Take a dash of daring do, throw in a bit of casual racism, a pinch of beautiful prose and a dollop of nail biting tension and what do you have?
King Solomon’s Mines
by H. Rider Haggard
***There Be Spoilers Ahead***
Look, let’s get the ‘casual racism’ out of the way. Yep, I know that it’s a classic and therefore a wee bit antiquated but still … it yanks my chain to read Allan Quatermain’s condescending attitudes towards those of a different skin colour.
But no amount of beauty or refinement could have made an entanglement between Good and herself a desirable occurrence; for, as she herself put it, “Can the sun mate with the darkness, or the white with the black?”
I’m not going to rant and rave, though. I’m simply going to say this: however old the book, wrong views are still wrong. Being a ‘classic’ doesn’t make it okay. Mmkay?
Right, and now I’ve vented my chief problem with the story (the other one is elephants. And the killing of them. WHY, Allan? Did you know that elephants walk on tip-toe. Why would you slaughter creatures that are literally charging on tip toe towards you? Me no understand) let’s move on to the rest of this recounting.
King Solomon’s Mines tells of the search by Sir Henry Curtis, Captain John Good and the narrator, Allan Quatermain, for Sir Henry’s younger brother George. He has been lost in the interior of Africa for two years in his quest for King Solomon’s Mines, the legendary source of the biblical king’s enormous riches. The three companions encounter fearful hardships, fierce warriors, mortal danger and the sinister and deadly witch Gagool.
The Intrepid Trio:
First, let me say that Sir Henry is my favourite character by far. I love him. He reminds of Radcliff Emerson and that, my friends, is a splendiferous thing. He’s big, strong and brave and can remove an evil man’s head with ease (it’s an important life skill).
Whilst I didn’t like Captain John Good too much, he still managed to tumble down slopes, nearly die in caverns and escape drowning all with an eyeglass screwed in. And if that isn’t the definition of epic, I don’t know what is.
And also, there’s this:
Whilst we were at Durban he [Good] cut off a Kafir’s big toe in a way which it was a pleasure to see.
Personally I don’t find toe removal a pleasure to see. In fact, I’d rather avoid it. However, I do find the rest of that passage amusing:
But he was quite nonplussed when the Kafir, who had sat stolidly watching the operation, asked him to put on another, saying that a “white one” would do at a pinch.
Allan Quatermain is … an interesting chap. A hunter, he’s short, proclaims himself a timid sort of man and at the beginning, was annoyingly voluble. (I’m a timid man, he says. But not too timid to make long speeches of drawn out deliberation it seems.)
I warmed to him a little as thing went along, because he was quite an interesting character after all. (And yes, I’ve used ‘interesting’ twice to describe him, but it’s true.) He’s not entirely bland nor entirely bigoted – his opinions, though wrong, are a product of his time. Even his big game hunting was considered fine and dandy back then. (Even though I baulked at the wholesale slaughter of those poor, innocent elephants.) He calls himself a coward and yet still charges into the fray.
While I wouldn’t say, ‘My word, that Allan Quatermain!’ (As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t say that to anyone about anyone. But, ahem, that’s beside the point) he’s okay (mostly – those elephants and those views and that- No. Not going there.)
Also: his internal monologues are quite fascinating to read and this one stood out to me amidst the rest:
Yet man dies not whilst the world, at once his mother and his monument, remains. His name is lost, indeed, but the breath he breathed still stirs the pine-tops on the mountains, the sound of the words he spoke yet echoes on through space; the thoughts his brain gave birth to we have inherited to-day; his passions are our cause of life; the joys and sorrows that he knew are our familiar friends–the end from which he fled aghast will surely overtake us also!
Truly the universe is full of ghosts, not sheeted churchyard spectres, but the inextinguishable elements of individual life, which having once been, can never die, though they blend and change, and change again for ever.
Moments From The Story:
I’m going to put this into bullet points. Though do be warned – this is not in chronological order.
Someone gets ripped apart by an elephant (oh no! They’re fighting back?!)
Another gets crushed by a stone door (FATALITYYYYY!!! Too far? Too far.)
