The original novelization of the King Kong movie was published in 1932, before the movie itself made its debut in 1933. Lovelace was given a script and told to have at it.
And that's what makes this book so fun. It's a testement to what the original Kong was both supposed to have been and might might have been. The most famous example of this is the "spider pit sequence." (A triceratops chases several sailors onto a log. Kong is on the other side of the chasm. He lifts up the log and rolls the sailors off into the chasm...or pit, where they are eaten alive by spiders.) This "spider pit sequence" is in the book and it was filmed, but, after viewing a screening of the film, Cooper ordered its removal because he felt it 'brought the picture to a halt.'
There's no scene in the book where Kong demolishes the El train, either. That's because there was no such scene in the original screenplay. But, when the movie was completed it turned out to be 13 reels long. The superstitious Cooper had the El train scene added to bring the number of reels to 14.
The opening paragraph:
|Even in the obscuring twilight, and behind the lightly floating veil of snow, the Wanderer was clearly no more than a humble old tramp freighter. The most imaginative, the most romantic eye could have detected nowhere about her that lean grace, those sharply cleaving contours which the landsman looks for in a craft all set to bark upon a desperate adventure.
If you already own a copy of the original novelization of King Kong, there's no real need to buy this one. It's attractively presented in a 6 X 9 paperback format so its easy to read, and there are four full color illustrations...which make it worth buying if you don't already have a copy.
The novelization was written in 1932, so it's a journey into the past, with the cadences and speech patterns of people who lived in that era, and an authentic description of the New York City of the time.
You'll see a discrepancy in the first paragraph. Lovelace refers to the ship as the Wanderer, whereas everyone who's seen the movie knows it was actually the Venture.
For the most part, the opening section of the book parallels the movie. Denham is waiting to set sail, but needs an actress and no agent will give him one. So he sets out to find her on his own and comes across Ann Darrow.
|Upon the apples the swarthy proprietor kept a suspicious eye even while he sold Denham the cigarettes. The apples were within Denham's vision too. And, actually, it was he who first saw what happened.
A girl came softly up to the apple stand and reaching out a slim white hand began to close it softly and hungrily about the red fruit.
|It was more than a beautiful face, although it was beautiful, with the well moulded clearly defined features in which his cameraman's eye had immediately rejoiced. Large eyes of incredible blueness looked out at him from shadowing lashes; the ripe mouth had passion and humor; the lifted chim had courage. Her skin was transparently white; and not, Denham decided, because she was so plainly under-nourished. That marvelous kind of skin belongs with the kind of hair which foamed up beneath her shabby hat. This was of pure gold. If Denham had been poetical, which he was not, he might have pictured it spun out of sunlight.
The paucity of illustrations is a disappointment. There are only four, each printed on glossy paper. The front of the illustration presents a small thumbnail version of the full-size illustration on the reverse side. Could not each author have been persuaded to do two illustrations? Could the cost of an extra illustration each have been that prohibitive?
I do like the illustrations themselves, all four done in different styles, two 'realistic,' two not. Dave Stevens gives us an illustration in pulp magazine format, with flat posterboard colors. It's a closeup of Kong's face as he eyes the scantily clad Ann Darrow. Frank Frazetta gives us a very nice rendition of Kong battling a gigantic snake...but there was no such scene in the novel. (Kong brushs aside a snake, which slithers away, before doing battle with the "Meat eater." Jon Foster provides us with Kong rampaging through New York...this illustration also does double duty as the cover. Finally, Ken Steacy prevents another pulp type illistration of Kong doing battle with the biplanes.
Once on board the Wanderer, however, there is no Chinese cook named Charlie, but rather an American one named Lumpy. Lumpy and Ann become friends, much as Ann and Charlie do in the movie. Meanwhile, Ann's rocky romance with Driscoll remains the same.
Lovelace's description of the natives is interesting for a book written in the 1930s - there is no racism, either inadvertent or deliberate, in it at all.
It's fun to see how he describes Ann's first encounter with Kong:
| Before her, she became conscious of the crowded wall. Behind her she was aware of a closer, deeper shout, and of a Shadow. She turned her head. Then while her eyes widened, the Shadow split the black cloak of the precipice and became solidly real. Blinking up at the packed wall, its vast mouth roared defiance, its black, furred hands drummed a black furred breast in challenge. In the full glare of the torches it hesitated, stopped and as though reading the meaning of the thousand hands which gestured from the rampart, turned and looked down at the altar, and at Ann.
It did not look up at Ann upon her pedestal. It looked down...
Then there's Lovelace's description of the many creatures encountered by the sailors as well as Kong. He doesn't name any of them (although he does use the term dinosaur). Here's how he describes the stegosaurus which first attacks Denham and the sailors:
An immense beast was emerging from the jungle, a beast with a thick, scaly hide, a huge spiked tail, and a small reptilian head upon a long swaying neck. It walked in an awkward squatting posture upon tremendous hind legs. Its forelegs were carried elevated far up toward the base of the long neck and were more like paws.
And here's the lead-up to the spider pit:
|As Driscoll started across the giant log Denham looked down. The ravine was very deep, with a thick deposit of mud and slime at the bottom. Alongside this reeking deposit, and indeed all the way up the steep sides, were narrow mouthed caves and long, jagged fissures in the rock....As though exorcised by his pointing figure, a spider like a keg on many legs came crawling out of a cave.
And this is the "meat eater," the creature that in the movie was the tyrannosaurus rex with three fingers:
|Out from the bushes which covered the slope below Ann's perch came a grotesque, hopping creature of very little less than Kong's own bulk. It's long slender neck scouted hungrily in every direction as it progressed upon powerful hind legs. Of forelegs it had almost none; only frail, clawlike members good for nothing save to lift food to its mouth.
As in the movie, the book does not deal with how Kong was actually transported to New York. It opens as the movie did, with Kong in chains at the theater in Times Square. The ending of the book comes quickly, in only two chapters, and here Lovelace does let the reader down a trifle. Kong kidnaps Ann, and takes her to the top of the Empire State Building. But he's simply describing the action of the movie - Ann's thoughts or emotions at this most frightening time are not explored.
And this is how it ends:
|The plane came down in a long swift slide. For a split second it seemed to poise, like a giant humming bird, in front of its beast adversary; then it curved upward and was away. But in the instant of pause its machine gun had poured lead into Kong's breast.
Driscoll, watching, could have sworn he saw the bullets jerk Kong's coarse hair as they plunged into his heart. Kong staggered and one lifted foot, brushing Ann, rolled her off the parapet back onto the roof space.
Kong turned slowly, as though he meant to pick her up. His lifted foot settled back. He stooped, staring down at Ann with a hurt, puzzled look. He began to cough...
...He fought to the end. With his last strength he leaped for the rearmost plane as it curved away. He missed, but his mighty spring carried him clear of the setbacks below, and out above the street. For a breath then, high above the civilization which had destroyed him, hung in the same regal loneliness that had been upon his upon Skull Mountain Island. Then he plunged down in wreckage at the feet of his conquerors...
...Denham and the sergeant leaned over the parapet.
"Well!" said the policeman. "That was a sight. I never thought the aviators'd get him."
"The aviators didn't get him," Denham replied slowly.
"It was Beauty. As always, Beauty killed the Beast."
The sergeants's puzzled frown grew deeper.