The story of King Solomon's Mines takes place in the mid-nineteenth century, a period roughly contemporary with Haggard's own lifetime. The cities, rivers, landmarks, and tribes mentioned in the story are all real, though at the time, little was known about this part of southern Africa. The fact that Africa was relatively unexplored increased readers' interest in the story. Many readers in fact took the book as an actual account of the author's adventures, a view which was encouraged by Haggard's direct and realistic prose.
Haggard's narrative is filled with interesting details about the African environment. To evoke the difficulty of the adventurers' journey across the wilderness, he tells us of the "dreadful tsetse fly, whose bite is fatal to all animals except donkeys and men." Of the twenty oxen with which they had begun their expedition, only twelve remained: "One we had lost from the bite of a cobra, three had perished from the want of water, one had been lost, and the other three had died from eating the poisonous herb called tulip."
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The book's immense success was the result of Haggard's ability to present such fantastic adventures in a gritty, realistic narrative. Using a first-person point of view, Quatermain tells the story in what he calls a "plain, straightforward manner." In this way, Haggard effectively creates the illusion of an honest record of actual events. Quatermain's credibility as a narrator is further enhanced by the fact that he claims not to be a "literary man." He says that his account lacks the "flights and flourishes" found in novels, thereby further suggesting its factuality.
Haggard's use of language enhances this realistic credibility. The style is simple, direct, and conversational, providing both vivid details of these adventures and Quatermain's occasional insights into their significance. His narrative is interspersed with opinions and prejudices, which provide interesting insights into his own personality.
At different points in his story, Quatermain meditates upon profound philosophical questions: the transitoriness of human life, the power and beauty of nature, the meaning of human relationships. However, though these passages are often poetic, they seem quite spontaneous and emotionally compelling. Quatermain's bluntness is effectively tempered by his own well-considered experiences and his compassion for other human beings.
Haggard also uses his descriptive power to foreshadow later events, and to express both the beauty and the...
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King Solomon's Mines clearly expresses certain racial prejudices that were dominant attitudes in Haggard's own time. The fact that, like his creator, Quatermain admires and respects black Africans does not obscure his belief that blacks and whites must remain separate. Indeed, these very sentiments are spoken more often by the blacks in the story than by the whites. However, though the novel does not envision true equality or unity among blacks and whites, it is important to note that Haggard's work does affirmvery strongly, in facta sense of noble values inherent in both races. Though culturally different, both races possess people of honor and goodness just as both possess people of treachery and evil. Haggard's view that blacks and whites could inhabit the same moral world was more progressive than the views of many of his contemporaries, who believed that all native Africans were simply savages.
An interesting passage in this regard occurs in the first chapter of King Solomon's Mines, when Allan decides to substitute the word "natives" for the more commonly used "niggers." It is worth noting that, offensive as the word "niggers" may be to contemporary ears, Quatermain also sees it as a demeaning and reprehensible term. He objects specifically to its connotation of inferior moral character, and suggests that a black "native" can be just as much a "gentleman" as a white man.
With regard to its treatment of women, however,...
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Topics for Discussion
1. Why does Haggard entitle his book King Solomon's Mines? What do the mines signify to Allan Quatermain, Sir Henry Curtis, and Captain Good? Do their attitudes toward the mines change over the course of the story? How?
2. Discuss the character of the narrator, Allan Quatermain. What is his personality like? What are his virtues? His vices? Why does he agree to help Sir Henry discover the fate of his brother? Does his character change from the beginning to the end of the novel?
3. Consider the acts of war and violence which occur in the latter half of the story. Why do the characters fight? Are their causes just? For what principles or values are they fighting?
4. Discuss specific ways in which the African natives are different from the whites. In what ways are they alike?
5. Which event do you think is the climax of the story? Explain.
6. Imagine that you are producing a film version of King Solomon's Mines. Which current actors would you cast in the major roles? Explain your choices.
7. How would you describe Allan Quatermain's relationship with Ignosi, the rightful king of the Kukuana people? How do their attitudes toward one another change in the course of the book?
