Wednesday, February 06, 2008


A Dancing Ape Inquiry

I'm reading Tim Powers's The Anubis Gates for the first time (in fact, it's the first Powers I've read), and really digging it so far. I'm only a quarter of the way through, but several times the narrative has mentioned the "Dancing Ape Madness" which struck London in the early 1800s. Obviously I'm expecting this to be addressed in the novel as things progress, but it got me wondering.

In Lawrence Miles's excellent The Adventuress of Henrietta Street, a Doctor Who franchise novel set in the 1780s London, there is a similar outbreak of ape-related business, with savage ape-creatures referred to in the popular press as "babewyns" terrorizing Londoners. The babewyns, of course, turn out to be apish nasties related to timespace-continuum hoodoo, that the Doctor eventually puts to right.

My first instinct was that Miles might have been inspired by Powers's book to include the London ape madness, but then it occurred to me that they might both be drawing on some older source, either a fictional reference or an urban legend from turn-of-the-19th-century London.

Does anyone have any insight on this one?

I have no insight on dancing apes, but I've had that Powers book sitting unread on my shelf for....years, probably, so do let us know what you think when you finish it up.
A quick search through Peter Ackroyd's London, Clive Bloom's Violent London, JSTOR, and the Times of London didn't turn up anything, although I don't have the time to look at every entry in the Times with the word "ape" in it.

Powers is one of my favorites. I like Anubis Gates, but I think Declare and especially Last Call are better. (I think Last Call is superb). But most of what Powers writes is pretty damn good.'ve never read any Powers!

Finish this one and immediately seek out the rest of his work!

I agree with Jess that Last Call is superb (I think it's his best), but I also don't think you can go wrong with almost anything he's written (I also love Declare, and really enjoy On Stranger Tides).

I have to confess to finding Stress of Her Regard irritating enough that I didn't finish it. And I thought Dinner at Deviant's Palace was dull. But everything else he's done is aces with me.
The Anubis Gates is great -- you have a lot of interesting and fun reading ahead. Dinner at Deviant's Palace is definitely one to miss. On Stranger Tides, his pirates (and puppeteer?) & sorcery/voodoo novel, is terrific and fun. Powers is a master of weird shit -- and you know how much we all love that.
I've read a couple of Powers novels (Last Call and Expiration Date). I've enjoyed his fertile and wicked imagination.

I've not read Anubis Gates or Stranger Tides, although I've heard very good things about both. The latter is soon to be re-released in TPB and I intend on picking it up.
I've had Drawing of the Dark and Declare on my To Read pile for a while, as well, but haven't had a chance to try them out, either.

Thanks for checking on the apes, Jess. I figured if anyone would know, it'd be you. Perhaps best to just apply Occam's Razor already and assume that Powers was an influence on Miles and be done with it.

Having read as much of Anubis Gates as I have, though, I wouldn't be surprised if, when my forthcoming End of the Century finally sees print early next year, reviewers don't cite Powers as an influence on it as well (even though I hadn't read any of his stuff when I wrote it!).

I too tried to find something on the dancing apes craze, but could find nada. Sorry.

However, if you want the authoritative juice on late Victorian England's brief flirtation with cannibalism, among the upper crust, just let me know.

Wait -- I just recalled I'm saving that info for myself, so never mind.

As far as the Tim Powers canon: Anubis Gates remains still as the only time travel novel I can stand -- as you know I generally hate all time travel stories. Last Call is wonderful, right up to its denouement, which I thought was weak. Drawing of the Dark is nearly perfect. And since no one has yet mentioned one of my favorites, The Stress of Her Regard is not to be missed.

Best of luck tracking down that dancing monkey thing.
Hi Chris!

I saw your post and became curious enough that I went and asked Tim Powers about the Dancing Ape Madness, because I could. He said that he made it up. :)

The Anubis Gates is my very favorite book ever, so I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do (and I read it repeatedly). Last Call, Expiration Date, and his latest, Three Days to Never, are among my favorite Powers books, but they're all great to read, IMO.
Victorian cannibals, eh, Bill? I'm curious to discover what you'll do with that...
Thanks, Nayad! You know, it never occurred to me simply to ask.

(I got a few more pages into Anubis Gates last night, and still liking it quite a bit. I'll have to add the others to my To Read list, as well.)

But there you have it folks, authoritative info straight from the author himself. Powers made the whole dancing ape business up.

Now, anybody of a mind to track down Lawrence Miles and confirm that Anubis Gates was where he got the inspiration for his babewyns?

I actually like Stress of Her Regard (though it's been a long time since I read it), but I agree that Dinner at Deviant's Palace is only so-so...I don't think it plays to Power's strengths.
I liked Three Days to Never very much -- such a weird and wonderful mix of family issues, Chaplin, Einstein, the Israeli intelligence remote viewing and paranormal agents and other odd things.

I haven't read Declare, which I have seen compared and contrasted to Charles Stross's Bob Howard stories, The Atrocity Archives and Jennifer Morgue (the latter of which I am now reading).
It was actually because of Stross's Bob Howard books that I picked up Declare, Stu, after seeing it mentioned in Stross's afterward to one of them. The Laundry stories are my favorites of Stross's writings, by far, for what it's worth.
I loved the Atrocity Archives. Still need to read Jennifer Morgue.

The last couple of years, Stross has been heavily represented in my reading queue.

I found no other references to the Dancing Apes. I'm pretty sure when I was researching my aborted apes in pop culture project, I would have run across that.

And put me with the stunned group about you not reading Powers. Anubis Gates is among the best steampunk novels. Probably only second to Newman's Anno Dracula.
Re: "Drawing of the Dark".

Two words. Magical Beer. Hmmmmm, beer.

Read the Del Rey paperback when it first came out and have probably re-read it 3 times since.

But "Anubis Gates" is probably better and possibly my favorite of all his books. I read "Stress" and "Deviants Palace" way back when and have never seen the need to go back and re-read.
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