Places: King Solomon’s Mines

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1885

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Adventure

Time of work: Late nineteenth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*Durban

*Durban. King Solomon’s MinesPort city in the British-ruled colony of Natal on South Africa’s eastern coast that is Quatermain’s base. Durban represents a mean between the exaggerated civilization and inflation of Cape Town and the unexplored, untamed open country of Southern Africa’s interior. Inland expeditions outfit at Durban and depart from and return there; it is a frontier town in which the best and worst of European and African residents can be found. Durban is a busy place in which the unexpected can always be expected to happen. The setting allows a preview of what can be expected in the interior and prepares readers for a fabulous adventure.

<i>Dunkeld</i>

Dunkeld. Ship on which Quatermain meets Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good while sailing from Cape Town to Durban. Their voyage symbolizes the impact of progress and technology on Africa. Not many years earlier, rounding the Cape of Good Hope was dangerous, and shipwrecks were common. However, European progress and technology have tamed the seas to the point that such voyages have become the common and safe means of transportation between Southern Africa’s two main ports. Eventually, the African continent, like the seas surrounding it, will be tamed by European progress.

*Southern Africa

*Southern Africa. Region below the Zambezi River–which now separates Zimbabwe from Zambia–that is the broad canvas for King Solomon’s Mines. The trek on which Quatermain leads Curtis and Good takes them through dense forests, torrid deserts, and high mountains that exemplify the harshest, most unforgiving, and most extreme opposites in Southern Africa’s wide range of climates and topography. These extreme variations lend a mood of unrest to the novel: a sense of foreboding and danger, which is exactly what the author intends.

Haggard inclined toward the sensational in his writings, and since the British reading audience of his era wanted to be thrilled by near-death adventures set in exotic locales, Haggard obliged them with fantastic tales set mostly in Southern Africa. Drawing on bits of authentic local lore, as well as legends and myths he heard about during the several years he lived in Southern Africa, he gave all his African novels an air of mystery and romance. By setting characters exemplifying refined British standards of culture and morality against Africans exemplifying largely imaginary savagery, his books made the continent seem far more dangerous and mysterious than it ever actually was.

Suliman Mountains

Suliman Mountains. Imaginary great mountain range separating Kukuanaland from the Transvaal that takes its name from the biblical King Solomon. In the subzero temperatures near the top of the range, the travelers find the frozen body of a Portuguese man who died three centuries earlier, and an African member of their party freezes to death in his sleep. The extreme contrast between the low temperatures atop these mountains and the high temperatures on the lower plains adds to the novel’s mystique. Although no real mountains in the region in which King Solomon’s Mines is set resemble Haggard’s fictional range, snow-capped equatorial mountains–such as Kilimanjaro–do exist in East Africa, to the north.

*Matabele country

*Matabele country (mah-tah-BAY-lay). Also known as Matabeleland, the site of the historical Ndebele kingdom, in what is now southwestern Zimbabwe, through which Quatermain’s party travels to reach Kukuanaland. Haggard never visited this region but while working in South Africa’s Transvaal region, he heard many reports of the alleged fierceness of the Ndebele people to the north and modeled his fictional Kukuana people on them.

An important narrative thread of King Solomon’s Mines was inspired by an actual incident in Ndebele history. In 1872 a man claiming to be the rightful Ndebele king, Nkulumane, made an abortive attempt to enter Matabeleland to claim his throne. That pretender’s mission was materially aided by a British colonial official in Durban named Theophilus Shepstone, under whom Haggard later served in the Transvaal. Haggard’s mysterious African character Umbopa in King Solomon’s Mines accompanies Quatermain’s party into Kukuanaland, where he reveals himself to be the rightful king, Ignosi. In contrast to the Ndebele pretender, Umbopa succeeds–thanks in large part to the intervention of the British characters.

Kukuanaland

Kukuanaland (koo-koo-AH-nah-land). Imaginary African kingdom, located north of Matabele country, where the quest of Quatermain’s party ends. During the nineteenth century, legends of “lost” civilizations in the African interior abounded among Europeans, and some of these focused on the Zimbabwe region–the actual site of a former stone-building African culture. Although Haggard’s Kukuanaland and its capital, Loo, are totally fictional, his use of a great stone road leading to a lost city in the wilderness seemed to conform to rumors about a lost ancient civilization in the Zimbabwe region and added greatly to his novel’s sense of the mysterious and exotic.

Cave of death

Cave of death. Cavern in which Quatermain and his companions find a great mineral treasure in the novel’s climactic chapters. Three gigantic stone idols guard the entrance to the ancient mine and add even more foreboding and danger to an atmosphere already heavily laden with ominous overtones. The cavern, like Africa generally, offers its riches to those bold enough to claim them, but it never gives them up willingly.

BibliographyButts, Dennis. Introduction and notes to King Solomon’s Mines, by H. Rider Haggard. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989. Butts’s introduction to the historical background and literary reception of the novel is concise and informative. Notes the novel’s familiar structure as a folktale. Bibliography.Cohen, Morton. Rider Haggard: His Life and Works. London: Hutchinson University Library, 1960. Scrupulously documented and judiciously restrained in its appreciation of Haggard as a writer. Provides rich historical context for the composition of King Solomon’s Mines.Higgins, D. S. Rider Haggard: The Great Storyteller. London: Cassell, 1981. Excellent, accessible biography, with limited literary analysis and thorough historical context and publishing history.Katz, Wendy R. Rider Haggard and the Fiction of Empire: A Critical Study of British Imperial Fiction. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Suggests Haggard’s considerable cultural significance as an imperial propagandist. Discusses his philosophy of life and commitment to empire through an analysis of King Solomon’s Mines and other works.Sandison, Alan. The Wheel of Empire: A Study of the Imperial Idea in Some Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth-Century Writers. London: Macmillan, 1967. A provocative chapter on the intellectual foundations laid down by Charles Darwin, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Karl Marx, leads to the assertion that Haggard adapted to modern thought more readily than did Rudyard Kipling, Joseph Conrad, or John Buchan. Thus he escaped the vice of racial prejudice so prevalent among writers on empire.
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