A Good Little Monkey
September 15, 2017 11:27 AM   Subscribe

"His behavior is familiar. He ponders, he puzzles things out. While he eats he eats at a table; where he sleeps he sleeps in beds. If attended to in hospital, it’s by a doctor, not vet. Since the ape and homo sapiens may claim a common ancestry, he and his audience are kin. This is not so much a matter of the gene-pool as of attitude: his moods are moods we share. The well-meaning mischievous monkey, the child whom curiosity imperils but cannot kill, the creature from another world so much at home in the human one... The narrative starts with displacement; George has to cross the sea. Born in Africa, he cannot stay. That Hans Augusto Reyersbach and Margarete Waldstein, his Jewish co-creators, had a narrow escape from the Nazis, fleeing across the ocean in 1940, is surely no coincidence."

For the taxonomically curious, George is called a curious little monkey, which means he can't be a chimpanzee. If George is indeed a curious monkey, from Africa, without a tail, with a naked face and furry body, and sort of drab, he would probably be a Barbary Macaque. Except the man in the yellow hat gets George in the jungle, not in the desert mountains of Morocco, and George's fur isn't nearly that luxurious. George certainly looks and acts a lot like a young chimpanzee, which could suggest that the Reys were making a comment about paraphyly in primate taxonomy (or there was a translating error, because singe means both ape and monkey in French) (or that to basically everyone who isn't a primatologist, all primates=monkeys) and George really is a chimpanzee.
posted by ChuraChura (23 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Rule #34: "I Am Curious, George"
posted by chavenet at 11:34 AM on September 15 [6 favorites]

Currently I'm writing a story about an uplift gorilla. The rule of thumb is that if someone calls him a monkey they are probably a shitty person. That said the first chapter was called "Monkey Business" so...
posted by Artw at 12:08 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]

Better than the horrid little monkey, in any case.
posted by slater at 12:14 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

For the taxonomically curious

"Your honor, this is the point where we remembered it was a ChuraChura post."
posted by Etrigan at 12:23 PM on September 15 [10 favorites]

What is an uplift gorilla?
posted by ChuraChura at 12:23 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]

Enhanced cognition via surgical or genetic means, same as in town.
posted by Artw at 12:27 PM on September 15 [16 favorites]

The rule of thumb is that if someone calls him a monkey they are probably a shitty person.

I presume that at that point he puts away the book he's shelving, leaps onto their shoulders, and attempts to unscrew their head.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:27 PM on September 15 [13 favorites]

(and that horrid little monkey is a tarsier, neither horrid nor a monkey. If you're being a taxonomy stickler you could call it a haplorhine and group it in with monkeys and apes, though.)
posted by ChuraChura at 12:30 PM on September 15 [3 favorites]

I presume that at that point he puts away the book he's shelving, leaps onto their shoulders, and attempts to unscrew their head.

Heston is a very lawful monkey.
posted by Artw at 12:35 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]

Also obligatory: nihilistic reading of Curious George
posted by JohnFromGR at 1:18 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

posted by jenkinsEar at 1:20 PM on September 15 [6 favorites]

The first few George books really are pretty trippy.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:54 PM on September 15 [2 favorites]

They are definitely the sort of thing where you read them to your kid, stop, flip back a couple of pages and say "what the fuck am I reading?".

Could just be the ether though.
posted by Artw at 2:16 PM on September 15 [6 favorites]

What is an uplift gorilla?

Uplift, very briefly, via Wikipedia. It's perhaps most famously covered in the Uplift novels of David Brin.

They can be slow paced, but do have an interesting and unsettling take on what a more ruthless galactic civilization might look like. Chimps, and later on, Gorillas, play a key rôle in some stories, along with Dolphins.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 2:19 PM on September 15 [4 favorites]

Heston is a very lawful monkey.

The Lawful Monkey alignment definitely allows for the unscrewing of the heads of assholes. As opposed to the Coalition Monkey, which involves one dark night setting the house alight.
posted by happyroach at 3:15 PM on September 15

The Reys observatory is open to the public.
posted by brujita at 5:23 PM on September 15 [1 favorite]

In June 1940, on a rainy morning before dawn, a few hours before the Nazis entered, we left Paris on bicycles, with nothing but warm coats and our manuscripts [Curious George among them] tied to the baggage racks, and started pedaling south.
We have over a dozen Curious George books in our house right now, half ours, half from the library. I had heard that the Reys were refugees from the Nazis, but I had no idea that the original manuscript had also been in on their escape. And it now occurs to me that some of the slightly odd construction in the original books may have come from English being a fourth or fifth language to them.