There’s a huge battle – which to be honest, I didn’t find too exciting. I think between Sutcliff and Henty I’ve accidently lost my love of battles. If I ever had one, that is. From what I recall of Henty he copied and pasted from history books. Or rather it always felt like he did.
A ‘will they survive the desert’ period which was so well written it made me anxious.
A brutal fight between Sir Henry and the Evil King. Sir Henry escapes with a scar on his face. The Evil King? You could say he was headed for trouble when he started fighting.
The above was a terrible pun.
A terribly funny pun
Whilst there were moments I did enjoy, as a whole, I didn’t find this book an easy read. I’m not sure if it’s because I wasn’t quite in the right mood at the times of reading or if it and I just weren’t meant to be friends.
One readolution down, five more to go. I’m not sure I can face Crime and Punishment right now, or Lorna Doone. Nope, for the next book off my readolution list, I’m choosing The Three Musketeers because my thirst for adventure has yet to be quenched.
In memory of all the fictional elephants slain in King Solomon’s Mines
At first, The Talisman Ring and I weren’t going to get along very well. The first character introduced, Sir Tristram Shield, seemed altogether too dry to be the Proper Heyer Hero.
He meets with his great-uncle, who is Soon To Die, and hears him propose that he should wed his cousin.
The first half of chapter one I just wasn’t quite into BUT THEN …
(ah, yes. The ‘But Then’ that took up my lunch break and gave me a good few giggles)
… but then I hung in there. And it got better. Much better.
Eustacie, a young French girl who knows exactly what she would wear should she ride in a tumbril on her way to the guillotine (dressed all in white, with perhaps a handkerchief, a little pale but quite unafraid), burst into the scene and by the end of chapter one the dryness of Shield was quite forgivable when contrasted to Eustacie (and the appearance of Beau Lavenham was interesting – was he supposed to be the hero?).
The great-uncle dies leaving Eustacie and Shield betrothed. It is not an altogether happy betrothal.
“Yes, but I think I shall,” said Eustacie, propping her chin in her hands and gazing mournfully into the fire. “After all, I have had a very unhappy life without any adventures, and it would not be wonderful if I went into decline. Only nothing that is interesting ever happens to me,” she added bitterly, “so I dare say I shall just die in childbed, which is a thing anyone can do.”
Sir Tristram flushed uncomfortably. “Really, Eustacie!” he protested.
Eustacie was too much absorbed in the contemplation of her dark destiny to pay any heed to him. “I shall present to you an heir,” she said, “and then I shall die.” The picture suddenly appealed to her; she continued in a more cheerful tone: “Everyone will say that I was very young to die, and they will fetch you from the gaming hall where you-”
“Fetch me from where?” interrupted Sir Tristram, momentarily led away by this flight of the imagination.
“From the gaming hall,” repeated Eustacie impatiently. “Or perhaps the Cock Pit. It does not signify; it is quite unimportant! But I think you will feel great remorse when it is told to you that I am dying, and you will spring up and fling yourself on your horse, and ride ventre àterre to come to my deathbed. And then I shall forgive you, and-“
[ventre àterre by the way, is basically riding flat out. Very romantic, to be sure.]
As you can see, Eustacie is a Romantic. Sir Tristram Shield is Not. Also, there is another cousin who has fled the country due to a murder which he may or may not have committed. Also there is the title ring that everybody wants. (Except Eustacie, who just wants an adventure).
Eustacie decides that she doesn’t want to be betrothed to Sir Tristram and so [very naturally] runs away. To London. To be a governess.
Things happen. Hilarious things. Sparkling dialogue and new characters. Eustacie runs into a smuggler – or as they like to be called – free traders.
“I wish I could be a smuggler,” said Eustacie wistfully. “I think I should like that.”
“You wouldn’t do for a smuggler,” he replied, shaking his head. “We don’t encourage females in the trade. It’s too dangerous.”
“Well, I do not think it is fair that just because one is a female one should never be allowed to have any adventures!”
Quite right, my dear Eustacie. Quite right. But no fear, there is quite an adventure ahead of you.
