Tag Archives: classic literature

Book Review: King Soloman’s Mines

Book Name: King Solomon’s Mines
Author: Sir H. Rider Haggard
First Published: 1885

Sir Henry Rider Haggard, better known as H. Rider Haggard, was born in Bradenham, Norfolk on June 22, 1856. He was the eighth of ten children and unlike his older brothers, he did not study in a private school, probably due to financial constraints and his father’s low regard for him.

In 1875, Haggard was sent to South Africa to do unpaid work. During this time, he fell in love with Mary Elizabeth “Lilly” Jackson and planned to marry her once he got paid work in the continent. When he became Registrar of the High Court in the Transvaal in 1878, he wrote to his father about his plan to return to England and marry Jackson. His father, however, would not allow him to return without having made a career first. By 1879, Jackson had married a rich banker and upon Haggard’s return, he married Marianna Louisa Margitson. The couple went to Africa and had a son and three daughters.

In 1882, the couple went back to England. Haggard became a lawyer but he spent a lot of time writing novels. To prove to his brother that he could write a good story like Treasure Island, he wrote King Solomon’s Mines. The novel was written in 6-14 weeks but was rejected by publishers once it was finished. When it was finally published in September 1885, it quickly became a best seller. Haggard released a sequel, Allan Quatermain, shortly. The stories were influenced by adventurers he met in Africa and the wealth and ancient ruins in the continent. King Solomon’s Mines is credited as the start of the Lost World genre, which influenced popular American pulp writers like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard. The hero Allan Quatermain became the template for Indiana Jones and regained popularity as a major character in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Haggard was also heavily involved in agricultural reform and was part of several commissions on land use and similar issues. In 1912, he was made a Knight Bachelor and in 1919, he became a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. He died on May 14, 1925, when he was 68.

“Truly wealth, which men spend all their lives in acquiring, is a valueless thing at the last.” – H. Rider Haggard, King Solomon’s Mines

Allan Quatermain is an adventurer and professional hunter based in Durban, South Africa. Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good ask him to help them find Sir Henry’s brother, who is on a journey in the unexplored territory to find the mythical King Solomon’s Mines. Quatermain possesses a map to the mines but has not really believed in its authenticity. Nevertheless, he agrees to join the two men if they will share the treasure they will find or financially support his son in case he dies during the trip. Quatermain does not believe that they will be able to return alive but thinks that his death will at least provide support for his child.

The three men are accompanied by Umbopa, a mysterious native who seems more eloquent and regal than the other porters. They travel by oxcart until the edge of a desert, then begin walking. Fortunately for them, they discover an oasis along the way. They reach the Suliman Berg and climb one of the peaks of the mountain range. Inside a cave is the frozen corpse of José Silvestre, the explorer who drew the map using his blood. When another servant dies because of the freezing temperature, they leave the body to provide Silvestre a companion.

They then reach a lush valley called Kukuanaland. They escape being killed by Kukuana warriors when Captain Good fidgets with his denture, which scares the warriors. From then on, they pretend to be powerful gods but they still have to regularly prove their claim, which stresses them and strains their creativity.

They are then brought to King Twala, who killed the former king (his brother) then sent his brother’s wife and son Ignosi to die in the desert. An old, evil witch named Gagool serves as the king’s primary advisor and murders those who oppose her and the king. Umbopa earns Gagool’s suspicion but Quatermain is able to save him.

Soon, it is revealed that Umbopa is Ignosi, the true king of Kukuanaland. The Englishmen gain support by using the foreknowledge of a lunar eclipse to prove Ignosi’s claim. Twala is overthrown by the rebels and loses his head in a duel with Sir Henry.

Gagool reluctantly takes them to King Solomon’s Mines but while the men are admiring the treasure, she sneaks out and uses a hidden mechanism to trap the men inside. With their food and water supply dwindling, the trapped men prepare for death.

There is something about these Victorian era pulp novels that calls to me. The world was largely unexplored back then, magic and mystery abounded in places that we now call home. King Soloman’s Mines was one of those break out novels for its author. It was a huge bestseller of its day, a “star wars” for the Victorians, and it still has much influence over our stories today. While a pure adventure tale and worth reading just for the sheer fun, it is not a shallow book at all. The characters are interesting and well developed and it has a few literary allusions to the Old Testament of the Bible and the Ingoldsby Legends. While the author does portray his protagonists as British imperialists, true to his culture of that time, there is more in his tale. His native Africans gradually emerge as fully developed individuals, capable of great nobility and wisdom, or evil. Quartermain himself undergoes a broadening of outlook during his adventure and he comes to see the people around him as equals instead of natives that “should known their place”. I feel that this helps keep King Solomon’s Mines from becoming too dated for today’s readers.

