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Literature / King Solomon's Mines

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Illustration from the first edition.

King 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 Curtis to find Curtis'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 Captain John Good, a former naval officer, and 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, including a 1937 film that starred Cedric Hardwicke as Quatermain and Paul Robeson as Umbopa, a British film from 1950 that starred Stewart Granger as Quatermain and Deborah Kerr as Elizabeth Curtis, a 1985 film starring Richard Chamberlain and Sharon Stone (with a simultaneously-filmed sequel, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold), and a TV movie in 2004 starring Patrick Swayze and Alison Doody.

King Solomon's Mines provides examples of:

  • Battle Cry The Kukuana battlecry is the name of their leader and the word "Kili!", meaning "Smite!".
  • Boring Return Journey: 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.
  • 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. (In the original edition, 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.)
    • Gagool, being old enough to have seen lunar eclipses before, sees the ploy for what it is immediately and attempts to calm the frightened Kukuana. However, she is less scary than the eclipse and fails.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: When askes to do his part in ”cursing” the moon, Good does so. For ten minutes. In multiple languages. Without repeating himself. Hearing his tirade leaves Quatermain, who is noted to loathe harsh language, incapable of other feelings than awe.
  • Cowardly Lion: Quatermain repeatedly states, in both dialogue to others and his own narration, that he considers himself to be a coward but he never once fails to step up and aid his friends and others in need when required.
  • 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 hair, 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 Portuguese explorer explains, "no white foot ever pressed before or since".
  • Deadpan Snarker: Quatermain, almost constantly, and frequently at his own expense.
  • Doomed Predecessor: In the mountains, the protagonists find the frozen body of José da Silvestra, the 16th-century explorer who drew the map that led them to Kukuanaland.
  • Elderly Immortal: Gagool the evil witch is apparently very, very old. She won't admit how old she is but she was apparently there when the Portuguese 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.
  • 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. Note that Ignosi makes no attempt to correct this misconception until he speaks one-on-one with Infadus.
    • That said, Quatermain finds a lot about Kukuana to admire. He compliments the skill of the Kukuana dancers, the beauty of their metalwork, their leaders' skill at oratory, and the skill and discipline of their soldiers. While he finds their poetry to be needlessly repetitive, he does not find it otherwise lacking.
  • Jungle Opera: Trope Maker, Ur-Example, although not a literal example as the bulk of the novel doesn't take place in a jungle.
  • Lineage Ladder: Witch Doctor Gagool insists at various times that she knew "your father, and your father's father's father." The oldest member of the tribe remembers her as an old woman when he was a child. If she is the same Gagool who Da Silvestri warned about in his letter, as is hinted many times, then that would make her over four hundred years old, and if anything she could add a few more "fathers" to the pattern.
  • 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.
  • Lost World: The novel's jungle civilization is one of the Ur Examples of the trope.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Gagool was apparently already ancient when the grandfather of the Kukuana king's eldest advisor was a boy, and it's hinted she's well over 400. That said, she dryly suggests the Gagool Da Silvestri met was her grandmother with the same name, which would explain it...except she does have intimate knowledge of what happened with Da Silvestri, including the exact location of the bag of diamonds he dropped centuries ago in a sealed room that hasn't been visited since. She also claims she will curse anyone who kills her to a swift end soon after, and fatally stabs poor Foulata after she indirectly kills Gagool by delaying her exit.
  • Mighty Whitey: Sir Henry Curtis feels obligated to tell Ignosi not to conduct human sacrifices. He also manages to go toe-to-toe with several of Twala’s soldiers with Kukuana weapons in spite of never having trained with them.
  • Mutual Kill: Relatively early in their trek the gang hears a lot of commotion and sees some animals spilling out of the brush. It's a lion and an antelope, and they mutually killed each other. The lion got speared by horns when it pounced on the antelope, but still had enough life left to rip the antelope's throat out.
  • National Geographic Nudity: Quatermain somewhat obliquely describes this at the great festival, when the girls come out to dance.
    " after company of Kukuana girls, not overdressed, so far as clothing went..."
  • One Twin Must Die: This is the custom of Kukuanas. Twala was supposed to be killed at birth, but was saved by his mother to usurp the throne once he grew up. Umbopa, the heroes' companion, turns out to be the son of the murdered brother, come to reclaim his kingdom.
  • 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?
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Invoked. Quatermain stores his guns in the way most likely to cause a discharge, in order to discourage the person whom he leaves them with from stealing or otherwise tampering with them.
  • 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 Portuguese 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:

  • Blood Knight: Umslopogaas in Allan Quatermain. Henry is a bit like this in King Solomon's Mines as well but not to the extent of Umslopogaas.
  • Character Title: Allan Quatermain
  • Inevitable Crossover: She and Allan
  • Interquel: Some of the later Quatermain novels.
  • Lost World: Allan Quatermain found several; Haggard was one of the trope makers.
  • Mental Time Travel: The Ancient Allan and Allan and the Ice Gods
  • Noble Savage: Umslopogaas, son of Chaka, in Allan Quatermain.
  • Proud Warrior Race Guy: Umsloppagaas in Allan Quatermain.
  • Raised by Wolves: Hendrika the Baboon Woman from Allan's Wife is, as might be guessed from her name, a woman who was raised by baboons. She is a servant to Stella's family, but the feral is never far from the surface in her.
  • Serenade Your Lover: Good 'makes the night hideous' with his interminable ballad to Queen Sorais of Zu-Vendi - who Quatermain sincerely pities.
  • Wild Child: Hendrika the Baboon Woman from Allan's Wife

Tropes from the 1937 film:

  • 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.
  • Black Widow: Allan initially suspects Elizabeth of only wanting to find her husband so she can prove he's dead and claim inheritance. She then reveals that she holds all the wealth.
  • Canon Foreigner: Elizabeth Curtis was added to the film to give Alan a Love Interest.
  • 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.
  • Girlish Pigtails: Elizabeth's brother suggests braiding her hair to prevent it from annoying her. She refuses because it would be scandalous for a grown woman to be seen like that.
  • 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.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Asian elephants and Galapagos tortoises share the screen with African animals — including African elephants.
  • 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.

