One, a man of about thirty, was one of the biggest-chested and longest-armed men I ever saw. He had yellow hair, a big yellow beard, clear-cut features, and large grey eyes set deep into his head. I never saw a finer-looking man, and somehow he reminded me of an ancient Dane.
This description of Sir Henry Curtis immediately shows the man in a heroic light. His countenance evokes the Norse heroes of old, while the description of his frame is a model for the pulp heroes yet to come. That Quatermain, a world-weary hunter and no timid soul himself, should be impressed by this man shows the reader at the outset the magnitude of Sir Henry’s charisma and prowess. Sir Henry will live up to this heroic ideal later in the novel, as he bravely faces stampeding elephants, possible death by exposure, being buried alive, and hand-to-hand combat without flinching.
With my own eyes have I seen the countless diamonds stored in Solomon’s treasure chamber behind the white Death; but through the treachery of Gagool the witch-finder I might bring naught away, scarcely my life.
These words, recorded by Jose da Silvestra three hundred years prior to Sir Henry Curtis' quest to find his brother, provide foreshadowing of the present quest's challenges. Gagool is mentioned as being a "witch-finder," a role that will become more clear to Quatermain and the others only when it is almost too late; she is also described as treacherous, which is more obvious to the men when they encounter her. The "white Death" is mentioned here, but soon forgotten by the explorers, as they have no context in which to place this strange phrase. In fact, when the finally encounter the statue of the white Death, Quatermain is so frightened that he tries to run away. The main gist of this information is to confirm the existence of King Solomon's diamond mines, thus giving the explorers a reward to look forward to at their journey's end.
For to my mind, however beautiful a view may be, it requires the presence of man to make it complete, but perhaps that is because I have lived so much in the wilderness, and therefore know the value of civilization, though to be sure it drives away the game.
In one of Haggard’s more poetic descriptions, he voices through Quatermain his own love for the African landscape. At the same time, he makes it clear that it is not nature for the sake of wilderness that he values—only by having someone there to appreciate it and give contrast to it by his knowledge of civilization. In a turn of phrase that develops Quatermain’s sometimes ironic tone, Haggard has the hunter finish his romantic vision of Africa with the complaint that having people around unfortunately makes hunting more difficult.
Good fell a victim to his passion for civilized dress. Had he consented to discard his trousers and gaiters as we had, and hunt in a flannel shirt and a pair of veldtschoons, it would have been all right, but as it was his trousers cumbered him in that desperate race , and presently, when he was about sixty yards from us, his boot, polished by the dry grass, slipped, and down he went on his face right in front of the elephant.
Here Haggard (or Quatermain) casts the fastidious Captain Good in a humorous light, while at the same time making clear that his foibles make him a danger to himself and others. Quatermain emphasizes that Good has refused wise advice from those who know this wilderness, and he nearly pays the price for it. As it turns out, another of the party—an African helper—is killed by the elephant that nearly tramples Good, making Good indirectly responsible for another’s death through his dandy-like preoccupation with style. Haggard does not intend Good to be an unlikable character, but merely to point out that in this uncivilized wild, the regimented Naval officer is far out of his element.
“How dost thou know that I am not the equal of the Inkosi I serve?” he said. “He is of a royal house, no doubt; one can see it in his size and in his eye; so, mayhap, am I. At least I am as great a man.”
In response to Quatermain’s reprimand that Umbopa remember his station, the “Zulu” asks Quatermain how he knows the two men are of unequal heritage. Umbopa draws the reader’s attention to the prevailing attitude of Haggard’s day—that European, “civilized” men were somehow superior to their African counterparts—and offers a counter-argument. At the same time, Umbopa’s statement serves the story, as this is a hint at his royal Kukuana heritage.
For all this talk of equality, Umbopa/Ignosi also makes it clear that he and Sir Henry Curtis are peers because of their nobility. Racial inferiority may be argued against, but not a class system which places those of royal blood above those considered “common.”
This vast gulf was actually filled in, apparently with huge blocks of dressed stone, with arches pierced at the bottom for a water-way, over which the road went sublimely on...Here we noticed that the sides of the tunnel were covered with quaint sculptures mostly of mailed figures driving in chariots. One, which was exceedingly beautiful, represented a whole battle scene with a convoy of captives being marched off in the distance.
