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Literature: King Solomon's Mines
King's Solomon's Mines is an adventure novel by H. Rider Haggard, first published in 1885. Allan Quatermain is a hunter and wilderness guide in Africa. He is contracted by Sir Henry Good to find Good's brother George, who disappeared somewhere in Darkest Africa in search of the legendary diamond mines of The Bible's King Solomon. Quatermain has no interest in diamond mines and isn't particularly interested in a wild goose chase either, but Sir Henry's promise of a very hefty reward that Quatermain can send to his son back in England gets Quatermain to agree. Also agreeing to go on the journey is a native named Umbopa, who has a strangely proud, regal bearing, and an agenda of his own.

It was enormously successful, launching the Jungle Opera genre, and was followed by over a dozen sequels and prequels featuring the protagonist Allan Quatermain, including a crossover with Haggard's other most famous novel, She. It has been adapted for film and television many times. One of the more notable adaptations is a British production from 1950 that starred Stewart Granger as Quatermain and Deborah Kerr as Elizabeth Curtis.

King Solomon's Mines provides examples of:

  • Boring Return Journey / Law of Conservation of Detail: Lampshaded by Quatermain, who says that the journey back was just as hard as the outbound journey, but that telling it would be boring.
  • Bulungi: "Kukuanaland", the imaginary valley where they journey to find the mines.
  • But Not Too Black: Umbopa/Ignosi is a noble leader who speaks to the white men as an equal, so of course he must be described as "very light-coloured for a Zulu".
  • Convenient Eclipse: Quatermain and his party persuade the Kukuanas to support Ignosi over evil King Twala by deploying an almanac that Cpt. Good just happens to be carrying, detailing a lunar eclipse that will occur the following night. The credulous natives, believing that the Europeans put out the moon, agree to support them.
    • The original version was even sillier: Haggard described a convenient solar eclipse that somehow was visible all over Africa and Europe. Finding out that solar eclipses are total only over a very narrow range, Haggard had later editions changed to a lunar eclipse, which at least would be visible over a broad part of the world as Haggard describes.
  • Crossing the Desert / Thirsty Desert: Quatermain's party must cross a wide desert to reach the mountains. They nearly die of thirst before one of their African servants finds a pool of water at the top of a hill.
  • The Dandy: Quatermain describes Good's routine while they traipse through the jungle—washing his collar, washing and folding his pants, coat, and vest, shining his boots, carefully combing his fair, and shaving with a hunk of fat for shaving cream.
  • Darkest Africa: The mountains are described as being in a remote place where, as the original 1590 letter by the Portugese explorer explains, "no white foot ever pressed before or since".
  • Elderly Immortal: Gagool the evil witch is apparently very, very old. She won't admit how old she is but she was there when the Portugese fellow entered the mine 300 years ago.
  • Gentleman Adventurer: Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good, two refined Englishmen who ask the much more experienced Quatermain to lead them into the wilderness in an effort to find Curtis's brother, who disappeared while looking for the mines.
  • Great White Hunter:
    • Allan Quatermain. He is irritated that after killing 65 lions, the 66th chewed on him and gave him a bad leg.
    • There is an unpleasant scene early in the novel where Quatermain and the gang kill a bunch of elephants just because.
      • Although one of the elephants gets his own back in pretty epic style.
  • Having a Gay Old Time: Haggard uses "ejaculate" in its old meaning of "exclaim" or "shout out".
  • High-Class Glass: Captain John Good, who takes care to keep his eye-glass and the rest of his kit in perfect order, even in the jungle. His glass stays in place even while rolling down a hill after he escapes from the mine.
  • Hollywood Natives: The Kukuanas, savage natives of unexplored Africa who attack all trespassers. They're easily convinced into accepting Quatermain's party as great white "visitors from the stars" by their false teeth, glass eyes, and pale uncovered legs.
  • Jungle Opera: Trope Maker, Ur Example, although not a literal example as the bulk of the novel doesn't take place in a jungle.
  • Living Forever Is Awesome: Despite her wizened old crone status Gagool takes pleasure out of watching other people die while she doesn't.
  • Living MacGuffin: Sir Henry forms his party to search for his brother George, who disappeared two years ago after going off in search of the mines. About halfway through the novel, after they reach Kukuanaland, Sir Henry is told that George never arrived. Henry then writes George off as dead and George is forgotten—until they randomly stumble on George at the end, marooned in the desert but still alive.
  • Mighty Whitey: Sir Henry Curtis feels obligated to tell Ignosi not to conduct human sacrifices.
  • National Geographic Nudity: Quatermain somewhat obliquely describes this at the great festival, when the girls come out to dance.
    "...company after company of Kukuana girls, not overdressed, so far as clothing went..."
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Ignosi. He is described as "dignified" and addresses the whites as an equal even before he reveals his identity.
    Ignosi: How dost thou know that I am not the equal of the Inkosi whom I serve?
  • Rightful King Returns: Umbopa the servant is actually Ignosi, the rightful king of the Kukuanas, come back to retake the throne from his evil uncle. (Evil King Twala killed Ignosi's father and put Ignosi and his mother to flight.)
  • Sealed Room in the Middle of Nowhere: Gagool flips the lever on the stone door to the treasure room, leaving Quatermain and company buried alive deep within the mountain.
  • Tested On Humans: The king of the Kukuana people asks Allan Quatermain to show the effects of his rifle upon his assembled warriors. Quatermain replies by telling the king he would be glad to do so if the king volunteers to be the subject of the experiment. At this point it is decided to use an ox instead.
  • This Is My Boomstick: Quatermain pacifies a group of Kukuanas by taking his rifle, which they are completely unfamiliar with, and shooting an antelope at long range.
  • Treasure Map: Quatermain has one to the mines, given to him by a dying Portugese adventurer. He doesn't think much of it and never had any inclination to use it, but when Sir Henry needs to find his brother that went off after those same mines, they use Quatermain's map.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Umbopa/Ignosi launches into a speech in which he gives this as the reason he is accompanying the whites on their dangerous trek.
    "Like a storm-driven bird at night we fly out of the Nowhere; for a moment our wings are seen in the light of the fire, and lo! we are gone again into the Nowhere."
  • Witch Hunt: King Twala gets his rocks off by executing people that Gagool picks out as witches. He doesn't seem to really think they're witches—it's all about killing people who he sees as threats or appropriating their property.
  • Worthless Yellow Rocks: The gold and diamonds, when the men are trapped in the treasure room.
    Quatermain: There around us lay treasures enough to pay off a moderate national debt, or to build a fleet of ironclads, and yet we would have bartered them all gladly for the faintest chance of escape.

