Gary Ballard's Reviews > King Solomon's Mines

King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard
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Apr 15, 2012

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Read from April 15 to 30, 2012

King Solomon's Mines is the only book of the Alan Quatermain stories that I've ever read, despite knowing of the character from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie and comic series. As a fan of the pulpy "Lost World" genre that this novel spawns, it's amazing that I've waited this long in life to read this sort of thing.

The first thing that struck me about the novel is the blatant colonialist racism that permeates the whole work. Any modern reader who didn't know the time period it was written in would be shocked by the attitudes of the white men towards the black, but that is only because the modern reader should be uncomfortable with such anachronistic attitudes. As a historical document of cultural prejudice, it is extremely instructive, and something I think any modern reader would benefit from viewing. With the doctrine of American Exceptionalism being such a prevalent part of our current political and racial discourse, seeing the more blatant aspects of such imperialist attitudes as expressed through the "Rule Brittania" sort of Victorian ideals about colonial Africa is an unsettling mirror image of modern day prejudices towards the Middle East. What is surprising, however, is how culturally sensitive the main character actually is in spite of the prevailing attitudes of racial inequality. A number of the African characters are considered on an equal par with their European counterparts, and one of the main characters, Capt. Good, actually falls in love with an African tribeswoman, though Quatermain bemoans the doomed nature of such progressive interracial romances should Good return to England with her at his side.

The story itself is the the kind of dashing, madcap adventure we've come to know and love through cliffhanger serials and later works like the Indiana Jones series of films. At times, Haggard's language is surprisingly stark, lacking the flowery wordiness of most Victorian literature. There are passages, however, that feel like the most egregious of Dickens' work, where the reader can imagine the author being paid by the word. The story never bogs down, though, and I found myself cutting through it fairly quickly.

While not perfect, it's certainly an enjoyable read, and for fans of the genre, it's a must if only to see the foundations for so many later cliches being laid. I give the novel 3.5 out of 5 stars.
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