King Solomon’s Mines is a well written, highly thrilling adventure. However, the modern reader has to take into consideration when it was written before approaching it. Rider Haggard was a conservative Victorian and held Imperialist ideals consistent with the times in which he lived - views that most of us, I am pleased to say, find utterly repellent today. Most modern readers will I imagine also be horrified, as I was, when they read the chapter where the book’s narrator and main protagonist Alan Quatermain leads his white companions and their native bearers on an elephant hunt - the ensuing slaughter of ‘the brutes’ is quite shocking, and clearly shows the terrible disregard for the natural world prevalent amongst Europeans as they settled new territories. Having said this, and if you are able to get beyond these lamentable truths and see the book within its time frame and take along with it a large pinch of salt, then it is, I think, a very good read and a wholly ripping yarn.
Rider Haggard’s novel ‘She’ is reckoned to be one of the most widely read books ever written, and fifty years ago was estimated to have sold over eighty million copies. It has been translated into numerous languages and made into several film versions. I recall getting a little hot under the collar myself when as a lad I saw Ursula Andress in the titular role. Like King Solomon’s Mines it is difficult for the modern reader to encounter views that are now considered to be quite unequivocally racist. The European world powers at the end of the nineteenth century were obsessed by the fearful idea of racial degeneration; Rider Haggard may have been influenced by this concept after witnessing the ruins of ‘Great Zimbabwe’ which were explored and excavated in the 1870s; they may have been, at least in part, responsible for the ancient lost city in She and his imagined native Armahagger people who live amongst the ruins and have, it must be said, very little to recommend themselves (incidentally, the white ruled Rhodesian Government for many years put political pressure on archaeologists to deny that such a city as ‘Great Zimbabwe’ could have been built by any black races). The book also touched on the rapidly changing role of women in the industrialised world. It was a hugely influential book in its day; its female protagonist Ayesha - the She of the title - has been cited as a female prototype in the works of Freud and Jung; the White Queen, Jadis, in C.S Lewis’s Narnia books owes a debt to her; as too does the character of Shelob in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Like King Solomon’s Mines it is without any shadow of doubt a very good example of the lost world literary genre, however its often racist and Imperialist ideals are sometimes quite unpalateable - and any modern reader has to bear this fact in mind before proceeding.