King Solomon's Mines

King Solomon's Mines Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How is the Victorian Age’s imperialism presented in King Solomon’s Mines?

    For the most part, Haggard maintains the position of his day, where Imperialism is seen as a positive and necessary progress of civilization. Twala is the most savage of African tribesmen, and it is against his primitive brutality that the white men must strive. Their support of Ignosi stems from a sense of companionship, but they leave him with a charge to bring “civilization” to a land long –brutalized by the reign of Twala (and Gagool). In many ways they see themselves as having made Ignosi king of Kukuanaland, much as the British crown might set up regents in countries which it has colonized.

    However, Haggard does not gloss over the cultural problems of imperialism. Ignosi takes the crown, which is rightfully his, then immediately bans all white men from entering Kukuanaland. He may be a king that strives for justice and equanimity similar to European powers, but he does not want the European influences—he specifically mentions firearms and alcohol, and hints at avarice—influencing his people. Aside from Sir Henry, Captain Good, and Quatermain, no white man is welcome in Ignosi’s kingdom, and he has the means to defend his borders. Thus, imperialistic notions of exploiting Kukuanaland’s wealth are left unsatisfied. As the author if this state of affairs, Haggard gives a tacit approval to this mindset in the real world.

  2. 2

    How are race relations treated in King Solomon’s Mines?

    Racial differences are a complex issue in Haggard’s novel. Quatermain often reflects the spirit of his age in seeing Kafirs, Zulus, and other non-whites as inherently inferior to European peoples—he is immediately angered at Umbopa’s familiar tone with Sir Henry Curtis, for example—but Quatermain is not always consistent. In the same scene wherein he becomes angry with Umbopa’s “impertinence,” he notes the dignity and manly bearing of the (alleged) Zulu.

    Quatermain reiterates the common stance of his day when he tells Twala that white men marry only white women—but in this case he uses it as a pretext to avoid choosing a Kukuana maiden to wed. Quatermain disapproves of the growing intimacy between Good and Foulata, but he seems more concerned that Good will harm Foulata than that the interracial relationship is somehow wrong. Haggard himself introduces interracial marriage in his other works, and seems to have held a more liberal view than many of his day regarding marriage across cultural and ethnic lines.

  3. 3

    In what ways is Allan Quatermain an unreliable narrator?

    As a first-person narrator, Quatermain’s account is already tinged with possible doubt. His insistence that the hunting yarns he tells the others are “all true” suggests that other things he tells may not be so accurate. Also, Quatermain’s self-evaluation seems incongruous with his actions. He claims often to be a coward, but is always ready to offer his safety and life in service to a friend. Ignosi must even suppress a smile when Quatermain declares his cowardice—the Kukuana prince knows that Quatermain’s actions belie his protestations to the contrary.

    Also, Quatermain clearly voices opinions which are at odds with the real situations he faces, and likely which are not the same as the author’s views. Quatermain seems to be a creature of his time, habitually parroting the imperialistic, Eurocentric political and social doctrines common in his time, while those around him (notably Sir Henry Curtis, set up as an ideal protagonist) does not share these views.

  4. 4

    How is the nobility of men of any skin color presented in King Solomon’s Mines?

    Although writing in a time when racism was prevalent (and in some cases a necessary presumption in order to justify colonialism), Haggard includes some glowing descriptions of non-white characters in King Solomon’s Mines. Umbopa/Ignosi is described as having a noble carriage, manly frame, and natural eloquence. The Kukuanas in general are described as handsome, strong, and brave warriors or beautiful, tender maidens. Even the antagonist, Twala, is described in terms of his great strength and shrewdness.

    In fact, it is in Twala that we see a more complex character than in many of the Kukuanas. Twala sees the threat posed to his reign, but keeps his brutal anger in check; only when his son is killed does Twala become vengeful. Twala is also a brave opponent—he attacks Ignosi’s encampment, then is ready to do the same the following day, joining his warriors in the assault. When he recognizes his time to die has come, he seeks an honorable death in single combat with the man who killed his son—Sir Henry Curtis—and fights with admirable skill in the ensuing duel. If even the enemies among the Kukuana men are so courageous and honorable, the friends—such as Ignosi and Infadoos—are even more so.

  5. 5

    What is the role of the feminine in King Solomon’s Mines?

    As with many fairy tales and ancient legends, the feminine can be used for both good and evil in this novel. Gagool is obviously the evil side of femininity—old, ugly, and possessed of secret knowledge unknown to the men, she insinuates her will into Twala’s reign. Her acolytes, the “witch-hunters,” are also women who have discovered power in their ability to “name” witches among Twala’s subjects; thus Gagool and her clan of witch-finders use their mysterious feminine knowledge to maintain Twala’s rule (a fact which could not have been lost on the perceptive king).

    Femininity is more tender and nurturing in Faulata and the other Kukuana maidens. Always ready to lend help to the men, the women of Kukuanaland are described without exception as lovely and full of life. Faulata represents the caring and gentle side of femininity, which finds its best expression not through manipulating men, but through supporting them wholeheartedly in their endeavors. It is Faulata, not a man, who is the indirect cause of Gagool’s death in Solomon’s treasure chamber—thus supportive, submissive femininity is shown to be superior to the manipulative, secretive femininity of Gagool.

