King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard

Penguin Popular Classics paperback edition 1994

This has been called the founding work of the “lost world” genre but I believe it belongs more to the “treasure hunt” genre, if that exists. Apparently, the author wrote this book as part of a five shilling bet with his brother that he could write a book better than Treasure Island. I believe he may have succeeded.

I found this novel highly inspirational, in particular the visionary scene of Sir Henry Curtis standing on a mound clad in chainmail cutting down legions of swarming enemies with his battle axe. Perhaps this is what inspired the later art of Frazetta and other artists who did cover art for the Conan novels, of which the lone warrior standing on an elevated hillock fending off multiple opponents is a theme. Or has this been a standard fighting technique well-known in past centuries when one faces many? Find the higher ground.

Being published in 1885 this novel conveys the attitudes of the times, and many would probably find it offensive. Leaving out issues of gender and race, there’s also a lot of hunting. At one point the characters kill a giraffe and crack the bones to eat the marrow. These controversial elements are probably why most everyone knows Treasure Island, but King Solomon’s Mines is much lesser known. I have only seen it once, the time I got it, meanwhile I have seen Treasure Island tens of times.

I want to be a diamond hunter like them. I have the opposite of claustrophobia, claustrophilia? I enjoyed the description of the caves and mines, and feel I’d be quite at home in the narrow passages and mining galleries. I wish to walk along the banks of subterranean rivers. This I shall try to do then.

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