Haggard's sequels and prequels provide examples of:

Tropes from the 1937 film:

  • Badass Baritone: Ignosi, the brave warrior, tribal chieftain, and baritone.
  • The Cast Showoff: Paul Robeson, the baritone singer, plays Ignosi, and gets to sing a few songs.
  • Circling Vultures: Seen by the heroes as they are on the edge of death while Crossing the Desert.
  • Convection Schmonvection: In this movie the sealed room that Allan and the others get trapped in is also the caldera of a volcano, complete with lava lake. No one is affected by gases.
  • The Film of the Book / Pragmatic Adaptation: This was the first film adaptation of the novel, and it sticks closer to the novel's plot than any of the subsequent adaptations. Like all other adaptations it introduces a white female Love Interest, here named Kathy O'Brien, played by Anna Lee—the fact that Lee played a character named "Quartermain" on General Hospital for 22 years is not a coincidence. In this film the Living MacGuffin is Kathy's father, and Sir Henry and Capt. Good are clients of Allan's who agree to help Kathy out. Otherwise, this film is quite faithful to the novel. The episode with the eclipse and the great battle between Ignosi and Twala are retained.
  • National Geographic Nudity: Quite obvious with a couple of the women of the Kukuana tribe. Surprising for 1937.
  • Video Credits: Used at the beginning to introduce the cast.

Tropes from the 1950 film:

  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Allan and Elizabeth's relationship reeks of this, with a lot of angry sniping and sidelong glances.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Elizabeth is prone to these, presumably due to the stress of finding her husband. Her nightmares provide opportunities for Allan to barge into her tent while shirtless.
  • City Mouse: Elizabeth is this when her party goes into the wild, riding in a cart, wearing her fancy dress. Part of her character growth is getting past this.
  • Important Haircut / Impractically Fancy Outfit: Mrs. Curtis heads out on the expedition wearing a highly impractical Victorian-style long dress and corset. Allan eventually demands that she dump the corset and dress. She later cuts off her long hair when it proves impractical.
  • Improbable Hairstyle: Elizabeth Curtis gets sick of her waist length hair in the humid African jungle and hacks a slice out of it. When it cuts to the next scene she has cut it short, and somehow perfectly styled it into a short do.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation
    • As noted below, this film, along with just about every other adaptation, includes a Token Romance. Here, the character of the missing brother is eliminated, Sir Henry himself is the missing person, and the person who hires Quatermain is Sir Henry's wife, played by Deborah Kerr.
    • The Great White Hunter bit where Allan and company shoot some elephants For the Evulz is here re-worked. In this film Allan is a wilderness guide and the people shooting the elephants are the British tourists who've hired him. Allan is appalled.
    • Ignosi is still present in this film but his role is reduced and he wins his kingship in single combat with King Twala rather than in a great battle. This might have been for budget considerations, or maybe a little 1950s-style reluctance to feature a black man in a leading role, or maybe to avoid a lot of subtitling or awkward Translation Convention.
    • The whole sequence with the eclipse is omitted.
    • Sir Henry is even more a Living MacGuffin in this film than his brother was in the book. They find his skeleton in the cave, and that is it for Sir Henry, with Allan and Elizabeth left to be together.
  • Scenery Porn: Shot on location in Kenya and what was then the Belgian Congo, with some amazing shots of African scenery and wildlife. Won an Oscar for cinematography.

Other adaptations provide examples of:

  • Throw Away Guns: Parodied in the 1985 comedy/adventure film adaptation. The female character throws a gun at the villain; he shouts: "Thank you!" and uses it to blast away at her.
  • Token Romance: Every single adaptation of King Solomon's Mines manages to shoehorn in a white female love interest who wasn't in the book.
  • Tree Top Town: In the version with Richard Chamberlain they meet a tribe of people who live entirely in the trees, never touching the ground.
  • Unfortunate Implications: The above-mentioned Token Romance? It pretty much always seems to replace the romance that was in the book — between a white man and a black woman. It appears that a 19th century Mighty Whitey novelist may be somehow less racist than 20th century filmmakers.


The King in Yellow 19 th Century LiteratureKnightshade
KimAdventure LiteratureKull
    Long-Running Book SeriesArsène Lupin
Born YesterdayAcademy AwardSunset Boulevard
Jungle JimFilms of the 1930sThe Last Gangster
In a Lonely PlaceFilms of the 1950sNight and the City

alternative title(s): Allan Quatermain
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