If you think life is tough now, be glad you didn’t live in the 1930s. The world was a jungle back then.
Curious George is not a monkey, but he is very curious.
He is an ape. Monkeys have tails. Apes do not. Curious George does not have a tail. Therefore, he is an ape. Or a monkey who had his tail cut off. Or a barbary macaque, a monkey that has no tail. But remember, this book was written in 1939, back when words were different. But instead of boring you with linguistics, read this Forbes article instead.
About George, we know three things: He was good, he was little, and he was very curious. He’s also probably dead now. But that’s not part of the story.
One day George sees a man wearing a huge yellow hat. The man sees George and thinks, ‘I want to take this monkey from his natural habitat and raise him up in the big city. I see no problems with that.’
Of course, this is how things were back in the 1930s. You could go to any country, pick up any animal and bring it back home. The government hadn’t yet invented customs or invasive species.
The man puts his hat on the ground and hides. George, being curious, looks at the hat and tries it on. He gets it stuck on his head and the man catches him and brings him on a boat and explains to George that he’s going to a Zoo.
Before you know it, George is in the ocean because he tried to fly. Sailors throw him a lifesaver, and he knows that it will save his life so he grabs onto it. This is going to be great.
The boat arrives in the city. All of George’s immigration papers are in order. At least, that’s what I’m guessing. The picture shows him holding a piece of paper, but why an animal would need documents is beyond me. Again, this was in the 1930s.
George eats dinner, then smokes a pipe. Not a cigarette, not a cigar, but a pipe. Happily, too. Of course, this was in the 1930s, before all those studies were done that showed that smoking is bad for chimpanzees. Back then, it was just a thing that chimpanzees did, no different from eating bananas, climbing trees, and reading Karl Marx and James Joyce.
The next day, the man calls the zoo, then leaves the house without telling George to behave. Naturally, what does George do? What any chimpanzee would do in that situation, which is calling the fire department by dialing 123-4567. I understand that the book was written in the 1930s, and 911 didn’t become a thing until the 1960s. Still, dialing 123-4567 on a rotary phone seems way too time-consuming. How many people had to die before someone realized that emergency calls should be easier to make?
The fire department, not knowing there is no fire, is in a mad rush to get to George’s house. They send three fire trucks, an ambulance, a motorcycle, 19 firefighters and one Dalmatian.
George gets thrown into prison, because that’s what happens when you call the fire department when there’s no emergency. This prison is not a special prison specifically made for animals. No, it’s just a regular old building whose main purpose is to keep criminals off the streets at the expense of the taxpayer.
Here’s my question: how did George get put in prison so quickly? If he got put in jail, then I’d understand. Jail is a place for people who are awaiting trial, after which they’re usually put into prison. So I’m guessing that George already spent time in jail, went through the whole judicial process and is now in prison. But that just opens up even more questions.
What was he charged with? What was his bond? How long was he supposed to be in there? Did he have a trial? If so, how does that work? How can someone judge an animal? They’re different from people. Could the judge really say that George maliciously called the fire department when he knew there was no fire? Did George have a private lawyer or a public defender?
(Side note: Why do we call someone who’s locked up in prison a prisoner, but we call the person in charge of a jail the jailer? Languages is hard.)
And where was the man in all of this? This is mostly his fault. When you bring a George into a big city, things are bound to happen, most of which are not good. He was probably sitting at work, bragging about his big yellow hat to anyone who would listen.
Sometimes it’s better to never ask questions that are never going to get answered. My explanation: it was the 1930s.
Anyway, George sits in prison, probably thinking about what he’s done. At least he has a window. He looks out of this window and a prison guard walks in. He tells George to get down from the window, then gets up on George’s bed.
Problem is, the man is fat. He disrupts the delicate balance of the bed and hits his face against the prison wall.
This guy probably got fired. How do you let an ape escape from his cell? George is not Caesar from the new Planet of the Apes movies. That guy escaped from “prison” and is now supreme leader of Earth or something. That was not in the 1930s. Unless, George actually is Caesar. But that’s a theory for another time.
George darts through the open door and heads for the big city. He grabs some balloons and gets carried away by the wind. Eventually, the wind stops blowing and he lands on top of a stoplight, causing a traffic jam because honestly, that’s not something you see every day.
It’s a good thing George landed on top of a traffic light and not in the middle of the street where he would have probably gotten run over by a car or bicycle or ice cream truck.
The book closes on George sitting in a tree at the zoo, a huge smile on his face.
The moral of the story? Do whatever you want, with no regard for authority, and everything will turn out all right. Also, people got away with a lot of things in the 1930s. Be glad you’re living in the 21st century. Life is in color, you can call 911, and it’s much more difficult to bring in animals from the jungle. Isn’t life great?