Saturday, April 27, 2013

King Solomon's Mines!


What an adventure! I at long last filled a chasm in my literary knowledge by finally reading H.Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, the first novel featuring Alan Quatermain. I've wanted to read this novel in some sense for decades and after recently completing She, and finding it extremely entertaining I came at last to Haggard's even more famous novel. It was compelling. I was swept along as we meet Quatermain, not the man I expected, but an older brave but self-deprecating African hunter and adventurer possessed of a practical but nonetheless oddly Romantic worldview.

It is through Quatermain's wizened eyes that we meet Umbopa, the impressive native who has a secret of great import, and who joins a truly desperate safari bent on finding a the missing brother of  the equally impressive Sir Henry Curtis. Along for the ride is the delightful Captain Good, a displaced sailor of much mirth and good will. They search for lost children and lost lands and possibly even treasure following a suspect map into terrain renowned for killing anyone who braves it. The find a "lost civilization" ruled by a bloodthirsty tyrant and much valiant action ensues.

Haggard's writing snatched me by the throat and I read eager to round the next bend in the story as Quatermain and his mates search for all manner of things but find meaning in their lives most of all. It's easy to see why this story has been so remarkably successful. It's a rock solid entertainment with a potent message. After decades of reading and enjoying Edgar Rice Burroughs among others, I feel almost like an explorer who has at long last found the source of the great river.

But what's hard to fathom is why no good movie that I'm aware of has been made Haggard's story here. This is a thrill ride which demands a faithful adaptation to the big screen and frankly I've never run across a film version yet that didn't bore me senseless. One reason I've never gotten around to this book is that the movies I've chanced across seemed unimpressive.

Reading the novel makes me realize that the filmmakers in their "wisdom" seem to want to a film a story which is not here. They blend characters needlessly and transform Quatermain from complicated bitter man who finds hope into a youthful knuckle-headed hero from central casting. And they always have to stick a chick in the middle of the thing. The larger-than-life images painted by Haggard diminish on the big screen as no filmmaker can find actors impressive enough to represent them.

Haggard's story is grander than Hollywood can reckon. It's a pity.

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8 comments:

  1. Now I'll have to read it. Another belter is Moonfleet by J. Meade Falkner. If you haven't yet read it, you've got a hugely enjoyable novel ahead of you.

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    1. Thanks for the tip. I've never heard of Moonfleet, but a quick google and I see it's right up my alley. Oddly it and Haggard's novel have Stewart Grainger in common, that's downright strange.

      As for King Solomon's Mines, be set for some classic 19th Century racism, though interestingly its more mellow on that front than I expected. The sexism goes without saying.

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  2. Speaking of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Richard Powers went back to this tribal mask for The Son of Tarzan cover a couple of years later.

    http://ripjaggerdojo.blogspot.com/2012/06/powers-of-tarzan.html

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    1. Good catch! Love Richard Powers!

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  3. The Grainger film was pretty good, but I saw it well before I ever read the book.

    But of course nothing compares to the two films starring Richard Chamberlain and young Sharon Stone! I always felt like Chuck Norris should have been the lead, though.

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    1. I don't think any traditional action hero can play Quatermain. It would require an older character actor to do the role true justice. But given the action romance nature of the project, it's just not going to happen.

      Sigh.

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  4. Ironically, the best cinematic version of Allan Quatermain was Sean Connery's portrayal in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen!
    Now if he could be lured out of retirement...

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    1. I had no idea how truly accurate Alan Moore's representation was. Connery was dandy in the role, and I agree more would be good though he's rather tall for it.

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