A Review: King Solomon’s Mines By H. Rider Haggard

November 13, 2009

A Contribution To The

ERBzine ERB Library Project

King Solomon’s Mines

by

H. Rider Haggard

Review by R.E. Prindle

 

     Three volumes made Rider Haggard’s reputation then and maintain it today.  Classics of the B genre.  The first of these is the subject of  this review, King Solomon’s Mines.  The other two are She and Allan Quatermain.  The novels were written between 1885 and 1888.  These were very interesting years in the exploration of  Africa.  Speke had identified the source of the White Nile twenty some years earlier.  Robert Livingstone had been found and sensationally recounted by the great Henry Morton Stanley. 

     Subsequently Stanley had navigated the course of the Nile from the plateau down to the sea, a stunning accomplishment.  His rescue of the Emin Pasha in 1886 was on everyone’s lips.  The white spaces on the maps were rapidly disappearing.  In the midst of this excitement Rider Haggard’s great African trilogy made a propitious appearance.  No better timeing could have been devised.  And the novels were sensational, plausible too, at that time.  Who knew what additional wonders Africa concealed.  There was room in that gigantic continent for a lot of lost cities and civilizations.  Haggard and his disciple, Edgar Rice Burroughs rapidly populated Africa with a host of them.

     Haggard would continue to write exciting African tales until the day he died in 1925 after a lifetime of putting out two or three novels a year.  They usually followed the same format, a long trip out taking up at least half the novel, the intense situation on arrival and a return home.  The same format Edgar Rice Burroughs would use.  The novels were packed with esoteric lore and authentic African details.

     It is said that Haggard wrote the Mines on a bet after being told he couldn’t write the equal of Stevenson’s Treasure Island.  He did do that but Mines is written tongue in cheek with a lot of jokes.  Haggard makes this clear when Quatermain says that his two literary mainstays are the Bible and the Ingoldsby Legends.  The Legends written in the 1830s and 1840s are a collection of humorous parodies of Folklore themes and poems by Richard Harris Barham writing anonymously as Thomas Ingoldsby of Tappingham Manor.  The book was very popular with, it seems, all the the authors till the turn of the century at least.  One finds it mentioned frequently.  Taking the hint I read a copy.  Thus, Haggard is protecting his rear in case of failure by saying his story is just a put on or joke.

     King Solomon’s Mines is told in the first person by the old knockabout hunter, Allan Quatermain.  He has a bumbling self-effacing manner not unlike Inspector Columbo of the TV series.  You don’t think he can do it but he’s spot on every time.

     As was common with this sort of adventure story the point is to make the reader think the story is true.  Burroughs probably picked up his habit of framing from Haggard.  Many of the details of Mines are true to Haggard’s own life while his study of the Zulus and other tribes accurately portray their customs.  Haggard is very sympathetic to African customs and mentality actually seeming to envy them.  He genuinely can see little difference between Black and White while adopting a fairly critical attitude towards Whites and a sympathetic one toward Blacks.  Very modern.  Indeed, in this novel the White heroes join a Zulu Impi or regiment and fight with the Zulus as White Zulus.  Naturally they comport themselves heroically, Curtis excelling the Blacks at their own game.

     As the novel begins Haggard sets up the story.  The Englishmen, Curtis and Good, are out in search of a lost brother.   The meeting with Quatermain on shipboard is fortuitous leading to his subsequent employment as their guide.  Haggard describes a boat journey from Capetown to Durban that is obviously authentic; Haggard himself has taken the same trip.  Thus unlike Burroughs’ imaginary Africa this is authentic, the Real Thing.  On the journey Quatermain meets Sir henry Curtis and his friend John Good, who need a guide to take them in search of Curtis’ lost brother.

     The search will take them to a hidden Zulu enclave behind a burning desert and a towering mountain range.  The trip out is filled with interesting authentic details but no need to dwell on them here.

