EN 4223 Seminar 8 – King Solomon’s Mines

Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) served as a colonial administrator on the staff of the Lieutenant-Governor of Natal, where he traveled around South Africa, getting a first-hand glimpse of various aspects of life amongst the different people groups (Zulu and other natives, Boers, English).  After this colonial stint he studied to be a lawyer, writing an account of the South Africa situation, and 2 novels which didn’t meet with much success.  It was only with his third novel, King Solomon’s Mines (1885) that he became a successful novelist.  Wrote a number of novels in the travel-adventure-lost world genre, a number of them featuring his popular character Allan Quatermain.

             KSM inspired or rather provoked by Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and Haggard’s adventure stories obviously belong to a genre constituted by the works of writers like Stevenson, Kipling, Doyle, Stoker, Conrad and others: the fascination with distant lands and cultures, and the use of these exotic settings as an integral part of the plots; struggles for some form of treasure, power or territory; confrontations between whites and others, often with violent and tragic consequences (but also, as in Crusoe, various possibilities of white-native alliances and allegiances); the working out of white-other desire; the entire journey and trial having symbolic ramifications for the European centre.  As such, this late 19th C “adventure” genre, despite its boys’ adventure and crude exoticising elements, is inherently a geopolitical mode of writing, working out not only colonial anxieties and desires, but also creating a spatial consciousness/chronotope (the very idea of venturing, the myth of secret new spaces to venture to, rugged individualism, male bonding in the face of danger, etc) which accords with a strategic, filled earth.

             We mustn’t overlook the simple fact that these adventure-romances are actually written against a backdrop of a very problematic contested terrain.  South Africa was in a way much more heavily contested than India (where the British had to worry about its northern borders, and its relations with a very culturally-heterogenous people, but where they were indisputed rulers).  South Africa was far less settled, with a series of conflicts with the fiercely independent warriors the Zulus: from at least the 1870s onwards, a series of border disputes with the independent Zulu Nation (rationalized and heavily militarized by the legendary Shaka) had led to problems with the British, breaking out in the Anglo-Zulu war of 1879.  Even after the British finally defeated the Zulus, there were other sporadic conflicts.  At the same time, the Dutch settlers (Boers) and British were battling for control, in the first Boer War (1880-1) and Second Boer War (1899-1902).  The British had annexed the South African Republic in 1877, and the Boers in Transvaal revolted in 1880.  The difficult guerilla war against the Boer commandos ended in a truce, and autonomy in Transvaal (technically under British oversight).  In the mid-1880s tensions between the British and the Dutch in Transvaal and Orange Free State led to a violent and protracted war, which finally ended with the absorption of the Dutch regions into the British empire, but with an understanding of eventual self-government.  As with Kim, the theme of white-black camaraderie is a kind of fantasy of colonial harmony.

             The fabulous wealth in South Africa – the discovery of diamonds in the Orange River region in the 1860s led to a diamond rush and British annexation of the region in 1873; gold was discovered in Transvaal in 1885 – exacerbated the geopolitical situation.  This is reflected in the treasure in KSM, but also deflected (as being almost incidental to the story of adventure, justice and brotherly love).

             Haggard’s version of the geopolitical adventure also consistently relies on elements of the supernatural (certainly more so than, say, Doyle and Conrad), and – in comparison with other writers like Stevenson, Kipling and Stoker – allows us to come to a deeper understanding of the use and role of the supernatural in geopolitics.

I.   Geopolitical Adventure and Individualist Ideology

The obvious point about adventure stories is the (not too subtle) ways in which they nurture a “boys’ own” sense of the glories of adventure, risk, even danger to life, all for the sake of some intangible goal (“honour,” “manhood,” “pride,” “the right” etc).  Like the “great game” in India, such narratives tried to transform the deadly business of colonialism into a boyish game, in which individual regard for life and death seemed to be transmuted into a dedication to abstract virtues which coincidentally served the colonial cause.

             Such a colonial reading, while obviously having some basis, doesn’t quite do justice to the persuasive subtleties and complexities of geopolitical narratives.  It narrows the ideological purpose of the narratives (into a kind of crude colonialism) and ignores other elements (which may not simply conform to the colonial thesis), and diminishes or infantilises the critical capabilities of its readers, as if they were incapable of resisting this unsubtle induction into a self-sacrificial devotion to an abstract goal.

