Ways of Escape in Rider Haggard`s King Solomon`s Mines

Seminar Paper 1997 16 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature



1 Introduction

2 Rider Haggard’s Life

3 Changes

4 Ways of Escape

5 Imperialism

6 The Other within - the Other abroad

7 King Solomon's Mines

8 Conclusion

9 Bibliography

1. Introduction

The biographical literature about Rider Haggard boasts highly different accounts about him. To some he is an imperial protagonist writing for the uncritical reader (Katz 1987), an author whose simplifying view propagates imperialistic ideals with racist undertones. To others his work is remarkable in the respect that it exactly lacks the jingoistic attitudes of so many contemporary writers. They find sufficient evidence to underline his respect for the natives, especially the Zulu people he met in South Africa and see him more as a person worried with the basic concerns of ordinary people (Hogg 1984).

Depending on one’s point of view Rider Haggard can be seen as a foreman to imperialist policy whose books abound with stereotypes or he appears as a benevolent contemporary unconsciously spreading the ideas of his age, even adoring the natives he encountered. Is he an extraordinary writer in his time or just another imperialist author with undeserved attention?

It will be the task of this paper to fathom the many different aspects of his time and work, to collude several sources and try to give a fairly elaborated account of this still widely read man. To achieve this it is necessary to have an -admittedly rather superficial- look at the social, psychological, spiritual, economical and political state of late Victorian England and its society. With this knowledge it should be possible to assess the features of King Solomon ’ s Mines within a wider context.

2. Rider Haggard’s Life

This is not a comprehensive description of his life. This paragraph only wants to mention some important facts which -in my opinion- influenced his work most.

Rider Haggard was born on 26 June 1856 as the son of William and Ella Haggard. He was the sixth son and the eight child in this not overly conspicuous family. The Haggards had 400 acres estate with a spacious house. At that time agriculture was prospering and the social fabric of age old social structures was intact. His father was a barrister and seemingly a paternal despot making life difficult with him. His wife had a calming influence and wrote poems herself. It was his father who taught young Rider to know and love the countryside. At an early age he learnt to shoot and ride. It was a world of external and practical reality. The family made frequent trips abroad. Those two things: the affection for the country and to travel, should never leave him for the rest of his life. In comparison to his sisters and brothers he was a quiet child attached to his mother. His vivid imagination caused him many fears and might have been a reason for his slow progress at school (Ellis, 20). At a very young age Rider was sent to South Africa in 1875, which was an important experience for Haggard. Especially the frequent skirmishes between the English, Boers and the Zulus ,partly eye-witnessed by Haggard himself, probably contributed to his vivid description of battle scenes. He admired Zulu militarism, which he reckoned to be the expression of the dynamic of people untouched by modern civilisation (Hogg, 75-78).

In 1881 he and his wife settled in England. There the effects of Modernity which caused the agricultural recession of that decade were becoming visible: Mechanisation made many workers redundant, who flocked to the cities in search for a more comfortable life. Utilisation of steam ploughing and thrashing did not offer the cosy picture of intact rural life anymore. Society experienced or ,as one might say, had to endure a fundamental change.

Haggard was a successful farmer himself and was deeply interested in agricultural concerns This necessitated ideals like: asceticism, activism, hard work, sacrifice, probity. The decline of the rural society of his youth made him an advocate for the hard-pressed farmers. He always advocated a life near nature. There, in his opinion, lay the roots of society, and only there could society replenish itself. He served in several Royal Commissions and was always anxious to fulfil what he regarded his duty to the country. His belief in fatalism is notable. In his book forces beyond the grasp of the human mind seem to guide the heroes indicating to a belief of destiny. "Man is reduced to a pawn's position, struggling for petty aims, nor realizing his irrelevant, precarious position on the huge chess-board of life" (Hogg, 12). This need not be cynical but leaves also room for faith in the truth and benevolence of those forces. If one acts accordingly one does not go astray and is less alienated from one’s own nature. Destiny stands in direct contrast to bureaucratic decision making .

In the end, however, Haggard had a somewhat frustrated attitude induced by the inevitable demise of his ideals. "Personally I have done my best to enforce my ideas of agricultural reform on those on high places, and to impress them on the minds of the people of this country. [...] Well, what has been the end of it all ? Failure. I have failed. I cannot say that the ideas I have advocated are one bit advanced." (Haggard in Hogg, )

After a industrious and productive live he died in 1925.

Of course, Rider Haggard was aware of the changes going on in his environment. In his numerous articles and books he articulated his opinion, gave advice or as in King Solomon ’ s Mines provided an unspoilt setting where the reader can indulge in carefree fantasies. He never styled himself as a literary man, in fact he characterised himself as a story teller. For him the primitive revealed what the reader had lost (Bivona, 80): a life near nature where society could still live according to the basic values of mankind. The reader was forced to live in a regulated, tamed and urbanised world which was exactly the opposite of the world he depicted in his novels.

