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LITERARY MASTERPIECES
This article is from:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Solomon%27s_Mines

All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Text_of_the_GNU_Free_Documentation_License 

King Solomon's Mines

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 
For the films of the same name, see King Solomon's Mines (film).

King Solomon's Mines, first published in 1885, is a perennially popular novel by the Victorian adventure writer and fabulist, H. Rider Haggard. It tells of a quest into an unexplored region of Africa by a group of adventurers led by Allan Quatermain in search of the missing brother of one of the party. It is significant as the first fictional adventure novel set in Africa, and is considered the genesis of the Lost World literary genre.

Background

The book was first published in September 1885 with billboards and posters around London announcing "The Most Amazing Book Ever Written". It became an immediate best seller. By the late 19th century explorers were uncovering lost civilizations around the world, such as Egypt's Valley of the Kings, the city of Troy, and the empire of Assyria. Africa remained largely unexplored and King Solomon's Mines, the first novel of African adventure published in English, captured the public's imagination.

The "King Solomon" of the book's title was of course the Biblical king renowned both for his wisdom and for his wealth. A number of sites have been identified as being the location of the mines of Solomon, including the workings at Timna near Eilat, and many "fictional" locations.

Haggard knew Africa well, having penetrated deep within the continent as a 19-year-old during the Anglo-Zulu War and the First Boer War, where he had been impressed by South Africa's vast mineral wealth and the ruins of ancient lost civilizations being uncovered such as Great Zimbabwe. His original Allan Quartermain character was based in large part on the real-life adventures of Frederick Courtney Selous, the famous British big game hunter and explorer of Colonial Africa.[1][2] These experiences provided Haggard's background and inspiration for this and many later stories.

Plot summary

Allan Quatermain, an English adventurer and hunter based in Durban, South Africa, is approached by an English aristocrat, Sir Henry, and his friend Captain Good, seeking his help finding Sir Henry's brother, who was last seen traveling north into the unexplored interior, on a quest for the fabled King Solomon's Mines. Quatermain possesses a mysterious map purporting to lead to the mines, but has never taken it seriously. However, he agrees to lead an expedition in return for part of the treasure, or a stipend for his son if he is killed along the way. He has little hope they will return alive. They also bring along a mysterious native, Umbopa, who seems more regal, handsome and well spoken than most porters of his class, but who is very anxious to join the party.

Traveling by oxcart, they reach the edge of a desert; but not before an elephant hunt in which a wounded elephant claims the life of a servant. Quatermain's map shows an oasis halfway across, and they continue on foot, almost dying of thirst before finding the oasis. Reaching a mountain range called "Sheba's Breasts", they climb to the top and enter a cave where they find the frozen corpse of José Silvestre, the 16th century Portuguese explorer who drew Quatermain's map in his own blood. That night, a second servant dies from the cold, so they leave his body next to Silvestre's, to "give him a companion".

They cross the mountains into a raised valley, lush and green, known as Kukuanaland, the inhabitants of which have a well organized army and society and speak an ancient dialect of IsiZulu. Kukuanaland's capital is Loo, the destination of a magnificent road from ancient times. The city is dominated by a central Royal Kraal.

They soon meet a party of Kukuana warriors who are on the point of killing them when Captain Good nervously fidgets with his false teeth, making the Kukuanas start back in fear. Thereafter, to protect themselves, they style themselves "white men from the stars" - i.e., sorcerer-gods - and are required to give regular proofs of their divinity, considerably straining both their nerves and their ingenuity.

They are brought before King Twala, who rules over his people with ruthless violence. He came to power years before when he murdered his brother, the previous king, and drove his brother's wife and infant son, Ignosi, out into the desert to die. Twala's rule is unchallenged and an evil, impossibly ancient hag named Gagool is his chief advisor. She roots out any potential opposition by ordering regular witch hunts and murdering without trial all those identified as witches. When she singles out Umbopa for this fate, it takes all Quatermain's skill to save his life.

Gagool, it appears, has already sensed what Umbopa soon after reveals; his real name is Ignosi, and as the son of Twala's murdered brother, he is rightful king of the Kukuanas. A rebellion breaks out, and the Englishmen join Ignosi's army and fight in a furious battle. Although outnumbered, the rebels overthrow Twala, and Sir Henry lops off his head in a duel.

The Englishmen also capture Gagool, who reluctantly promises to lead them to King Solomon's Mines. She shows them a treasure room inside a mountain, carved deep within the living rock and full of gold, diamonds and ivory. She then treacherously sneaks outside while they are admiring the hoard and triggers a secret mechanism that closes the mine's vast stone door. Unfortunately for Gagool, she falls into her own trap when a brief scuffle with a beautiful native named Foulata causes her to be crushed under the stone door. Foulata then dies, stabbed by Gagool. Their scant store of food and water rapidly dwindling, the remaining party prepare to die also. After a few despairing days sealed in the dark chamber, they find an escape route, bringing with them a few pocketfuls of diamonds from the immense trove, enough to make them rich.

The Englishmen bid farewell to a sorrowful Ignosi and return to the desert. Taking a different route, they find Sir Henry's brother stranded in an oasis with a broken leg, unable to go forward or back. They all return to Durban and eventually to England, wealthy enough to live out comfortable lives.

Literary significance & criticism

The novel is said to have been written as a result of a wager with Haggard's brother, namely that he could not write a novel half as good as Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883).

As in Treasure Island, the narrator of King Solomon's Mines tells his tale in the first person, and in an easy conversational style. Almost entirely missing (except in the speech of the Kukuanas) is the ornate language usually associated with novels of this era. Haggard's use of the first person subjective perspective also contrasts with the omniscient third-person viewpoint then in vogue among influential writers such as Trollope, Hardy, and Eliot.

King Solomon's Mines was highly influential as the genesis of the Lost World genre, and helped inspire Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Land That Time Forgot, Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, Edgar Wallace's King Kong and Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King.

The book has scholarly value for the colonialist attitudes Haggard expresses, and for the way he portrays the relationships among the White and African characters. Haggard presents black Africans as heroes and heroines, and shows respect for their culture. Although the book is certainly not devoid of racism, it expresses much less prejudice than some of the later books in this genre. Haggard even includes an interracial romance between a Kukuana woman, Foulata, and a white Englishmen, Captain Good. The narrator tries to discourage the relationship, dreading the uproar such a marriage would cause back home in England; however, he has no objection to the lady, whom he considers very beautiful and noble. Haggard soon "kills off" Foulata, but has her die in Good's arms.

Kukuanaland is said in the book to be forty leagues north of the Lukanga river in modern Zambia which would place it in the extreme south-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. The culture of the Kukuanas shares many attributes with other South African tribes, such as IsiZulu being spoken, and the Kraal system.

The novel has been adapted to film at least four times.

Footnotes

  1. ^ Mandiringana, E.; T. J. Stapleton (1998). "The Literary Legacy of Frederick Courteney Selous". History in Africa 25: 199-218. doi:10.2307/3172188.
  2. ^ Pearson, Edmund Lester. Theodore Roosevelt, Chapter XI: The Lion Hunter (English) (HTML). Humanities Web. Retrieved on 2006-12-18.

External links

  • King Solomon's Mines, available freely at Project Gutenberg
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_Solomon%27s_Mines"