|About this Recording
NA335412 - HAGGARD, H.R.: King Solomon's Mines (Abridged)
Sir Henry Rider Haggard
Like many of the geatest adventure stories, King Solomon’s Mines is written in the first person. Our hero, Allan Quartermain, introduces himself as a gentleman-cum-rough diamond…‘At an age when other boys are at school I was earning my living as a trader in the old Colony. I have been trading, hunting, fighting or mining ever since.’
Within pages we are breathlessly following Quartermain and his companions, the comical, lovable, naval officer Captain John Good (‘He was very neat and very clean-shaved, and he always wore an eyeglass in his right eye…he put it in his trousers pocket when he went to bed, together with his false teeth, of which he had two beautiful sets’) and the valiant Sir Henry Curtis (‘…perhaps the biggestchested and longest-armed man I ever saw. He had yellow hair, a thick yellow beard, and large grey eyes set deep in his head. I never saw a finer-looking man.’) on a daunting quest for a long-lost diamond mine. Their gruelling journey in all temperatures across inhospitable, lion-infested bush and mountain, desperately short of water and often starving, brings to mind the exploits of today’s Special Forces making long escapes from deep inside enemy lines.
The book is rich in characters. This tough ‘man’s world’ is softened by the presence of the serene and beautiful Foulata, a Zulu girl who becomes devoted to Captain Good. We admire the honest, quiet Zulu Umbopa who joins them as a tracker and are not at all surprised when it transpires there is more to this man than meets the eye. The writer’s description of the ghastly Gagaoola, witch and prophetess, reminds us of the most frightening of children’s fairy tales… ‘…I observed the wizened monkey-like figure creeping from the shadow of the hut.
It crept on all fours, but when it reached the place where the king sat it rose upon its feet, and…revealed a most extraordinary and weird countenance – that of a woman of great age so shrunken that in size it seemed no larger than the face of a year-old child, although made up of a number of deep and yellow wrinkles. Set in these wrinkles was a sunken slit, that represented the mouth… the visage might have been taken for that of a sun-dried corpse had it not been for a pair of large black eyes, full of fire and intelligence, which gleamed and played under the snow-white eyebrows, and the projecting parchment-coloured skull, like jewels in a charnel-house. As for the head itself, it was perfectly bare, and yellow in hue, while its wrinkled scalp moved and contracted like the hood of a cobra…’
Reading the novel today one is struck by a condescending attitude towards the native African and certain other races. This was of its time. After all, British Empire history, with all its certainty of the innate superiority of the white British and their culture, was never more passionately respected than in the late nineteenth century, and was indeed taught in British schools until the 1960’s, when many a church and Sunday School wall was adorned with portraits of a rock star-like platinum-blonde Jesus resting his hands gently on the heads of adoring little children of other races. Haggard’s more patronising moments, though they grate, are however leavened with some humanity and wit, and often with admiration, though they would not be written today.
‘…I knew the man Jim who was with him. He was a Bechuana by birth, a good hunter, and for a native a very clever man.’
The story takes us from England to Natal, and on to the legendary lost mines set in the mythical kingdom of Kukuanaland, ruled by the fearsome Twala—‘husband of a thousand wives…student of the Black Arts, leader of a hundred thousand warriors, Twala the One-eyed, the Black, the Terrible.’ We soon forget that this is fiction.
Haggard’s research and knowledge of Zulu tribal custom, of flora and fauna, is comprehensive. The tale unfolds realistically, even when the plot verges on the preposterous. It is a delicious idea that there may be undiscovered lands and civilisations, which we accept readily. The story builds up, via twist after twist, to a massively dramatic ending and the reader, having finally escaped the frightening Kukuanaland with the heroic Alan Quartermain, is almost as relieved and happy as he when he reports…
‘Above us were the blessed stars, and in our nostrils was the sweet air.’
We can only agree with Sir Henry Curtis when he writes to Quartermain at the end of this thrilling adventure: ‘You have done your day’s work.’
Sir Henry Rider Haggard was born in 1856. His mother was an amateur novelist and his father a barrister and country gentleman. Henry was sent to Ipswich Grammar School, before taking a post in South Africa as secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, Governor of Natal. At the age of 22 he was appointed Registrar of the Natal High Court, at which time he fell in love with an African woman, and became fascinated by Zulu culture and traditions. He returned briefly to England and married a Norfolk heiress, Mariana Louisa Margitson, taking her back to South Africa where they ran an ostrich farm. Eventually, with the intention of pursuing a career in the law, he moved back to Norfolk with Mariana, and was called to the bar at the age of 28.
Perhaps there was more of his mother in him than his father, for it was not long before he gave up his practice in order to write novels of adventure and discovery. He was excited by R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island, published in 1883, and determined to write an even better book. He believed a good novel should flow fast from the pen of the writer, and wrote King Solomon’s Mines in less than a week. He became an expert agriculturalist and, among the 40 books which he wrote in a long career, were several on farming. For his services to the British Empire, both diplomatic and agricultural, he was knighted in 1912 and awarded the KCBE in 1919. He died in London in 1925.
Notes by Bill Homewood
The music on this recording is taken from the NAXOS and MARCO POLO catalogues
GOTTSCHALK A Night in the Tropics
KING KONG Max Steiner’s film score
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