Sunday, March 13, 2016

Book Review: “King Solomon’s Mines”

by H. Rider Haggard.

A lost mine deep in the bowels of earth, brimming with precious diamonds. An endless treasure protected eternally by an ancient curse. Into this - largely unexplored - world, three travellers enter. With fantasy woven into history, this is the story of a journey into the heart of Suliman Berg.

The story does start off slow, but I suppose one has to account for the sensibilities of the times. In 1885 there was probably no tearing rush to get to the crux of the matter in a few choice words. And so, while it took me some effort to get through the initial descriptions of, for example, how to save oxen from certain diseases, and it certainly took me a lot of effort to get past the subtle but somewhat consistent references to black and white cultures; I found the story amazing enough, to be able to move past those setbacks.

As they follow a mysterious map drawn in blood by a 16th-century Portuguese explorer, the journey to the fabled Mines bestows amazing roles upon the trio. From being hailed as white men from the stars with magical capabilities, to donning the role of warriors fighting bravely for the rights of a usurped king, this tale is fascinating because it does not rely solely on a secret horde of precious stones. The journey itself is a great adventure.

As far as the characters that make up this journey, while we do, in essence, follow hunter Allan Quatermain, aristocrat Sir Henry Curtis and sailor Captain Good, for me, this was not necessarily "their" story. I felt this was more of a saga about Kukuanaland, and the story of what happened to the different people that lived in, or visited, its mysterious lands. The strange travellers on a doomed mission, the shameful secret of a murdered king, the heartbreaking loyalties of a rescued maiden, the united bravery of a rebellion uprising ... this story belongs to each and every one of them.

I do however have to make a special mention of "immortal" Gagool. Chief advisor to the king, witch hunter of the land, and armed with uncanny powers of prophecy, her character is as unique as it is a powerful presence in this tale. Additionally, it is she who brings this fascinating tale to a close by leading the three protagonists on the final leg of their journey into the mines, the secret location being known to her alone. Carved deep inside a mountain, the stunning mines - as much a storehouse of treasures, as a homage to past rulers of the land - present a whole new journey fraught equally with extreme risk and reward.

At one point, during the war, it is said of the battle: "Now it seemed to be a love song, now a majestic swelling war chant..." - I can actually say that of this entire story.

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