     Crossing the burning sands not known to have been successfully navigated before, they are confronted by the towering twin peaks of Sheba’s Breasts topped with four thousand foot nipples.  Who can’t see the humor there.  Pretty racy for what are thought of as stodgy old Victorian times.  Bear in mind the Ingoldsby Legends while reading the story as probably most of Haggard’s readers would have been familiar with them.  They are of this sort of tongue in cheek humor.  The ancient map they are following indicated the route to follow.

     Behind the Breasts lies Kukuanaland.  Undoubtledly Kuku should be read coo-coo.  The Kukuanas are the Zulu tribe in possession of King Solomon’s Mines.  Kukuanaland is somewhere near the ruins of Zimbabwe, although Haggard doesn’t allude directly to the site.  I’m sure everyone has heard of the ruins of Zimbabwe.  The old Zimbabwe I mean.

     There has always been a dispute as to who built Zimbabwe.  Africans claim it was built by Africans while the thought in Haggard’s time was that Zimbabwe was built by Phoenicians hence a few mentions of them.  The notion was that these were the ruins through the Queen of Sheba of King Solomon, hence the title King Solomon’s Mines.  Zimbabwe is either in or next to lands of the Shona people.  The Shona arrived in the area from the North possibly from 300 to 800 AD.  There is no record of stone work among the Shona before or after.  The structures of Zimbabwe are of shale like stone merely piled on top of each other being very thick and very high.  Instead of piled up stones it is customary to say the construction is without mortar as though that is a great skill.  Without mortar = piled up stones, doesn’t it?

     It seems unlikely the Shona would have built them while it is also a remote possibility that the Phoenicians did.  It is true however that Greeks traded on these shores but they didn’t build them.   A more probable builder is the Malagasy people.  I don’t think the Malagasy arrival is commonly known yet, it wasn’t to me until a few years ago.   The Malgasies made the long sea journey from Indonesia to arrive in Madagascar and East Africa sometime between 500 and 1000 AD.  As they would have been invaders into a recently and sparsely settled territory any groups landing on the continent would have been automatically at war with the Shona thus needing a fort for protection.  Being much more technologically advanced than the Africans they would likely be familiar with stonework.

     As it is said that Zimbabwe was a mining and trading community, as the Malagasy were seafarers it is likely they would be the more obvious candidate otherwise one has to explain where the traders of what is described as an extensive trade come from as the the Africans couldn’t possibly have gone to the buyers or known what to trade.  Interestingly the Malagasies introduced the banana and an improved yam to Africa thus they had to land on African shores.

     Zimbabwe had only been discovered by Europeans a few years before Haggard arrived in Durban.  Very likely he was eager to see the ruins and did as he does have at least three stories in which Zimbabwe figures.  Here he combines Zimbabwe, King Solomon and the Phoenicians.

     As the party approaches Kukuanaland they are faced by a huge mountain range towering perhaps 15,000 to 18,000 feet into the sky.  Facing them are two huge mountains named Queen Sheba’s Breasts, the Grand Tetons of Africa.

     Here I have to mention a blogger (feministbookworm.wordpress.com) who pointed out the female arrangement of Kukuanaland.  This escaped me in my previous readings but is of some interest.  Haggard in a cryptic way has written a fairly pornographic story, especially for Victorian times.  I’m sure most people didn’t get it even though Haggard provides a fairly obvious map although turned upside down.  This is along the coy lines of various pop songs such as ‘Baby, let me bang your box.’  After shouting out this line several times allowing the average guy  to think a woman is being propositioned the singer reveals he’s actually referring to a piano- box in musician’s slang equals piano.  Box = a woman’s pudenda in sexual slang.

     If one looks at Haggard’s map Sheba’s Breast’s are to the South while there is a triangle of mountains to the North.  The triangle of three mountains forms a female Delta or box.  In the middle between the Breasts and Delta is the Kukuana capitol called Loo.  Loo is British slang for toilet or ‘shitter’ so we some scatology going on here.

     This gets better.  I jump ahead to the ending.  The Englishmen are promised diamonds from King Solomon’s Mines.  The mines are located within the Delta or pudenda.  British slang of times for the female pudenda was Treasure Box.  Thus the Englishmen are going to descend through the vagina into the womb of the mines where the diamonds are stored in actual treasure boxes.  Humor, remember.  Bear in mind that in Burroughs diamonds are of the female, actually Anima, treasure.  Same here.  This is going to get better.

