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Summer Reading List: King Solomon's Mines

It's time to revive this old thing and kick some new life into it. For now, all these entries will be cross-posted from my blog on HPFF and some entries from my new tumblr, here. The tumblr's more for the serious thoughts whereas this will be more of a book review blog.

We all have our summer reading lists, long lovely things that include all of the books that we wanted to read, but never had time to, often because of school or work or whatever else real life throws in our way.

But what if this summer reading list was part of your curriculum? That's my luck this summer. In December, I have to write a very frightening-looking exam on Victorian literature, and in order to do so, I have to spend all the time up till then reading everything I can get my hands on. Just me, a large pile of books, and some blogs, like this one, in order to make sense of it all. I do have a set reading list that, ideally, adds up to 600 hours of reading, but as things go, you read one book, have questions about it, and go to another book to find the answers. So who knows how long this will take in the end. :ninja:

I started with a book that wasn't on my list, but it's a book that I've wanted to read for a long time: King Solomon's Mines by H. Rider Haggard from 1885. Here's the summary:

Following a map drawn 300 years ago by a dying man, three adventurers set out in search of the legendary riches of King Solomon's diamond mines. On their journey they have to cross deserts, mountains and inhabitants that kill strangers. Will they make the journey and become the richest men on Earth?

What does it have going for it? Lots of adventure. Lots of action. A full-out battle. Exotic landscapes. Treasure. In other words, classic adventure story stuff. It makes for an exciting read with plenty of suspense and violence. The battle scene does lag the treasure-hunting plot, but the scenes in the mines at the end are fantastic and worth the wait.

What issues should you be aware of regarding this novel? It takes place in late-19th century Africa, therefore racism is a major issue for the modern reader. Although the narrator is more understanding toward Africans than one normally finds in literature from this period, he still obviously looks down on the Africans. Similarly, the narrator makes it very clear that it's a man's story and women only cause trouble. There are only two female characters - one a perfect girl who sacrifices herself for love, and the other is an evil witch. And don't get me started on animal rights, not when the narrator is an elephant hunter.

I like to think of this book as a mash-up of Treasure Island and Heart of Darkness. I also have to admit that the story sounded a lot more interesting than it actually was - I'd heard about it many times in the past and was always curious about it because it sounded like it should be a great story about finding a long-lost diamond mine in the heart of Africa, the very mine used by Solomon. However, the story doesn't actually say much about the mine and its history, which should have been more emphasized - how did they transport the diamonds all the way back to Jerusalem? How did they construct the road and the secret door and the statues? But the narrator doesn't care about those things, and that's a problem for me.

Instead, I would recommend H. Rider Haggard's She, also an adventure novel about 19th-century Africa, but not only is the plot somewhat more consistent and less based on gratuitous violence, it also doesn't deal with as many sensitive issues. It's a far more interesting story.

Next up: Bleak House by Charles Dickens.


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
13th May, 2011 23:12 (UTC)
Thanks for the alternate recommendation. I would have been all over that novel, but I would agree with your list of short comings. I would want to know more about the mine as well. Maybe someone could make it into a movie--but then with the wrong director they would forget about those parts as well :S Have fun with Bleak House. Is it as bad as trying to struggle through Wuthering Heights? Or maybe I am the only one who has a hard time with that one. Good luck with your comps list!
25th May, 2011 22:44 (UTC)
I grabbed She today. I had forgotten about that one, but noticed it as I was picking up the Hardy novels from the shelf below and decided to grab it. It looks good :)
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )