H. Rider Haggard
If you’ve ever heard of the protagonist of King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quatermain, it’s probably from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, comic book/horrible movie. Sean Connery was Quatermain. Anyway, it seems funny to me that League is supposed to be about famous characters from classic literature, and the main dude is some hero I’d never heard of, from some book I’d never heard of, by some author I’d never heard of. Like, they could have had Jekyll/Hyde front the group. That would have made more sense.
But my point is this: King Solomon’s Mines, while considered a classic adventure novel by people who consider such things, is not very well known. It’s pretty good, but I think I have some ideas about why nobody reads it today.
It is, arguably, a wee bit racist. If I recall correctly, Quatermain drops an n-bomb on the first fucking page, and then corrects himself, remembering that racism is bad. H. Rider Haggard continues to use other epithets throughout the story, though, and doesn’t seem too concerned about it. The three main white characters- Quatermain, Sir Henry, and Captain Good- wander around Africa, disrespecting the natives everywhere they go, and don’t really give a shit. But you gotta realize that this is a century-old British novel about a lost country in Africa. This was never not going to be offensive.
Another potential reason for the novel’s relative obscurity is it’s dated sense of adventure. For some reason, killing elephants by the dozens isn’t as awesome as Haggard seems to think. To me, it’s just poaching, and that’s kind of hard to get around. Everything Haggard sees as adventure and exploration just reeks of imperialism, colonialism, and exploitation. Things that are generally seen as bad these days.
But if you can get over the interconnected problems of its racism and its outdatedness (and I know that some of us probably can’t), King Solomon’s Mines is pretty good. It’s fast paced and well written. It’s got hunting and guns and war and all that stuff we look for in summer blockbusters. Action, excitement, politics, romance- well, not so much with the romance. For the most part this is an epic bro-fest, with a dash of woman. She dies though. Very sad. But really, if you’re walking around a lost African country, you’d probably want two of your boys there with you to share in the excitement. (This also predates DADT.)
Haggard can also be surprisingly funny. He has this goofy way of adding extraneous information, which, while proving that he really knows some shit about Africa, often distracts from the story. For paragraphs at a time. But it’s fine, because he always concludes these asides by adding, “This is by the way.” As if that short disclaimer gives me my time back! Put that shit at the beginning of the aside. Still, it cracked me up every time, so I can’t really complain.
So, do our heroes reach the titular mines of King Solomon? Does it even fucking matter? It seems like there are quite a few more books about Quatermain, so you don’t have to be a genius to surmise that he, at least, survives the journey. One problem with these adventure books is that there’s really no sense of mystery. There’s always something mysterious going on, but it’s always either so obvious as to be pointless, or it’s resolved almost immediately. In some cases, both. Why even put that shit in there if you’re not gonna use it to ratchet up tension later? My feeling is that Haggard wanted to keep it light, which makes for an interesting book about colonialism.
Still though, I enjoyed King Solomon’s Mines. I think it’s best if you think about it like you would a big dumb action movie. Like Top Gun without the homoeroticism. Or with it, if you prefer. And like Top Gun, it’s a product of it’s time, and that might be a turnoff for some. Up to you.