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H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines (1885) is worth listening to if for no other reason than because of its seminal influence on the adventure genre, especially of the "lost world" or "planetary romance" variety wherein an intrepid hero explores an exotic hidden civilization in an inaccessible place and thereby acts as a catalyst for Big Change, ala Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard.
Allan Quartermain, who leads the expedition to King Solomon's mines hidden among the mountains of Africa and finds much more than he expected, is an interesting narrator-protagonist: honest, middle-aged, experienced, physically unimposing, and none too brave. The story he tells is variously suspenseful, violent, humorous, horrifying, moving, and sublime. Its views of animals ("beasts" to be hunted for food or sport), of women (baby-bearers, damsels in distress, or witches ideally to be avoided), of indigenous people ("natives" not to be mated with or lived among permanently) are unpleasant to me today. But Quartermain also impressively (given his Victorian era) admires exceptional "natives" and recognizes them as being at least the equal of their white counterparts, pointedly refuses to use the n-word, poignantly depicts an inter-racial romance, and even expresses the destructive side of the involvement of white "civilization" with native cultures. And the story has neat themes about the dangerous pursuit of wealth, the transitory nature of life, the wonders of nature, and the mysteries of the past.
The reader, Toby Stephens, does an excellent job breathing wit and life into the characters; I particularly enjoyed his Gagaoola, the wizened, wicked, possibly immortal, stick-like crone, whose raspy high-pitched merry malevolence was appealingly creepy to hear. An entertaining listen indeed.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
I discovered this book after watching League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and learning that Sean Connery's character in the movie, Allen Quatermain, is taken from HR Haggard's books.
This story is unlikely to disappointment fans of Indiana Jones-type adventure; the plot is well-written and only occasionally requires suspension of disbelief to get through. The narration as well is very good. Overall, a remarkable novel from a different time.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
What made the experience of listening to King Solomon's Mines the most enjoyable?
Toby Stephens' reading. I tried reading this book in my teens (in the 1980s) but ground to a halt through boredom. I tried again in 2013 but was suffering from depression and couldn't finish any book. I nearly gave up on the audio last week, but persisted, thanks to Stephens' enthusiasm, diversity of voices for the characters, and the fact that it does get interesting again about halfway through.
What was the most interesting aspect of this story? The least interesting?
Haggard's respect for other cultures. Don't get me wrong, he is a product of his time, and there are some "let's laugh at the gullible [black people]" moments. By way of example, the hoary old chestnut of the convenient eclipse gets a look in here (forgivable as it has been used this way in real life). Let's hope a few black astronomers get to laugh at Haggard for thinking the darkness lasts a full hour, or for thinking that there will be moonlight on the night after a total solar eclipse. The book also repeats an unquestioned maxim that black and white couples cannot marry.
Which scene did you most enjoy?
The exploration of the actual mines. Anyone who has played Tomb Raider is going to feel at home! But it's more the journey than particular scenes.
There are a number of scenes which were probably much better received in 1885 than in 2015, notably the half-shaven Good scene (which was apparently blatant plagiarism).
Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?
No. As I say, I had to force myself to continue. A fairly early scene, in which our heroes massacre a herd of elephants, is not great for character identification.
Any additional comments?
If you're interested in the Lost World genre, it's good to get this one under your belt, as it was the first.
4 of 4 people found this review helpful
Chose this audiobook as I had never read the original story. A simple adventure that is a little dated now but still worth listening to. Nicely narrated by Toby Stephens.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
Toby Stephens as a narrator is so versatile and brings so much depth to each of the characters. A very enjoyable "read".
Also it's Captain Flint from Black Sails reading to me on my drive home...come on..It's the greatest.