When I was about nine, I came into possession of a small stuffed animal, about the size of my hand. It was a monkey, thought it didn’t really look like one. Having taken it into my care and affection, however, I now had to name the little guy. I chose the name Ignosi, the name of one of my favorite literary figures at the time. Name sound familiar? Probably not. Ignosi is the name of a character from the now obscure classic King Solomon’s Mines by Sir H. Rider Haggard. Though it was not the typical book for a young reader, I loved it.
As a nine-year-old, I loved the adventure story of King’s Solomon’s Mines. English gentleman Sir Henry Curtis and his friend Captain Good hire an explorer to help them search for Sir Henry’s missing brother is South Africa. Sir Henry and Captain Good are also in possession of a map that supposedly leads to great treasure. This party encounters a new world in Africa, as a native known as Umbopa leads their expedition. They arrive in a place ruled by a ruthless king and a frightening witchlike hag. Sir Henry and his friends discover, spoiler alert, that Umbopa is the rightful king, and they help him regain his throne a classic “return of the king” tale. What kid wouldn’t love that kind of story.
As an adult, however, I see some of the brilliance of the novel that I missed as a child. Haggard’s book was groundbreaking in so many ways. Published in 1885 at the height of the British Empire’s exploration into ancient civilizations in Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East, the book saw immediate success. It was the first British book where the adventure took place in Africa, and Haggard drew from his own explorations in Africa to write the story.
This book was the beginning of what came to be known as the “Lost World” genre. Authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling, H.P. Lovecraft, and Michael Crichton all followed Haggard’s footsteps into this genre. Haggard himself follows in the footsteps of Robert Louis Stevenson, as the novel arose out of a bet with Haggard’s brother whether Haggard could write a book as good as Treasure Island.
The book is not void of racism, but unlike most Victorian literature at the time, Haggard elevates several of the African characters, such as Ignosi and the woman Foulata, making them both a true hero and true heroine in the story as, more spoilers, Ignosi assumes his rightful throne and Foulata dies after causing the death of Gagool, the king’s witch.
Today, most people haven’t even heard of this book, but I still love reading King Solomon’s Mines because of the characters, beautiful setting, wild adventure, and, yes, treasure. Before Aragorn in The Return of the King, before treasure seeking in The Mummy, and before pretending to be gods in The Road to El Dorado, there was King Solomon’s Mines. It may be an obscure classic now, but it still worth reading because it is exciting adventures for readers of all ages.