You can find a free download of King Solomon’s Mines on Project Gutenburg. Find yourself a copy and enjoy it on a hot summer day with a cold soda or beer while you experience the African of yesteryear. It is the first of a series of 15 novels, so if you like it, there is more to enjoy.

King Solomon's Mines Book CoverAllan Quatermain Series:

King Solomon’s Mines (1885)
Allan Quatermain (1887)
Allan’s Wife & Other Tales (1887)
Maiwa’s Revenge: or, The War of the Little Hand (1888)
Marie (1912)
Child of Storm (1913)
The Holy Flower (1915) (first serialised in the Windsor Magazine December 1913-November 1914)
The Ivory Child (1916)
Finished (1917)
The Ancient Allan (1920)
She and Allan (1920)
Heu-heu: or, The Monster (1924)
The Treasure of the Lake (1926)
Allan and the Ice-gods (1927)
Hunter Quatermain’s Story: The Uncollected Adventures of Allan Quatermain (collection, 2003)

Book Review: Dracula

Book Name: Dracula
Author: Bram Stoker
First Published: 1897

Bram Stoker was born on November 8, 1847 in Dublin, Ireland. He was a sickly boy but he fully recovered when he was seven. He had no other major health problems and even became an athlete at Trinity College, Dublin when he studied there from 1864-1870. He graduated with honors with a degree in Mathematics and became auditor of the College Historical Society and President of the University Philosophical Society.

While he was a student, he became interested in the theater and later became a theater critic. He became known because of his good reviews even though theater critics were not highly respected those days. He gave a positive review of Henry Irving’s Hamlet, which resulted to Irving inviting him for dinner and the two becoming friends.

In 1878, Bram Stoker and Florence Balcombe married. The couple moved to London and had a son in 1879. Stoker worked as manager of Irving’s Lyceum Theater for 27 years. By working for Irving, the position gave Stoker the opportunity to meet famous personalities and travel. It was during this time in his life that began writing his novels.

In 1890, Stoker went to the English town of Whitby, where it is said he got some of his inspiration for the novel Dracula. He also met the Hungarian writer Armin Vámbéry, who told him scary stories about the Carpathian mountains. Stoker then studied European folklore and vampire stories for several years. It was not until 1897 that he published Dracula. Other inspirations for the novel include the Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, the crypts of St. Michan’s Church in Dublin and Sheridan Le Fanu’s novella Carmilla.

Stoker had several strokes and died on April 20, 1912. His cause of death is not definite – some say he died from tertiary syphilis while others claim it was due to overwork. He was cremated and his ashes were placed in an urn. When his son Irving Noel Stoker died in 1961, his ashes were also placed in the same urn. The ashes of Bram Stoker and Florence Stoker were supposed to be put together but when Florence died, her ashes were scattered at the Gardens of Rest.

“There are darknesses in life and there are lights, and you are one of the lights, the light of all lights.” -Bram Stoker, Dracula

In the late nineteenth century, a young British lawyer named Jonathan Harker goes to Castle Dracula in Transylvania to finalize a real estate transaction involving Count Dracula. On the way, he encounters superstitious villagers who become fearful upon hearing his destination. He continues despite their fears and is driven to the castle by a mysterious man.

His accommodations are suitable, but he finds his host Count Dracula to be a strange thin and pale man. He discovers that the Count drinks human blood in order to survive but the latter escapes to England along with fifty boxes of earth. Harker is left at the castle sick and weak.

In England, Jonathan’s fiancée Mina Murray is with her friend Lucy Westenra. Lucy has three suitors who have offered her marriage – Arthur Holmwood, Dr. John Seward, and Quincey Morris – and has begun to sleepwalk. Mina is worried about her friend and because she has not heard from Jonathan for a long time.

A damaged ship carrying Count Dracula’s fifty boxes of earth arrives, but the ship’s crew is missing. Mina finds the sleepwalking Lucy near the graveyard, with a tall, thin figure nearby. The figure vanishes and Lucy does not remember anything when she awakens. Lucy is cold and has two tiny puncture wounds on her neck, but Mina thinks she has just accidentally pricked her friend with a pin. Over the next several weeks, Lucy’s health deteriorates but her former suitor Dr. Seward cannot determine what is making her sick.