A string of explorers tried to map the interior of Africa since the beginning of the nineteenth century. Their tales provided thrilling accounts of a still widely unknown continent. The most shining example of the adventures possible gave the rescue of Livingstone in 1871. After several spectacular journeys this man disappeared in central southern Africa in 1869. H. M. Stanley, a journalist for the New York Herald, tracked him down in 1871. With his famous words "Doctor Livingstone, I presume" he created a legend. Livingstone refused to come with him and died two years later. The epic tale was completed by the embalming of his body and the transfer 1600 km through the wilderness by his loyal servants. This was the kind of story the public longed for. The time was ripe for more adventure tales.

In the nineteenth century archaeology provided plenty of incentives for the imagination. The discovery of ancient ruins inspired theories about lost civilisations which were seen as forebears of the European. Especially the discovery of the ruins of Great Zimbabwe in 1871 gave rise to rumours that they might have been built be the legendary King Solomon. Rider Haggard himself believed them to be of Phoenician origin (Street, 89). The denial of the possibility of a genuine African origin is a good example of the extreme euro-centristic perception. Moreover, 'European' ruins in Africa apparently gave proof of an ancient colonising civilisation which was in a similar position as that of the British. It used native labour for exploitation and was in constant fear of their force. "The situation serves both as outlet for real fears of African resistance, and as a wish-fulfilment: black Africans are blamed for erasing imperial history" (Chrisman, 51). The ancient civilisation weakened, and eventually succumbed to the 'natural' African force.

His writings are the result of time and society. The degree to which Haggard responded intentionally is hard to establish. The more so because I only know a very limited amount first hand. For an assessment I mainly have to rely on other sources. I hope the discussion of the novel and the material will give sufficient evidence to my ideas.

3. Changes

To understand the state of society in that time it is necessary to take several aspects into account. Naturally, it is just impossible to describe the beginning of Modernity in detail. However, it should be possible to point to the most prominent developments in the second half of the nineteenth century. Some of these processes occurred separately and independently, some were reinforcing and accelerating each other. It was also the beginning of the expansion of government coming along with more taxes, more supervision and more regulation of life (Wood, 332).

Most intriguing when reading about this time is the ferocious pace of technical progress. Just to list the important inventions made at that time is amazing. There are many fundamental discoveries in every field that are still crucial for science till this day which clearly shows how revolutionary this process was.

Around the middle of the nineteenth century when the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace took place England was the centre and unchallenged forerunner of industrialisation. The new technical possibilities seemed to offer the solution for every pressing problem. Technology promised to bring salvation. The honeymoon lasted not too long. Instead it contributed to the destruction of the old order and showed its ugly face in the form of dire working conditions, housing shortages, regulated life and social upheaval. Men like Dickens, Arnold and Ruskin had a vivid sense of the horrors of early Victorian urbanisation. Soon, uneasiness about the capability of science to solve social problems began creeping into the minds.

The old elite lost its source of wealth and prestige. The repeal of the corn laws in 1846 had no immediate radical effects. The prices and rents remained high. In the long run, however, the opening up of new agricultural land in the USA, Canada, Argentina and New Zealand combined with steam ploughing and thrashing, better fertilisers and cheap transport led to a general fall in food prices (Richards,220-225). The triple expansion engine allowed faster journeys with less re-supply stops. Newly introduced refrigerator ships made import of meat possible. The old rural system could not compete with the new highly efficient producers of food.

The new entrepreneurial investor soon was -at least in regard of material wealth- to supersede the old landed aristocracy. For the ordinary farm-worker it was an ambiguous affair: He was free to go where he wished, at last he had gained independence and suffrage. On the other side he had lost his secure environment. The new freedom often meant displacement. The old environment, deeply-rooted in the mind, could not accommodate its inhabitants anymore. The cities became magnets for the uprooted masses. There, life was different. Industrialisation meant disturbance, pollution ,and most importantly, submission under the rigid demands of a strictly rationalised machinery. The old way of life might have been cumbersome but at least it had offered a comprehensive system of immutable values. The swelling of the cities unavoidably led to the emergence of the age of the masses.

But this was not all. Human mind always tries to respond and find explanations for the things going on around it. The spatial and physical expansion of English civilisation, the increase in power and influence went along with a loss of spirituality. The better understanding of how things worked reduced the need for an almighty God. Scientism, the belief that "science is the guide to all reasoning and will provide answers to all questions which can reasonably be asked" (Rojek, 107), apparently was steadily diminishing the remaining realm of the supernatural forces. This stood in direct opposition to the belief in a divine will and the static model of existence. World and action were not based on God anymore but on rational principles.

