An Evolutionary Fable
by Stephen Wing
The book you are about to read was a gift of cancer. As I lay in the hospital suffering a rare toxic reaction to one of my chemotherapy drugs, unable to eat because of the painful sores lining my mouth, unable to sleep because of a continuous flood of mucous from my sinuses, and running a high fever, the opening words of the story came crowding into my head. I began tapping them into my laptop, following them to see where they led, and the story never stopped coming. When I came home to recuperate and then resume my course of treatment, it continued to unfold.
The premise of Free Ralph!— that our biological cousins the chimpanzees are capable of conscious evolution, and by extension, so are we— will be distasteful to some. I warn these readers at the outset that my depiction of chimpanzees and their inner life is not a "realistic" one. I know, because in the midst of writing it I fortuitously discovered in my bookcase Jane Goodall's first book, In the Shadow of Man, which I must have brought home from a yard sale as a present for my wife Dawn. Reading it helped me reshape the daily habits and activities of my chimps to outwardly resemble "reality." But Dr. Goodall's chimps show no sign of the inner life I have imagined for mine.
Yet since In the Shadow of Man was published in 1971, both chimpanzees and gorillas have been taught to communicate with humans using American Sign Language. And since finishing Free Ralph! I have learned of new research with bonobo chimps in Iowa, of all places, where they learned to actually speak words in English with the aid of a prosthetic device. My imaginary reality might not be so far off, after all.
Besides, one who has been through the ordeal of cancer dares not question its gifts. And this particular story has not come through me simply to entertain you. It has gifts of its own, gifts which depend on your "suspension of disbelief" and acceptance of my premise, at least temporarily. And anyway, regardless of what fills the current bestseller lists, the time has long since passed when a writer can waste a reader's time with mere entertainment. The crisis which threatens the entire natural world needs our urgent attention, before the chimpanzees and many more of our endangered relatives are lost forever.
To honor those who are already aware and doing their part, I have dedicated this book to my parents, Carol and Doug Wingeier. They exemplify to me the other kind of Christian, more true to their Creator than the ones that appear toward the middle of my story— the kind of human beings who understand that preserving God's Creation is far more important than any argument over its origins.
Among the many authors to whom I owe my love of a good story, I am particularly indebted to Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the Tarzan novels— one of my earliest passions as a reader— and to Daniel Quinn, author of the Ishmael novels. I modestly hope you find this story worthy of my debt to them. But if not, don't blame me. Blame it on my fever.
Thanks and blessings—