book) immediately here (click this link);
- or, for US amazon customers, here (as a print-on-demand volume)
- or here (for your Kindle).
Needless to say, this book scores my highest possible recommendation. Spread the word, spread the link(s), please.
* My original essay on the Antichrist films and Christian horror films was published in 1999, and is currently available in my new ebook Horrors! Cults, Crimes, & Creepers (The Best of Blur)
and other digital book venues.
For my earlier Myrant posts concerning Planet of the Apes and its fascinating predecessors, spinoffs, ripoffs, and more, go to:
- “Prime-Apes!!! My Fave Planet of the Apes Knockoffs”
- “Hungary for More Apes? A Peek at a Rare Planet of the Apes Comics Adaptation from 1980″
- “Hungarian Apes in English? You Bet! More on Hungary’s Planet of the Apes Comic Adaptation from 1980″
All images ©original years of publication their original proprietors; posted for archival and educational purposes only. Illusions of Immortality cover art ©2012 Vincent Laik, all rights reserved.