My introduction to this prolific jungle hero is “King of the Jungle”, the very first Ki-Gor story. It was originally published in the 1938 Winter issue of Jungle Stories and later collected in the omnibus Ki-Gor: The Complete Series Volume 1 by Altus Press.
Pilot Helene Vaughn is flying across equatorial Africa when she loses her engine. The female pilot is quick to release all of her fuel in preparation for the treetop crash, thus avoiding a deadly explosion on impact. She awakens after the crash and begins a walk through the dense jungle foliage in hopes of finding anyone that can help her. When she's stopped by a jaguar, a six-foot bare-foot man with blue eyes and long hair comes to her rescue, fighting the jaguar and stabbing it to death with a steel knife. This is Helene's introduction to Ki-Gor, King of the Jungle.
The brawny hero takes Helene back to his cave and speaks some broken English with her. Later that night, the two fend off a vicious attack by the Wungubas, a fierce African tribe that have warred with Ki-Gor for years. When the two successfully survive the onslaught, Ki-Gor takes Helene to a small abandoned cabin. It is here that the hero's origin story is revealed through a diary entry and photograph.
Ki-Gor's real name is Robert. He was the son of John Kilgour, a missionary who came to this part of Africa in 1917. On a mildewed piece of notebook paper, Helene reads that Chief Kranta of the Wunguba tribe grew unfriendly with Kilgour's work in the region. On the diary page, Kilgour describes Kranta as "...there seems to be evil back of his beadlike eyes." Piecing this together with what Kil-Gor explains, it is revealed to readers and Helene that John was killed by the Wungubas around the time that Robert was seven or eight years old. Kil-Gor has survived in the jungle for over 20 years.
"King of the Jungle" has a fragmented narrative that doesn't allow a lot of character development or growth. But, it is the first story and I understand the series improves over time. I really enjoyed the story for what it was and found that Ki-Gor's relationship with Helene could spark some future interest. I also love this fiery feud with the Wunguba tribe and the hero's ability to use a special blend of mystical "powder" to provide dreamlike visions for Helene. This addition has an E. Hoffmann Price feel to the character.
Obviously, there are a ton of Tarzan imitators. Just like there are tons of James Bond, Conan, Mike Hammer, and The Shadow imitators. The borrowed idea of a white man surviving the death of a parent in an exotic jungle doesn't steer me away. I enjoy a good jungle romp and these Ki-Gor stories certainly seem to provide that. If you love that type of presentation, then this is a mandatory read.
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