Friday, 10 February 2012

King Solomon's Mines by Henry Rider Haggard - Book Review

(My book is wrinkled, but the scanned image is much better than what is available in Google and Goodreads)

Publisher's write-up :

"The whereabouts of King Solomon's legendary diamond mines has been inscribed in blood on an ancient map now in the possession of Allan Quatermain. His enthralling story begins on a ship steaming up the east coast of Africa. On board he meets Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good, and agrees to join their search for Curtis' younger brother, missing, believed dead, in the interior. Aided by the treasure map, the men set out on a perilious journey, an adenture tense with danger and excitement that culminates in a mountain trek to the vast caves of Solomon - and what they find there."

King Solomon's Mines is a novel written by Sir Henry Rider Haggard, more than a century ago. Despite this time gap, this novel is still very popular. So, out of curiosity, I decided to read this work of fiction so that I could figure out why it is still so popular. So, I borrowed the book from a library in 2009, but being a slow reader, I couldn't even complete half the book within the given time. However, it did enough to grab my attention and eventually, after searching in book-stores for nearly two years (readers have lost interest in classics these days, unfortunately), I finally got a paperback edition of the novel and managed to complete the book.

Sir Haggard wrote this novel as a result of a five-shilling bet with his brother, saying he could write a novel better than Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island. So, naturally, King Solomon's Mines is also an adventure story, with three men going in search of someone and something. Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good approach an old elephant hunter who lives in Durban, Allan Quatermain. Curtis' brother, George, had been missing and was requesting Quatermain to join their quest. Quatermain did have some information on Curtis' brother, that he had gone in search of Solomon's Diamond Mines. Quatermain has an old map, for which, an Portuguese explorer, Jose Silvestra is the cartographer. Silvestra lived around three-hundred years ago and Quatermain had acquired the map from his descendant. Curtis and Good, initially found it hard to believe but the former decided to have faith in Quatermain's story as by doing so, he has some chance of finding his brother. Quatermain agreed to help the two after Curtis had agreed to honour all of Quatermain's conditions. They hire a native servant, Umbopa and set out on this journey. Quatermain is the narrator and writes about his adventure as a story for his son to read.

" 'A sharp spear,' runs the Kukuana saying, 'needs no polish' ; and on the same principle I venture to hope that a true story, however strange it may be, does not require to be decked out in fine words."

- Allan Quatermain
Introduction - xi

It was fast paced and the events were very well described. I loved the author's language. Although this is a very serious novel, the author brought in some occasional humour with the character of John Good. While one could say that Good was quite unnecessary, his presence in the novel added more dimensions to the story as there was also a minor, romantic sub-plot between Good and a native woman. Another aspect of the book for which the author has to be appreciated for is for the fact that the book hardly digressed from the main purpose and Quatermain himself, cuts out several unnecessary events(as mentioned in the book).

However, in modern times, one might not agree with how the natives were portrayed as barbaric and aggressive (although, there were also some noble natives like Ignosi, Infadoos and Foulata). Quatermain's occasional comments showed that he was a racist. But Haggard can't be blamed much as it was probably how things were when the book was released, 1885, that is. I found the excessive use of old words such as “thy, thou, thee, etcetera” to be annoying. The natives of the lost world may have spoken an ancient form of Zulu, but Quatermain, merely translating them, need not have used such words. The only major downside of the book being that, the element of suspense was completely lost. The reader knows that the events that the narrator is mentioning is over, and he is able to mention them only because he is still alive. So, whenever Quatermain was caught in several situations where death was nearly certain, the reader knows that he'd somehow come out of it for he is still alive.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and I have realised why this book is still famous and I'm sure that this book will continue to remain famous for several generations to come. Further more, in my opinion, Henry is the obvious winner of the bet although I'm not sure whether his brother accepted it. Anybody interested in adventure stories will certainly enjoy reading this book. I shall gladly give this beautiful work of fiction an eight on ten. 

Rating : 8/10

In case you, the reader of this review, decide to read this book after reading my review, I hope you enjoy reading this book.  

Have a nice day,


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