When Mina receives word about Jonathan, she goes to help him. Lucy’s condition worsens so Dr. Seward asks the help of Dr. Abraham Van Helsing. Van Helsing notices the spots on the girl’s neck and her blood loss. They give Lucy several blood transfusions, but the girl improves only temporarily. Van Helsing suspects that Lucy is being victimized by a vampire and puts garlic in her room and around her neck to protect her. However, the vampire is able to attack the girl again and Lucy dies.

After her death, a beautiful lady begins attacking the children in the village. Disturbed, Van Helsing asks Dr. Seward to help him open Lucy’s coffin. He also gets to read Mina’s transcription of Jonathan’s diary about his trip to Transylvania. He gathers Lucy’s previous suitors and explains to them that Lucy has become a vampire and how they can save her soul and kill Count Dracula.

Dracula Book CoverDracula is not a novel, that is a single tale woven as a movie might be, instead it is in epistolary form as a collection of journals, letters and papers. The many viewpoints through each journal entry serve to create the suspense which sets the tone of the novel. I will confess that Dracula is not my favorite book of all time. I have never been into horror novels and this one is the granddaddy of the horror genre. Still, it is a classic that has been a part of our literary history and part of our pop culture. It is well worth the time to go back and see the original tale by its creator.

Book Launch: The Curate’s Brother

The Curate s Brother Book Cover

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THE STORY:

The Curate’s Brother is a short story about the relationship between the two Wentworth brothers as seen through the eyes of EDWARD WENTWORTH. It follows their romantic antics over one summer in 1806. This short story could be seen as a prequel to Jane Austen’s famous novel “Persuasion”.

Edward Wentworth lives a quiet, structured life as a curate in the regency era village of Monkford. He spends his days ministering to the sick and downhearted, which he considers his life’s calling. His comfortable life is shaken when his elder brother, COMMANDER FREDERICK WENTWORTH arrives on his doorstep for a visit. Frederick has returned to England after seeing action and commanding his first vessel, a prize ship won in the West Indies. He is awaiting orders and has the hope of commanding a ship of his own by the end of summer. His only goal is to pass the time with the only family he has left in England until his next assignment.

At first Edward is glad to see his brother. They have not spent time with each other for years due to his brother’s naval service. They are opposites in many ways. Frederick is bold and likes to take risks. Edward is shy and over-aware of social implications. When his brother flirts with SALLY MARSHALL, an outgoing beauty that Edward is used to viewing as “a child”, the young curate becomes aware that his viewpoint of Sally is sorely outdated. His peaceful life is full of turmoil as he observes Sally flirting with men at public assemblies and realizes that he does not like it.

Meanwhile, Frederick finds himself a celebrity in Monkford. Word from the London papers paint him as “the Hero of San Domingo”, where he won a commendation for his quick thinking in action. The men want to hear the story of his exploits, but Frederick would rather dance with the ladies. The Commander takes an interest in shy wallflower, ANNE ELLIOT. He pays no heed to Edward’s warnings that the girl is the daughter of a baronet and well above his station. Edward fears that no good will come of a union between his brother and the girl due to her family connections.

At the end of summer, a letter and a package arrive that will change everything for the two brothers. Which way will prevail, the bold action of the commander or the quiet manners of the curate?

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY:

Wendy Van Camp is the writer behind the blog No Wasted Ink. She has published memoir shorts in literary magazines, writes non-fiction articles for various art and literature magazines and is a volunteer coordinator for Nanowrimo. Wendy is also working on a long Steampunk Science Fiction trilogy that will hopefully debut next year. Her latest series features a variation on Jane Austen’s Persuasion and will be composed of two volumes: The Curate’s Brother and Letters From The Sea.

Wendy makes her home in Southern California with her husband and australian shepard. Wendy enjoys travel, bicycling, gourmet cooking and gemology.

Book Review: To Kill A Mocking Bird

Book Name: To Kill A Mockingbird
Author: Harper Lee
First Published: 1960

Nelle Harper Lee was born on April 28, 1926 in Monroeville, Alabama. She studied at Monroe County High School, where she became interested in English literature. She then enrolled in Huntingdon College in Montgomery.

She is best known for her novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Similar to the book’s character Scout, the young Harper Lee was a tomboy who observed racism in her small town in Alabama. Her father was a lawyer who once defended two black men accused of killing a white man but the two black men were later executed. Dill was based on Lee’s friend Truman Capote.

She began her writing career with several long stories. With the help of the editor Tay Hohoff, she spent two and a half years rewriting the draft of To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel was published on July 11, 1960 and quickly became a critically-acclaimed bestseller. In 1961, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and in 1999 was voted “Best Novel of the Century” in Library Journal’s poll.

