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King Solomon's Mines (Penguin Classics) Paperback – January 29, 2008
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Rider Haggard envisioned King Solomon's Mines as a boys' book, and its focus is on manly adventure. The plot revolves around a treasure hunt. What could be more boyish? The adventures include crossing a deadly desert and deadlier mountains, taking part in a bloody native uprising, and foiling the evil intentions of an ancient female witch doctor.
Quartermain considers the white man superior to the black man, exhibiting the racism of his time. But at the same time he admits he has encountered true gentlemen among the natives, and two of his most admirable characters are black -- the regal Umbopa and his uncle, the good old soldier Infandoos, both men of honor.
Quartermain's companions in the hunt for King Solomon's mines are lively characters. Sir Henry Curtis, sponsor of the expedition, looks like a Viking, is immensely strong and loves a good battle. Captain Good, former naval officer, is a fastidious dresser with beautiful false teeth, a monocle and very white legs, all of which impress the natives. He swears a lot and is susceptible to women. His attraction to a beautiful black girl is the only spot of romance in the book.
The heroes in this book experience many close calls. Quartermain's frank admission that he is not a brave man offers a nice contrast to the heroics of his brave companions, black and white.
This is a classic not to be missed by lovers of English literature. The introduction to the Penquin edition is excellent.
Most definitely recommended.
This novel was written at a time when lost world stories seized the imagination. With exploration still in progress, it wasn’t fantastic beyond imagination that a new civilization would be stumbled into that was unlike any known. The stories of real life explorers (e.g. Livingston, Burton, Speke, and Stanley) engrossed the public, and people were captivated by the myriad ways to die in Africa. Haggard’s novel echoes the terrors of those real world works, but with emphasis on the more visceral (e.g. warring tribes and wild animals) and less emphasis on the more blasé paths to one’s demise (e.g. being abandoned by one’s porters / supply theft, or contracting a severe case of the s***s.)
Overall, I enjoyed this book. It’s readable, particularly for a work of the 19th century. It has enough adventure to maintain tension and keep one reading. That said, it’s not a flawless execution.
The biggest twist is toward the middle, and the ending resolves itself in a disappointing manner. [Remainder of paragraph is vaguely spoilery.] However, one may not notice this on the first read, if one becomes engrossed in the immediate details. To elaborate: the protagonists are put in a dire situation, and to get through it they have to pass through a scary environment. If you are caught up in the feeling of being in that environment, you may not notice the deus ex machina of being there in the first place. Also, the issue of Sir Curtis’s brother feels like it’s handled as an afterthought. If the book was written today, I’d suspect that the author had forgotten all about his inciting incident altogether until an editor told him it was too big of a loose-end to ignore.
I’d recommend this book for readers of adventure and lost world stories.
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Key thinks to bear in mind when reading this, as they may really peeve you off:
1) This was written at a particular time and so is a reflection of horrible/problematic imperialistic Western/British attitudes towards those situated as Other. Although the imperialistic/colonial undertones are not as severe as some other books I’ve read from the era.
2) Even when there is an acknowledgement of the nobleness of those indigenous to Africa there is still a level of looking down on them.
3) Hunting animals for nothing but amusement is discussed and occurs (highly normalised in the book again a consequence of when it was written and by whom).
Since I started reading as a child I can say that this is only the second time in my life where I prefer the movie versions I've seen over the book.