King Solomon’s Mines by H. Rider Haggard (SHE)

One of the best-selling novels of the nineteenth century, King Solomon’s Mines has inspired dozens of adventure stories, including Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan books and the Indiana Jones movies. Vivid and enormously action-packed, H. Rider Haggard’s tale of danger and discovery continues to shock and thrill, as it has since it was first presented to the public and heralded as “the most amazing book ever written.”

The story begins when renowned safari hunter Allan Quartermain agrees to help Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good search for King Solomon’s legendary cache of diamonds. Eager to find out what is true, what is myth, and what is really buried in the darkness of the mines, the tireless adventurers delve into the Sahara’s treacherous Veil of Sand, where they stumble upon a mysterious lost tribe of African warriors. Finding themselves in deadly peril from that country’s cruel king and the evil sorceress who conspires behind his throne, the explorers escape, but what they seek could be the most savage trap of all—the forbidden, impenetrable, and spectacular King Solomon’s Mines.

Haggard admitted he wrote King Solomon’s Mines in six weeks, a quickness that surprised his writer friends like Andrew Lang and Robert Louis Stevenson. The latter sent Haggard a letter cautioning him about excessive haste. Yet the famed Belgian-born detective storywriter Georges Simenon (1903–1989) often wrote entire books even faster. The French novelist Stendhal (Marie Henri Beyle, 1783–1842) typically completed novels in a matter of weeks. Speed in writing per se is not necessarily a threat to quality; adventure writers in particular can be like the journalists of whom the noted critic Karl Kraus (1874–1936) wrote, “They write worse when they have time.” Pacing was essential for Haggard, who claimed that writing a text fast helped to energize it, making it irresistibly readable. He described his approach with typical dash in his autobiography, The Days of My Life (1926; see “For Further Reading”): “Such work should be written rapidly and, if possible, not rewritten, since wine of this character loses its bouquet when it is poured from glass to glass.”