Anthony Browne's King Kong (from the story conceived by Edgar Wallace & Merian C. Cooper)
I sit at my desk here at Stella Books and constantly catch in my peripheral vision the two large brown eyes and even larger nostrils of King Kong as he sits quietly on our shelf in the Special Book Room. I can't quite make up my mind if the face is scary or scared, possibly the latter. Most definitely the original signed sketch of him inside the book has quite a coy, wry look.
I'm sure the majority of you are aware of the story of King Kong, the archetypal tale of Beauty and the Beast, with the sad ending of the Beast's death - mind you it would be a little quirky for Beauty to live happily ever after with Kong! Luckily for her, the ship's captain, who of course dislikes women in general, falls madly in love with Ann and she with him - the knight in shining armor who comes to her rescue. It is also very much about the tunnel vision of Carl Denham a film director who goes to extraordinary lengths to better each succeeding film with ever more exotic locations and fantastical ideas.
Anthony Browne's illustrations are wonderful; the sort where you look once, then twice and then again to see what there is to offer and you're still left with the nagging feeling that you may have missed some little artistic pun or meaning. The shadows have just as much to say as the coloured objects in the foreground. Even before the beginning, there is a very tasty looking red apple which goes from whole, to bitten, to a browned core. Many of the pictures have images of Kong or references to him, well before he becomes the main character - it is quite fun to search and find them.
When Denham first meets Ann she is about to steal an apple, as she is down on her luck and very hungry. The shadow of her hand looks like a small reptile's head, or bird, reaching for the red fruit, and the hand of the shopkeeper as it grabs Ann's, looks quite hairy and gorilla-like. Denham buys Ann a meal in the café whilst he persuades her to join him in a mysterious quest. Her burger seems to have nostrils like a gorilla's and Denham's coat that is hung behind him has a gorilla's hand protruding from the sleeve.
The story continues with the boat journey to an undisclosed destination, known only by Denham. Ann has had a makeover and now looks remarkably like Marilyn Monroe with her blond hair and strappy red dress. When the destination is revealed and finally reached, the crew go ashore to start filming and fortuitously stumble across the very ceremony that includes Kong and his "new bride". Naturally enough the crew interfere but unwittingly set the scene for the later kidnapping of Ann.
There follows many adventures for the crew, leaving only the shining knight to rescue Ann from the clutches of Kong, who has been truly heroic in keeping her safe from many a monster depicted with great detail in Anthony Browne's illustrations.
It all ends with man's triumph over nature and, sadly, the death of Kong - "Far below a crowd gathered. 'Well!' said a policeman. 'That was some fight. But the planes got him in the end.' Denham shook his head ruefully. 'Oh no, it wasn't the aeroplanes... It was Beauty that killed the Beast.'"
Incidentally, I wonder what they did with Kong's enormous body...
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Contributed by Rosemary Hanley.
(Published 9th Dec 2014)