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King Solomon's Mines is one of Haggard's earliest works, reportedly written as the result of a bet with his brother that he couldn't write a novel half as good as Stevenson's Treasure Island. If so Haggard did well. Writing a nineteenth century best seller that remains popular today and has spawned a series of sequels, a Hollywood film and inspired a whole genre of works.
The book is the original 'lost world' storyline, written from the viewpoint of famed elephant hunter Allan Quatermain recounting his adventures in unexplored Africa. Quatermain is employed by Sir Henry Curtis, a burly aristocrat, who seeks to find his brother who went missing looking for the renowned mines of the biblical king for which the book is named. Along with the well dressed Captain Good, a lady's man whose career in the Royal Navy apparently leaves him plenty of tome for adventuring, and a mysterious African servant they plunge into the jungle armed with a map left to Quatermain by a dying Portuguese explorer. Sufficed to say they come through a number of close scrapes in their journey, are pitched against an imaginative cast of enemies and theit mysterious servant comes to the fore.
Don't expect exquisite writing, though it comes across well as the work of rough and ready Quatermain, but sprinkling of detail from Haggard's times in Africa and some well chosen quotations add much. The characterisation is brilliant, though being a work of its time the African characters tend to be cast as either villains, the 'noble savage' eager to help the white men or are simply glossed over. There are plenty of memorable scenes and the pacing will keep you turning the pages.
King Solomon's Mines is a swashbuckling adventure story written by H Rider Haggard in 1885, its story set in colonial Africa has lost diamond mines and African dynastic struggles.
I picked up this book in a local charity shop and it has been lurking in the bottom of my bookshelf for a couple of years, but after feeling a bit poorly I had finished a rather intense book and felt a need for something a bit more engaging and exciting. So I picked up this novel and read it, I had of course heard of the novel but hadn't read the book in my youth but had vague recollections of watching one of the many film versions.
King Solomon's Mines
KSM is a book set in colonial Africa starting in South Africa where Sir Henry Curtis persuades English adventurer Alan Quatermain to help him find his younger brother who was last seen travelling north looking for the legendary King Solomon's Mines. Quatermain had met the man a year earlier and had acknowledged that in a letter to Sir Henry a few months later, he had no idea in which Sir Henry's brother had headed but did have an old faded map which he claimed showed the route to KSM. After initial reluctance to join Curtis and his friend Captain Good he is persuaded to help them Henry's brother, along the way they take along a native man called Umbopa.
Without giving the whole story away, they travel to the area where Quatermain had met a dying Portuguese man who had given Quatermain a map to KSM. They encounter hardships, hostile natives, thirst and hunger before certain truths about Umbopa and the fate of the tribe near the mines is changed forever. The book continues with the discovery of the mines, the truth over the fate of Henry's brother and all the characters change in their appreciation for life and Africa.
The book was written in 1885 so I approached with a fair amount of apprehension, I have read such writers as John Buchan written slightly later but crammed full of the most brutal racism, classism and bordering on the most extreme right wing views. However, whilst reading this novel I was pleasantly surprised, the first few pages started slightly warily with the statement that Quatermain would never call a black man a nigger. Ok I thought if this kind of thing persists then I might have to reconsider reading it but thankfully this book has a more enlightened view on the status of the black Africans, Haggard gives them nobler and gentlemanly traits far more than other authors of the period.
He does however slip the odd slightly cringe worthy statement such as "he was intelligent for a black man" and "how would decent society view a black and white relationship" but these are very much the exception rather than the norm and there is even a relationship between a white Englishman and a black African girl. Very risqué and unusual for books of the time, the rest of the book is a decent swashbuckling adventure with plenty of battles, fights, and escaping from desperate situations in the nick of time.
I think the book was a surprise and an enjoyable read, the writing is light, frothy and it meant I read the book in only a few days.
There are sequels featuring Alan Quatermain and I might try and read them.
This is the story of Allan Quartermain and his search for the legendary diamond mines of King Solomon, based on an ancient treasure map. Quartermain joins up with two other men, Sir Henry Curtis and Cptn John Good who are looking for Curtis' younger brother. What follows is a classic adventure story, as the three men search for the missing man on their way to find the diamond mines-encountering all sorts of unusual people and dangerous situations on the way. And of course, it ends on a bang.
This is the first book that H.R.H. published, and our first introduction to Allan Quatermain, who has a later novel named after him.
Despite being written over 100 years ago this is not a hard novel to read- the plot races along, in language that anyone from young teenagers upwards will easily understand. It is also fairly short, running to roughly 300 pages depending on the edition. This is definitely a story for all ages!
First published in 1885 ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ is probably one of my favourite books of all time. I first read it as a child and still read it occasionally now. Though I have moved from reading the Puffin Classics edition to reading a first edition I picked up about a year ago. (That definitely has pride of place on my shelves). The story follows three men who trek north to interior Africa. It starts off centring around Henry Curtis who is searching for his long lost brother. The most interesting character is Alan Quatermain who is a hunter hired to guide the group on their perilous journey. They find more than they hoped for, including the fabled King Solomon’s Mines. The book is narrated by Alan in the first person which makes it especially easy to read. It makes a good bedtime story for kids. A truly full blooded adventure story you are dragged in to a world of savage tribes, men of honour and ultimately riches beyond the dreams of avarice. I could write thousands of words about this book but to be honest it would probably spoil it for you. It is a classic adventure story, usually far from politically correct due to when it was written. I strongly recommend this book to everyone. Indeed, I think the dedication at the start of the book states it perfectly. “This faithful but unpretending record of a remarkable adventure is hereby respectfully dedicated to the narrator Alan Quatermain to all the big and little boys who read it” This book will definitely please all the big and little boys who read it, and yes, so as you can’t accuse me of being sexist it will also please all the big and little girls who read it too.
