King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard
This is the novel that first introduced the world to Allan Quartermain, the English-born hunter, trader, and renown marksman of southern Africa. Sir Henry Curtis, and his companion Captain Good, recruit Quartermain to find his brother, a man who went missing after last being seen searching for the fabled King Solomon’s Mines. He agrees to lead them on the expedition for either a share of the treasure or payment to his son should he die on the journey.
They encounter an unknown civilization on the way, and the majority of the novel is actually focused on their civil war and the group’s influence on the fighting and diplomacy. Initially I found this a little jarring, as I wasn’t expecting the novel to go in this direction and wasn’t particularly happy about it, but it eventually did recapture my interest.
Since starting this weblog, I’ve found a love for classic adventure stories. The idea of heading into the unknown, of looking for long-lost, rumoured cities and treasure, is a fantasy that has stirred my imagination for as long as I can recall. Those were my favourite stories as a child, and I remember being genuinely depressed when I first realized how well explored the world actually was, that there weren’t entire continents still left a mystery, no blank spaces on the maps.
That being said, it wasn’t necessarily my love of the classics that brought me to this novel. I admit, my main reason for picking up King Solomon’s Mines is that I heard Indiana Jones was inspired by Allan Quartermain, and I’ve always had an obsession with Indiana Jones. Apparently the influence is mainly on his look, and is actually from the 1950 film adaptation, but there are similarities.
What I love most about Indiana Jones is that he’s a nerd mixed with an action hero. In most movies, the main protagonist brings with him a whining geek, a frail and awkward man who understands the lore and may be able to stumble through the language. He often has to explain to everyone why certain actions may lead to unfortunate consequences. Indiana Jones is that nerd. He speaks the language, understands the history and culture, and is driven by a desire to learn. Allan Quartermain, while not as book-learned as Indiana Jones, is the one white man in the group who understands the Zulu culture and language, but he can also hold his ground under pressure.
While I do love these old adventures, it does take patience to get passed the racism that inevitably bubbles up in them. Many of these stories feature journeys into unknown lands, where the adventurers find undiscovered civilizations. They’re typically depicted as black barbarians, and with that comes really off-putting descriptions. This novel certainly has some of that, such as the English being seen as naturally superior to most black characters, but it also depicts the Africans are heroic, intelligent and noble, which is a welcome change for that era. There’s even a blossoming interracial relationship, something that doesn’t often come up in century old novels.
King Solomon’s Mines really slowed down for me part way through, and I nearly lost interest, but by the end I was back on board. Overall, I really enjoyed it.