“Well,” said Sir Henry, after inspecting this ancient work of art, “It is very well to call this Solomon’s Road, but my humble opinion is that the Egyptians have been here before Solomon’s people ever set a foot on it…”
Haggard introduces the first solid evidence of a “lost civilization” in his tale. The explorers see a gradual change from desert wilderness to architectural magnificence, and are properly awed. Sir Henry’s assessment pushes the time of this lost civilization back past King Solomon’s day and into pre-history with the Egyptian carvings. Haggard thereby creates a sense of timelessness and wonder at the ancient world so suddenly brought into the present.
“Nay, my lord,” put in Infadoos, “would my lord cover up his beautiful white legs’ (although he was so dark, Good had a singularly white skin) “from the eyes of his servants? Have we offended my lord that he should do such a thing?”
Captain Good is held up as a comic figure in this reminder of his first impression to the Kukuanas. Coming upon him half-shaved and (literally) with his pants down, the Kukuanas see this as his true form and refuse to let him get dressed and hide his glory. While poking fun at Good’s fastidious habits, Haggard is also mocking the primitive mentality that sees whiteness and different clothing as somehow supernatural. While it is likely that Haggard meant primarily to focus our attention on Good’s humorous qualities, the fact remains that in doing so he describes the Kukuanas in childlike, ignorant terms.
But perfect discipline and steady and unchanging valour can do wonders, and one veteran soldier is worth two young ones, as soon became apparent in the present case.
In this description of the valiant Greys, Haggard conveys the ideal of the soldier to his readers. These brave souls are well-trained and make up for their years with their martial experience. The Greys are set up as the most admirable of Kukuana warriors, and their fate—tragic though it is—is the “proper” fate for lifetime soldiers: they die in battle defending their king.
There may be a hint of self-aggrandizement here as well, for Allan Quatermain narrates this story; as he has already informed the reader, he is fifty-five years old. He has lived long beyond the expected five years of the typical elephant hunter, and his experience and self-discipline makes up for the vigor and speed of younger warriors (such as Good or even Sir Henry Curtis).
I did not like Miss Foulata’s soft glances, for I knew the fatal amorous propensities of sailors in general, and Good in particular.
Here Quatermain reiterates his prejudice against interracial marriage, but blunts the edge of any racism by focusing on the harm Good may do to Foulata. He sees a young, innocent girl falling in love with a man whom she may never keep; in Good, Quatermain sees an inveterate sailor, ready to start up a romance in every port. Quatermain has shifted his annoyance from the problem of intercultural relationships to the character of Good, thus giving him more personal ammunition for devaluing Good’s contributions to the expedition.
“Well, ye must go, and leave my heart sore, because ye will be as dead to me, since from where ye will be no tidings can come to me.
“But listen, and let all the white men know my words. No other white man shall cross the mountains, even if any may live to come so far. I will see no traders with their guns and rum. My people shall fight with the spear, and drink water, like their forefathers before them. I will have no praying men to put fear of death into men’s hearts, to stir them up agains the king, and make a path for the white men who follow to run on. If a white man comes to my gates I will send him back; if a hundred come, I will push them back; if an army comes, I will make war on them with all my strength, and they shall not prevail against me. None shall ever come for the shining stones…But for ye three, Incubi, Macumahzahn, and Bougwan, the path is always open…”
Ignosi’s love for his companions is made most clear here in this passage. He has just become angry at Quatermain for, in his eyes, valuing the diamonds above his friendship; Quatermain has assuaged Ignosi’s pain by reminding him of the Kukuana’s own longing to return to his homeland. The value of true companionship—in this case a friendship borne of battle and shared hardships—is thus offered as a virtue to which all men may aspire.
Ignosi expresses his own form of prejudice, here against white men from Europe. While he will always welcome his three white friends to Kukuanaland, he has no desire to see any other white influence gain foothold in his country. Ignosi takes an isolationist stance as a means of protecting his people from bad influences. He notes the white men’s vices-- firearms, alcohol, and greed—suggesting that these are absent from his homeland. In this way the “lost world” of Kukuanaland becomes a sort of Eden, which is to remain unspoiled by the depredations of European imperialism.
King Solomon’s Mines Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for King Solomon’s Mines is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.