My rating: 4 of 5 stars
King Solomon‘s Mines (1885) by Sir Henry Rider Haggard, a great adventure writer of his time, especially with novels, like this one, that follow the quests of Allan Quatermain.
King Solomon‘s Mines is a grand journey across the Kalukawe River and into the great desert that spans some forty leagues and toward Sheba’s Breasts, the mighty snow capped mountains that bar the way to Solomon’s Road and to Kukuanaland where the Kukuana guard the diamond mines from ages past.
The story begins with Allan Quatermain being hired by Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good to help them track down Curtis’s brother who sought Solomon’s diamond mines some two years before. On their journey, Quatermain hires on Umbopa, a native of extraordinary stature and who turns out to be named Ignosi, the rightful heir of the Kukuana.
Most of the book revolves around Umbopa/Ignosi and his struggles to regain power in Kukuanaland. He is aided by Quatermain, Curtis, and Cpt. Good, and for their reward they are granted access to the diamond mines, except the evil witch Gagool has other plans for the ‘white men from the stars’.
The story is fast paced and could have easily been written in these modern times. Haggard, writing as Quatermain, states thus: “And now it only remains for me to offer apologies for my blunt way of writing…I suppose they– the flights and flourishes– are desirable, and I regret not being able to supply them,” and he adds the Kukuana saying [which might be best quoted by any writer] that “a sharp spear needs no polish” (8).
And this book is a prime example of Flaubert’s influence with Madame Bovary (1856) that sought a straightforward, realistic approach to writing often quoted as “le mot juste.”
A few passages I found enjoyable now follow:
“Yes,” answered Sir Henry, “it is far. But there is no journey upon this earth that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it. There is nothing, Umbopa, that he cannot do. There are no mountains he may not climb, there are no deserts he cannot cross, save a mountain and a desert of which you are spared the knowledge, if love leads him and he holds his life in his hand counting it as nothing, ready to keep it or lose it as heaven above may order” (50).
Now one more for good measure:
“As soon as she was lifted from her hammock Gagool cast one evil glare upon us; then, leaning on a stick, she hobbled off towards the face of this wall. We followed her till we came to a narrow portal solidly arched that looked like the opening of a gallery of a mine.
“Here Gagool was waiting for us, with a devilish grin upon her horrid face.
” ‘Now, white men from the stars.’ she piped; ‘great warriors, Incubu, Bougwan and Macumazahn the wise, are ye ready? Behold, I am here to do the bidding of my lord the king, and to show you the store of bright stones. Ha! ha! ha!’ (182-183).
King Solomon‘s Mines is a fun adventure story that takes the reader into a mysterious land and people in search of the greatest treasure the world has ever known, but along the way there are certain lessons to be learned, and one may find that of all the diamonds in the world, there is nothing like the treasure home may provide. A recommend for those who love stories, and for those who enjoy books that are difficult to close.