Reading Diary: King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
("Reviewed" for the Victorian Literature Challenge 2011 and submitted to the January link up)
"Well," I began, "as you may guess, in a general way elephant-hunters are a rough set of men, and don't trouble themselves with much beyond the facts of life and the ways of Kaffirs. But here and there you meet a man who takes the trouble to collect traditions from the natives, and triest o make out a little piece of hte history of this dark land. It was such a man as this who first told me the legend of Solomon's Mines . . .
". . . He went on to tell me how he had found in the far interior a ruined city, which he believed to be the Ophir of the Bible . . . 'Lad, did you ever hear of the Suliman mountains up to the northwest of the Mashukulumbwe country?' I told him that I never had. 'Ah, well,' he said, 'that was where Solomon really had his mines--his diamond mines . . .'"
You might remember that the primary reason I decided to read this book was to see whether the LXG's Allan Quatermain was worthy of H. Rider Haggard's original creation.
So let it be the primary point of this post that I would never have cast Sean Connery to play Quatermain--a character whose greatest virtues are his humility . . . and a certain amount of scrappiness. I might have cast Connery as the slightly vain and always neat Captain John Good . . . but I don't think he'd like playing second fiddle to my dream Sir Henry Curtis, Dolph Lundgren. =P
But of course, there is more to say about the novel than that. I started it expecting no more than a rollicking adventure story; after I finished it, I needed a few days to swallow the fact that what I had read was no less than an epic.
". . . Behold, I make a decree, and it shall be published from the mountains to the mountains, your names, Incubu, Macumazahn and Bougwan, shall be as the names of dead kings . . . So shall your memory be preserved in the land forever.
". . . At times when ye look back down the path of life or when ye are old and gather yourselves together to crouch before the fire . . . ye will think of how we stood shoulder to shoulder in that great battle that thy wise words planned, Macumazahn; of how thou wast the point of that horn that galled Twala's flank, Bougwan; whilst thou stoodst in the ring of the Grays, Incubu, and men went down before thine axe like corn before a sickle . . ."
"Incubu" is Curtis, who wants to find his long-lost brother more than any diamonds; "Bougwan" is Good, his totally loyal friend from the Royal Navy; and "Macumazahn" is Quatermain, their trusted guide. They each have two names because King Solomon's Mines is actually two stories in one: the first, the incredible African adventure of three European explorers; the second, the return of a long-lost king and the war he wages to reclaim his throne. It depends on your perspective, really. From one angle, our leads are three adventurers for whom an unexpected civil war is just another obstacle on an epic quest; from another, they are the "white men from the stars" who shall forever be remembered in the legends of an entire kingdom.
And really, there is something truly legendary about the way everything falls so neatly into place. Our three leads are perfect representatives of British civilisation in the Victorian age: an aristocrat, an officer, and a "great white hunter." They stumble upon an undiscovered African nation, unwittingly triggering a dramatic turning point in its history. And what brings both worlds together is yet another kingdom--one which saw its zenith about three millennia before our story takes place. The British explorers are seeking its fabled treasures, while the African tribe thrives next to its forbidding ruins. It's the most amazing conjuction of three separate and completely different worlds.
I'm tempted to keep going, but as you know, personal experience has made me paranoid about students Googling this and passing off my ideas as their own--not even because they think I'm brilliant (which is "stealing" and therefore all right) but because they're just lazy (which makes it plagiarism and therefore unforgiveable). So I'll stop here . . . unless you'd like to chat in the combox, of course. ;-)
Image Source: King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard