King Soloman's Mines:
This is a classic adventure story taking the form of a long letter from Alan Quartermain to his brother, in which he narrates his experiences in search of a lost Englishman who was on a quest to find the legendary diamond mines of King Soloman.
It is presented straightforwardly and suffers from being somewhat predictable with regard to the plot, but it shows the prevalent attitudes of its time and location just as well as, say, Tess of the D'urbevilles does its time and location. Some of those attitudes make the book slightly unsettling in an unintentional way, as they are (hopefully) not widespread these days.
Only the second Quartermain adventure and already there are signs of a formula: Another long letter from the hero, another journey into unexplored African territory, another isolated civilisation... The main characters from the first are all present and correct along with a new adventurer, Alphonse, who seems to be mainly for comic relief but actually serves vital plot functions, too.
Quartermain's attitudes to the natives are somewhat contradictory - he spends considerable time at the start suggesting that white folk aren't so different from "savages" being only 1 part in 20 civilised and otherwise just as savage as the savages, but just the use of "savage" all the time suggests that his respect isn't quite as strong as it could be...and terrible stereotypes of "gentlemanly" and "savage" behaviour occur through-out. It seems Quartermain and Haggard were not entirely free of the conventional views of their time but then, nor am I with respect to my time. I shouldn't be too harsh, I suppose.
Quartermain (or Haggard?) has a bit of a weapons fetish; an inordinate length of time is spent describing Umslopogass's battle-axe and there is additional description of the various fire-arms the expedition carries but there is an ironic incident where the Heap Big White Hunters get themselves into deep and protracted trouble because they shot a bunch of inoffensive animals just to show off.
The story itself is fun, though daft, just like its predecessor and is best when events happen apace; when Quartermain stops off to spend an entire chapter describing the local culture it gets a little tedious and shows that Haggard lacked the technique to supply the information without such heavy doses of exposition. Lesser examples of the same problem also occur. The action and comedy on the other hand, is well handled, though perhaps the humour would not be to everybody's taste.
The slightest of the first three books in this volume. The story is very straight-forward and never heavy going but it lacks something that the first two books had. Possibly a Lost Civilisation - although it seems that there used to be one in the locality of the main adventure...
Quartermain/Haggard's somewhat ambivalent attitude to the natives is on display again and the format is the same - a long manuscript. Also the urge to describe weapons in detail, an elephant gun, this time - although this is nowhere near as extreme as the case of Umslopagass's axe.
There are three more novels in this volume and another entire volume. It looks like it is necessary to spread these out so as not to get overly bored by what is looking like a developing formula - I wonder if I'll even want to read the entire second volume? I could just get a copy of the famous one, She.