H. Rider Haggard: King Solomon’s Mines
I thought I’d become smarter and more sophisticated by reading a classic for a change. Published in 1885, King Solomon’s Mines sure can’t be considered "contemporary nonsense".
The novel (or "romance", as the author calls it, or "history", as the narrator calls it) is written in oldish language, which causes a risk of confusion—or, funny double-entendres. For example, "…I am going to tell the strangest story that I know of. It may seem a queer thing to say, especially considering that there is no woman in it…" Am I a total boor if I find the sentence amusing? The old words and the way they were used are also interesting; for example, "river-horse" meaning ’hippopotamus’ is analogical to the Finnish word "virtahepo". Verb "suffer" was used in the meaning ’be up to’. Apparently, "ejaculate" means (or meant) the same as ’shout’.
Let us observe the plot, then. The story takes place in Africa, the continent of very great outdoors, primitive aboriginal tribes and immeasurably valuable diamond treasures yet to be discovered. Yes, Africa of the 19th century.
Allan Quatermain, the protagonist and narrator of the book, is familiar with Africa, having hunted for ivory for years. (The author, H. Rider Haggard, was familiar with Africa IRL, too.) He meets two gentlemen, Captain Good and Sir Henry Curtis, whose brother is missing. After lots of persuasion, Quatermain agrees to join them on a risky expedition to find the missing brother and also to check if the legend of a huge diamond treasure at Suliman Mountains holds true.
As one may guess, the men’s exploration is full of adventure. They participate in a native tribe’s war, for example, and at one point they’re really close to death.
The book’s relationship with racism and cultural variance is something that a 21st-century reader is eager to study. In my opinion, the book is very tolerant, or understanding, for a 19th-century work. At the very beginning, the narrator mentiones he dislikes the N-word. The book uses the aboriginals’ primitiveness as a source of humour, but this kind of a feature sure isn’t something that’s gotten rid of today. The story also includes a kind of a love story between Mr. Good and an aboriginal woman. (This seems progressive to me, because the first kiss between a white man and a black woman was seen on TV in 1968 (on Star Trek), which arouse such a big hullabaloo back then, almost a hundred years after the book was published!)
The book’s story is of average value, in my opinion. My interest in it was very low time to time, but the last fifty pages or so were intriguing as the men arrive at the Suliman Mountains. It may be worth reading if 19th-century Africa or some other feature in the book interests you.
Hint: I noticed that they sell "Penguin Popular Classics" paperbacks at €2.50 in Suomalainen kirjakauppa, at least in the Hämeenkatu bookshop in Tampere. Penguin Books publishes a variety of classics, so you might want to check out the selection.