More than just a novel, Will Murray’s KING KONG VS TARZAN provides readers with long-lost pieces of the King Kong puzzle; answering the question (finally!) of how the 30-foot tall behemoth was transported from Skull Island to New York City (and revealing how Kong’s eventual downfall in Manhattan would affect folks in other parts of the world – namely one John Clayton on the continent of Africa.)
The high-flying spirit of pulp adventure is alive-and-well here, as each one of its 455 pages is like a lit firecracker. Choosing remarkable passages to reread is akin to choosing favorite trapeze artists at the Cirque du Soleil; easier said than done.
The tale begins with the capture of Kong on Skull Island. The book’s main characters will be familiar to fans of Peter Jackson’s KING KONG film from 2005 (main characters in Murray’s novel include Ann Darrow, Carl Denham, Jack Driscoll and Captain Englehorn.)
From a dialogue standpoint, there’s much to enjoy in this tale (and it is the character of Carl Denham who repeatedly steals the show.)
“I’m just thinking of Kong’s well-being, that’s all. Bananas and coconuts are like candy to him. All that greenery is nothing more than a tossed salad. Kong is a king. And kings eat meat. He’s going to need a lot of meat.” [Carl Denham, amateur nutritionist]
“A few years back, I took a crew deep into the jungle east of Lake Victoria. Stories had come out of the jungle about a white man who lived with the apes. A white man who had been seen but never photographed. A kind of forest god. Something like Kong, yet very different… They call him Tarzan of the Apes, on account of the legend that he was raised by monkeys. Can you beat that? A white man raised by apes, until he became the king of an ape tribe… I took a safari crew into the jungle, and we beat the bush for weeks. Once, I heard his bloodcurdling cry. It petrified my native porters. Why, half of them turned tail and ran off.” [Carl Denham, courageous filmmaker]
“Tarzan’s a wild man. I know he talks like a white man, but he’s half ape. Just like Kong seems to be part human. Don’t you see? If I can’t have one, maybe the other will do. Maybe you could accidentally shoot him with one of your mercy slugs. Knock him out for a spell. By the time he wakes up, we’ll be far out to sea and there’ll be nothing he can do about it. Especially if he’s in chains.” [Carl Denham, brazen opportunist]
Captain Englehorn’s cargo freighter vessel (Wanderer) serves as an excellent backdrop for much of KING KONG VS TARZAN. From the time of Kong’s capture at Skull Island to the time of Jane Clayton’s soothing words to her husband at tale’s end, the Wanderer becomes a character in its own right; a character that somehow, against all odds, rises to the challenges beset upon it whilst performing as admirably as one could reasonably hope for. Plagued by obstacles including Mother Nature and Kong himself, the Wanderer can be hailed as a hero in retrospect.
As for Captain Englehorn, it is he who also stands out as a notable character in this tale. Making readers care about the captain of a ship is no small trick for an author. More than just a captain of a ship, Englehorn is a stout captain of industry and a man of few words. Readers will certainly savor his every word though. Englehorn even helps to further cement the Wanderer in readers’ minds, as a ship worth rooting for, old and outdated as she is. (“I can only tell you that we must try. And we will try. The honor of the Wanderer rests upon our trying… You know our situation. The Wanderer has been limping toward bankruptcy ever since the stock market crashed. She would’ve been sold at auction if it weren’t for Carl Denham coming along with this mad enterprise.”)
As expected, Kong’s battles are lopsided victories whenever tranquilizers aren’t involved. It still makes for great reading though, as Murray has a knack for painting vivid pictures with his words. Kong (driven by an insatiable hunger that man cannot comprehend) searches for nourishment and sustenance in the foreign (to him) lands of eastern Africa, carving his way through anything that the jungle can throw at him, seemingly unstoppable as he wreaks havoc.
As for the big confrontation between Kong and Tarzan, Murray takes his time getting there (and the confrontation isn’t overly long,) and yet it’s still every bit the climactic showdown one would expect. Is it far-fetched? Sure. Is it so far-fetched as to be considered outlandish? Not at all. Is it fun? Sure. Is it too much fun? There’s no such thing, especially when King Kong and Tarzan are in the mix.
Unlike Kong’s ascent of the Empire State Building which happens off-page, KING KONG VS TARZAN is worth the climb.
“The overpowering stink of cooking turtle eggs infiltrated the jungle on either side of the sluggish Galana River. The sizzling sounds of frying also carried. Combined, they meant little to most of the inhabitants of the jungle, be they terrestrial or aquatic. Yet simian noses – very much like those of Kong except in miniature – reacted to the odor with keen interest.”
“Captain Englehorn had spent a sleepless night pacing the wheelhouse and afterdeck of the tired old freighter , the Wanderer. Many times, he brought his binoculars to his sea-grey eyes, searching the rustling jungle for signs of the shore party led by Jack Driscoll. In the ordinary course of events, the seasoned sea captain would not have hesitated sending a search party to seek out the first. Indeed, he struggled against that very impulse as the night wore on.”
“Never dreaming that they were stepping toward unimaginable danger, the grouping of giraffes walked in their stilt-like way, and while their sympathetic, heavy-lashed eyes were elsewhere, Carl Denham pitched his rock. The stone bounced off Kong’s forehead. At once, the great eyes snapped open like plates the hue of honey.”
“This jungle might be unknown, but it teemed with life. Unfamiliar life. Pungent smells intriguing to Kong tickled his dilating nostrils. Some of these scents meant fruit. Others smacked of strange, yet-untasted meat. Having tasted the blood of bats, Kong desired meat above all. Iron is what his body craved most. But Kong did not know that. Plunging into a thicket of crackling trees, the determined beast-god began following a scent spoor that smacked of living flesh. The hungry monster did not know whose living flesh he tracked, only that it was a just a matter of time before he caught up with it.”
“A group of grey elephants, numbering seven, were moving through the dry debris of their ancestors, repositioning the dead bones with their flexible trunks, and taking care not to further damage the remains clattering hollowly under their great padded feet. Tarzan of the Apes spoke many languages, not the least of which was the tongue of the great apes. This in itself was fantastic. That elephants as a species possess a language of their own is not known to scientists in the modern world. But they do. Approaching this group, Tarzan caught their attention. And so they turned their heavy heads, lifting their trunks in recognition of the Lord of the Jungle. Going among them, the ape-man made low sounds that the elephants instantly understood. These were sounds of sympathy, as well as rumblings of anger.”
“Ann Darrow’s blue eyes grew clouded, “Kong. He’s all I think about during the day, and all I dream about at night. The very thought of that foul thing sleeping below deck under this very cabin makes me feel like I’m sitting on top of a volcano.'”