Tuesday, September 13, 2005
H. Rider Haggard - King Solomon's Mines
I read this pretty much concurrent with Charles Darwin's account of his voyages with the Beagle and there are some amazing differences and similarities between the two Victorian tales of travel and adventure. Rider Haggard's novel has been a staple of the boys own adventure genre for many decades now. Its mixture of fighting, exploration and hunting capturing the hearts of many who went on to rule the empire and those that would have liked too.
What is interesting about the book (and its replicated slightly in Darwin's writings, but I'll write more on that when I come to review it) is the casual racism towards the indigenous black people of Africa and South America. Time and again the narrator talks about the inadequacies of black people, their inability to understand civilisation and he despairs at their lifestyles and "simple" ways. Of course this attitude stems from the the ideologies utilised by the Empire builders keen to control the rest of the world. Haggard takes it even further in the sequel when his heroes discover a powerful civilisation in the heart of Africa. The relatively advanced nature of this civilisation has everything to do with the fact that it is a lost tribe of white people.
Furthermore, an amusing side to the explorations is the way everything is hunted and killed. The heroes take time out from their rescue mission to shoot numbers of elephants for ivory, but mostly for sport. Throughout, the characters display a casual indifference to the people, animals and wealth of the country that they are travelling through.
So this book is interesting not in its adventure (though it has all the precursors of an Indiana Jones film) but it the mirror it holds up to a thankfully bygone era when men traveled the world and tried to remake it in the image created by their odd, jaundiced Victorian views.