Tuesday, August 08, 2006

King Solomon's Mines

I'm finally getting started on my League of Extraordinary Gentlemen project, and it seemed logical to start with the character I knew the least about.
H. Rider Haggard's Allan Quartermain books were incredibly popular in the late Victorian era. At this height of British imperialism, Quartermain's character - an adventurous elephant hunter - would have been an exotic but familiar figure to most Englishmen. Haggard first wrote his books for boys (as he states in his introduction), but they were popular with a large audience of both sexes.
King Solomon's Mines is the most famous Quartermain story, the tale of an adventure into the African wilds in search of King Solomon's goldmines. As I read the book, I found myself thinking how predictable it was, comparing it often in my mind to movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Mummy. What made the book so interesting is that it is the prototype for this sort of adventure story - adventure seekers like Indiana Jones have their roots in Allan Quartermain and his adventures. When Haggard wrote the Quartermain books, this sort of adventure was new and innovative. He was so successful that hundreds of other stories like his have been written - so many that the tenants of the story have become common knowledge to most readers:
1. A group sets off on a dangerous adventure that promises the possibility of treasure, although the group usually has other (non-monetary) motivations as well.
2. The group reaches the destination after a series of adventures only to face a seemingly overwhelming threat.
3. Through luck, cunning and some surprise occurrences, the group overcomes the threat, usually resulting in some humanitarian results (righting past wrongs, helping the helpless, etc.)
4. As a reward, the group receives help finding their treasure, but to take possession, they must face more obstacles
5. The heroes overcome obstacles and take possession of their treasure, but usually this is at some cost - either loss of life, or partial loss of treasure
6. The heroes return home, where few know of their adventures and life continues as usual.
Such is the story of Allan Quartermain. Despite the predictability of the story (which was forgivable, under the circumstances), I found myself drawn in by the story and anxious to finish the adventure. I can certainly see this one holding some appeal for reluctant readers - especially the boys Haggard wrote it for - but the language is, of course, a little dated & a bit flowery. However, I don't think the language is so off-putting that it makes the book unappealing. Rather, it is reminiscent of classics like Treasure Island - the story overcomes the language and draws in the reader.


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