King Solomon’s Mines (H Rider Haggard)

king-solomons-mines-h-rider-haggard-book-cover-artThis is probably the Grandfather of all adventure novels. The author was inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. It has all the strengths and weaknesses of the genre. The strengths: a true sense of adventure and exploration that marked British sentiment at this time, the sort found in Jules Verne and Rudyard Kipling and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World and the like. The main weakness has to be our three protagonists just blasting away at anything on four legs, but in 1885 nobody thought about conservation or the possibility that over-hunting could contribute to the extinction of a species. 

The story is simple but iconic — veteran African hunter Allan Quatermain is contracted by Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good to venture into the African interior in search of Curtis’ brother, who vanished a few years back while searching for King Solomon’s Mines. With them go Umbopa, a Zulu warrior (well, not exactly, as events unfold) and a few other natives, most of whom meet with unfortunate fates. After dangers untold and hardships unnumbered (including harrowing desert and mountain crossings) they reach Kukuanaland, on the brink of civil war. It is ruled by a tyrannical king, and home to the titular Mines in question.

King Solomon’s Mines is a look at a time and place when imagination made the unknown even more wild and exciting than it was in reality. There are parched throats in the desert, freezing nights atop mountains, perilous encounters with the “dark savages” of the land, the toppling of a tyrannical king in a mythical African nation that reminded me of nothing so much as Wakanda, the homeland of the Marvel superhero Black Panther, witches, exquisite works of archeological wonder and enough diamonds to fund at least eight more genocides in modern Africa. Basically, this book had everything short of the kitchen sin.

The exotic, other-worldly descriptions here of places and people both, are utterly entrancing. And the presence of the map and the key it presented for the plot’s progression kept me reasonably fascinated. Adventure is not about broken bones – it’s about overcoming an unforeseen course of events within the context of a particular experience. Office-bound, well-fed, TV and internet-fixated, we are too comfortable these days. In a sterilized world we need an outlet for a contingency with all its attendant thrills. King Solomon’s Mines provides that outlet. A tale for men, written by a man, without a petticoat in sight. I didn’t really notice a distinct climax or beginning/middle/end structure, it just keeps you steadily curious.

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