How far the mighty have fallen!  And I’m not talking about King Kong toppling off the
summit of the Empire State Building. I’m referring to the afterlife of the great British
novelist Edgar Wallace.

No one climbed higher than Wallace in the literary
world of the 1920s. At one point his publisher
estimated that one out of every four fiction books
sold in England came from his pen. His biographer
Neil Clark tells us that no 20th century author had
more stories turned into films. His fans crossed all
boundaries and borders, and included Clark Gable,
King George V and Adolf Hitler (who allegedly
owned a complete set of Wallace’s crime stories).  
Some 50 films based on his stories were made in
Germany alone!

His output was as prodigious as his fame. When
Wallace died at age 1956, he left behind more than
170 books. At the high point of his career, he wrote
faster than his fans could read. During the course
of 1924 and 1925, he released 18 novels, but in
1926 he released another 18 in just 12 months.
Surely supply had now exceeded demand? Yet
Wallace never saturated the market, at least not
during his lifetime. By one estimate, he eventually sold 300 million copies of his books!

And today? Almost everything Edgar Wallace wrote is out-of-print. His celebrated novel
The Green Archer, which spawned two popular movie serials, doesn’t even rank among
the top 2 million bestselling books on Amazon. Alongside Alfred Hitchcock, Graham
Greene, and John Buchan, Wallace deserves credit for inventing the modern British
thriller, but even dedicated fans of the genre won’t recognize his name.  

I don’t expect a Wallace revival any time soon, and for the simplest reason of all.
Readers don’t have a clue where to start in the huge stack of books he left behind.
He was, in the apt words of one critic, "The Man Who Wrote Too Much."

Yet there’s one thing on Wallace’s resume that everbody knows about: King Kong.
At the very end of his life, the prolific English storyteller brought his talents to
Hollywood. His last major project was, in his words, a "big animal play" he wrote
for director Merian C. Cooper, a World War I hero turned to movie-making.

Sad to say, this towering achievement of Wallace’s career
has been disputed by posterity. Wallace didn't live long
enough to see the release of
King Kong, and Cooper later
tried to take credit for the story. "Not one single scene, nor
line of dialogue in
King Kong was contributed by him," the
former aviator insisted. But Wallace’s surviving 110-page
film treatment puts the lie to that claim. In fact, all the most
memorable ingredients of the story—from the “Beauty and
the Beast” angle to the climb atop the Empire State Building
—came from Edgar Wallace.

Wallace never got the chance to write the novelization of
King Kong, but only because he died too soon. That
responsibility fell to Delos Lovelace, a hack writer who
didn't do justice to Wallace’s story. The end result is that
the work that should have immortalized Edgar Wallace's
reputation, and perhaps inspired readers to check out his
other books, dilutes his legacy. Indeed, he must share
credit for the one novel that he would have made much better on his own.

You probably know the story.  Not many plots from the early 1930s are still familiar to
media-drenched pop culture fans in the current day, but the big ape that climbed to the
top of the tallest building in New York has achieved mythic status.  The film has been
remade every generation, and two more reboots are in the works as I write. King Kong
has also spawned comic books, toys, board and video games, a musical, a Japanese
anime series, and a theme park ride. Oh, yes, and a lot of rip-offs (anyone want to play
Donkey Kong?). Given all this, how can you not know the story?

But for those of you who have been hiding on someplace even more remote than
Skull Island for the last 80 years, here’s a quick summary.  Moviemaker Carl Denham
heads off with cast a crew to an island somewhere to the west of Sumatra. Here he
hopes to film an adventure movie with actress Ann Darrow, and maybe get footage of
the mysterious creature Kong, rumored to live there. But Denham gets more than he
bargained for—not just the gigantic ape, but a host of other prehistoric creatures.  
Kong takes a fancy to Ann Darrow, and carries her off to his mountain lair. Twelve
crew members are killed in the pursuit, but Denham and his formidable first mate
Jack Driscoll manage to rescue Darrow and capture King Kong.

They bring him back to New York for display as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” But
he escapes during his Broadway debut, abducts Darrow again, carrying her to the top of
the Empire State Building. Military planes shoot him down from the summit of the
skyscraper, but not before he puts down the actress who lured him to his doom. When
a police officer praises the aviators who killed King Kong, Denham demurs in the final
lines of the story: “It was Beauty killed the Beast.”

That’s a gripping story, whether told on film or in print. And if Wallace had lived,
the novelization of the film script would probably rank as one of the great horror
classics of the era. Alas, Delos Lovelace’s efforts did not do justice to the majesty of
tale—or to the rich psychological currents implicit in Wallace's plot.  The spark of
genius behind King Kong was the notion that this mammoth ape could be a
sympathetic leading man. The folks who gave us
Godzilla or Jurassic Park weren't
capable of that leap of the imagination. And when King Kong is reaching out for the
pestering planes trying to shoot him down from the Empire State Building, I suspect
that somewhere in the rapidly-beating hearts of the excited audience members is the
hope that beast will prevail over man-made machine. After all, as the adage goes: All
the world loves a lover.

But the novel is clumsy, written without poetry or grace, and terribly lopsided. While I
was approaching the end of the book, I even wondered whether I hadn’t been given a
faulty edition.  I was almost finished, and only 25 pages remained, but the story was
still dealing with the pursuit of Kong on Skull Island. Could the novelist really finish
that episode, bring King Kong to New York, put him on display on Broadway, follow
his escape, climb and tragic fall in the few pages left?

