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From Planet of the Apes to Gorilla Grodd to Curious George and the Rocket to Joop the Orangutan, apes have a long and varied history in science fiction.

But which was the first ape to appear in a science fiction work? To avoid confusion, I'm limiting apes to the currently living species of gibbons, orangutans, gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos. Humans do not count.

For "science fiction", any work that's on-topic (as science fiction) on this site should work as an answer.

Preferably, I'd like the first appearance of an ape and the first ape to play a major role.

  • If anyone's wondering, I'm considering George an ape, as he has no tail. – Rogue Jedi Apr 9 '16 at 20:23
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    Re: Curious George, I'd say that for biologists monkey vs. ape is really a matter of evolutionary relationships, a monkey that loses its tail like the barbary macaque is still a monkey, likewise if an ape were to re-evolve a tail it would still be an ape. – Hypnosifl Apr 9 '16 at 20:38
  • @user14111 The question is limited to those apes in particular, yes, but in the opening paragraph, I was talking about all apes. I don't know what species George is. I consider him an ape, but feel free to consider him whatever you want. – Rogue Jedi Apr 10 '16 at 1:28
  • Why the hell do we have an ape tag? – Dr R Dizzle May 10 '16 at 8:50
  • @DrRDizzle Actually it's an apes tag </pedant> – Rand al'Thor May 10 '16 at 10:52
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I think the boundary between science fiction and non-SF gets a bit fuzzy in early works, but the Science Fiction Encyclopedia entry "Apes as Human" lists this 1817 story featuring an orangutan:

Melincourt, or Sir Oran Haut-ton (1817) by Thomas Love Peacock, where Oran Haut-ton saves a young maiden from rape, enters Parliament, and gazes wisely upon the human spectacle.

The full text is available here, but short of reading it, there's a summary here indicating that although the orangutan cannot speak, he shows signs of intelligence:

Despite his inability to speak, Sir Oran has learned to play the flute and the French horn and to imitate the manners of a polished gentleman. He finds himself completely at home in London society, especially at the opera, and his whole deportment is characterized by an air of high fashion. His prodigious strength and innate chivalry make him an ideal rescuer of damsels in distress. In fact he is the perfection of the "strong, silent type." When the heroine Anthelia is trapped on insular rock in the midst of a raging torrent, Sir Oran calmly sizes up the situation, then proceeds to uproot a large pine in order to bridge the chasm and carry her to safety. He foils one attempt to abduct Anthelia, and at a second attempt has succeeded he is instrumental in rescuing her from the wicked Lord Anophel Achthar, who has threatened to rape her if she will not marry him. Throughout the book he displays a strong sense of natural justice, along with various other attributes of the Noble Savage

This story was satirical and so it's debatable if it should be classified as science fiction, but the entry also mentions another story, published just a bit later in 1824, which it says was not intended as satire:

Charles Pougens's slightly later tale, Jocko: anecdote détachée des Lettres inédites sur l'instinct des animaux ["Jocko: Anecdote Extracted from Unpublished Letters on Animal Instinct"] (1824; trans Georges T Dodds as "Jocko" in The Missing Link and Other Tales of Ape-Men anth 2010), more directly connects the innocence of the orangutan Jocko to the doctrine of the Noble Savage espoused by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) ... Jocko is not a Satire

The plot description on p. 75 of The Apes of Wrath (it looks like chapter 3 of this book, starting on p. 73, would be a good source for early ape tales in general) describes it as

the story of an orangutan who falls in love with the novel's narrator. Unfortunately for Jocko, the narrator is greedy and forces Jocko to bring him precious stones. Jocko dies and the narrator returns to Europe a rich man.

From this description it's unclear if there are really any elements that could be described as SF, as opposed to just a mildly inaccurate portrayal of orangutan behavior.

Depending on whether you want to include fantasy or only science fiction, p. 74 of The Apes of Wrath mentions a much earlier candidate:

in the English Wagner Book (1593), an elaboration on the Faust legend, Faust's assistant Wagner is accompanied by an ape assistant, making explicit the traditionally implicit ties between apes and supernatural evil.

  • Were the apes given sentience in any science fictiony way? – Rogue Jedi Apr 9 '16 at 21:39
  • Added some info on that, looks like the first was sort of borderline, the second probably not much. – Hypnosifl Apr 9 '16 at 23:00
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The Hindu epic poem Ramayana (written Circa 1100BC) contains a substantial reference to the monkey-king Hanuman, a sort of trickster godling. Arguably this text is an early form of Scifi given that it contains futuristic flying palaces capable of orbital flight, possessed of weapons capable of mass destruction.

Hanuman attends the main character as his traveling companion and his speeches, counsel (and kidnapping) form the major part of the plotline for the middle part of the story.

He ceased: and Hanuman of all
The Vánars in the council hall
In wisdom first, and rank, expressed
The thoughts that filled his prudent breast:
'No marvel thou rememberest yet
The service thou shouldst ne'er forget,
How the brave prince of Raghu'a seed
Thy days from fear and peril freed;
And Báli for thy sake o'erthrew,
Whom Indra's self might scarce subdue.

...

My speech, O King, is free and bold,
For Ráma, if his anger glow,
Can, with the terrors of his bow.
This earth with all the Gods subdue

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    Why do you say the Vimana were capable of "orbital flight", as opposed to just flying magically through the atmosphere? – Hypnosifl Apr 9 '16 at 20:44
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    I wouldn't really consider a monkey god to be an ape. – Rogue Jedi Apr 9 '16 at 20:45
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    @RogueJedi - He was a monkey who was a god rather than a monkey-god hybrid. – Valorum Apr 9 '16 at 21:03
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    @Hypnosifl - "Jump into space" is the interpretation of the original text by Swami Dayananda Saraswati. Obviously he's writing from a modern perspective. – Valorum Apr 9 '16 at 21:14
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    Sure, they didn't know it was a vacuum, but at the time they probably had a sense there was a significant gap between the height of the clouds and heavenly bodies like stars and planets, so birds couldn't go fly up and sit on one for example. So the question is just whether there are any stories that show the Vimana interacting with such heavenly bodies or whether everything in the stories is compatible with them just flying at the level of the clouds or slightly higher. Also, there's been a whole movement in modern 'fundamentalist' Hinduism to portray the Vedas as portraying a technologically – Hypnosifl Apr 9 '16 at 21:28

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