             A more credible approach, which does not necessarily reject the colonialist one, but incorporates those elements into a more full account of geopolitical ideology/narrative, is to see novels like KSM as working not just with colonialism but also with capitalism and European (racial/cultural/sexual) desire, creating a broadly “individualist” ideology which sees the new man (with leanings towards Nietzche’s ubermensch, via figures like Holmes, Kurtz, Attwater, Dorian and others) as according with the colonial project not from blind selfless obedience, but through the negotiation of developed individualist interests and the needs of others.

1.   Moralising the treasure: One way that the ideology of individualism is fostered in this novel is in the role played by the treasure.  (In a sense, the treasure – whether it is really there, what attitude to take to it, how to relate it to the other goals, how to get and manage it – occupies a major, if not the main, role in the novel).  In contrast to the illegitimate treasures in Moonstone and Sign of Four (in various ways contested or opposed, by other claims, or adverse possession, or the weight of laws and nations), the treasure in KSM tends to be divested of its adverse connotations, in several ways:

a.   its historical and Biblical interest – as Q says, the “legendary” nature of the treasure, its association with an “ancient civilization” (no less than with the legendary figure of Solomon, and with Biblical wisdom), exerts a “great hold upon my imagination” (p. 22).  This is a characteristic Haggard device: embedding adventure/treasure/goal within the legends and connotations of antiquity, invoking pseudo-scholarly discourses, so that the desired object loses the crass materialistic connotations of the everyday commercial world, and takes on a romance and glamour which almost persuades us of its exalted status.

b.   the association of treasure with other moral causes: the diamonds, like Kukuana land itself, labour under the unjust oppression of Twala and Gagool.  Acquiring treasure thus becomes inextricably intertwined with the righteous causes of restoring the rightful king Ignosi, freeing people (brave warriors and beautiful young maidens) from cruel oppression, reconciling the Curtis brothers, etc.

c.   “moderating” the treasure: the bulk of it is irretrievably lost, so that what is acquired is only enough to make them “exceedingly wealthy,” but not beyond measure – the suggestion is that this is a redeeming and humanizing form of wealth, compared to the excessive wealth that is locked in the mines.

2.   Crusoe and his commercial descendants: of course, the novel doesn’t entirely divest the treasure and adventure of its materialistic and commercial connotations.  Here the figure of Q is significant: like Betteredge, he is an ideological descendent of Crusoe, both commercial and practical men, who somehow manage to reconcile their adamant self-interests with larger causes (Betteredge with the MC Verinder household, and Q likewise with the interests of the landed gentry/aristocratic class represented by Sir Henry).  Q makes it very clear that he is on the adventure for commercial considerations: he very carefully measures the life expectancy and likely earnings of an elephant hunter, computes a figure which would exceed that and make it worth his while, and proposes a considered commercial contract which would pay him and provide for his son in case of accident.  This commercial practicality is combined with a constant practical self-preservation (he calls himself a “coward”) that serves as a healthy corrective to the reckless heroism of Curtis, Ignosi, the Zulus, etc.  Yet he is also on the adventure because he takes a liking to Curtis and Good (and even, in due course, to Ignosi, Infadoos etc). 

             Having a central figure and narrator like Q (as with Betteredge) thus suggests the possibility of serving both Curtis/Good and Mammon (in a way that might not be possible even in some of the other texts on this module – unthinkable for Rachel and Franklin to be reconciled except with the utter removal of the Moonstone) – the gradual romancing of the commercialist, or the possibility of maintaining commercial sensibility beneath romantic adventure.

