The Curious George caper

Today’s Bizarro has a man and his monkey hauled in by the cops for questioning:

(#1)

In case you were unsure of the identities of the simian and his yellow-hatted friend, the little one is wearing a t-shirt that says “Curious George”.

(If you’re puzzled by the odd symbols in the cartoon — Dan Piraro says there are 3 in this strip — see this Page.)

About the characters, from Wikipedia:

Curious George is the main protagonist of a series of popular children’s books by the same name, written by Hans Augusto Rey and Margret Rey. The books feature a curious brown monkey named George, who is brought from his home in Africa by “The Man with The Yellow Hat” to live with him in a big city. … The books have been adapted into several television series and films.

Curious George appeared in 1941. This book begins with George living in Africa and tells the story of his capture by the Man with the Yellow Hat, who takes him on a ship to “the big city” where he will live in the zoo. The second book, Curious George Takes a Job (1947), begins with George living in the zoo, from which he escapes and has several adventures before the Man with the Yellow Hat finds him and takes George to live at his house. The remaining stories tell of George’s adventures while living at the house of the Man with the Yellow Hat.

… Aside from George himself, the only recurring character in the original adventures is the unnamed Man with the Yellow Hat. It was he who lured George into a trap with his hat, captures him in a bag, and forcibly brought him from Africa, and in his house that George lives. The Man often facilitates George’s adventures by taking him somewhere, and even more often resolves the tension by intervening just in time to get George out of a tight spot. He is always seen wearing a bright yellow suit and a wide-brimmed yellow hat. The Man is never mentioned by name in the original adventures or in any subsequent content over more than six decades.

He is always called either “The Man” or fully “The Man with the Yellow Hat”. When people speak to George about the Man, they often refer to him as “Your friend”, though the Man acts more like a father to George.

(#2)

The figure of George — energetically curious, often impetuous — is one that small children identify with strongly. The Man’s role is paternal: civilizing, protective, and also supportive.

On the Reys, from the Wikipedia article about Hans, with an eventual Harvard Square association:

The Reys [German Jews then living in Paris] escaped Europe [in 1940, by a long and complex route] carrying the manuscript to the first Curious George book, which they then published in New York by Houghton Mifflin in 1941. … Curious George was an instant success, and the Reys were commissioned to write more adventures of the mischievous monkey and his friend, the Man in the Yellow Hat. They wrote seven stories in all, with Hans mainly doing the illustrations and Margret working mostly on the stories, though they both admitted to sharing the work and cooperating fully in every stage of development.

… The Reys relocated to Cambridge, Massachusetts during 1963, in a house near Harvard Square, and lived there until Hans’s death in 1977. In the 1990s, the Reys’s friends founded a children’s bookstore named Curious George & Friends (formerly Curious George Goes to Wordsworth), which operated in the Square until 2011. A new Curious George themed store opened in April 2012[; The World’s Only Curious George Store] now stands in the same location [1 John F. Kennedy St., formerly Boylston St.] as the original. [Recent reports are that the store is now threatened by a big development project.]

(#3)

Every so often, someone recoils in horror at Curious George’s origin story in the first book — captured in Africa and taken to a big city in the West — and the ensuing domestic situation, with a small brown child-like character living in the house of an adult white man. To some, this reads like a parable of slavery. But children seem to read it as a parable of childhood, with George’s African origins merely supplying some exciting exoticism, and that only in the very first book.

The Curious George books have also provoked some controversy as to what sort of creature George is. George is generally referred to as a monkey (as above), but he’s also quite clearly tailless — so is he a bonobo (or a Barbary ape), a small ape rather than a monkey?

In some ways, the question is just silly, since the Reys were under no obligation to zoological fidelity; they were free to devise any sort of creature they wanted, and to endow it with some of the appealing qualities of monkeys (small size, playfulness, curiosity, mimicry, and mischief-making, in particular). Beyond that, there’s the fact that French singe covers monkeys and apes equally, and even English monkey gets popularly extended to cover simians in general. From NOAD2 on monkey:

a small to medium-sized primate that typically has a long tail, most kinds of which live in trees in tropical countries. • (in general use) any primate. • a mischievous person, especially a child.

In any case, some of the secondary associations of ape — large size and brutishness, even ferocity, especially — would make it a poor choice of label for a playful central character in a book for small children.

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