Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Book Review: King Solomon's Mines

Does anybody else remember the extremely cheesy Allan Quartermain movies starring Richard Chamberlain that came out in the mid-eighties? Horrid. They were a complete rip-off of Indiana Jones. And, let's face it, how could anyone measure up to Harrison Ford? So really, they are best forgotten altogether.

I say this in introduction, because I almost skipped King Solomon's Mines in book form due to a lousy film adaption. I should know better.

Having a long drive makes it nice to listen to books. Having a smartphone with free downloads of many classics makes it even better. I was in the mood for a bit of adventure, so I began with the 1885 H. Rider Haggard classic.  Here's what I learned: the actual ripper-offer was Indiana Jones. I suppose the makers of the Indy movies would say they were paying homage to the Haggard series, and that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And, all in all, the Indy movies certainly are a much better "adaptation" of the books.

King Solomon's Mines is set in southern Africa and is a tale of the quest of a man to find his lost brother, who had been searching for the infamous diamond mines of lore. On the trek, the band of three white men and a party of natives, face starvation, dehydration, heatstroke, freezing temperatures, hostile natives, a tribal war and a treacherous fiend of an old woman.  Allan Quartermain is not, I repeat not, tall, dark, nor handsome, and describes himself as a bit of a coward who would rather stay out of trouble. But he ends up in the midst of the fray and is a bit of a hero, planned or not.  The only love story is of the brief longing, inexpressible romance between the white captain and a black Kukuana girl. It is dealt with in a surprisingly understanding manner (for that era) and while the romance can go nowhere, it is not condemned outright by his companions.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Unlike many books of the late 1800s, it is written in very common English and was easy to listen to, without feeling as though I needed a dictionary nearby. By chapter 2, I was hooked, and waiting for my next trip to work. The series was wildly popular among the lesser educated masses when it was written, and I leave you to draw your own conclusions about my enjoyment.

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