Dull biographies can have all sorts of obscure scholarly merits, but good biographies always have the same merits — an able author and an interesting subject. HESKETH PEARSON’S HENRY OF NAVARRE (Harper & Row, $4.95) has both. Mr. Pearson has no really new information about Navarre; he draws no modern political parallels; he does no psychiatric burrowing, and his estimate of the merits of the religious wars that disrupted sixteenth-century France can be gauged from one sentence. Henry, he reports, was bothered by “a series of papal Bulls, anathemas and whatnot.”Mr. Pearson is like the man who collars a friend on the street, shouting, “I’ve found the most extraordinary fellow, come and meet him at once.” In this case, he is determined to introduce one of the most likable rulers in history, a civilized monarch holding his own among what his biographer considers a gaggle of savages.
Henry’s courtiers were, indeed, no better than people today and sometimes worse. One nobleman, detected in a regicidal plot, blamed it all on a person who “showed me a waxen figure which had spoken and announced the King’s death.” The nature of Henry’s associates does not prevent Mr. Pearson from writing of them with the same terse, sparkling directness that he lavishes on Navarre, who needs it less. The last Valois Mr. Pearson describes as “too fond of boys to beget any.”
Mr. Pearson’s sly, rapier-sharp jabs at human folly are a good deal more effective than the outright satire undertaken by PIERRE BOULLE in PLANETS OF THE APES (Vanguard. $4.50). This novel is respectably descended from Swift on one side and Verne on the other, and describes a future space voyage to a planet on which chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas operate a civilization much like our own, while humans are mere brainless wild animals. There are any number of ethical and political inferences to be drawn from this situation, and Mr. Boulle, in his anxiety to leave every line of thought open to the reader, has refrained from following any particular line himself. As a result, the book is clever but never dramatic.
BERNARD TAPER’S biography of BALANCHINE (Harper & Row, $8.95) is so comprehensive and so thickly illustrated that it becomes a sound history of ballet from 1914 to the present, as well as a study of a great choreographer.
BOOK OF THE HOPI (Viking, $10.00) is a curious medley of Indian myth and modern fact, assembled by Frank Waters with the help of Oswald White Bear Fredericks. It is clear that Mr. Fredericks persuaded older members of the Hopi group to tell their religious beliefs, their legends. and their version of Hopi history, which is highly (and rightly) unflattering to the United States government. What is not always clear in this process is where the Hopis begin and end in the sections devoted to recent and real events. Mr. Waters has become so immersed in Hopi culture and so attracted by gentle, peaceful Hopi religion that he is inclined to agree with the Indians that a world converted to their faith would be a great improvement. Given Mr. Waters’ enthusiasm, it is not always certain whether he is quoting Hopi opinion or reporting what he has actually observed. This is a strange, fascinating, touching portrait of a people whose moral courage, once its principles of operation are understood, is deeply impressive. The Hopi drawings are particularly striking.
FRANCIS STEEGMULLER is thoroughly at home in French literature, and he has a fine story to tell in the life of APOLLINAIRE (Farrar, Straus, $6.50), who was Guglielmo de Kostrowitsky, father unknown. The Italian-born son of a Polish adventuress, Guglielmo turned himself into Guillaume Apollinaire, became a poet, art critic, friend of Picasso’s, lover of Marie Laurencin, and a power in the experimental, iconoclastic, exciting literary world of Paris before the First World War. When the fighting started, he became an energetically belligerent French soldier and citizen until influenza killed him at the age of thirty-eight, a few days before the armistice. He left a few beautiful poems, a lot of art criticism distinguished for enthusiasm rather than perception, the word “surrealism,” and a stimulus to the wit and imagination of his contemporaries that has not yet spent itself.