King Solomon's Mines Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Returning to his home in Natal after an unsuccessful elephant hunt, Allan Quatermain meets Sir Henry Curtis and his friend, retired Captain John Good, aboard ship. Sir Henry inquires whether Quatermain met a man named Neville in Bamangwato. Learning that he did, Sir Henry explains that Neville is his younger brother, George, with whom he quarreled. When Sir Henry inherited his parents’ estate, George took the name Neville and went to Africa to seek his fortune. He was not heard from since.

Quatermain says that Neville reportedly headed for King Solomon’s Mines, diamond mines reputed to lie far in the interior. Ten years before, Quatermain met a Portuguese man, José Silvestre, who tried unsuccessfully to cross the desert to the mines and dragged himself into his camp to die. Before he died, José gave him a map showing the location of the treasure. It was written on a piece of a shirt that belonged to his relative, another José Da Silvestre, three hundred years before. Silvestre saw the mines but died in the mountains while trying to return. His servant brought the map back to his family, and it was passed down through succeeding generations of the Silvestre family. By the time the ship reached Natal, Quatermain agrees to help Sir Henry find his brother.

In Natal, Quatermain gets the equipment together, and the trio choose the five men who are to accompany them. Besides the driver and the leader for the oxen that are to pull their cart, they hire three servants: a Hottentot named Ventvogel and two Zulus, Khiva and Umbopa. Umbopa explains that his tribe lives far to the north in the direction in which they are traveling and that he is willing to serve for nothing if he might go with the party. Quatermain is suspicious of the native’s offer, but Sir Henry agrees to take Umbopa as his servant.

On the journey from Durban, they lose Khiva when, trying to save Captain Good from attack by a wounded bull elephant, the native is torn in two by the rampaging animal. At Sitandra’s Kraal at the edge of the desert, the men leave all the equipment they cannot carry on their backs. Quatermain’s plan is to travel at night to avoid the heat of the sun and to sleep during the day. On the third day out, however, the men can find no shelter from the heat. They decide that trekking is more comfortable than trying to rest. They are out of water by the fourth day, but on the following day, Ventvogel discovers a spring. Refreshing themselves, they start off again that night. At the end of the next night, they reach the lower slope of a mountain marked on the map as Sheba’s left breast. On the other side of the mountain lies King Solomon’s road, which is supposed to lead to the diamond mines.

The climb up the mountain is not an easy one. The higher they ascend, the colder it grows. At the top of the ridge, they find a cave and climb into it to spend the night. Ventvogel freezes to death before morning. Ventvogel is not the only dead man in the cave. When it grows light the next morning, one of the party sees the body of a white man in its rocky recesses. Quatermain decides that it is the body of the first José Silvestre, preserved by the cold.

Leaving the bodies in the cave, the remaining men start down the mountain slope. As the mist clears, they can distinguish fertile lands and woods below them. Reaching King Solomon’s road, they follow it into the valley. The road is a magnificent engineering feat that crosses a ravine and even tunnels through a ridge. In the tunnel, the walls are decorated with figures driving in chariots. Sir Henry declares that the pictures were painted by ancient Egyptians.

When Quatermain and his party descend to the valley, they stop to eat and rest beside a stream. Captain Good undresses to shave and bathe. Suddenly, Quatermain realizes that they are being observed by a party of natives. As the leader of the band, an old man, steps up to speak to them, Quatermain sees that he greatly resembles Umbopa.

Were it not for Captain Good’s peculiarities, the four men would surely have been killed. Luckily, Captain Good’s false teeth, bare legs, half-shaven face, and monocle fascinated the savages so that they are willing to believe Quatermain’s story that he and his friends descended from the stars. To make the story more...

(The entire section is 1768 words.)