The Thunder Child

Science Fiction and Fantasy
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Vol 1, Issue #3
"Stand By For Mars!"
March 2006

Non-fiction Fiction Book Reviews
by Edogawa Ranpo

Kong Unbound: The Cultural Impact, Pop Mythos, and Scientific Plausibility of a Cinematic Legend
Edited by Karen Haber
Pocket Books

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Edogawa Ranpo is a devotee of all types of "misunderstood monster" films. He is also a fan of sumo, in particular Terao, the Eternal Typhoon.

Kong Unbound is one of many non-fiction anthologies produced in anticipation of the debut of Peter Jackson's remake of the classic King Kong in December 2005. Although the cover illustration is from Jackson's Kong, the 16 essays included here deal with its illustrious predecessor.

Editor Karen Haber is the author of several short stories and eight novels, including Star Trek Voyager: Bless the Beasts and Crossing Infinity. She's also edited a few anthologies, including Meditations on Middle Earth.

The back cover matter is misleading - Ray Harryhausen and Ray Bradbury did not contribute essays but rather the Preface and the Foreword, respectively.

For any collection of essays or short stories, the quality of the contributions is going to vary. It's impossible to please everyone in an audience. Some people will like one essay, others will dislike that but like another, and so on.

Ray Harryhausen Preface
Ray Bradbury Foreword: Kong Reverie
Karen Haber Introduction: Kong Transcendant
Richard A. Lupoff Kong is Us
Christopher Priest Fay Wray, the Pulp Tradition, and the Moral Minority
Robert Silverberg The Magic and Mystery of Kong
Jack Williamson King Kong: A Parable of Progress
Harry Harrison A Myth for All Seasons
William Stout Kong: The First Wonder of My World
Paul Di Filippo The Myth Goes Ever Downward: The Infantilization, Electrification, Mechanization, and General Diminishment of King Kong
Esther M. Friesner Give Beast A Chance
Howard Waldrop "The Bravest Girl I Knew..."
Frank M. Robinson King Kong?My Favorite Nightmare
Pat Cadigan Dating Kong: The Stop-Motion Animated Rape Fantasy
David Gerrold King Kong: The Unanswered Questions
Philip J. Currie King Long to King Kong
Joe DeVito King Kong: A Kid's Tale
Alan Dean Foster Rooting Against the King
William Joyce, Maurice Sendak, and Michael Chabon A Conversation Among William Joyce, Maurice Sendak, and Michael Chabon
But with sixteen essays - it's hard for a Kong fan to not find something to like among the offerings here. If nothing else one can always play a mental game - trying to deduce from inner clues how long it's been since any one essay writer actually saw King Kong, for example.

Two essays can be dismissed out of hand. Jack Williamson - the grandmaster of science fiction perhaps most famous for his short story "With Folded Hands," contributes nothing more than a detailed synopsis of the plot of the movie, with no new insights. It's nice to know that the 97-year old is still writing, but I'd hoped for something more.

The final essay is a discussion between three people - William Joyce, Maurice Sendak, and Michael Chabon - and their views on the film. Their views contribute nothing new. And interestingly enough, all of the essay authors have biographies in the back of the book...except these three.

The other essays range from the very good to might-be-good but not-my-cup-of-tea. I dislike authors who lard their writings with sarcasm, such as David Gerrold and Harry Harrison - but they are popular writers, so each to his own taste, I suppose.

Harry Harrison, however, is one of those who must not have revisited the movie before writing his essay. On page 104, for example, Harrison is referring to The Lost World (1925) when he states: "However, the real stars of this film were not the human actors, but the prehistoric monsters. They were created by Willis O'Brien, assisted by a youthful Ray Harryhausen..." In actual fact, Harryhausen did not work with O'Brien until long after The Lost World, let alone King Kong. The two men won't work together until Mighty Joe Young in 1947.

On page 111 Harrison makes a couple more errors. "A hungry brontosaurus chews on the sailors after Kong drops them into a valley." [No, the brontosaurus attacks earlier, while the men are trying to cross a lake or river. When Kong drops the remaining sailors it is not into a 'valley' but a 'pit,' where spiders lurked until they were cut out of the movie.]

And: "Then there is the constricting snake with legs, something that left no fossil record on this earth." [The animal in question was supposed to be a plesiosaur. Yes, many people writing on the subject in the past have called it a snake, so Harrison is just repeating their error. The clue is in the "legs".]

The best of the essays, in my opinion, are "The Magic and Mystery of Kong", by Robert Silverberg, (in which he points out that Edgar Wallace actually had written a 110-page screenplay for King Kong before his death), "Dating Kong: The Stop-Motion Animated Rape Fantasy", by Pat Cadigan (in which Cadigan points out what a "rape fantasy" is, and isn't. Indeed, the term "rape fantasy" needs to be changed to something a bit less pejorative.)

"King Long to King Kong", by Philip J. Currie, examines the dinosaurs on Skull Island. "King Kong: A Kid's Tale", by Joe DeVito is actually an advertisement for DeVito's own fiction writing about Kong, but intersting nevertheless.

And "Rooting Against the King", by Alan Dean Foster, makes for very fun reading, as Foster points out that he had no sympathy for Kong but rather for the men Kong was killing...which makes sense.

Esther Friesner has some interesting things to say about the endurance of the "Beauty and the Beast myth," but doesn't mention what to me seems to be the most plausible reason behind its existence: in the early days when high-born women were sold by her family to the highest bidder to ensure her family's acquiring wealth or social position, the woman had to be believe that even though she was marrying a man who could be 20-30 years older than she, and not handsome, he could still have a good heart. On a serious note, though, Friesner does point out what many women these days need to learn - that sometimes Love is not enough to turn a Monster into a caring husband, and if a man beats you no matter how much you love him - it is not your fault for not loving him enough.

I found a few essays, most notably Paul Di Filippo's "The Myth Goes Ever Downward: The Infantilization, Electrification, Mechanization, and General Diminishment of King Kong" to get a bit wild and crazy with their interpretation of the Kong Mythos. To Di Filippo Kong is the black man in America, with all that that implies. Di Filippo states that Kong is "pro-African-American," but goes on to make the case that the subsequent Kong movies, from Son of Kong to the Japanese offerings, were made...not to make money for their producers, but deliberately to "recast the tale in a way that would be more flattering to the white audience."

As editor, Haber does things that many editors do that annoy me. There seems to be no rhyme or reason in how these essays are why not arrange them alphabetically?

There are a few typos...nothing too serious.

Overall, this book makes for fun reading and should be a welcome addition to your Kong bookshelf.

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