The 1985 adaptation provides:

  • Adaptation Name Change: Ignosi from the original was changed to Twala, much to the confusion of those who read the book.
  • Adaptational Nationality: Alan Quartermain is changed from English to American.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Gagoola, the usurper to Umbopo's throne at his village, opts to jump into lava than to be captured by him.
  • Death by Materialism: Bockner orders Quatermain and Jesse to give him all the diamonds they had taken from the mines (when he had already filled his pockets and hat with a fortune already). Quatermain leaves (most of) them on a stone right next to a trapped step, which Bockner walks on when collecting them.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Dorfman. Just watch how he threatens Jesse's father.
  • Dumb Blonde: Jesse.
  • Elite Mooks: Gagoola surrounds herself with muscular henchmen that have skulls painted to their faces.
  • Evil Colonialist: Colonel Bockner of the Imperial German Schutztruppe, who seeking the mines to secure considerable funds for his country.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Defied by Jesse after she and Quatermain are Captured by Cannibals.
    Quatermain: Well look on the bright side — at least we're the main course.
    Jesse: Oh sure, a joke! Well I don't need to die with dignity! I want to scream... ARRRRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH!
    (Cannibals give war-cry in response)
  • Game of Chicken: Jesse and a German pilot fly directly at each other. The German thinks she's trying to bluff him into veering off, when in fact she's covering her eyes in terror and doesn't even realize what's happening. Despite his Badass Boast that he won't turn away first, he wisely does so.
  • Giant Spider: Within the eponymous mines, there are three tunnels, with one leading to King Solomon's riches, and two others leading to certain doom. One of the said dooms has a giant, hungry spider waiting for anyone unfortunate enough to come to it.
  • In Name Only: The film only has the bare minimum in common with the book.
  • Indy Ploy: Allan Quartermain often has to improvise to get out of a situation.
  • Lighter and Softer: The original tale wasn't exactly dark per se, but there was a definite serious tone to it and had very little (if any) humor. This adaptation on the other hand? Not only does the movie crank up the jokes elevenfold, it also takes itself far less seriously with a much campier tone overall. By contrast, Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold tries to be more of a straight adventure tale (unwisely, since they lacked the budget for any sort of convincing special effects, leading to quite a bit of Narm).
  • Like an Old Married Couple: Dogati and Colonel Bockner spend the whole movie bitching at each other in this manner. Right until the climax when they try to kill each other.
  • Man on Fire: During their climactic duel, Quatermain sets Dogati on fire before sending him flying headfirst to a pool of lava.
  • National Stereotypes: German Colonel Bockner likes beer, sausages, listening to Richard Wagner on his gramophone and shouting.
  • Never Smile at a Crocodile: In the sequel.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Bockner blasting open the treasure room of the mines saves Quatermain and Jesse from the Death Trap they were moments from dying in.
  • Recycled Soundtrack: The sequel rehashes the score from the original.
  • Regret Eating Me: Just before she and Quatermain are thrown into the cannibals' huge cooking pot, Jesse yells that "I hope they choke on us!"
  • Sawed-Off Shotgun: Quatermain carries a trademark sawed-off double-barrel shotgun with exposed hammers.
  • Scenery Porn: Both films were made on-location in Zimbabwe, and the filmmakers occasionally give us some good views of the area, particularly a stunning extended shot of Victoria Falls in the sequel.
  • Setting Update: The original novel is set in 1880s, while the movie takes place around World War I.
  • Stewed Alive: Quatermain and Jesse get thrown into an enormous cooking pot after they are captured by a Cannibal Tribe. They escape by swimming back and forth until the pot turns over and they roll away downhill.
  • Throw-Away Guns: Parodied. Jessie accidentally throws a gun at the villain; he shouts: "Thank you!" and uses both it and the gun he already had to blast away at her.
  • Token Romance: As with every single other adaptation of King Solomon's Mines (surprisingly not an exaggeration), this one manages to shoehorn in a white female love interest who wasn't at all in the book.
  • Too Dumb to Live: A henchman who is given the following choice: either run for his life or climb out the window to retrieve the stick of dynamite Quartermain just threw out the window. You guessed it. He goes after the dynamite. To his credit, he does manage to retrieve the dynamite just before it explodes. His last words: "I've got it!"
  • Traintop Battle: After noticing that Quatermain is on the same train with him, Dogati sends a Giant Mook to beat him up with a sledge hammer. Quatermain manages to elude the guy, and later Umbopo deals with the mook proper.
  • Tree Top Town: The duo meet a tribe of people who live entirely in the trees, never touching the ground.

Alternative Title(s): King Solomons Mines, Allan Quatermain