Plot Summary: Experienced hunter Allan Quartermain is approached by two gentlemen proposing a search party/treasure hunt into unexplored deepest Africa. Though he is skeptical about their success, he agrees to accompany them in hopes of leaving a legacy for his son. Setting out, the trio encounter extremely hazardous conditions in the form of natural phenomenon, climate, and native hostility. Will they even find what is rumored to have been Solomon’s ancient diamond mines? Or will they succumb to the dangers along the way?
My Book Review: Oh my. This is an oldie I’ve had on my list since way back as a mid teenager. It’s always had this appeal for me as an armchair adventurer. Ancient treasure, connected to true-life history while at the same time mysterious and mythical, including drama in far-off lands…! I was finally able to read it this summer and hoped that my thirst for excitement would be fulfilled.
Although the actual story is fictitious, many of the characteristics of the novel are closer to the reality of the time period of which it was written. It was not uncommon for adventurers to explore Africa in the latter part of the 1800’s, and many ancient secrets and geological treasures were discovered. Haggard loosely based his characters on people he had met. I would also like to further read on the topic of Solomon’s mines in particular and have added “In Search of King Solomon’s Mines,” by Tahir Shah to my TBR.
The thing I loved most about this exciting, atmospheric novel was the poetic descriptions of the land and people. Africa has never been my favorite place to read about, but this book awoke more interest in it for me. So many curious observations are made by the travelers that it gives the story a feeling of authenticity. The battle scenes were also most exciting and it was easy to picture Chris Helmsworth as Sir Henry Curtis, standing his ground in battle clothed in ancient chain mail armor and wielding a battle-axe.
I also wondered how much this book might have influenced J. R. R. Tolkien in his Lord of the Rings trilogy. I could see many similarities between the two. For instance, SPOILER ALERT: the story starts out with a band of men coming together to start a quest, — a fellowship, if you will. There is no doubting the three individuals’ sincerity and their implicit trust in each other from the beginning. The adventurers eventually encounter ‘The Silent Ones’– three gigantic statues that had been carved long ago and set before the entrance to the treasure cave. Is anybody seeing the Argonath here? After this, they enter the “Place of Death” (so called by the natives) where they are awed by the enormous cathedral-like caverns underneath the mountain Suliman’s Berg. I couldn’t help but picture the mines of Moriah. At last they meet a table surrounded by dead kings of the past. At this moment I began to picture Dwimorberg and the Paths of the Dead. Or, Lewis fans might think of the sleeping lords on the island of Ramandu. Another Narnian similarity I spotted was the underground diggings (of course, common to mines) and the underground lake they fell into while escaping from the treasure cave. They eventually came to an animal hole in the earth where they popped through. Reminded me so much of The Silver Chair! END OF SPOILER
Although there is some sense of ‘white superiority’ on the part of our narrator Quartermain, I was actually surprised at how progressive he was for that time period in how he and his friends came to view the local natives as dear friends, comrades in arms, brothers, and noble people.
This was a book I finished at 12:30 in the morning, so you know I was pretty happy with my reading experience. I think I will even say it surpassed my hopes! I can’t wait to watch some film adaptations, although I doubt they’ll be faithful. If you like your PCness, this won’t be the book for you. But as I’ve just learned, Haggard was highly respected by the Oxford Inklings after all and one of them (Roger Lancelyn Green) is quoted as praising him “with the highest level of skill and sheer imaginative power.” Need I say more? I’m delighted to know there are 14 more books in the series! What more bizarre situations can Quartermain find himself in?
*One note of caution for parents- a pair of mountains are described by Quartermain as “Sheba’s Breasts” because of their shape. At times, it seems to go into unnecessary description over it.
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