3.   Fighting ideology: not as simple as merely depicting mindless slaughter and masses of people who have no choice (and no other desire) but to march off to their deaths in the name of whatever cause.  Geopolitical ideology obviously needs to depict something of this fearlessness towards death, and that is evident in a number of things: homosociality (the carefree, minimal-family lives of the main protagonists), which thus fosters risk-taking; a tough environment (reinforced in features like the waterless desert, and episodes like the death of Khiva where play/hunting turns so quickly into death), and a soldier’s professionalism (as Q says of the Greys, “an absolute devotion to the idea of duty, and such a complete indifference to its bitter fruits” p. 218).  But this has to be bolstered by other elements, which suggest something more than merely death as the result of geopolitical wars.  This something else is seen in variations of “the game” (e.g. Curtis, who Q suspects “actually likes fighting” p. 199); manliness (especially in the splendid physiques of Ignosi and Curtis – the suggestion is that to look like a man is to fight like one, and vice versa – contrast Q’s small size, which is associated with a less brave and manly disposition, and who goes into battle hiding “behind Ignosi’s huge frame” p. 207).

             But the strongest narrative/ideological element translating fighting/death into something else is the vague and plural idea of an “honourable” cause: the venturesome geopolitical spirit, and the violence and risks involved, is sustained by the sense of a worthy and higher cause, which is not religion (seems to be unpersuasive and unpopular, in this era), nor money per se (too low/crass), nor even nationalism (too abstract).  Rather, it is family feeling (Curtis searches for his brother, Q hopes to provide for his son); abhorrence of injustice/tyranny (as Good says after watching the witch hunt, “If I had any doubts about helping Umbopa to rebel against that infernal blackguard…they are gone now” p. 169); and (perhaps most rhetorically interesting of all) the idea of an eternal global communion, as articulated by Q just before the big battle:

Yet man dies not whilst the world, at once his mother and his monument, remains.  His name is forgotten, indeed, but the breath he breathed yet stirs the pine-tops on the mountains, the sound of his words he spoke yet echoes on through space; the thoughts his brain gave birth to we have inherited to-day; his passions are our cause of life; the joys and sorrows that he felt are our familiar friends – the end from which he fled aghast will surely overtake us also. (p. 198)

Although Q sees this as a ghostly haunting (more on this below, under “Supernatural”), this is a rather different kind of ideology than the “supernaturalisation of the native/other” that we see in most geopolitical fiction - it might have some resemblance to the notion of an eternal colonial-ancestral presence that we see in Kipling’s “Tomb.”  But in general, it is closer to the notion of a kind of new-age-like spiritualism, a “Universalism” (extending Q’s term) in which one lives on in some form, long after one’s physical body is gone. (Not too far off to compare the idea of a virtual personality “construct” or residue that remains in the Matrix or Web after one’s death – e.g. in Gibson, Banks).  Although it’s a form of universalism, it is also an individualist consolation – unlike the Buddhist notion of a disappearance of self into the “Great Soul” (see ending of Kim), Q’s vision is a kind of hope for the survival of the individual (“his brain,” “his words” etc).  (Can we see Lama’s rejection of Great Soul and desire to return to Kim as a similar/parallel endorsement of individualism?)

             Liberal Individualism is of course the defining ideology of capitalism, as many economic theorists and sociologists of the modern point out.  Haggard’s novel, perhaps deceptively simple, offers at one level a kind of colonialist myth of white men braving death (but who all somehow survive) and enlisting the arms of many native men who have no qualms about dying, the result of this being the penetration into and opening of relationships with a hitherto-inaccessible territory.  Yet the story also manages to incorporate many other levels apart from this simple colonialist myth: individualism, overt commercialism, the higher ideal (“honour,” family etc), which complicate and overdetermine the quest/adventure.

II.   Landscape Typologies, Landscape Ideologies

Sometimes useful (although also potentially reductive, so care is required) to try to summarise the (as it were) key/seminal landscape feature, to help us see what kind of ideological purpose the landscape is put to in each novel.  Thus (in the same reductive but heuristically useful spirit): In Moonstone, the nameless MC house tottering at the edge of the Shivering Sand, the entry of various others into the MC world, and the dispersal of the house’s inhabitants, indicate a kind of incipient geopolitical explosion of the European MC world.  In Sign of Four the labyrinthine (and ultimately unreliable) journey through London, juxtaposed with the Eastward-moving and devolutionary journey along the Thames (which is successful, to a certain extent – losing the treasure, but getting rid of the threat of the other, and apprehending Small), together suggest the darkness and threat of de-civilisation/devolution which awaits the imperial centre (in significant part, because of its imperial connections/relations).  In Kim, the highway is a myth of constant motion, freedom and mixing, but one which even then requires certain bits of colonial management (the elevated bund, episodic consolidations of colonial control e.g. St Xavier’s school or Lurgan’s panoptic-like shop/training centre).