I can confirm that there is something that is undefiably compelling about Curious George to a three-year-old, right on the first read. I don't think I read Curious George during the peak Curious George age, so reading Curious Visits the Library felt like the first one I read. (We read it in the library, even.)

It was one of the later ones produced in the nineties by people other than the Reys, but it was a good introduction to the formula.
He creates disorder, then order; out of chaos, he retrieves calm.
At some level, I'm always, like, uh, this book is teaching you that if you fuck with things and cause a lot of problems, somehow it'll all work out, and people will love you. Then, I remember that reading stories isn't moral education, and let it go, though I hate it when adults celebrate party dude movie protagonists like this.

I also do see the charm in these stories. They're fairly rollicking, especially the original ones. Curious George Rides a Bike actually reminds me of a playthrough of Far Cry 2 or any other game celebrated for letting you do whatever you want and surprises emerging as a result of your actions.

I think he starts out by riding a bike to somewhere he shouldn't, then taking a subcontract for a paper route. He finds a river while delivering papers, then decides to make a fleet of boats out of the papers and watches a bunch of ducks and frogs ride down the river in his fleet. Of course, then he hits a rock and wrecks the bike, but a circus guy sees him and invites him to be in the circus, and then there's problems there, etc. all the way until it's all solved, and everyone's happy at the end.

Despite that, they're not saccharine. I was a little surprised to see Curious George crying himself to sleep alone in a hospital bed in Curious George Goes to the Hospital. And actually having him break his legs after jumping from a fire escape in Curious George Takes a Job was far more consequential than I expected from a fanciful monkey story. The original ones also come from a time when some things seemed more innocent than they do now.

No matter what's in the books, though, nothing holds up to multiple readings per day, every day. When the guy heads straight to the Curious George books as soon as we get to the library, I grit my teeth. I've started a rule that we can only read two Curious George books per visit, and we can only check one out per visit. All that said, I much prefer to see a Curious George surge to a Thomas the Tank Engine one. We had one of those a few weeks ago. Those books are so utterly spiritless that I have to go away to another place inside my head to get through a reading.
posted by ignignokt at 6:00 PM on September 15 [5 favorites]


Thomas arrives to help and the passengers try telling Henry that the rain has stopped. Henry still refuses to move, believing the rain will begin again soon, so Thomas tries to push Henry out, but even with another engine pushing, Henry remains in the tunnel. Soon, the Fat Controller admits defeat and having had enough of the engine's selfishness tells Henry that he is going to get what he wanted. Soon, the rails are taken up and a brick wall is erected in front of Henry.

All Henry is able to do now, is watch the other engines pass through the other tunnel. Henry soon regrets his actions, as he sees Edward and Gordon run by. Edward always toots hello with his whistle, while Gordon always laughs saying it serves him right. Henry has no steam to answer them and the soot and dirt from the tunnel ruins his green paint with red stripes. His fire had already gone out and is left in the tunnel cold, dirty, lonely, and very sad. He now wonders if he will ever be allowed to pull trains again. However, as the narrator states, Henry deserved his punishment Don't you?
posted by sebastienbailard at 8:51 PM on September 15

At some level, I'm always, like, uh, this book is teaching you that if you fuck with things and cause a lot of problems, somehow it'll all work out, and people will love you.

That's generally the deal when you're a kid, hopefully.

Depending on the nature of the nature of the fuck ups it can be less charming when it happens to people who are not kids, obvs.
posted by Artw at 9:20 PM on September 15 [5 favorites]

What is an uplift gorilla?

posted by BinaryApe at 1:57 AM on September 16 [10 favorites]

When Boy was little enough for Curious George, I seem to remember preferring the pbs cartoons to the books we had from the 1960s editions of the stories. Perhaps because the cartoons had been modernized for current sensibilities, and they seemed so much happier. Also, the soundtrack from the first movie is still in rotation in my car, because it's hard to yell at other drivers when bouncing along to cartoon soundtracks.

I loved George as a kid and as an adult. There's something so optimistic about trying, failing, and continuing to try.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 9:09 AM on September 16 [1 favorite]

What is an uplift gorilla?

A Garthling.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 3:37 PM on September 16

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