     Apart from Mother Earth, represented by Sheba’s pudenda, there are only two women in the story which Haggard smirkingly points out:  One is a Bantu beauty who becomes attached to Good,  the other is an old hag named Gagool.  The latter forms the model for Burroughs’ old Black crone in Gods of Mars and Nemone’s guardian in Tarzan And The City Of Gold.

     Both accompany the three White men to King Solomon’s mines.  At whatever age Burroughs first read this the impressions stuck.  This stuff was current literature to him while Classics to us.  One must imagine the excitement with which these novels were read.  Readers of Opar Tarzan novels (Return, Jewels, Golden Lion and Invincible) will immediately recognize the setup although there are differences.

     Always one to employ horror effects Haggard is at his best in this early novel.  The group descended as it were through the vagina into the depths of the womb.  Along the way are giant stalactites. (Penises?) Then they enter a chamber in which the dead kings of Kukuana are preserved.  Rather than Egyptian mummification they are set beneath a drip being turned into stalactites or, in other words, big pricks.  Seems to me like an obvious joke.  A huge figure of death presides over the immortal enclave.

     Proceeding further they come upon a door set in the wall blocking the way.  The door is a huge slab several feet thick operated by a hidden mechanism that lifts the slab vertically into the ceiling.  Gagool with a hidden movement releases the door which slowly and efficiently retracts into the ceiling.  The party can now enter the treasure room or womb.  The door stands for men’s sexual desire for the female.  As with the hymen without equal desire on the part of the woman entrance is barred but with woman’s compliance the way opens easily.

     Inside the room or womb are the treasure chests containing unlimited value in diamonds.

     After taunting the men Gagool makes a break for the door having released the lever that closes it.  She is held back by Foulata who worshipped Good.  Stabbed by Gagool she falls to the ground but has successfully delayed Gagool.  In attempting to roll under the descending slab the tardy witch  is crushed flatter than a piece of paper.  The men are now trapped in the womb but they have a candle for light.  Quatermain stuffs his pockets with stones while filling a basket Foulata brought.

      Here’s the classic B movie part:  While waiting for death they notice that the air remains fresh.  Good discovers a trap door in a corner.  Opening this they descend as it were into the bowels of this elogated represention of a woman who might represent Mother Earth or the Great Mother thus forming a collective Anima for the three White men.  Anticipating She a little.  A bizarre Anima for Haggard also.   OK, I’ve got a weird sense of humor.  I’ve always known it but that doesn’t make it less funny.  No longer having a light they are forced to feel their way through the tunnels.  The tunnels eerily represent the intestines.  Haggard is getting really scatological here as you know what emerges from intestines.

     As they pick their way along Good falls into a stream that greatly resembles the urethra.  Fortunately Quatermain has some matches.  One is used to locate Good clinging to a rock in midstream, possibly meant as a kidney stone as a joke.  Hauled ashore they backtrack and resume their way.  Curtis spots a dim light toward which they move.  The opening narrows down to the point that the men have to squeeze through tumbling out into the diamond shaft like so many turds.  Haggard must have been gleeful at what he was getting away with.

     Climbing out of the pit they discover they have returned to the entrance.  Thus vagina and rectum are only a short distance apart.  Anatomically correct as it were.  Haggard had a fine sense of humor.

     While adapting the topography for his own needs one can easily see how Burroughs replicates Haggards’ design in Opar.  Burroughs designed a long straight corridor but broken by a fifteen foot or so gap.  In Jewels of Opar Tarzan falls through the gap dropping into a pool of water or river much as in Mines.  Proceeding further he enters he jewel room of Opar filling his pouch as he had neither pockets or basket.