Another important factor which greatly influenced the condition of the mind is the so- called Darwinian Revolution. After his famous voyage on the Beagle Charles Darwin was able to argue convincingly that biological life was not created in a single act by God some thousand years ago but that it has evolved in a struggle for survival during millions of years. In his book ‘Origin of Species’ first published in 1858 he traced the origins of humankind and apes back to one common ancestor. After the Copernican Revolution this was another de-centring of humankind. The belief in the uniqueness and sameness to God had to cede ground several times before, however, this blow proved fatal. The direct connection with God was questioned, the uniqueness and superiority of the white race doubted. A little bit later on, Freud and his psychoanalysis even undermined the myth of innocent childhood. Everything which seemed secure and eternal not even a generation ago at the heyday of Queen Victoria’s reign had proven fragile and unstable. The manifold effects of what we today call Modernity have let to an unprecedented fracture in human history. The swift change of the social world towards a more material tilt which according to Karl Marx came along with the alienation of the working masses or as Max Weber has termed it rationalisation combined with uncertainty of the position of the self . Worshipping the religion of science could not offer real consolation in the chaos of new ideas. The spiritual void caused by the collapse of the traditional belief had to be filled.

In our time we are accustomed to change. For the contemporaries of Pre-Modernity all this was baffling, amazing and frightening. The accustomed continuum of space and time did not exist anymore. Some identify Modernity with the institutionalising of change and its ever accelerating momentum. When these processes became perceptible for the first time it meant that the old, reliable, and known structures had become fragile under the onslaught of change. It meant the prevalence of the city over the village, of industry over the farm, and of the worker over the peasant.

With the dissolution of the old, feudal structures the individual lost his warmth and security of his place in the old society. Man no longer was in touch with nature. City life forced him to lead an alienated existence determined by machines. Machines demand standardised input and provide standardised output. To exist he had to submit to the rigour imposed by industrial production. For the German sociologist Max Weber this development ended in ‘dem eisernen Gehäuse der Hörigkeit’. Personal freedom which had been won through Enlightenment, was lost to the unleashed system of capitalism.

"On the one hand, there was, for example, the inherited system of the universe. There was God, whose wondrous hand the nightly stars hymned as of old. There was an intricate and reasonably formed universe which He had invented, and everywhere traces of His handiwork could be found. There was the Anglican Church as by law established. There was man, who certainly had a body, and who it was presumed, as even Shelley admitted, to have a spirit and probably a soul. There were the Queen, God bless her, and England’s wooden walls, and the Duke of Wellington. In fact, there was a noble world inhabited by noble beings. And then there came crashing down on the Victorians a bewildering variety of changes, discoveries, and revolutions." (Baker, 22)

4. Ways of Escape

What was the reaction to all this? How were the pressures accommodated and diverted respectively?

England, no doubt, was the motherland of industrialisation, it was also the much admired example of gradual change and adaptation without the necessity of having a revolution. The old feudal way of thinking had somehow managed to preserve itself and enabled a smooth transition without the tumultuous and disturbing disruptions experienced in other countries. It had ceased to be a practical alternative, nevertheless, it still proved to be pivotal for the mental balance. Even after the beginning of the demise of the landed aristocracy the archetype of the gentleman who himself strove for the old aristocratic ideals was still in place (Wiener, 16). To preserve the old way differentiation from the new was a viable solution. The Gothic revival and romanticism were movements to counter the threatening impact of Modernity. They offered comfort to all who felt more and more estranged in a rational world. Recalling pastoral contemplation, living in harmony with rural tranquillity and stability, indulging in unspoilt natural grandeur was the much desired retreat. After the British Empire had reached its climax gnawing doubts about the sustainability of her might were only an understandable reaction. How could it be preserved, how could it be prevented from sliding into decadence like the Roman Empire did? The regression of fantasy in the imperial Gothic (Brantlinger, 246) was a reaction to this where the rise could be relived.

"The countryside of the mind was everything industrial society was not - ancient,slow-moving, stable, 'spiritual', preserving. The English genius, it declared, was (despite appearances) not economic or technical, but social and spiritual. [...] its greatest task -and achievement- lay in taming and ‘civilizing’ the dangerous engines of progress it had unwittingly unleashed." (Wiener, 6).

On the other hand, the sexualisation of landscapes points to more carnal processes. The apparently morally impeccable adventures of the heroes take place in sensual stimulating surroundings which undeniably bear feminine characteristics. In order to provide comprehensive satisfaction the imperial Gothic excited oppressed fantasies of the readers (Brantlinger 246).