  6. 6

    In what ways is the motif of the “lost world” developed in King Solomon’s Mines?

    Kukuanaland is the lost world which Quatermain and the others discover. More ancient than even the Kukuanas who inhabit it, the city has architecture and artifacts dating back past King Solomon’s day into ancient Egypt. This time-lost civilization (or civilizations) is accessible only through an arduous path following secret knowledge. The men must pass through various hazards and brave many hardships in order to enter this heretofore unexplored country.

    Haggard depicts this lost world as being in a state of dignified primitiveness. As if frozen in a moment of pre-history, this land follows a tribal structure and is ruled through superstition and fear. It is up to the intrepid explorers (who are European) to set the rightful king on the throne and bring a modicum of civility to this place. Although not depicted as superior to European cultures, Kukuanaland does possess virtues all its own that would vanish if overrun by the outside world.

  7. 7

    How is science demonstrated to be superior to superstition in King Solomon’s Mines?

    The white men overcome the terror of Gagool and impress the Kukuana people through scientific-know how in various instances. When the Kukuana people seek a sign indicating that the white men and their magic endorse Umbopa as Ignosi, their missing king, Good hatches a plan (executed primarily by Quatermain) to use a convenient lunar eclipse as a sign of their power. Good, fortunately, has an almanac handy and is able to pinpoint the exact time of the eclipse.

    The white men’s weapons are, of course, superior to the spears and throwing knives of the Kukuanas, and when discussing their effectiveness Quatermain couches their power in magical terms. He goes so far as to place a “curse” on his gift of a Winchester rifle to Twala, stating that its power will backfire on the user if fired at a human being. Twala apparently believes this, for he does not attempt to use the weapon in the subsequent battle for his throne.

    Similarly, even as Gagool keeps her knowledge secret and reveals bits of it only in cryptic terms, the white men readily discern that her knowledge of an invisible passage into the treasure chamber is a simple matter of discovering the locking mechanism of the stone door, and when they are trapped within the chamber their understanding of airflow and architecture allows them to defeat Gagool’s intended doom.

  8. 8

    How does Sir Henry Curtis fulfill the heroic ideal of Haggard’s time?

    Sir Henry Curtis is the strongest, most noble man Quatermain has ever seen. His blonde hair and beard lend him the look of an ancient Norse warrior, while his skill with weapons is unparalleled. He is a superb hand-to-hand combatant who seeks to fight honorably and for a just cause.

    Sir Henry is not hard-edged, however. The whole purpose of his quest is to find his lost brother—the treasure means nothing to him. He comforts Quatermain and Good as they sink into despair in the treasure chamber trap. He treats Umbopa with dignity and respect even before he learns that Umbopa is really Ignosi, displaced king of the Kukuanas. Sir Henry has not only the skills of a hero, but the bearing and character of a truly good man as well.

  9. 9

    How is Captain Good a foil for Allan Quatermain?

    From the beginning, Quatermain casts Good in a slightly unfavorable light. In contrast to Quatermain’s ruggedness, Good is fastidious about his appearance; in contrast to Quatermain’s surliness is Good’s gentility. Whereas Quatermain is an excellent shot who never sees the need to brag about it, Good is a lucky shot who gladly accepts the accolades his luck brings him. Quatermain even goes so far as to believe Good considers himself a better shot than he truly is, in contrast to Quatermain’s self-deprecation of his own not minor talents.

    Good represents the best of British civilization, whereas Quatermain is a man living somewhere between civility and savagery. Good is quite at home in England or aboard a tightly-run Royal Navy vessel, whereas Quatermain is most comfortable in the wild among the dangers of the unknown. Good is also given to fanciful romantic entanglements (as with Foulata) whereas Quatermain thinks himself realistic in staying unattached to any woman since the loss of his wife.

  10. 10

    How is the motif of the “lost throne” developed in King Solomon’s Mines?

    When we first meet Umbopa, there is certainly more to him than he reveals. Even in the first interview, where Quatermain remonstrates with him his lack of servility toward Sir Henry, Umbopa argues that he may be as royal a personage as Sir Henry. His difference from other Zulus and his knowledge of their destination also set him apart from the other African helpers who join the expedition.

    Once the party reaches Kukuanaland, Umbopa becomes even more clearly connected to that lost world. The first Kukuanas the group encounters are of the same skin color and body structure as Umbopa. He also takes an avid interest in descriptions of Kukuanalands’s present and past political climate. Finally, when the story of the lost prince has been told, Umbopa reveals himself secretly to Infadoos and his comrades as Ignosi, rightful king of Kukuanaland, and even produces the royal mark—the serpent encircling his waist—to prove it. Nonetheless, it is only by direct confrontation with Twala—who has proven himself an unjust and cruel ruler—that Ignosi is able to reclaim his lost throne and begin an age of wise rule over the Kukuanas.