This is kind of a weird one to throw in with all the other stuff I have read but I thought why not. I have always liked stories about discovering things that had been hidden for thousands of years hidden in the jungle or across the desert. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is one of my favorite movies. Funny enough the book’s main character is Allan Quartermain who is one of the main characters in the movie League of Extraordinary Gentleman. When I first saw the movie, I never knew it was a graphic novel, I could piece together all the other literary characters in the movie except for Mr. Quartermain. I had read a few of the other classics including Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Gray, and everyone knows who Tom Sawyer is along with Dr. Jekyll and his counterpart Mr. Hyde. But I digress, my point is that I came across this novel and it sounded interesting so I decided to check it out and just so happened to have the character in it that I could not place in the movie.
This is Haggard’s most famous character. He has written many books using Mr. Quartermain as the main character and in fact has its own series. The book was first published in 1885, so you can see why it is considered a classic. According to Wikipedia Haggard based his character after the great British African hunter Frederick Courtney Selous. If you get a chance you should look him up.
The story starts out in a bar where Quartermain is having a drink in. Two gentlemen approach him and ask for some help. Quartermain is quite famous in these parts and well respected as a crack shot and hunter. One of the men Sir Henry Curtis and his friend Captain Good ask Quartermain to help them track down Sir Henry’s brother who has been missing for some time. There are rumors that his brother left heading into the wilderness in search of King Solomon’s fabled diamond mines.
Quartermain agrees to help the men and the three set out on the quest to find the lost brother. He is also guaranteed a large portion of the treasure should they find any. They employ a few Africans to help navigate and carry their gear. After near starvation and dying of thirst from crossing the desert they reach the mountains where the mines are supposed to be located. They encounter a tribe of Africans that have never seen white men before and believe them to be gods, which ends up saving their lives. There are a few plot twist and you find out that one of their companions is not who he originally said he was, which leads to a whole new can of worms. The remainder of the plot you will have to find out on your own, I don’t want to ruin it if you plan to read this one.
The story itself if fairly solid, you can definitely tell it was written over 100 years ago as it is very wordy and much time is spent saying next to nothing at all. To me this story is very similar to Sir Author Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, no I am not talking about the sequel to Jurassic Park. 1880’s England was at the height of Imperialism and exploration so I can see why this story was popular at the time.
I think there are some either intentional or unintended undertones to the story. One is the affect of Imperialism on a more primitive people, you can guess how that goes in the story. Things never seem to work out for the long lost tribe when white treasure seeking men come along. Again I am not sure if that was something Haggard was trying to portray in the story or that it was un-intentional on his part. What I also thought was kind of strange is how much of the story these themes took up in respect to the overall story. I would say that at least half of the book the main characters spend with this lost tribe. It is not a bad thing by any means but it is interesting as honestly I think this is the main focus of the story instead of the treasure hunt that the title advertises.
There is also the barbaric albeit funny mindset of the time period. Big game hunting was seen as a mostly normal and hunters shot anything with four legs and fur, both of those traits are optional by the way. Not to mention the rarer the animal the better the trophy. There are numerous references to killing elephants for their ivory tusks, but I will also say that most of the time with they did kill something they ate it. But when there is a herd of elephants and the three kill I think was close to 10 or so elephants it is kind of silly. But nonetheless that was the mindset of the times and it is portrayed very vibrantly in the story.
In the story the leader of the tribe says something that struck me:
“The ways of the black people are not as the ways of the white men, Incubu, (this is what the tribe calls Quartermain) nor do we hold life so high as ye.”
I found this very interesting as I honestly think that his mindset is quite different from East and West traditions when it comes to war and killing. In the book Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden one of the Somali fighters says something similar and it has always stuck with me. I find it interesting that a book written more than 100 years ago has a similar idea in it. But that is another story for another time.
All in all this is a very well written story and does a great job of portraying what things were like so long ago. A lot of the themes in the story are backwards to what we are use to now but it is a good reminder of how far we have come, but a wakeup call for how far we still have to go. The only negative I can think of is that at times the wordiness gets boring and there are some times where the action is not as present as I would have liked, but when it does rear its head it is a good fun ride that will leave you reading as fast as you can to see what happens next. I would recommend this one if you are interesting the classics, as it were, or just want a good old fashioned adventure to read about.