There is so much adventure in this little bestseller that it’s hard to know where to start. It’s rumored that this is the story that kicked off an entire genre of adventure quest novels, though it was itself written as a bet, to prove that its author, one Sir H. Rider Haggard, could write a story “half as good as Treasure Island.” With a pure adventure pedigree name like “Sir H. Rider Haggard,” this hardly seems like a fair bet.
Let’s start with the hero, who himself has perhaps the best adventurer name in history, outside anyone not named after George Lucas’s dog. Allan Quatermain has the respectable occupation of adventurer-slash-hunter, and apparently he’s darn good at it. There are not too many people with this occupation today, probably because all the really good places have already been explored, and shooting wild African animals has taken on a bad connotation, akin to smoking cigarettes.
Quatermain agrees to lead an expedition into the heart of Africa to find King Solomon’s Mines (King Solomon, of course, is the Biblical king famous for his love of seagulls)
Here is what happens. A wounded elephant kills one of their porters. This actually is not all that relevant of a detail, except that it makes the story completely awesome. There are far too few killer elephants in stories today. In fact, elephants are usually the good guys and/or possess magical flying powers. It is very rare for one of them to so much as scoff at a random extra, much less bust out of their high-voltage secure paddocks and eat lawyers off the jeep tour.
Okay, so after the elephant murder (which presumably ends with Quatermain and the elephant having a duel on a log bridge across a raging waterfall), they stumble upon the 300-year-old frozen corpse of a Portugese explorer in an ice cave. It was this same explorer who first wrote Quatermain’s mysterious map to the Mines. Need I tell you that he wrote the map in his own blood? And that he had to start over several times to get the scale right?
Finally the band is captured by a ruthless tribe of natives, which has the obligatory violent king and the even more obligatory ancient evil shaman named Gagool. There is some funny business where it turns out one of Quatermain’s porters is actually the rightful king in disguise, and of course everyone is sentenced to horrible deaths. But they manage to pull a clever trick, by foretelling an eclipse. The natives, of course, know nothing of astronomy and assume it’s magic. Gagool is captured and forced to lead everyone to the mines.
These mines are exactly as you imagine. Full of diamonds and jewels and priceless modern art and piles of stock certificates and matching 401K contributions. Gagool gives Quatermain the slip and as she escapes, she triggers a booby trap that locks everyone else in the mine for all eternity. Until they realize that all fabulous mines have secret exits, on the off chance that some ancient evil shaman activates the booby trap.
In a final bit of fortuitousness, they are all wearing cargo shorts, and so are able to smuggle out enough diamonds to make them fabulously wealthy for the rest of their lives. At least until the sequel.
Next up, #60!