King Solomon’s Mines by H Rider Haggard

Before I read this book all I knew about it was from what others have said about it and that Sean Connery played the main protagonist Allan Quartermain in League of Extraordinary Gentleman.

From what I’ve heard others have said of it, I have heard it been described as ‘dated’ and a work from a different time. Having just read it I can say that this is true to a certain extent it is a book however, that still has some quality to it. When people say it is dated it is because it is written during the time when the British Empire was more active than it is now especially in Africa.

I got a copy from a charity shop with the dust cover falling apart not bad for £1.50.

The story starts with the narration of Allan Quartermain. Quartermain is our main hero of the tale, he is a British adventurer of sorts and knows a thing or two about Southern Africa, hunting and the local indigenous people (we even get to read about Quatermain’s hunting of elephants). He gets hired by an English man to go help find his brother in the mysterious King Solomon’s mines of which little is known. Along the way Quartermain gets help from a number of characters, one of which is an African who has his own reasons for wanting to join the group. Along the way the main group meets an hitherto unknown civilisation.

Criticisms in our modern society can easily be made about how this otherwise unknown society was portrayed by Rider Haggard. They believe Quartermain’s guns to be magic sticks and that they can summon an eclipse because they don’t know how they work as he plays on their superstitions. I would not know for certain but I would heavily doubt such a society would be so superstitious. With the exception of the characters that are clearly the protagonists of the tale, Rider Haggard does not portray African people in a wholly bad light although you could argue that the Anglo Saxon characters are meant to be seen as the betters. I found the protagonist Gagool, the adviser to the king of the newly discovered society to be an intelligent and sinister human being who would do anything to get her way. The character of Umbopa on the other hand is portrayed as a man of great virtue.

This is essentially a boy’s adventure book about going to an unknown land and meeting people who are not like you. It is an exciting book to read and despite being written by the British Rider Haggard, it feels like it was written on a different planet purely because the world of 1885 when it was first published is very different than the world of now. It has its charms and on the face of it I did enjoy but it some of it would definitely not be written in the way it was today. Give it a read, yes it is dated to a certain degree but I would not consider it to be wholly disrespectful which I was worried it may well have been before reading it.

[First published 1885. My edition 1955]