     Opar itself replicates the Treasure House of Kukuanaland.  The gold vaults represent the head of the female figure or perhaps only one of Sheba’s breasts.  Proceeding down the corridor, or Great Road of Kukuanaland one comes to the sacrificial chamber situated much as the city of Loo.  Proceeding from the chamber one comes to the exit.  This is described by Burroughs as a narrow crack or cleft in the wall to pass through which Tarzan had to turn his shoulders sideways.  So, Opar and Kukuanaland are built according to the same scheme.

      Obviously the memory popped into Burroughs’ mind in The Return Of Tarzan, developed in Jewels of Opar and Golden Lion and came to perfection in Tarzan The Invincible.  It would seem clear that ERB understood the sexual structure of King Solomon’s Mines.

     If we go back to the other end of Kukuanaland we have the two towering mountains known as Queen Sheba’s Breasts.  In order to prevent anyone taking a low level route between the Breasts there is a perpendicular barrier running between the breasts rising several thousand feet.  Odd geological formation.  Rising 4000 feeet above the breasts themselves are the nipples.  That should be enough to make anyone laugh.

     A recurrent theme in the stories is a juxtaposition of ice with summer weather, often associated with a woman as here.  Perhaps Haggard had a cold, cold mother.

     While the party is both starving and thirsting they find neither game nor water until Umbopo discovers some melon patches providing food and water until they reach the snow line.  Soon they come to the nipple rising sheer from the breast.  At the base of the nipple is a cave.  This cave may possibly have been appropriated as the entrance to Opar’s gold vaults in Burroughs.  In the cave is the frozen body of Da Silvestre who made the map they have been following.  The bushman servant freezes to death during the night so they set him over by Da Silvestre.   There’s a joke here but I don’t get.

     Continuing down Sheba’s left breast they reach below the snow line.  The boys spot an antelope way off there, long shot, but Quatermain makes it, cleanly knocking out a vertebrae in the neck.  While cleaning up in an adjacent stream and eating they are surprised by a band of Kukuana and taken.

     Umbopo who signed on back in Durban always had this mysterious royal air about him and now we’re going to find out why.  For those contemporaries who insist that no book should violate their enlightened prejudices whether the book be as old as Homer or not they may feel uncomfortable reading this book.  By and large Haggard shares the attitudes toward race, gender and whatever of his times rather than Liberal notions of today.  Can be painful for certain types.

     Nevertheless Haggard has a deep admiration for the Zulu tribes and a kind of understanding one toward the lesser Bushman and Hottentots. The Zulus are uniformly tall and well built while Quatermain and Good are smaller and more comical in appearance.  Only Sir Henry Curtis is of the same stature, slightly larger, as the Zulus.  He seems to stand in for what is otherwise a race of inferior stature.

     There is a great fifty foot wide road that runs from the barrier of Sheba’s Breasts to Sheba’s Delta.  The road is over a hundred miles long with Loo in the center.

     The city of Loo is modeled after the encampment of the Zulu chief, Chaka.  The details Haggard describes are undoubtedly accurate.  Chaka flourished 1830-40 while the last of his line, Cetywayo, ruled during Haggard’s tenure in Africa.  His fictional king is called Twala.  We now discover that Twala is Umbopo’s brother.  The latter was rightful heir but Gagool who is represented as being  hundreds of years old favored Twala expelling Umbopo and his mother which is why he was in Durban.  His identity is assured because of an Uroboros that encircles his waist.  This snake appears to be a birth mark rather than a tatoo.

     After accepting a rifle from Curtis as a gift Twala sends three chain mail shirts of medieval manufacture which proves that Zimbabwe was formerly occupied by another race, I suppose.

     We have a civil war brewing here as Umbopa asserts his rights.  Before the war develops Twala holds a ceremony I find really interesting, the smelling out of witches.  The regiments were assembled.  In this case Gagool runs up and down the ranks smelling out the witches.  Anyone she indicates is removed from the ranks and immediately killed.  This was an actual Zulu custom.  Haggard portrays them more than once in what is his pretty decent historyof the Zulus in the novels.