In the course of things (a chase! a revelation! a gunshot wound!) Eustacie and the wounded Free Trader (who is [spoiler!]) arrive at an inn and it is there that one of the best characters of the book is introduced. Or rather, she introduces herself:
“Let me present myself to you: Sarah Thane, a creature of no importance at all, travelling to London with my brother, whom you may hear snoring upstairs.”
She wishes to know if Eustacie and the Free Trader are eloping.
“But, of course, I am not eloping with him! Voyans, how could I elope with him when I have only just met him? It would be quite absurd!”
“Oh, if you have only just met him, I suppose it would,” agreed Miss Thane regretfully. “It is a pity, for I have often thought that I should like to assist an elopement. However, one can’t have everything.”
And so the adventure continues. And what an adventure! The stakes increase and the ring is ever absent. Or is it? Danger lurks about them …
“I may have said that I wanted to have an adventure,” replied Miss Thane. “But I never said that I wanted to be murdered in my bed.”
… and hilarity rushes forward with it.
Sir Tristram redeems himself in my eyes and more, though his name is often blackened by those around him:
“On the contrary, I am becoming quite accustomed to it. But I am afraid that even your imagination must fail soon. I have been in swift succession a tyrant, a thief and a murderer, and now a fortune hunter. There is really nothing left.”
This book is now one of my favourite of Heyer’s books. The Goodreads summary is quite right in saying that:
The Talisman Ring is one of Heyer’s funniest and fastest-paced romantic comedies, telling the story of a fugitive heir, a tempestuous Frenchwoman, and the two sensible people who try to keep them out of trouble.
I have been very kindly unofficially tagged for the 777 Challenge by proverbs31teen. Thank you, and I accept!
The 777 challenge requires you go to Page 7 of your work-in-progress, scroll down to Line 7 and share the next 7 lines in a blog post. Once you have done this, you can tag 7 other bloggers to do the same with their work-in-progress.
I have three WIP currently, however, I pick Our Intrepid Heroine: The Mystery of Blackthorne Forest to be subjected to the 777 treatment. (Our Intrepid Heroine: The Mystery of Blackthorne Forest is a working title, by the way. It could easily also be Our Intrepid Heroine: I Blame the Carrot or Our Intrepid Heroine: Wheelbarrows are Hazardous to Big Toes).
— — —
[Note: I did not include the wheelbarrows in the list of probable reasons for her fearfulness. When one makes a list, one usually rounds it into three rather than an even four, but if a true list was made, then I would include the wheelbarrows. If there had been fifteen, or even twenty, then they would serve only as a comical prop in the scene. However, there was twenty-nine of them. Twenty is comical. Twenty-nine is sinister.]
She decided to call out to the listeners and pray that they were friendly souls. Preferably with ready food and warm beds to spare. And a pillow for her weary head. She’d like that.
— — —
As I was unofficially tagged, than I unofficially tag whoever wishes to unofficially do this tag. Unofficially. (I may be using that word too much).
At present, I am working [suspiciously guilty coughing fit] on the final book of TDWH trilogy, and am attempting to knuckle down and edit the first two properly.
Dragons, kidnapping and adventure, how I love you. But bad spelling and typos, whilst often amusing, are not so dearly loved …
I can’t sit still and see another man slaving and working. I want to get up and superintend, and walk round with my hands in my pockets, and tell him what to do. It is my energetic nature. I can’t help it.
– – –
I like work: it fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.
– – –
What the eye does not see, the stomach does not get upset over
– – –
I don’t know why it should be, I am sure; but the sight of another man asleep in bed when I am up, maddens me.
– – –
It was a lovely landscape. It was idyllic, poetical, and it inspired me. I felt good and noble. I felt I didn’t want to be sinful and wicked anymore. I would come and live here, and never do any more wrong, and lead a blameless, beautiful life, and have silver hair when I got old, and all that sort of thing.
– – –
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome isn’t an ordinary book. It is a rambling, hilarious book that doesn’t perscribe to the usual story structare of a novel. It started out as a travel guide and ended up as, as … one must really read it to find out. And you can (for FREE! Public Domain, I love you) right here.
… and don’t forget …
… that while Our Intrepid Heroine isn’t in the public domain, it is waiting for you to pick up a copy right here. Think of it as a Christmas present to you.