Today, explaining the impossible. The University of Houston presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
King Kong, the classic 1933 film of a giant ape brought to New York, premiered on television in 1956. I was five years old then, and I remember that night well. Many of my school mates saw the movie that night. The next day we asked our teacher if there was a real Skull Island. She told us that no such place existed, but some of us were not so sure.
Years later, with a large screen television and the ability to freeze frames, I learned the location of Skull Island. As shown on the bottom of Carl Denham's map, it is Latitude 12° South, Longitude 78° East--smack in the middle of the Indian Ocean. And, in the middle of the mythical continent of Lemuria. Skull Island could be the last remnant of the fictitious, lost land.
As I grew older, the question became not where was Skull Island, but how such a place could exist. No surprise that an isolated island might have species of animals unknown elsewhere. But so many giant species--Kong, a tyrannosaur, a stegosaur, an apatosaur, and others--on such a small island. Hardly possible.
King Kong fighting a pteranodon
Photo Credit: Fandom.com
Skull Island's existence became even more unlikely when I learned about sustainable populations. How many individuals are needed for a species to survive through the ages? The rock-bottom number is probably in the hundreds. Skull Island could never support herds of giant dinosaurs and bands of giant apes.
King Kong was extremely popular. A side effect was increased interest in the Loch Ness Monster in Scotland. In the months following the release of King Kong, sightings of Nessie soared. Nessie believers faced the same question of sustainable populations. Could the loch support an entire population of plesiosaurs, or had a lone creature lived in the loch for centuries? Neither seemed viable. So, theorists proposed that the loch had an undiscovered opening to sea through which Nessie entered. The believers then had to accept that an unknown species of monster live in the ocean.
Going back to Skull Island.
A loophole does exist. A basic principle of biology is that "like produces like." That is, gorillas give birth to baby gorillas and not baby giraffes. Relax "like produces like," and Skull Island becomes possible. On the island, not only are the individual characteristics of an offspring up for grabs, but its very species.
I have no idea how Skull Island procreation might work, but a clue comes when Carl Denham first arrives. The islanders immediately want the one woman with Denham, Ann Darrow, as a bride for Kong. Perhaps, the islanders have an instinctive drive to expand the gene pool and rid themselves of the monsters beyond the great wall.
King Kong with his bride
Photo Credit: Fandom.com
Kong gets his bride and has a few intimate moments with her before she is rescued. Is that enough time to begin the strange process of Skull Island procreation? Again, we have no idea. But there is a clue when Carl Denham returns to Skull Island in the sequel, Son of Kong. The animals are markedly different. They include a giant bear--the first mammal other than Kong seen on the island. The one dinosaur in the movie is from a very late period. And the new Kong is much smaller, and almost domesticated.
So, can a Skull Island actually exist? Certainly not but trying to explain the impossible is good training for explaining the very difficult.
I'm Frank Dello Stritto, for the University of Houston, and interested in the way inventive minds work.
Dello Stritto, Frank J. 2003. A Quaint & Curious Volume of Forgotten Lore - The Mythology & History of Classic Horror Films. Cult Movies Press, Houston, Texas.
Erb, Cynthia. 1998. Tracking King Kong - A Hollywood Icon in World Culture. Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan.
Binns, Ronald. 1984. The Loch Ness Mystery Solved. Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York.
Haber, Karen (editor) Kong Unbound: The Cultural Impact, Pop Mythos, and Scientific Plausibility of a Cinematic Legend. Gallery Books, New York.
This episode was first aired on October 12, 2021