     Interestingly under the African president of the United States we have the same situation occurring.  Obama denounces those in opposition to him essentially as witches.  While currently we are put under surveillance the time may shortly arrive when we are merely arrested and despatched.  Thus the innate African soul reasserts itself hundreds of years out of Africa.  Of course, Obama was born in Kenya but he didn’t live there.

     After the smelling out the regiments align themselves according to their allegiance.  The three White men suit up on the side of the pretender, Umbopo.  In his admiration of the Impi battle plan Haggard has the Whites disdain to use firearms preferring to show Whites returned to primitive savagery.  Of course he normalizes the British and Zulu societies so that any difference is perceived but not real.

     If you want to how this attitude was digested by the British public rent a copy of the movie If c. 1965.  A British public school story that viewed better the first time around for me but still of interest.  I might rent it again, though.

     It is at this point of the story that the ‘White giant’ Sir Henry Curtis took his place in the Zulu ranks to show White supremacy that is when the actual basis of Tarzan took place in Burroughs’ mind.

     The three Whites are the only ones wearing chain mail so that they come through bruised but alive.  Without the chain mail, of course, all three would have been killed many times over.  Perhaps the chain mail is symbolic of the science of the Maxim.

     My feeling is that Haggard was so enamored of primitive Zulu warfare as organized by Chaka that he thrilled himself by placing the three in their ranks.  Haggard had his peculiarities.  As I say, he seemed to reject science.

     Umbopo’s troops triumph over greater odds while King Twala is captured.  Sentenced to die he demands the right to hand to hand combat selecting Curtis as his adversary.

     Thus a duel ensues providing two or three pages of excitement in which a very hard battle is fought.  Curtis decapitates Twala proving I suppose that on their own turf, evenly matched, the White Man is the greater.

     Morally, however, Haggard gives the nod to Umbopo and the Zulus.   Umbopo apparently feels a bond has been vilolated between the trio and himself.  He offers them wifes, land and honors if they choose to stay in Kukuanaland.  They instead choose to gather diamonds from Sheba’s treasure box.  Umbopo is disgusted that White men care about nothing but money.  Haggard sheepishly agrees with Umbopo but the trio nevertheless collect their diamonds and scoot, setting themselves up splendidly in England where money matters.   Regardless of Haggard’s moral it is clear that the Kukuanas have no use for money in their primitive society while being broke in London is a sort of hell.

     One wonders whether when Umbopo sent Gagool with them he knew that he was sending them to their deaths.  Their return was after all rather miraculous.  Leaving Kukuanaland the three arrive safely and rich in England.

Postscript.

     Burroughs read not only King Solomon’s Mines, She and Allan Quatermain but probably the whole corpus.  What he read before 1911 was obviously the most influential on him through the twenties.  So an an investigator, Haggard’s novels before 1911 are the one to familiarize oneself with first.  The very late Treasure Of The Lake however did influence Tarzan Triumphant.

     Sir Henry Curtis was a key element in the formation of the idea of Tarzan and a role model.  I suspect that Treasure Island by Stevenson provided he means to get the Claytons to Africa.  Evolution provided the background of Kala and Tarzan’s life with the apes.

     Whether Good or Quatermain had any influence on the character of Paul D’Arnot or not I’m not sure.  He may have evolved  from Dupin of Poe’s Murders In The Rue Morgue forming a double for Tarzan not unlike the narrator and Dupin of Murders.

     I have explained the probable relationship of Opar to Sheba’s treasure box.  That seems pretty secure to me.

     Haggard developed the story line of the preamble and journey to the scene of action, a flurry of action in the crisis and the return home.  Burroughs seems to follow this format although he can introduce picaresque elements.

     The landscape and terrain of Burroughs is quite similar to Haggard’s.  Over the years as Haggard read Burroughs’ novels there are Burroughsian elements that creep into Haggard’s work.  Treasure Of The Lake bears a number of similarities to Burroughs especially the elephant dum dum.  That also owes a great deal to Kipling and Mowgli.  A stunning scene in Haggard.  I would really start with Treasure Of The lake and then begin with King Solomon’s Mines, She and Allan Quatermain.

     La, of course, is derived from the next novel, She.

 

   

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