King Solomon’s Mines (1885) – H. Rider HAGGARD

I’m not dead! Sorry it has taken so long for me to write another review – I have been insanely busy with uni stuff and the such. But, now that I am back into the full swing of things, I can review the stuff that I have been reading lately. I have to read nine (!) novels for one of my courses, so there will definitely be some reviews coming along soon. This novel is the first on the course list, so what better place to start?

Allan Quatermain is a middle-aged Englishman living in the wilds of Southern Africa. When he is approached by two men – Henry Curtis and John Good – to help them find Curtis’ lost brother, and also some very big, and very valuable diamond mines, Quatermain’s sense of adventure is piqued. So begins one of the most famous adventure novels of all time, that has influenced everyone from Clive Cussler to Matthew Reilly. Three upright English gentlemen and their ‘helpers’ travel to the depths of Africa, to discover lost lands, treasures, and evil witch-doctors.

As with every novel, there are some phrases and ideals that seem very, very out of place in today’s world. Though, this one takes the cake. King Solomon’s Mines is one of the most misogynistic (going so far as to say the death of a woman was probably a good thing), racists (let’s not even mention the descriptions of the ‘natives’), and anti-environmentalist (you killed how many elepahnts?!) books I have ever read.

The only major problem with the story itself is that it is not very good. Well, no, that’s not totally true. The original intention of the characters is largely forgotten in most of the action, instead, Haggard relies on a twist that is insanely obvious (though, to his credit, he deals with it quickly), to trigger events that make up the majority of the book. It is not until the almost epilogue-style last few chapters that the original intention of the expedition is remembered, and acted upon.

Haggard wrote this book as a challenge – one of his friends had told him he could not write a novel as good as Treasure Island. I think his friend was right. Quatermain ‘puts’ a little note at the beginning of his text, saying he is just writing what happened to him, not caring about the style and such. This is certainly true. As with a large number of other adventure novels of the time (see, for example, The First Men in the Moon), I find it very difficult to believe that these very proper English gentlemen could ever find themselves in a situation like this, and somehow manage to remain pompous and maintain a sense of superiority about everyone they meet. Though, in a sense, this is exactly what this book is really all about. It is about the white man in the colonies, who, despite the barbarians around him, manages to maintain a sense of dignity and evolution – the latter point more pertinent with the publication of Darwin’s works.

If you are looking for some kind of retro fix when it comes to adventure novels, give this a go. Be warned, though, there are some seriously offensive passages that you should watch out for. Or, you could just go and read the latest Clive Cussler/Matthew Reilly/Dan Brown, which are, at the very least, more relevant and less offensive.

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2 thoughts on “King Solomon’s Mines (1885) – H. Rider HAGGARD

  1. [...] think the best way to talk about this book is in reference to King Solomon’s Mines. While that novel is fairly simplistic in both its plot and philosophy, She is considerably more [...]

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