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 (1885)
Allan Quatermain (1887)
Allan’s Wife & Other Tales (1887)
Maiwa’s Revenge: or, The War of the Little Hand (1888)
Child of Storm (1913)
The Holy Flower (1915) (first serialised in the Windsor Magazine December 1913-November 1914)
The Ivory Child (1916)
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)