Every man has his dirty secret and I guess for me it is this: H. Rider Haggard’s stories are my secret porn.
When I read his books I can’t help but feel the same as I do when staying at my favourite hotel in Darjeeling, India (The colonial style Windermere Hotel) – I have the urge to shout “by Jove we should never have stopped ruling this country!”
Considering I have been a lifelong critic of the British and, for the last ten years at least, had strong and vocal views about the wrongs of the colonial empire, it is something of a surprise then that I have reactions which are the antithesis of all I stand for. Yet I do and I have no shame, hence why I think of ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ as my porn. It’s just too damned delicious.
The novel is unashamedly colonial. There is no hint of anything other than ‘white is right’ and even, near the end, uphold the rather ugly view that inter-racial mixing of the romantic kind is self-apparently wrong. But then this novel was written in 1885 and the British Empire was at the height of its ‘glory’ and I don’t think any writer of the time would have espoused mixed breeding at that time. Nonetheless, the comment – made briefly – tarnished my enjoyment of the story and I feel duty-bound to reduce my rating for the book as a result.
Duty done, and colonial issues aside, ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ is a perfectly crafted adventure romp and it is easy to see why such stories were so popular in their day – and even in mine (for I grew up in the 70s with these kinds of adventure stories for boys). It was, apparently, the first of its kind and spawned a whole genre of ‘lost world’ fiction which has morphed over time to the ‘Indiana Jones’ style of movies and even ‘Jurassic Park’. There is something even long after the memory of the Empire has faded from common British public experience that attracts us to discovering new worlds, people and sights. Of course, these days, we want such adventures to be sanitised and safe. We don’t crave danger but we’re happy to watch others face it on the big screen. For most of us, adventuring beyond Ibiza is a step too far.
King Solomon’s Mines though, delights in the dangers which face the rugged colonial hunter man. From shooting elephants to surviving journeys across arid deserts to facing off lost African tribes ruled by evil kings, Allan Quatermain and his companions take on every challenge and meet it with both dignity and, surprisingly, modesty too. For, despite the aforementioned colonial issues, the characters actually treat the Zulu people they meet and interact with, with great respect and admiration. This book does not ridicule the black man nor mythologise the cunning and cleverness of the white man over him. These are human beings who can, and do, stand side by side against injustice.
And perhaps that’s why I enjoyed the book so much? For all the colonial trappings, the excessive joy of big game hunting, the obsession with diamonds which somewhat spoils the point of the story (for diamonds as a precious jewel is a relatively modern myth popularised by diamond mining companies and it is unlikely the original King Solomon would have had such a hoard), and the dislike of racial romantic entanglements, despite all this, the book delights in humans working together to overcome the greatest obstacles, in loyalty to one’s friends (whatever their colour or status) and in treating each other with dignity and respect. These are values I with which I can concur.
KSM still remains on many ‘must-read’ lists but I don’t know how long that will continue for. Some of the classics (as I argue with Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles) probably should be quietly dropped and forgotten about. I can see many arguing that KSM should be one of them. But I would disagree. There’s so much life in the story and H. Rider Haggard carries it off so well that I feel the novel has to be forgiven its excesses and enjoyed in all its fullness. Quite honestly, there’s no adventure story to match it in print form. How I wish there was for there is clearly still a seven-year-old boy living inside this aged body and he hungers for more.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Ken has two new books coming out soon – don’t miss them!
Both ‘The Old Man on the Beach’ and ‘Sonali’ are available on Amazon for kindle and paperback. Published by Shopno Sriti Media.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org