             In KSM we see yet another version of geopolitical landscape and accompanying ideology: the desiring/deferred landscape, so obviously feminised (not only Sheba’s breasts, but the whole topography of penetrating deeper into the land, and finding fertility as well as the precious treasure in the elevated and vegetation-covered “triangle” (what the Renaissance writers might have called the “mons veneris”) at the terminus of Solomon’s road.  The journey towards Kukuanaland and the treasure is also a journey from aridity to fertility, from poverty to wealth, and of course from celibacy to sexual gratification (at least for Good – although the “dance of girls,” and the famous forwardness of Kukuana women, is a symbolic display of female sexual availability).

             The “lost world” – accidentally cut off from civilization, but rediscovered by exceptionally hardy and determined white explorers – is not only a myth of a last undiscovered quasi-Edenic site (at least in its potential, its wealth and fertility, although not necessarily in its present governance) which is waiting to be rediscovered and redeemed; it is also a management of desire, which both upholds the desired object but also defers its ultimate possession and consummation.  (Without being unnecessarily crude, we might see the landscape, particularly features such as the desert and the forbidding mountains, as a kind of displacement of sexual display and containment – like lingerie which ostensibly conceals/withholds, yet also ostentatiously displays/attracts).  Thus the narrative is prevented from being a simple colonialist allegory: at the end, the white men are invited to stay in Kukuanaland but choose to go back to the white world; eros is thwarted (after temporary gratification) with the death of Foulata; treasure and other riches are gained in small part, but with the larger part still tauntingly unavailable.  We might thus read the landscape and its plot treatment as a channeling of colonial ambition into geopolitical desire: not simple/final conquest and transformation of the land, but the romancing of the other (into a desirable, mythic and not-fully-attainable realm), thus holding out the hope for a return, a longer-term wooing/negotiation of this realm.

             In narrative terms, this is manifested as a kind of episodic structure, in which there is a kind of completion or ending (the adventurers get in, and then out safely), but also the distinct possibility of a return in the form of sequels (as Haggard famously does with another of his “lost world” novels, She, which sparked sequels in the form of Ayesha: the Return of She, and She and Allan).  Here the use of Q (an ideological heir of Crusoe) as narrator is also significant: not only is he the connecting device for a lot of Haggard’s novels (thus giving the hope for prequels/sequels), but his utterly pragmatic perspective holds no special knowledge, no overview beyond the immediacy of the present adventure, and thus leaves the future entirely open (and also hopeful).  This is most clearly seen in the last pages of the novel: the abruptness of his style (a line of asterisks, and then “And here, at this point, I think I shall end this history” p. 317); the final paragraph, with its insistence on the immediate present (“To-day is Tuesday…I really think I must take Curtis at his word, and sail…for England” p. 320).

III.   Gentlemanliness as New Elite

Like many of Doyle’s stories (and like much of geopolitical fiction), KSM might be seen as a kind of modern enquiry into Gentlemanliness.  Q opens up this question early in the novel: “What is a gentleman?  I don’t quite know…I’ve known natives who are…and I have known mean whites with lots of money and fresh out from home, too, who ain’t” p. 9.  There are also a couple of red herrings, e.g. Good’s focus on externals (his meticulousness about dress and grooming, which contributes to Khiva’s death because of Good’s insistence on wearing trousers instead of in bush style like Q).  In the end, there is no simple or convenient definition of Gentlemanliness, but there is a sense of who isn’t (Twala, Scragga) and who is (Curtis, Good, Ignosi, Khiva, maybe even Q himself despite his protestations). 

