The old Puffin paperback of King Solomon’s Mines has sat on my bookshelves for thirty years. The shelves are newer, the book is the same but yellowed and worn, bought new in a London shop when I was a kid.
King Solomon’s Mines is funny and exciting and damn well written. Allan Quatermain narrates in a smart empire-loving tone, and it suits the tale of the adventures of Quartermain, Captain Good, and Sir Henry. The detail is startling and cool, whether describing landscapes or people. Here is his first impression of Captain Good:
He was so very neat and so very clean-shaved, and he always wore an eye-glass in his right eye. It seemed to grow there, for it had no string, and he never took it out except to wipe it. At first I thought he used to sleep in it, but afterwards I found that this was a mistake. He put it in his trousers pocket when he went to bed, together with his false teeth, of which he had two beautiful sets that, my own being none of the best, have often caused me to break the tenth commandment.
The colonial posturing is amusing now, as is the degradation of natives. But the suspense and adventure holds up, whether our heroes are struggling to stave off dying from thirst, or stalking elephants for a hunt. Might have to read more Haggard.