The state of mind was not oriented towards ever faster progress and material gain, instead it tried to find support in the 'proven', reliable world of the past. The construction and pretence of an 'intact' surrounding with the family at its core was the result. What today appears to be hypocritical Victorian values and norms forcing the individual into rigid codes of behaviour can be seen as a defensive reaction to uncontrollable and overwhelming discoveries not only in regard to the external but particularly to the internal state. The thoughts of Darwin were utilised for egoistic objectives. If life was evolutionising towards ever better life forms it seemed obvious that the own civilisation must be at the peak of the development. The present achievement was the example for all the others to follow. It was clear, though, that the murky past had its roots in the uncivilised savage. Confidence in the thoroughness of evolution could not be absolute. The dim perception that the very core of one’s own might not be what it was supposed to be was disturbing. The absoluteness of knowledge of older times was not secure anymore. The feeling of insecurity and uncertainty provoked a determined display of one’s own strength in012

5. Imperialism

The rise of imperialism comple[men]ted the decay of the old values. In Britain colonialism had a long and successful history. During much of the nineteenth century no other nation could come near. The rapid economic development of the United States and Germany diminished the fantastic industrial lead the United Kingdom had. The new economic might of the competitors enabled them to seek colonies themselves. Although the annexation of new colonies used to be a gradual and mainly commercially inspired affair it mutated into a scramble for the biggest territories. In imperialistic times prestige was more important than costs. Seizure of alien territory, its annexation to make it part of the own system meant the indisputable control instead of tedious but more profitable trade-inspired relationships. In the first half of the century British supremacy had been almost unchallenged, it now had to be 'harder', it had to bear more tangible results as a demonstration of power.

Besides the prestige, expansion into space offered a pressure relieving valve for internal tensions. It was the proof despite all doubts of the superiority of one’s own race and civilisation. The redirection of suppressed internal forces to the outward and other provided an elegant solution for the desire to rule. The own ego could experience the soothing effects of potency and elusive certainty of superiority. 'The White Man's Burden' even called for a crusade to bring civilisation to the savages. Conquering the barbarous tribes would shorten their painful task of becoming civilised. It, therefore, was a moral duty to install order and spread the own superior civilisation over the globe. Scientific theories of race substantiated the imperial drive. Moreover, there were other beneficial things: expansion would provide a place for the middle and working-classes for settlement. It would secure the supply of cheap labour and raw materials, also it prevented other competitors from gaining advantage (Richards, 150). Another meaningful aspect certainly did play its part. The deep-routed conviction that one’s own values were the right order which had its embodiment in the Victorian family made itself noticeable in a quite sincere humanistic belief (Baker, 97). The intention of benevolent intervention of the imperialists should not be denied altogether.

6. The Other within - the Other abroad

I have tried to outline important factors in the imperial frame of mind. The inconsistencies between outward expansion and internal scepticism should have become visible.

It was a dilemma: One could not totally be sure of the thoroughness of the civilised self. Strict rules and codes of behaviour helping to uphold intact Victorian appearance also meant loss of natural instincts. "The thorough artificiality of modern life creates constant anxieties about the nature of our real feelings" (Rojek, 212). Rationalisation was a genuine threat to the own basic nature. The Other was the counter-part or the counterweight to the uninspiring existence in a mass society. The Other was the disturbing, powerful and hidden part of the self which could not be let into the open. It meant suppression of instincts which consumes considerable psychological energy resulting in a feeling of uneasiness. "The Victorians were so bent on being moral that they ignored the unpleasant aspects of life" (Baker, 22). The Victorian self thus lived in a modern world which was a prison of self-denial, anguish and alienation (Rojek, 207). The basic urge was to reinstate the original, happier state. That was, of course, one’s idealised and purified past; the exact opposite of the existence in the metropolis. The subdued pressures had to be redirected. This was partly achieved by projecting inner conflicts and desires onto other non-Victorian, i.e. less developed societies who lived in a still rural environment. Ignoring at home, seeking abroad was the directive. The colonies especially in Africa contributed an ideal setting for this.

Sub-Saharan Africa could be seen as the antithesis to Europe: uncivilised, savage, illiterate, widespread belief in superstition, and finally, black. There was the place where raw power untamed by civilisation ruled. It also fitted nicely into the Darwinistic imperialist theory. On the one-dimensional human development index the natives clearly ranked much lower. The Africans represented human society at an early stage, in its infancy. The lack of (European) rules and the sensuousness were things not allowed in British society. It was the ideal laboratory for finding the lost uncivilised part of oneself and for bringing the backward savages closer to civilisation. Through identification of the European past with the African present the link was established between the other within and the other abroad. The blacks seen as children they became a mirror for the whites. In them all the good and evil of the unspoilt natural state became visible. This constituted the seducing lure to the imperial mind, it was the a three-fold opportunity: First, the spread of British ideals and values, which undoubtedly was patriotic. The more English the world, the better for it. Colonising thus was a duty, it even was a moral one. "'Parent' races are obliged to treat children like a father" (Street, 68). In this view imperialism mutated into an expression of patriotism. Second, encounter the savage within via the real savage abroad. "The notion of the primitive as the childhood of civilised man and woman offered comfort to the tormented soul. The return to an unspoilt world would be a renewal of the own be recapitulating the rise of race" (Bivona, 76). In doing so one would comprehend and relive the early stages of socialisation. This detour allowed the liberation and relaxation of one’s own captivated instincts with the thrill of succumbing to them. The classical rite of passage which 0

7. King Solomon's Mines

The story line itself is quite clear-cut. First comes the introduction of the heroes and we learn the reason of the quest, the search for Sir Henry Curtis' brother. The party goes with some servants to a far away kingdom where they struggle and after a glorious battle defeat their foes. They reinstate the rightful order and introduce some humanistic, more modern amendments. After another adventure making them rich they embark on their journey home, and complete their quest by finding the lost brother.