Lee has done few interviews or public appearances since publishing To Kill a Mockingbird. She has not published another novel. She worked on a second novel, titled The Long Goodbye, but did not finish it. In the mid-1980s, she began writing a nonfiction book about an Alabama serial murderer but also filed it away unfinished. She was, however, satisfied with her book’s Oscar-winning screenplay adaptation by Horton Foote. During the filming, she became good friends with Gregory Peck, who won an Academy Award for portraying Atticus Finch.

On November 5, 2007, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush. This is the highest award in the United States for civilians, awarded to people with outstanding contribution to culture, world peace, security, and national interests.

In a 2011 interview, Lee’s close friend, Rev. Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, shared what Lee told him as the reason why she never wrote again, “Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say and I will not say it again.”

I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what. – Harper Lee

Atticus Finch is a middle-aged lawyer and a widower who lives in Depression-era Maycomb, Alabama. He has two children, six-year-old Scout and her older brother Jem. The two children are terrified of their reclusive neighbor Arthur “Boo” Radley, yet they are also intrigued by him. Together with Dill, a boy who stays with his aunt in Maycomb during the summer, they obsess about Boo’s appearance and how they can lure him outside, despite Atticus’ warning to leave the man alone. The children sometimes find gifts in a tree near Boo’s house but never see him.

One day, Atticus takes on the case of a black man named Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping and beating up a white woman named Mayella Ewell. Most of the people of Maycomb believe that Tom is guilty and are beginning to resent the attorney for defending him. Scout and Jem are harassed at school because of their father’s actions. Their father tells them not to fight with the other children but it becomes hard for tomboy Scout and even the more levelheaded Jem to not lose their tempers.

Atticus stands up to a lynch mob out to kill Tom and the mob disperses after the children shame them. The lawyer does not want his children to attend the trial but they are able to, sitting in the area designated for black people. In the trial, Atticus is able to prove that Tom could not have beaten up and raped Mayella because of his crippled hand. It becomes clear that the lonely Mayella made advances toward Tom. Nevertheless, Tom is convicted, making Atticus’ two kids realize their town’s prejudice against people of color, even in a court where truth is supposed to win over bias. Soon after the trial, Tom gets shot and killed for attempting to escape while in prison. Tom’s conviction and his death shake the Finch family’s confidence in justice.

To Kill A Mockingbird Book CoverMy first exposure to this novel was via required reading in secondary school. I was taken by the book, not only due to the literary themes, but because the story was told by a little girl that was not much younger than myself at the time. I was a tomboy like Scout and I could feel what she felt as events happened in the story. I also felt a great deal of admiration for Atticus Finch. In many ways, this character has become my role model for courage and justice. I have enjoyed seeing the Oscar winning film starring Gregory Peck and highly recommend seeing it if you have not done so.

Ms. Lee has been in the news as of late. She is an elderly woman that was in need of funds to pay for her medical care and was in a legal battle over the royalties from her single best-selling book in order to find the money to pay for her doctors. I understand she has had some success with her suit and I certainly wish her all the best and a peaceful life.

Book Review: Don Quixote

Book Name: Don Quixote
Author: Miguel de Cervantes
First Published:1605 (part one) 1615 (part two)

Miguel de Cervantes was born in 1547 in Alcalá de Henares, Spain. His father’s profession was that of a barbar-surgeon from Cordoba. He set bones, performed bloodlettings in addition to shaves and haircuts. Cervantes’ mother was the third child of a poor nobleman who sold his daughter into matrimony to pay his debts. Although their marriage was not a happy one, they still managed to produce seven children together. When Cervantes was a young man, he fell in love with a girl named Josefina, but because of his family’s poverty and Cervantes’ poor prospects, the girl’s father forbade her to see him.

Cervantes left Spain and enlisted with the Spanish Navy Marines in Naples in 1570. The following year, he sailed with the fleet of ships that defeated the Ottoman forces in the Battle of Lepanto. Cervantes had a fever during the battle but he chose to fight for his King and his God instead of hiding below decks. He was shot three times, which left his left arm immobile, but he considered his combat as a badge of honor.

In 1575, Cervantes sailed to Barcelona. His ship was attacked by Algerian pirates near the Catalan coast. It was a terrible battle in which the Captain and many of the crew were killed. The survivors were captured and taken to Algiers. Cervantes was enslaved for five years as a prisoner of war. He was returned to Madrid only after his parents paid his ransom. It was this period in his life that inspired much of the subject matter for several of his later literary works, The Captive’s Tale in Don Quixote and two plays that were set in Algiers, El Trato de Argel and Los Banos de Argel.