If H. Rider Haggard wasn't one of those George Orwell characterized as "good bad writers" - and very likely he was - he definitely should have been. Orwell meant by that the writers who are compelling despite their faults, or even perhaps because of their faults. They aren't perfect technicians or grammarians or stylists, but they come near to perfection as story-tellers. Though not all the time. Not all of Haggard's book have lasted very well, but at least two of them will probably survive as long as popular literature does. Those two are *She* and *King Solomon's Mines*, which is the story of three white men who discover an ancient black African kingdom that once supplied the diamonds, gold, and ivory to King Solomon. Although Haggard is startlingly modern in his attitude to other races, who supply his heroes and villains just as readily as the whites do, he still presumes that blacks could not have been capable of high civilization, and the novel is based on speculation about the ruins of old Zimbabwe, which Europeans in the nineteenth century thought were evidence of ancient Hebrew or Egyptian conquests in southern Africa. That aside, the book is a realistic one, with far less outright fantasy in it than *She*, and it's more a book that you live than that you dream. The memories that you will carry away almost as though they were from your own experience will include a flesh-parching desert journey, epic, almost Homeric battles, a living entombment, and a witchhunt that curdles almost as much blood as it spills. The hunt is conducted under the beady gaze of Gagool, who is one of the greatest and most original villains of nineteenth-century. She slips onto the stage unobtrusively; one might almost say deceptively: At length the door of the hut opened, and a gigantic figure, with a splendid tiger-skin karross flung over its shoulders, stepped out, followed by the boy Scragga, and what appeared to us to be a
withered- up monkey, wrapped in a fur cloak. [Chapter 9, "Twala the King"] But Gagool is neither a monkey nor, in the evil she can do, at all withered-up, as the same chapter speedily demonstrates: I observed the wizened monkey-like figure creeping up from the shadow of the hut. It crept on all fours, but when it reached the place where the king sat, it rose upon its feet, and throwing the furry covering off its face, revealed a most extraordinary and weird countenance. It was (apparently) that of a woman of great age, so shrunken that in size it was no larger than that of a year-old child, and was made up of a collection of deep yellow wrinkles. Set in the wrinkles was a sunken slit, that [sic] represented the mouth, beneath which the chin curved outwards to a point. There was no nose to speak of; indeed, the whole countenance might have been taken for that of a sun-dried corpse had it not been for a pair of large black eyes, still full of fire and intelligence, which gleamed and played under the snow-white eyebrows, and the projecting parchment-coloured skull, like jewels in a charnel-house. As for the skull itself, it was perfectly bare, and yellow in hue, while its wrinkled scalp moved and contracted like the hood of a cobra. ... The figure ... suddenly projected a skinny claw armed with nails nearly an inch long, and laid it on the shoulder of Twala, the king, and began to speak in a thin, piercing voice: ... '*Blood! blood! blood!* rivers of blood; blood everywhere. I see it, I smell it, I taste it - it is salt; it runs red upon the ground, it rains down from the skies ... Blood is good, the red blood is bright; there is no smell like the smell of new-shed blood. The lions shall lap it and roar, the vultures shall wash their wings in it, and shriek in joy ...' Gagool is in fact the witch-finder generalissima of the hidden black kingdom into which three white men and their black "servant" have ventured, cla
ims with unsettling plausibility to be more than three centuries old, and will be a central part of scenes that a single reading will suffice to keep with you for life. Forget the various bad movies made from *King Solomon's Mines*: the book, with *She*, has deservedly kept its popularity and fame, and Gagool, to employ a common post-modernist device, comes on like a cross between a black female Machiavelli, a superannuated Margaret Thatcher, and a Wicked Witch of the West. On speed. And then some.
This was the first book I read by Rider Haggard, when I was about 10! I still love it now, showing that it is suitable for all ages. Like Allan Quatermain and She, this novel is an adventure story following explorers into the depths of Africa. Once again, they discover a hidden kingdom which becomes ravaged by civil war. The characters in the book are well-drawn; Allan Quatermain is the grizzled old hunter, worldweary and cynical with a heart of gold. Curtis is an English squire, athletic and strong. Good is the comedy character, a vain naval officer who insists on shaving and wearing his monocle even in Africa. Haggard's depiction of race is interesting. While he shares the prejudices of his era he respects the culture of the African people, and is able to respect Ignosi, the central African character. His depiction of the African landscape is also interesting. The land itself is feminised as the male explorers conquer it. Male friendship is very important and even takes on a homoerotic dimension. The storyline is typically full of twists and turns, and the moment of the discovery of King Solomon's Mines themselves is amazing. This book is a classic and deserves to be widely read.
Adventure and exploration in the African interior.