I had always admired the H. Rider Haggard adventure story, “King Solomon’s Mines,” and I wanted to write a similar sort of Victorian adventure, set in the 20th century. I was also interested in the experimental attempts to teach apes to use language, and the implications of this research for animal rights, which in the late 1970s was a very obscure topic.
When the book was published, most reviewers found the character of Amy, the sign-language-using gorilla, too incredible to believe. This despite the fact that I had modeled Amy on a real signing gorilla, Koko, then at Stanford University. I considered Koko to be pretty famous. After all, she had been twice on the cover of National Geographic magazine, and once on the cover of the New York Times magazine. Koko had also been interviewed on television, where with quick hand gestures she complained about the bright lights, and told the TV interviewer to go away. But apparently, book reviewers had never heard of Koko.
To prepare for writing the book, I planned to go to Africa to see gorillas on the slopes of the Virunga volcano chain in eastern Congo. But at that time, there was a war between Tanzania and Uganda, and the eastern Congo were much too dangerous to visit. No one would take me there.
So I had to find substitutes. To experience volcanos, I went to Stromboli, off the coast of Sicily, a volcano which is continuously active. In those days you could just hike to the rim and watch the display as long as you wanted. For an experience in the rain forest, I went to Taman Negara in the jungles of Malaysia.
I never saw gorillas in the wild until two years after the book was published. Then I went to Rwanda, climbed the real volcanoes, and visited the real gorillas. This was a very powerful and emotional experience, which I wrote about in the book Travels.
Deep in the African rain forest, near the legendary ruins of the Lost City of Zinj, an expedition of eight American geologists is mysteriously and brutally killed in a matter of minutes.
Ten thousand miles away, Karen Ross, the Congo Project Supervisor, watches a gruesome video transmission of the aftermath: a camp destroyed, tents crushed and torn, equipment scattered in the mud alongside dead bodies — all motionless except for one moving image — a grainy, dark, man-shaped blur.
In San Francisco, primatologist Peter Elliot works with Amy, a gorilla with an extraordinary vocabulary of 620 “signs,” the most ever learned by a primate, and she likes to fingerpaint. But recently, her behavior has been erratic and her drawings match, with stunning accuracy, the brittle pages of a Portuguese print dating back to 1642 . . . a drawing of an ancient lost city. A new expedition — along with Amy — is sent into the Congo where they enter a secret world, and the only way out may be through a horrifying death …
People magazine featured Michael Crichton in the February 16, 1981 issue in an articled titled “Author-Director Michael Crichton Is a Master of Multimedia Monkey Business” and written by Andrea Chambers. Michael Crichton talks about writing, directing and his latest novel, Congo. Here is an excerpt:
“Crichton cheerfully admits that Congo owes more than its exotic locale to Sir Henry Rider Haggard’s classic “King Solomon’s Mines”. “All the books I’ve written play with preexisting literary forms,” Crichton says. A model for The Andromeda Strain was H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. The Terminal Man was based on Frankenstein’s monster. Crichton’s 1976 novel Eaters of the Dead was inspired by Beowulf. “The challenge is in revitalizing the old forms,” he explains.
Crichton taps out his books on an Olivetti word processor (price: $13,500) and bombards readers with high-density scientific data and jargon, only some of which is real. “I did check on the rapids in the Congo,” he says. “They exist, but not where I put them.” His impressive description of a cannibal tribe is similarly fabricated. “It amused me to make a complete ethnography of a nonexistent tribe,” he notes. “I like to make up something to seem real.””
Promotional poster for the paperback release of Congo created by renowned artist and illustrator Robert McGinnis.
|JUNE 9, 1995
|1 HR. 49 MIN.
|John Patrick Shanley
|Based on the Novel by:
|Laura Linney, Dylan Walsh, Ernie Hudson, Tim Curry, Joe Don Baker
Congo was one of the Top 20 movies of 1995