This, in short, is the story of King Solomon's Mines. On first sight it looks like hundreds of other, less known adventure stories. In order to reveal the appeal of the book its single components will be reviewed individually. Hopefully, a scheme should become visible in the end.

Allan Quatermain, the narrator, begins the story with a description of himself as a trader, miner and above all hunter (Haggard, 7). Obviously he is a man prepared for deserved retirement after many adventures. The hunter is more used to a rifle than a pen which makes the sometimes clumsy style of the book pardonable but mostly his lucid and intelligible language creates a dense and electrifying atmosphere. Right from the beginning Allan Quatermain is explaining his values, especially that he never kills other humans but in self-defence. "I've killed many men in my time, but I have never slain wantonly or stained my hand in innocent blood, only in self defence" (Haggard, 9-10). Interestingly, he is not fond of battle and tries, if possible, to avoid direct contact with the enemy. "I am, to be honest, a bit of a coward and certainly in no way given to fighting" (Haggard, 223). He prefers to use his wit instead of brute force. But even he, in the event of the great battle feels his "bosom burn with martial ardour". Quatermain's experience and caution help the party to survive dangerous situations. This recommends him as the mental leader of the group. In his reflections about life it becomes clear that there is a greater force behind the scene. He does not hesitate to act according to it. Decisions are made by yielding to overwhelming inner promptings, therefore, the ability to act according to free will is limited, but faith enables fortuitous escapes from apparently inescapable situations (Katz, 93-95). On various occasions he shows his fatalistic believe. Before the decisive battle he muses "and there rushed in upon my heart a great sense of the mystery of human life, and an overwhelming sorrow at its futility and sadness" (Haggard, 197). He is a down to earth man and only believes what he sees. Science is a tool nothing more and does not deserve detailed description.

Sir Henry Curtis' search for his brother is the reason for their adventure. According to Quatermain he is "one of the biggest-chested and longest armed men" he ever saw (Haggard, 11). Obviously of splendid appearance he must be in command of considerable physical strength. Combined with yellow hair and reminding Quatermain of an "ancient Dane" as an allusion to the Vikings his features make him a warrior. An impression later validated when he shows courage in the titanic battle with Twala.

The third of the white heroes is Captain Good, a retired naval officer who has "always been just the best and bravest and nicest fellows I ever met, though given the use of profane language" (Haggard, 12). He, too, has typical characteristics lending him singularity. With the help of his white magic, profane things like false teeth and a glass eye, he establishes the whites as sorcerers. Fortunately, he is a decent surgeon, a quality not naturally to be expected from a ordinary naval officer. He falls in love with Foulata, a beautiful black girl who later conveniently dies at Gagool's hands. Lest he does not get into the morally precarious situation of mixed race partnership.

The heroes exemplify those virtues which have raised the Englishman above the rest of the world (Hogg, 139). Most importantly, they represent their civilisation. In succeeding they prove the moral superiority of gentlemanly ideals like loyalty, honour, fair play and belief in absolute truths. Their characteristics derive from carefully drafted stereotypes: Allan Quatermain must certainly be the kind of typical hunter readers with little knowledge will imagine. His muted courage and caution make him appear closer to ordinary people and give him credibility. Similar observations can be made for the other two: The strong Nobleman, the sympathetic Naval officer. Characters not totally unrealistic but with certain marked qualities making it easy for the reader to identify himself with. Conspicuous is the lack of discontent. The heroes act like one person and never have diverging opinions. There is no complicating feature in their characters. They are clear-cut, stereotypical and unflawed. "The figures represent dominance of a particular dogmatic view of life" (Bleiler, 22).

The only African who is given individuality is Umbopa. His features are salient. He is very tall, handsome-looking with European lips and very light skin (sic!). He always keeps his dignity and does not appear as a servant. Importantly, he has spent most of his life under whites, so he knows their way of life and values. He represents the secular leader standing for a new, enlightened way of life; a good example for a native hero. Umbopa is the only African to know how the white magic works, and he keeps his knowledge to himself. He is frequently admonished to "rule justly, to respect the law, and to put none to death without cause" (Haggard, 306). In the end Umbopa willingly promises to implement European values. The rightful king does have qualities of a gentleman like honour, dignity and courage. In the decisive battle he tells his soldiers not to kill the wounded enemies.

The other Africans are clearly divided into two groups: the innocent and the evil.

Two of them are of some importance: Infadoos represents trust and integrity and is a skilful warrior but he remains ignorant of the real origin of the whites and takes their magic for granted. And especially Foulata, the alluring girl to whom Good falls in love. She is the incarnation of the beautiful, servile and desirable woman. She is the proof of the good and sensuous aspects of the other. But love cannot be. Foulata herself is glad to die because "he cannot cumber his life with such as me, for the sun cannot mate with the darkness, nor the white with the black" (Haggard, 281). Her renunciation of miscegenation, even if this makes death preferable to life, is necessary to forestall contamination of the own self with threatening sensuousness (Scheick, 28).