8. Discuss the ways in which descriptions of nature suggest or emphasize the attitudes or situations of the characters.
9. Is Sir Henry's search for his brother, George, an important element of the...
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Ideas for Reports and Papers
1. Which character, from a movie or another story, reminds you of one of the major characters in King Solomon's Mines? Explain your choice.
2. Quatermain's expedition proceeds by following an ancient map said to have been drawn by a Portuguese man named Jose Silvestre. What happened to Silvestre, and what effect does his story have on the general plot of King Solomon's Mines?
3. What role does superstition play in this story? Pick an episode and explain how superstition determines an important development in the plot.
4. Both Twala and Gagool appear to be thoroughly evil characters, but how do they differ? Is one more evil than the other? Why?
5. Which of the episodes in the novel do you think is the most fantastic? Why?
6. What do you think this story would have been like if it had been told by a character other than Allan Quatermain? Pick a short episode and rewrite it from the point of view of one of the other characters.
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King Solomon's Mines and She continue to be Haggard's most popular works. Though King Solomon's Mines was published first, it was the latter work, a bizarre, exciting story of a young man's return to Egypt to avenge the death of one of his ancestors, which established Haggard's reputation as a brilliant writer of fantastic tales of adventure.
His other less well known fiction of this type includes Cleopatra, Montezuma's Daughter, The People of the Mist, The Brethren, Ayesha, The Ghost Kings, The Yellow God, Queen Sheba's Ring, The Ivory Child, The Virgin of the Sun, Queen of the Dawn, and Belshazzar. Though some of these stories are loosely based— often very loosely—on historical fact, their success rests primarily on Haggard's ability to create fantastic and exciting situations realistically, in simple forceful prose.
Over the years, Haggard continued the story of Allan Quatermain in six sequels to King Solomon's Mines. He followed Allan Quatermain with Maiwa's Revenge, Allan's Wife, The Ancient Allan, She and Allan, and Allan and the Ice-Gods.
Besides these sequels, King Solomon's Mines has been filmed a number of times, the first being a silent version in 1919. The first talking version, and still the best overall film adaptation, was made in 1936. It...
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For Further Reference
Barker, Ernest. History of the English Novel London: Witherby, 1938. This work provides a general, if somewhat dated, account of Haggard's place in the development of English fiction.
Cohen, Morton. Rider Haggard: His Life and Works. London: Hutchinson, 1960. Though it provides a thorough account of Haggard's life and useful plot summaries of his major works, this literary biography is marred by Cohen's condescending attitude toward his subject.
Darton, F. J. Harvey. Children's Books in England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1932. This work contains useful information about the kind of "boys' stories" Haggard wrote as well as other types of Victorian young adult literature.
Ellis, Peter Berresford. H. Rider Haggard: A Voice From the Infinite. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978. A thorough and sympathetic account of Haggard's life and work, Ellis's book also includes a comprehensive bibliography of Haggard's writings.
Tindall, William York. Forces in Modern British Literature 1881-1946. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1947. This general reference work places Haggard's work in its context as part of the development of English fiction.
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Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Butts, Dennis. Introduction and notes to King Solomon’s Mines, by H. Rider Haggard. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Butts’s introduction to the historical background and literary reception of the novel is concise and informative. Notes the novel’s familiar structure as a folktale. Bibliography.
Cohen, Morton. Rider Haggard: His Life and Works. London: Hutchinson University Library, 1960. Scrupulously documented and judiciously restrained in its appreciation of Haggard as a writer. Provides rich historical context for the composition of King Solomon’s Mines.
Higgins, D. S. Rider Haggard: The Great Storyteller. London: Cassell, 1981. Excellent, accessible biography, with limited literary analysis and thorough historical context and publishing history.
Katz, Wendy R. Rider Haggard and the Fiction of Empire: A Critical Study of British Imperial Fiction. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Suggests Haggard’s considerable cultural significance as an imperial propagandist. Discusses his philosophy of life and commitment to empire through an analysis of King Solomon’s Mines and other works.
Sandison, Alan. The Wheel of Empire: A Study of the Imperial Idea in Some Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Writers....
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