Anthony Browne’s King Kong. From the Story Conceived by Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper
Published 2005 by Picture Corgi, 96p (first published 1994 by Julia MacRae, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
“It was Beauty that killed the Beast!”
Anthony Browne has a distinct and sophisticated style; his representations of the world provoke your imagination and make you reevaluate the aesthetic of life. Influenced by surrealists he found his originality in creating a dreamlike world populated by gorillas – strong, massive, often deformed characters that are capable of the most unexpected, kindest feelings.
But to see their most pure emotions we must first get through their darkness, their anxieties and their dramas.
I completely disagree with the adults that consider we should not expose children to stories that explore the unhappy or intimidating aspects of life; it would be a lie to present life as a series of only pleasant and harmonious moments. And Anthony Browne has no hesitation to explore in his books the joy of life but also its darkness.
His recreation of the classic King Kong is a splendid example of his talent; the book is not just a representation of the movie but an original retelling of the story with emphasis on the antihero. Kong is a powerful, gigantic ape living on a remote, mysterious island. When a group of people from Hollywood looking to make a great movie in a dangerous place arrive to Skull Island and disturb his peacefulness, Kong will react. A god on his island, the enormous gorilla will interact with humans and fall for the beautiful girl, actress Ann Darrow, a blonde sensation looking like Marilyn Monroe.
Kong will fight dinosaurs and risk his own life for Ann eventually to find himself in captivity. Humans will bring the beast to civilisation and chain him for representation. Impressed with the size and wilderness of the gorilla, crowds will wildly gather to see him.
Weeks later in New York City excited crowds jammed Times Square. It seemed as though everyone in the city was there, pushing and shoving, frantically trying to get into one theatre. Soon the theatre was packed tight, and as the lights went down there was an excited air of expectations as Denham came on to the stage.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” he announced. “I’m here tonight to tell you a very strange story, a story so strange no-one will believe it. But, ladies and gentlemen, seeing is believing, and we’ve brought back the living proof of our adventure. I want you to see for yourselves the greatest thing your eyes have ever beheld. He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilisation merely a captive, a show to gratify your curiosity.
So, ladies and gentlemen, behold the Eighth Wonder of the World. The mighty – KING KONG!”
Seeing beautiful Ann on stage, Kong will go wild, break the chains and escape in the street following his emotions and looking for the woman. He feels lost in the city and there are great illustrations that show Kong’s sadness and despair but he will fight until the end, trying to protect him and the woman he loves.
Kong is semi-human; unable to communicate, he functions governed by his primal instincts but beyond his ferocity there is his need of love and peacefulness. His sensibility is brutal, he has no understanding of human nature and he is not capable of transcending his own condition but there is courage, vigilance, kindness and even a sort of gentleness in him which all make you feel empathy for him rather than antipathy.
Complement Anthony Browne’s King Kong with Jumanji, a picture book that explores order versus chaos and Shaun Tan’s unusual sculptural representations of the Brothers Grimm’s fairy tales.