Forgotten Book: Kongo – The Gorilla-Man by Frank Orndorff (1945)

Kongo – The Gorilla Man was a strike out, even for this gorilla fan.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 194th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I am a monkey and ape fan. I say it proudly, claiming King Kong as my favorite film.

I was alerted to the novel Kongo – The Gorilla-Man by Jess Nevins, who informed a select group of monkey fans with a picture of the dustjacket and asked whether anyone of us had ever read or heard of it. No one had, but I checked out American Book Exchange (ABE) and found a copy in fair condition for under $20, including shipping. The primitive looking cover and the scarcity of the title sealed the deal.

When the book came in, I posted on Facebook and Todd Mason urged me to include it as a Friday Forgotten Book. I had been planning on returning to the FFB fold anyway, so between Robert Bloch’s Centennial and this novel, I was enticed to return.

What can I say about Kongo? I read it. If I was a sadist or horrible person, I would urge you to do the same, but I’m not. ABE shows five entries for Frank Orndorff, including two copies of Kongo, The Truth About the Bible, and two copies of Amazing Stories Quarterly, Volume 1, #1 from 1928. Other sites did not reveal any additional titles.

So, not a prolific writer. But that’s not the issue here. This novel is a mess. The plot takes  several paths, but essentially starts with a majestic white eagle sailing over the African continent with a priceless diamond around its neck. Various groups are looking for it. There’s the team of Harry Van Hall and his friend Jack, two men searching for game and the white eagle. There’s the villainous team of The Brut and The Weasel. There’s the tribe of gorillas, led by Kil. And there are various African natives, some good, some bad.

Harry and Jack kill a gorilla one day. This gorilla was Kongo-go, or “Kongo the coward” in gorilla speak. To amuse the natives, Harry dons the gorilla pelt and is performing in it when tthe group of gorillas led by Kil attacks the camp. Harry is knocked in the head and loses all sense. He believes that he is a gorilla and part of the tribe. The others notice that he smells odd, but accept him as one of their own. As the coward, he is the last to eat if he is even allowed. Harry does not remember his old life, but he understands gorilla speak. As in 2001: A Space Odyssey, he discovers the use of a club and works his way up in the tribal organization.

The Brute and The Weasel find the large diamond which has worked its way to a tribe. The king of the tribe wants to kill them, but the two use their white man’s magic to play for time and to try and get the diamond, which the natives do not value. Their only problem is that the king is not honorable and really wants nothing more than to kill them for their supplies. Still, though, he is fascinated by their magic and needs to learn it before he kills them.

Then there are the Arab slavers and the lost rich white girl who is to be sold in slavery. Not to mention other characters and stories, all of which are pretty bad. The book had obviously not been proofread before publication, because words are used incorrectly. There are also many spelling errors and sentences which do not make sense.

This book was a struggle, but I made it through. It is a young adult novel with little depth, motivation, characterization or reason for existing. It is not really a Tarzan rip-off as Harry has no real skills or jungle smarts.

Let me just say, save yourself the trouble. It did not work for me and I don’t think it will work for you.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. 

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