The innocent generally appear child-like, they exhibit innocent wonder and amazement and are not able to question the white magic. In their ignorance and naiveté they, in the beginning, almost appear as comical figures. The simple tricks performed by Quatermain and his companions serve as a convenient and dramatic symbol of the gullibility of primitive people (Street, 47-55) and shows the unseriousness of native superstition and faith, respectively. Their childish awe designates them as innocent children ignorant of higher truths. The Kukuanas, though, do have physical and militaristic qualities. They strikingly resemble the Zulus of South Africa which is not only indicated by their similar language but the way they fight. They offer a picture of how the Zulus were before the white man arrived and how Haggard wished them to stay.

"The Zulus in Rider Haggard’s time were still among the most alarming people on the dark continent. [...] Their loud battlecry was Usuthu! Usuthu! (King Cetewayo’s personal war cry), and they carried shields of white hide, against which they bumped their assegais while they ran along attacking their enemies. [...] They wore ear-flaps of green monkey skin and high ostrich plumes, and usually they were splendid of appearance." (Hogg, 75)

The Kukuanas are fine and brave warriors, in battle they die by the thousands, creating a gory and simultaneously gripping atmosphere. This truly is heroic, and in an epic battle it is almost a merit to die. Quatermain expresses appreciation of their bravery: "Never before had I seen such an absolute devotion to the idea of duty, in such a complete indifference to its bitter fruits" (Haggard, 218). In their struggle to free themselves from barbaric practices they are transformed from savages into men (Bass, 266).

Twala, the usurper of the throne, is the archetype of the evil warrior. He is the strongest fighter of the Kukuanas, a natural match for Curtis. He has to look ugly, because he is the evil counterpart, that means his features are particularly negroid: flat nose, big lips. He has introduced arbitrary slaughter. Delicately, his "whole expression was cruel and sensual to a degree" (Haggard, 141) alluding to the carnal temptation by the savage.

Gagool represents the old pagan world all complete with bloodlust, barbarism, disorder, cruelty and black magic. She is the antithesis to the English gentleman, the pure evil. Her appearance is as unpleasant as is her voice. Gagool invented the evil rituals and has unsatiable blood thirst. Quatermain misses no possibility to mention her wickedness and vulture-like features. She is the only one who holds the entire heathen knowledge including the way to the diamonds. Her apparent immortality symbolises the eternal female threat. Foulata is the one side of the medal and Gagool is the other.

All evil is concentrated on those two figures (and Scragga who has a short intermezzo) and is easily identifiable; with their doom the Kukuana society is freed from barbaric customs allowing a precise removal without residue and aftereffects. The soldiers dying for Twala are just obeying their orders, they are not associated with the bad.

The quality of the characters coincide with their appearance. The good are handsome with amiable attitudes, the bad are ugly and repelling with evil, irrational believes. There are no surprises and no inner revelation save the annihilation of the bad and the acceptance of the whites and their superiority by the good and innocent, respectively.

In the course of the novel our heroes encounter several life-threatening crises. After some intense and in detail depicted moments they succeed. What they experience is pure: Hot deserts and cold mountains, in fact hotter and colder than real ones; truly evil antagonists and noble savages willing to accept and learn from the English. There is no blurred front-line. Everything appears to have its exactly defined place and function. It is an ideal setting for adventurous experience needed for apocalyptic purification. The background is a grandiose natural scenery described in metaphorical language. Wilderness is associated with strength, independence and freedom (Rojek, 198). It is somewhat refreshing to indulge in descriptions of dawning like this one:

"Then there came faint rays of primrose light, that changed presently the golden bars, through which the dawn glided out across the desert. The stars grew pale and paler still till at last they vanished; the golden moon waxed wan, and her mountain ridges stood out clear against her sickly face like the bones of the face of a dying man; then came spear after spear of glorious light flashing far away across the boundless wilderness, piercing and firing the veils of mist, till the desert was draped in a tremulous golden glow, and it was day." (Haggard, 76)

Nature is even appreciated in the most dire of situations. It contributes important passive stimulation, but not only in regard to innocent appreciation of its beauty but also in the more or less sublime allusions to sexuality and sensuousness. It is odd to read about breasts and nipples in context to a mountain passage. The direct conferment of female characteristics to features of landscape indicate the womanisation of nature. Direct, carnal satisfaction was not acceptable. Substituting the female body by nature enables our heroes to experience sensuousness without having to break the Victorian morale code.

The original search for the brother is soon superseded by the search for material wealth which itself cedes ground to the idealistic struggle with the evil. After accomplishing the most noble task, the English do not forget the lure of material wealth. A purely idealistic reward is too sentimental and unsatisfying. Visions of big game, ivory and diamonds are implying boundless African wealth waiting for exploitation; an opportunity not to be missed. Eventually, the encounter with the lost brother and the save journey back home close the circle.