Cervantes life settled into middle-class normality after his return to Spain. Like many authors of his time, he was not able to support himself via his writings. Instead, he worked as a purchasing agent for the Spanish Navy. He also took the position of a tax collector, moving from town to town demanding the back taxes due the crown. Many of the characters and situations in Don Quixote were inspired by these “day jobs”. In his senior years, he managed to gain a sponsor and was able to turn to writing full-time.

In 1584, he married Catalina de Salazar y Palacios, whose uncle was accounted the basis for the character of Don Quixote. He remained poor until 1605, when his novel Don Quixote was released. The book was written as a satire of chivalric romance and the general public enjoyed Cervantes’ use of everyday speech in his writing. The book did not make him rich but it made him a popular writer internationally.

Cervantes died on April 22, 1616, a year after the second part of Don Quixote was published, of type II Diabetes. He was buried the next day in a convent in Madrid. Later his remains were lost due to construction work at the convent.

Coincidently, William Shakespeare also died on April 23, 1616. To honor the date when two of the greatest authors of all time died, UNESCO established this date at the International Day of the Book. What is not often acknowledged is that Spain had adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1582, but England was still using the Julian calendar. There is actually a eleven day difference in the date of these two author’s deaths. But why ruin a good holiday concept over a few dates?

“Too much sanity may be madness. And maddest of all, to see life as it is and not as it should be.” -Miguel de Cervantes

Don Quixote the novel begins with Alonso Quixano, almost 50, lives in La Mancha with his niece and their housekeeper. He is rational for the most part but his obsession with books about chivalry has distorted his perception into believing that those books were real. Inspired by the stories, he decides to be a wandering knight and look for adventure. He wears an old suit of armor and renames himself “Don Quixote”, refers to his thin horse as Rocinante and recruits his illiterate neighbor Sancho Panza to be his squire.

He goes out and arrives at an inn, believing that it is a castle, and asks the innkeeper to make him a knight. The annoyed innkeeper agrees just to make him go away. It is at this inn where Don Quixote spies the barmaid Aldonza Lorenzo and re-imagines her as his lady love, Dulcinea del Toboso. Next, Don Quixote discovers a man who is beating a boy and the mad knight forces this man to swear that he will treat the boy well. The man, however, continues with the beating once Don Quixote is away. When an encounter with traders ends in a fight, after the men insult Dulcinea, Don Quixote is beaten. It is then that Sancho and a peasant return him to his home and worried family. While he is unconscious, his housekeeper and his niece, with help from other local residents, burn the man’s chivalric books and close his library. They hope this will halt the old man’s dreams of adventure and keep him sane.

When he recovers, Don Quixote and Sancho continue with their journey and meet different characters, with Don Quixote’s imagination turning these meetings into quests. The man’s tendency to intrude in other people’s affairs and to skip paying his debts results in injuries and embarrassments. He tilts at windmills with his lance, believing them to be vicious giants and he ambushes a group of friars traveling with a lady.

In the second part of Don Quixote, published 10 years after the first, the people that Don Quixote and Sancho meet already know about the duo. Some of these characters trick Don Quixote to entertain themselves, sending the pair to adventures that end in practical jokes. This tests the knight’s sense of chivalry and his professed love for Dulcinea. Even Sancho tricks him one time, bringing back three peasant girls and claiming that they are Dulcinea and her two ladies-in-waiting. Near the end of the story, an encounter forces Don Quixote to reluctantly go home and possibly cease his chivalrous acts.

Don Quixote Book CoverMy first exposure to this classic tale of madness, fantasy, and ideas of what is important as citizens of the world, was a live performance on Broadway of Man of La Mancha. It was my first time in New York City as a young woman and my cousin suggested that I pick this play because it was classic theater, and it was a little less expensive being a revival. I was traveling on the cheap, so it seemed a good idea to me at the time. As I sat in the darkened theater, I was carried away by the scenes of Cervantes in the Algerian prison, pleading for his life by playing the tales of Don Quixote to his fellow prisoners, amusing them enough to spare his life. The songs from this play haunt me still. Later, I read the book Don Quixote and was transported into a world very different from modern America, a story that would be considered the first modern European novel and is regarded among the greatest works of fiction ever written. Cervantes’ himself was dubbed El Principe de los Ingenious, ”The Prince of Wits”.

If you have not read Don Quixote, I urge you to place it in your to-read list. You can find a free download of this classic novel at Project Gutenberg. There is also a movie version of Man of La Mancha (1972), starring Peter O’Toole as Don Quixote, Sofia Loren as Dulcinea, and James Coco as Sancho Panza. If you would experience the beautiful music of the Broadway play, I can recommend the film as well.