11 January 2011


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


Gemmag said...

Hi found you on book blogs, am following now. Love the tone of your blog it's so friendly and chatty.

You can find me at http://thefoldedpage.blogspot.com


Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Gem! I'll go check out your blog now. =)

Birdie said...

I love that you chose this book to see whether the casting would work. That sounds just like the way my brain works.
I've yet to read "King Solomon's Mines" but I have read "She" and really enjoyed it. The film adaptation was almost wholly unrecognizable, but good in its own way.

Enbrethiliel said...


Not very flattering to the novel's dignity, I suppose, but everything turned out really well, I think! ;-)

Someone has been trying to get me to read She for years. I've promised to do it as soon as I read the first two books in the "Allan Quatermain Trilogy", so at least I'm a bit closer to that goal now. (But Allan Quatermain seems the hardest to find of all the novels!)

mrsdarwin said...

I read King Solomon's Mine several years ago, and was charmed to find that a pivotal plot device involved the false teeth of one of the characters -- a detail that's quite historically accurate, and yet one that's very startling today, with the advent of better dental hygiene.

Jean said...

I've read She, but not this one. I think I'll have to put it on my list! Thanks.

Suburbanbanshee said...

The novel Allen Quartermain is on Gutenberg.

Enbrethiliel said...


Mrs. Darwin: For some reason, I took the false teeth completely for granted while reading the story and am thinking about them for the first time now. Do they say something about Good (and/or his naval career) that we wouldn't understand now--or were they really very common?

Jean: I hope to get to She someday. Quatermain is an engaging narrator and Haggard is a great Adventure Lit writer!

Thanks for stopping by. =)

Banshee: Thanks, but I was looking for one made of dead trees. ;-) Of course, if I get really desperate, I'll be very grateful you pointed me in that direction.

mrsdarwin said...

E, I think that false teeth were far more common in earlier eras than now. Enough so that I think Good's false teeth, rather than being the Deus ex machina that I'd assumed it to be on first reading ("False teeth? Where on earth did THOSE come from?"), were more like the effect that might be produced now if the author wrote, after saying nothing of it before in the story, "Good pulled off his glasses."

Enbrethiliel said...


Many Filipinos still wear false teeth. (In my family, both my grandparents and a middle-aged aunt.) So I didn't find that bit too weird. I guess they haven't been common in America for a long, long time?

PS--I do remember reading that George Washington (Oh, there he is again; he seems to like this blog a lot) had false teeth, which accounted for his famous expression.

Gypsi said...

I had not thought about the three characters in light of being perfect representations of the Victorian era. So true! I enjoyed your review. =D

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Gypsi! I was really glad to have found your review, too. =)

Avid Reader said...

I just finished this one for the Victorian Challenge as well. I wasn't expecting much and I really enjoyed it. I love your comment about the 3 men and their representation of British archetypes.

Enbrethiliel said...


I wasn't expecting much, either, and now Haggard has humbled me. =) I'm glad you enjoyed the review. I can' find yours, though. =S I hope it will be up soon!