Two stylistic peculiarities are remarkable: General descriptions of land and people are made from an aerial perspective (Hogg, 35). From atop there seems only to be serenity, sheer wonder and Kukuanaland appears as dreamland. It is the repository and sphere of relaxation. However, this peace is short-lived. Our heroes are intermittently forced to descend to a lower position to fight their battles. Down, there is thirst, hunger, danger, intrigue, fight and death. In short human misery which they have to overcome and correct. It is the level where the English have to prove themselves and where they can show their virtues. This is the place of adventure and initiation where a gentleman must go to complete himself, where the past persists in the present (Bivona, 83-85). The three never hesitate to do what they regard as their duty or fate, and never hesitate to defend their honour. The initiation consists of the temporary shedding of the civilised cloak. For a moment the English nobleman is a savage himself, he walks around in leopard skin and ostrich feathers complete with all paraphernalia of a native warrior general (Haggard, 200). In battle the Europeans succumb to blood lust. Elaborated detail is given to the description of Sir Henry Curtis. "There he stood, the great Dane, for he was nothing else, his hands, his axe, and his armour, all red with blood, and none could live before his stroke" (Haggard, 226). The repression of savage instincts at home gives way to their explosion in uncivilised parts of the Empire. It is a rite of passage par excellence: Going into the wilderness, overcoming physical hardships, descending to the savage state and finally re-emerging as atruly accomplished gentleman. It is like experiencing one’s own birth and evolution from an innocent savage into the civilised adult. Purification from restricting ballast and thus reconciliation with urban life back home is achieved. The Kukuanas, too, experience a development of mind: from innocent and harmless children to more enlightened and yet pre-modern people.

When the party leaves no modern achievements like guns, alcohol, telegraphs are going to be introduced into Kukuanaland. Umbopa himself assures that "no other white man shall cross the mountains [...]. 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" (Haggard, 306). The English have reinstated order, the way of living and the land will be preserved in the old, pre-industrial state. The whites only bring about changes of attitude. They never doubt the legitimate wish to preserve the culture of the tribe. Yet, "the great Englishman was looked on throughout Kukuanaland as a supernatural being" (Haggard, 243). This is a more subtle form of imperialism. In a limited feat Quatermain and his friends have made the place a bit more British without spoiling it with material civilisation. On top of it, the natives are over-awed by the whites. The hierarchical order is reconfirmed and unchanged. Both sides have profited, the Kukuanas by gaining English wisdom and regaining their rightful king, the Europeans by relief of their suppressed desires and by strong impressions of the vitality of the savages and not least their dignity.

8. Conclusion

In the course of this paper the major evolutions should have become clear. Rider Haggard lived in a time challenging the way of life he grew up and believed in. His fiction shows precise links with the historical era, allusions to Empire are evident. His work, especially King Solomon's Mines contains attempts to reconcile the malcontents of his time in various ways. An adventure story, of course, has to have real heroes, dangers, mean enemies and advantageously upright allies set in appealing exotic environment. The knack is how Rider Haggard has managed to amalgamate several aims into one book.

He provided unspoilt natural settings appealing more to the senses than to the mind (Katz, 30-32). The enticing freedom of an undeveloped landscape increasingly difficult to find in urbanising England is the ideal recluse for the tormented soul. Rider Haggard's attachment to the rural way of life is given expression in the symbolic exclusion of industrialism, 'his' landscapes are untouched by it. The heroes of his fiction only use the most essential equipment in their task. More sophisticated technical machinery is not necessary and would deprive them of the possibility to prove themselves. Haggard's Romanticism is the combination of individuality and nature bearing the outward mark of humanity. His characters are set free from time, place and history. They embark on a special vacation and distinctive mission promising repose in pre-modern environments. Simultaneously, it is a rite of passage providing the freedom not obtainable in Victorian society. The heroes (like their counterparts) are idealised figures with gentleman values, flattering alter egos for the Victorians (their counterparts are the incorporated antithesis to everything holy). In their quest they remind one of medieval knights fighting for the good. As a matter of course, the good is modelled after eternal, English ideals. Rider Haggard's romance does not take place in an ideology-free area, it is a crusade against heathenism. The noble savages are patronised in a soft way, they do not offer resistance to outside influence. Through his own experience it was possible for Haggard to describe the native realistically; it is impossible to decide where facts end and fiction begins. The real native life is not described, just as little as real European life is. The savages incorporate the life hidden behind the rules of English society. But the contact is restricted, the possibility of fusion of black and white is out of discussion, the social one-dimensional hierarchy is not put into doubt, the unity of black and whites remains a unity of unequals. King Solomon's Mines propagates the idea of humankind completely in harmony with nature and with imperial ideology. "The imperial champion disposes of the native tyrant and resolves the antagonistic confrontation between western culture and African tribalism (Bass, 267). The Other is not just the setting for the quest it also offers an idealised model of pre-industrial society, where forgotten virtues can be found. It also symbolises the barbaric self which is tamed in the end. Native militarism is a model for preparedness forestalling foreign invasion and for perseverance of audacity, thus preventing deterioration and decadence.

