King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

“I speak of Africa and golden joys…”

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

delphi haggardWhen Sir Henry Curtis’ brother George goes missing in Africa, Sir Henry and his friend, Captain Good, set out to find him. While they are en route to Natal, they meet up with Allan Quatermain, a local elephant hunter and adventurer, who is able to tell them that George had started out on a quest to find the fabled diamond mines of King Solomon. When Sir Henry asks if Quatermain believes in the existence of the mines, Quatermain replies that he had never paid too much heed to the legend until, some time earlier, he came into possession of a rough map showing the way there, written in blood by a man now long dead. Sir Henry begs Quatermain to go with them to seek for the mines, in the hopes of finding his brother there; and, in return for a promise of a share in any treasure they find, Quatermain agrees. While Quatermain gets together supplies and a team of bearers for the journey, he is approached by Umbopa, a native who doesn’t look or act like the usual bearer but is very keen to join the expedition. And so they set off to cross the burning desert to seek their fortune in the mountains beyond…

This is a great adventure story – the greatest I’ve ever read and truly deserving of the term ‘classic’. The story is told by Allan Quatermain in the first person. He sees Sir Henry as the hero of the story, but the reader knows that Quatermain himself is the true hero. The grizzled old hunter, with his knowledge of the ways of the natives, with his hunting skills and, above all, with the bravery which he hides beneath a cloak of modesty, is the heart of the book. But Sir Henry is a fine character too, tall, strong, handsome, intelligent – everything an Englishman of the Empire should be. Captain Good is a brave and loyal friend, but with eccentricities aplenty, allowing Rider Haggard to introduce some humour (and the tiniest touch of romance) into the story. And the mysterious Umbopa – aah! He represents all of that part of Africa we don’t understand – again courageous and with a strength that becomes vital as the adventurers struggle to survive, but a man who can be frightening and whose loyalty must be earned, not bought – a man with a secret that is only slowly revealed.

adventurersThe tortured journey across the desert where the only hope for survival rests on finding the waterhole marked on the ancient map; the journey over the mountains where cold and hunger take the travellers to the edge of endurance; the Kingdom of the Kukuanas, ruled over by the cruel King Twala and about to be plunged into a civil war where all must take a side – the pace never lets up as our heroes face danger after thrilling danger from both nature and man. And from woman too – I defy anyone who has read this book to forget the ancient, evil, cackling ‘wise woman’, Gagool of the Kukuanas – the stuff of nightmares and midnight terrors. Or to forget the horrors of the caves…

Written in 1885, King Solomon’s Mines was the first English adventure story to be set in Africa, at a time when much of the continent was still ‘undiscovered’. A small word of warning that obviously some attitudes to race in the book are reflective of the time – however, on the whole, Rider Haggard is respectful and even admiring of the ‘natives’ and their cultures. I first read this (many times) as a child and teenager and, on re-reading recently, enjoyed it just as much as an adult. If you’ve never read it, what a treat you have in store…I envy you!

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50 thoughts on “King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

  1. There is definitely something to be said for a good adventure story. There’s the tension and suspense, to say nothing of the plot itself. In fact, this post is reminding me of some of R.L. Stevenson’s adventure stories, and of course, films from recent decades (like the ‘Indiana Jones’ series). But it all started a couple of centuries ago with novels like this one. Glad you’ve reminded us of it.

    • Yes, Treasure Island is another that I love. I enjoy the classic adventures more than modern ones to be honest – it’s been a while since I read a modern adventure that’s really excited me…

  2. The professor is completely thrilled! Now he just must read this book. It sounds like the perfect adventure. King Twala sounds like an immense interest, as does the nightmarish woman! A must read, definitely.

    A perfect review–as usual.

    You always astound this professor with how many books you’ve read and how many times you’ve read them! (It is a lucky thing indeed if the professor re-reads a book.)

    Many thanks for this review! It was very 😎

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Chicky-S-S! And if you do ever read the book, I hope you enjoy it too 😀

      I don’t re-read as much these days as I used to – too many new books to read. But I love falling back into a re-read of a loved book – no effort required, and pleasure guaranteed…

      • I’m sure I will, and the professor is going to go hunting for it! 😀

        Still, you and BigSister are so intimidating where reading is concerned…maybe by the time this professor is 105 he’ll be caught up–to a reasonable degree.

        (Finished Baskervilles. Splendid! Of course, it’s always hard to do a rip on a book that was enjoyed…so I won’t! But I will have a professorish review. Thanks for the recommendation! Holmes is the man–even over the Belgian!)

        • Well, I’m delighted you enjoyed The Hound! Holmes is definitely Conan Doyle’s greatest creation, even if he wasn’t his own favourite. 😀

          I agree about BigSister, but I’d be surprised if I’ve read as much as a quarter of what she’s read. And I gave up the unequal contest with her many years ago and have been much happier ever since… Anyway, she was the one who inspired me to be a reader in the first place and guided my early reading, for which I’m very grateful…

          And you’ve read loads of stuff that I haven’t – Steinbeck for instance…and Twain. I can’t imagine me ever ploughing through the complete works of Steinbeck – not unless I ever get too happy and feel the need to be miserified. 😉

          • Thank you for the kind words, but I can’t believe I didn’t force-feed you Steinbeck – I was a big fan in the -ahem!- Xties!

          • You mean we have BigSister to thank for these wonderful book reviews? 😉

            That’s nice of you to say…but I highly doubt it. Get too happy? 😆 I hear that!

            A Steinbeck fan, BigSister? Goodness. Did you ever read The Moon is Down?

            But the professor shall triumph! He shall find a book–a classic–that BigSister has never read. He will search high and low for it. (I’m still amazed that you reread Ben-Hur over and over again when you were a teenager. It was all the professor could do to manage it as an old professorish professor!)

    • Thanks! Oddly, I’ve not read much by Rider Haggard – just this, Allan Quatermain and She, I think. I downloaded the Delphi Complete Works months ago to remedy that, but where to find the time? However, doing this review has reminded me to bump them back up the priority list…

  3. Oh I loved these when I was a teenager. The film of ‘She’ had not long come out and I plunged into a orgy of Rider Haggard that lasted all one summer. I haven’t been back to them since, but this has made me think the time has come for a re-run at least of ‘She’, always my favourite.

    • It was the first rush of enthusiasm for the Kindle that led me to download umpteen classic collections – more than I will ever find time to read – and start revisiting some old favourites. This one was just as spectacular as I remembered…

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