Weird Tales: Christopher Furst on Being an Orangutan

Writer: Chris Furst
Weird Tales Story: The Last Great Clown Hunt (Issue # TBD 2008)
Writer Bio: Chris Furst writes short stories and screenplays, and he’s working on a novel. In 2007 he received the Older Writers Grant from the Speculative Literature Foundation. By day he’s an assistant editor at Cornell Alumni Magazine; by night he stalks dreamtigers.


One of my earliest memories is of taking a book of Poe’s short stories and climbing into a tree to read it. Not just any tree, but the blooming jacaranda in my grandfather’s back yard. High up in the branches covered with purple blossoms, with my back against the main trunk, I hid away from the family sing-along and read The Imp of the Perverse and The Maelstrom, rushing to read as much as I could before I was called back to earth to join the others.

I am an orangutan. No, not the kind of ape that stuffs young women into Parisian chimneys, and not like Clint Eastwood’s goofy sidekick, Clyde, in Every Which Way But Loose. More like Ken Allen, the orangutan from the San Diego Zoo that was famous for escaping from his enclosure and for teaching the other orangutans how to escape, too.

Ken Allen – yes, they gave him a first and last name — unscrewed bolts, unlatched doors, hid from the watchful eyes of his keepers, and several times climbed to a short-lived freedom, walking nonchalantly among the people at the zoo. He let himself be led back each time; and each time he tried a different escape route. Eventually the zoo hired rock climbers to find and eliminate all of Ken’s secret handholds.

“Scientists like to explain the orangutan’s unique approach to problem solving with this example: If a chimp is given an oddly shaped peg and several different holes to try to put it in, the chimp will immediately try shoving the peg in various holes until it finds the hole that the peg fits in. But an orangutan will approach the challenge quite differently. It will stare off into space, or even scratch itself with the peg. Then, after a while, it will offhandedly stick the peg into the correct hole while looking at something else that has caught its interest.” – San Diego Zoo

I don’t like low-hanging fruit, and I don’t play well with others. I prefer to wander deep into some Borneo in the back of my mind to find the strange and exotic: Paul West’s Sporting with Amaryllis, Claudio Magris’s Danube, Roa Bastos’s I the Supreme, and Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts. Back in the trees you can hear yourself think. Howling in the wilderness is good for the throat. Expect dispatches soon.


  1. Fenwick Sodbury, Esq. says

    I say, I say! What a splendid report from the wild side. I am all a-twitter with excitement. Good thing cousin Quincey insists on my wearing these vulcanized beeches now.

    I met an orangutan in Hull once, and damn’d impertinent bounder he was, too. I lost a good frock coat that day. Gads, that is one cotillion I’d like to forget.

    Dash it all, I’m nearly late for my engagement with Doctor Zaius. Tootle-pip, ducks!