Rider Haggard was successful because he was able to write according to the reader’s wishes and desires. But he also wrote according to his ideals which were less jingoistic and decidedly less chauvinistic than those of many other writers. He shows true admiration for the Zulus and advocated cultural integrity for them. "[...] supported by arguments about the superiorities of the white races and their obvious destiny of rule. It is, I confess, one that I look upon as little short of wicked. I could never discern a superiority so great in ourselves as it were, to destroy the coloured man and take his lands. It is difficult to see why a Zulu for instance, has not as much right to live in his own way as a Boer or an Englishman" (Haggard in Hogg, 74). Definitely he is not a white-man's-burden advocate in showing high respect for natives. His objective is more concerned with the own inner world.

He was a child of his time, though. King Solomon's Mines does depict imperial values and ideals combined with Romanticism. Yet, they are muted and principled by humane interest. For Haggard the demise of the old world was occasioned by the over- development or over-refinement of the own culture. In going too far humanity was in the process of losing its ideals; it had trespassed into inhuman, rationalistic territory causing a sense of guilt for the destruction of the innocent (self). Materialism obstructed the view to one’s own roots. King Solomon's Mines tries to give direction for the disoriented reconfirming gentlemanly values. The successful outcome of the adventure corrects inconsistencies within the imperial vision (Bass, 260). Feelings of sins and wrongs give place to an ideal state of mind reconciled with Victorian reality. "The adventures enables the individual to slip momentarily through the reality net of every day life" (Rojek, 103). The reader could experience almost forgotten sensations and feel -at least in the imagination- a bit less constrained. A temporary and not totally disconnected slip with secured and mandatory return.

Haggard managed to put several contradictory things together in his book. He reconciles idealism, romanticism and materialism. The heroes return richer not only in experience but also in wealth. Material wealth goes hand in hand with personal purity of heart expressed by not doing (i.e. no conquering, no utilising and most of all not spoiling the natives) and with purification achieved through bloody battle. Besides this, Arcadia or Kukuanaland was made a better place with relieved people. The book appealed to the Zeitgeist; combined with the imaginative quality of Rider Haggard's writing it was highly appealing to the masses. While reading it all uncertainties vanished behind adventure and danger. The book elegantly succeeds in treating many concerns of the time in a satisfying and reconciling way. The fact that the book is still readable today is proof enough of Rider Haggard's ability to instil stimulation and excitement in the modern reader. Who does not dream at times of becoming an adventurer and forget about all this complicated, dreadful daily routine.

9. Bibliography

Baker, Joseph E. (ed.), 1950: The Reinterpretation of Victorian Literature, Princeton (Princeton University Press).

Bass, Jeff D., 1981: The Romance as Rhetorical Dissociation: The Purification of Imperialism in King Solomon’s Mines, in The Quarterly Journal of Speech 67, 259-69.

Bivona, Daniel, 1990: Desire and Contradiction, Manchester (Manchester University Press). Bleiler, E. F. (ed.), 1982: Science Fiction Writers, New York (Scribner’s), 19-24.

Brantlinger, Patrick, 1988: Rule of Darkness - British Literature and Imperialism, 1830-1914, London (Cornell University Press).

Chrisman, Laura, 1990: The imperial unconscious? Representations of imperial discourse, in Critical Quarterly 32(3) (Oxford), 39-58.

Ellis, Peter B., 1978: H. Rider Haggard - A Voice from the Infinite, London (Routledge and Henley).

Haggard, Rider, 1989: King Solomon's Mines, Oxford (Penguin).

Hogg, James, 1984: ‘King Romance’: Rider Haggard’s Achievement, Salzburg (Universität Salzburg).

Katz, Wendy R. , 1987: Rider Haggard and the fiction of Empire: A Critical Study of British Imperial Fiction, Cambridge (Cambridge University Press).

Richards, Denis and Anthony Quick, 1967: Britain 1851-1945, Harlow (Longman). Rojek, Chris, 1993: Ways of Escape, London (MacMillan Press).

Scheick, William J. , 1991: Adolescent Pornography and Imperialism in Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines, in English literature in transition 34, 19-30.

Street, Brian V., 1975: The savage in literature - Representations of ‘primitive’ society in English fiction 1858-1920, London (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd).

Wiener, Martin J., 1981: English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850-1980, London (Cambridge University Press).

Wood, Anthony, 1960: Nineteenth Century Britain: 1815-1914, London (Longman).


File size
501 KB
Catalog Number
Ways Escape Rider Haggard`s King Solomon`s Mines English Seminar




Title: Ways of Escape in Rider Haggard`s King Solomon`s Mines