Sunday, 12 February 2012

King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard

This is pretty much an Indiana Jones style book before Indie was even thought about. A young boy's adventure book set in Africa this is obviously written in 1885, as evidenced by the views and words used throughout.

The story follows the writings of our intrepid big-game hunter, Allan Quartermain, as he is asked to guide Sir Henry Curtis and his friend and ex-Naval officer Captain Good to the legendary King Solomon's Mines in search for Sir Henry's brother. These fabled mines are said to be found in a land that lies across a desert and over two mountains, from which it is rumoured no one has ever managed to survive the journey - either on the way there or the way back.

Quartermain has already managed to get his hands on a roughly drawn map that claims to show the way to the mines but, up until he met the two men, he'd not paid any attention to it, merely kept it for amusement. Quartermain only agrees to go when he has their promise that he will get a large sum of the treasure, if they find it and if they don't, the promise that his son will be well cared for. As an elephant hunter he has already lived  longer than most are expected to and he doesn't expect that he'll live through this adventure, but sees it as something he should do, a 'last adventure' if you must.

This book mainly follows their travels and focuses less on the mines and treasure than it does the adventures and hardships they encounter. This is definitely to it's advantage. The book was purportedly written as a wager between Haggard and his brother as to whether or not he could write a novel as good as Treasure Island, I think he did rather well to be honest!

The late 19th Century saw the rise in explorers uncovering evidence of ancient civilisations around the world, such as ancient Egypt, but most of Africa was still rather unknown - hence why this became such a bestseller when it was first released as it captured the public's imagination. Haggard's experiences when travelling Africa, first during the Anglo-Zulu war and secondly during the first Boer War, helped to make the surroundings more credible. Unfortunately, for the modern reader, it still shows up the thoughts of the time towards those who lived in Africa and, as with many of these Victorian  books, it's a case of just bite your tongue and remember that it was sadly acceptable back then.

Despite this I found this book to be rather enjoyable and kept me reading through it. there were some rather predictable instances and you can see why it's now considered a 'children's classic' (though released for adults at the time) as it's definitely for the boys who enjoy a bit of action and fighting and good guy vs bad guy (or mother nature).

This book has been quoted as being an inspiration for Edgard Rice Burroughs' 'A Land That Time Forgot' and was even said to have been the first (and even the creation of) the new 'Lost World' genre. Whilst this isn't the greatest of the genre this is definitely a good first book to have in said genre and a good benchmark for it's followers to aim for (and surpass in many cases).

For a quick, short, adventure read this is a good one to pick up. It's a lovely idea that somewhere in Africa there's a mine full of treasure waiting for someone to discover it (although it may have been done by now) and the imagery used is definitely like a tourism advert for the country. It isn't a long read and worth taking a day out of your life to pick it up.

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