As it turned out, that’s exactly what Lovelace does. The slow pacing of the early chapters
is now thrown aside, and the most memorable scenes in the entire story are tossed off
in a few paragraphs. This is something I expect from an amateur author, who finds that
the word count is running too high, so the ending is rushed and trivialized.

And even when Lovelace slows down for description, he commits high school level
errors—for example, check out the glaring mismatch between subject and modifying
clause in this sentence:

"Monstrous beyond conception, as hairy as any of the simian creatures of an African
jungle whom he resembled in all but size, the fact that he picked his way with a slow
almost human caution, made him all the more incredible"

But even if you fixed the grammatical error here, you’re still left the "incredible,"
"monstrous beyond conception" clichés.

I am left hoping that some more skilled author will do a remake of the book, just as
directors have remade the film version of
King Kong. In the meantime, if you want to
read a great book version of a horror movie, stick with
Dracula and Frankenstein.
Those novels do not disappoint. As for the mighty Kong, he may tower over the other
film villains just as he rose above the Manhattan skyline in his shining moment; but—
alas!—his book never gets off the ground.

Ted Gioia writes about music, literature and popular culture. His latest book is How to Listen to Jazz from
Basic Books.

Publication Date: August 28, 2016
This is my year of horrible reading.
I am reading the classics of horror fiction
during the course of 2016, and each week will
write about a significant work in the genre.
You are invited to join me in my
. During the course of the year—if
we survive—we will have tackled zombies,
serial killers, ghosts, demons, vampires, and
monsters of all denominations. Check back
each week for a new title...but remember to
bring along garlic, silver bullets and a
protective amulet.  
Ted Gioia
My Year of Horrible Reading

Week 1:
By Bram Stoker

Week 2:
The Haunting of Hill House
By Shirley Jackson

Week 3:
Tales of Mystery & Imagination
By Edgar Allan Poe

Week 4:
By Stephen King

Week 5:
The Passion According to G.H.
By Clarice Lispector

Week 6:
By H.P. Lovecraft

Week 7:
The Exorcist
By William Peter Blatty

Week 8:
The Woman in Black
By Susan Hill

Week 9:
By Jean-Paul Sartre

Week 10:
I Am Legend
By Richard Matheson

Week 11:
Ghost Stories of Henry James
By Henry James

Week 12:
Interview with the Vampire
By Anne Rice

Week 13:
American Psycho
By Bret Easton Ellis

Week 14:
Last Stories and Other Stories
By William T. Vollmann

Week 15:
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary
By M.R. James

Week 16:
Rosemary's Baby
By Ira Levin

Week 17:
The King in Yellow
By Robert W. Chambers

Week 18:
By Daphne Du Maurier

Week 19
The Woman in the Dunes
by Kōbō Abe

Week 20
The Dark Eidolon
by Clark Ashton Smith

Week 21
Off Season
by Jack Ketchum

Week 22
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3
by Clive Barker

Week 23
The Silence of the Lambs
by Thomas Harris

Week 24
The Orange Eats Creeps
by Grace Krilanovich

Week 25
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde
by Robert Louis Stevenson

Week 26
by Robert Bloch

Week 27
by Octavia E. Butler

Week 28
Demons by Daylight
by Ramsey Campbell

Week 29
The Complete Short Stories
by Ambrose Bierce

Week 30
Pet Sematary
by Stephen King

Week 31
Our Lady of Darkness
by Fritz Leiber

Week 32
by John Gardner

Week 33
White is for Witching
by Helen Oyeyemi

Week 34
The Wasp Factory
by Iain Banks

Week 35
King Kong
by Edgar Wallace
conceptual fiction
Exploring the Non-Realist Tradition in Fiction
King Kong as Literary Hero
To purchase, click on image
By Ted Gioia
Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at

Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barker, Clive
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Bierce, Ambrose
The Complete Short Stories

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Butler, Octavia E.

Campbell, Ramsey
Demons by Daylight

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chambers, Robert W.
The King in Yellow

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fowles, John
A Maggot

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gardner, John

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Herbert, Frank

Hill, Susan
The Woman in Black

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Houellebecq, Michel

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Jackson, Shirley
The Haunting of Hill House

James, Henry
The Turn of the Screw

James, M.R.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Ketchum, Jack
Off Season

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

King, Stephen

King, Stephen
Pet Sematary

Krilanovich, Grace
The Orange Eats Creeps

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Our Lady of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Levin, Ira
Rosemary's Baby

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Lovecraft, H.P.

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
I Am Legend

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Oyeyemi, Helen
White is for Witching

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Poe, Edgar Allan
Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Rice, Anne
Interview with the Vampire

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Saramago, José

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Clark Ashton
The Dark Eidolon

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stevenson, Robert Louis
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Stoker, Bram

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
The Dragon Masters

Vance, Jack

Vance, Jack
The Languages of Pao

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vollmann, William T
Last Stories and Other Stories

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Woolf, Virginia

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features

Notes on Conceptual Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
The Most Secretive Sci-Fi Author
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

Links to related sites

The New Canon
Great Books Guide
Postmodern Mystery
Fractious Fiction
Ted Gioia's web site
Ted Gioia on Twitter


SF Site
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Los Angeles Review of Books
The Millions
Big Dumb Object
SF Novelists
More Words, Deeper Hole
The Misread City
Reviews and Responses
SF Signal
True Science Fiction
Tor blog

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Edgar Wallace on the cover of Time (1929)