Adventure novels have degenerated quite a bit in the last ten to twenty years. Graphic violence and sexual content is rapidly taking the place of genuine creativity among authors of “thriller” fiction. It’s therefore rather refreshing to revisit some of the earliest adventure literature…stories that relied on character and plot development instead of cheap gimmicks. And H. Rider Haggard’s classic “King Solomon’s Mines” is perhaps the crown jewel of these early works.
Allen Quatermain is a bit of a mercenary, an elephant hunter turned treasure seeker. When he’s offered the chance to search for a missing Englishman – and in the process, find the lost diamond mines of King Solomon – he agrees almost without hesitation. Along with his two companions – Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good – Quatermain sets out into the unexplored African interior.
The adventure unfolds at a breakneck pace: fights with lions and elephants and harrowing journeys through extreme conditions are spellbindingly woven into a tapestry of drama. When their mysterious companion Umbopa reveals he is the heir to an ancient throne, Quatermain, Curtis, and Good join forces to battle the malevolent usurper and the evil witch backing him. The novel climaxes with a dramatic confrontation between two native tribes and a battle that rivals anything J.R.R. Tolkien could have envisioned.
It’s not a “deep” symbolic novel on the level of “Great Expectations” or “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” But that’s not the point. “King Solomon’s Mines” is an unapologetic adventure story packed with action. Even better, it’s 100% clean – there’s no gruesome violence, no adult material, and no language whatsoever. Despite what so many authors today seem to be thinking, it’s possible to write an exciting story without any problematic elements.
There are really very few issues from a worldview standpoint. The three Englishmen profess to be Christians – and behave in a morally upright way throughout the course of the story, killing only in self-defense – but spiritual themes are not especially pronounced. It should be noted, however, that the story contains an obvious warning against obsessive fascination with material treasures.
I really can’t think of any reason not to read “King Solomon’s Mines,” unless you just don’t like the genre. It’s compelling, well-written, and completely clean. While it’s not hard reading – and not very philosophically deep – it’s the perfect book for a chilly winter afternoon.
A masterful adventure yarn. Proof positive that a good story doesn’t need objectionable content.
October 11, 2011 at 12:23 pm
THIS BOOK IS HORRIBLE
October 18, 2011 at 4:21 am
no problematic content. really. what about the flagrant examples of racism, sexism, propaganda for colonialism and numerous other -isms i would consider very problematic? you either have to be a christian fundamentalist ku-klux-klan member or you did not read the book.
October 18, 2011 at 10:33 am
There are a lot of great works of classic literature that, unfortunately, don’t operate from the same perspective we possess in modern culture. I’m evaluating this book, in this context, as an aesthetic work.
For that matter, some of the claims you raised are simply not factual. The sexism point might be justified, but I wouldn’t call it excessively racist. Umbopa/Ignosi is portrayed extremely positively and heroically, as is Infadoos. While there are definitely a few wince-inducing moments that display the prejudices of Haggard’s time, I don’t see those as reasons to reject the book as a whole.
By the standard you suggest, virtually any Victorian-era book should be immediately discounted as “backwards.” I think it’s possible to appreciate the meritorious elements of a work (its themes and aesthetic presentation) while recognizing its cultural deficiencies.