             The simpler and more cynical reading would be that the concept of Gentlemanliness is merely used as another colonial ideological tool: i.e. Gentlemanliness is a civilized and advanced form of whiteness (one that is capable of accepting and dealing well with natives), as well as any native behaviour which supports this, as e.g. Khiva who gives his life for Good.  This may be too simple, because it only assigns supporting and minor roles for natives (to the extent that they aid the white project).  Yet it is clear that Ignosi needs to be included in any definition of gentlemanliness: the novel constantly emphasizes his bearing, dignity and grace, even before his true identity is revealed; his similarity to Curtis is noted; and his right to kingship is emphasized by his gratitude and honesty which are such a marked contrast to Twala: when Q greets him as King for the first time, he says “King at last, by the grace of your three right hands,” and promises (both in words, as well as in his actions) that “I will not forget” p. 245.

             A broader notion of gentlemanliness – one which can also incorporate other geopolitical writings – is that it is the vision of a new global communion, based not on race or culture, but on innate qualities that potentially unite whites and others in a community of right behaviour and attitudes.  These include courage, loyalty, faithfulness, gratitude, generosity, etc – by no means a clear or definitive list (its openness facilitates its unificatory powers).  Gentlemanliness functions in geopolitical fiction as a revision of older caste/class categories whose rigidity prevents the envisioning of a new society; much of geopolitical writing might be seen (with variations in emphasis/type) as explorations of this new concept of gentlemanliness in which “right” behaviour can be counted on despite changing/complex circumstances, because it comes out of “right” innate characteristics.

             Gentlemanliness can also be seen as a geopolitical substitute for moral categories such as “goodness” (in that sense, Good may be ironically named) and “evil” – the difficulty of making moral distinctions in a complex geopolitical age?

IV.   Bestialism, Devolution and Hierarchy

As in much geopolitical writing, images of bestialism and devolution abound: as befitting an animalist-like world, most characters have animal names, e.g. Ventvogel, or Curtis who is Incubu the elephant.  In addition, there is also a kind of casual racist hierarchy, maintained in large part by Q’s narrative (he says Jim is “for a native a very clever man” p. 30, and makes generalizations about natives as when he says that Ventvogel “had one failing, so common with his race, drink” p. 45.  Yet these generally complimentary or casual forms of racism and bestiality seem very different from another variety, which is much more pointed and judgemental, and is reserved for the worst characters (such as Twala, “an enormous man with the most entirely repulsive countenance we had ever beheld…the lips were as thick as a negro’s, the nose was flat…” p. 141; or Gagool, who appears like a “withered-up monkey” p. 140.

             In part, the explicitly animalistic imagery and racist discourse is excused by attributing it to Q, this hardened and experienced Africa hand.  But it does seem as if the novel sees no harm nor danger in man’s exhibiting certain animal-like qualities – and this sets it apart from other geopolitical writings, which are much more anxious about devolutionary hints and images.  This is probably because KSM has its own criterion for measuring “civilization” – not the animal-like physical vigour which is required in a landscape such as this, but rather the inner grace and kindness which mark gentlemanliness.

             We might even see a certain kind of allegorical dimension (one of many) in this story: the discovery of the lost king (a familiar trope in European medieval romances, fairy tales etc) is in this instance also the affirmation of true and undeniable manhood: Umbopa is called “boy” several times, and threatened with a reduction in stature/status to that of the other genially submissive natives.  However, the story of his discovery and installation, as well as the ability of white men like Q and Curtis to accept and come to terms with his kingship, is an insistence on the invisible and yet inviolable qualities of innate kingship.  Like the princess and the pea, Ignosi’s manliness and kingly grace easily stand the test of temporary servility, disguise, socio-economic privation, etc.

V.   Haggard’s Geopolitical Supernaturalism

Once again, the supernatural is brought into play, chiefly in the figure of Gagool.  On the one hand, the supernatural (as with Kipling’s leper in MB) is used to set apart the horrifying native in its most threatening aspect.  Gagool’s suggested immortality is aligned with her and Twala’s cruelty and blood-lust – almost as if they, quasi-vampirically, feed on the blood of the land, keeping the land in a kind of spiritual bondage/barrenness while they do so (symbolized by the killing of virgins, the driving off of Ignosi and his mother, etc).

             Yet, as always, there is disturbing doubling/twinning: the white men are just as guilty as Gagool of professing magic (it is never really clear if Gagool is really immortal or possesses special powers, or is not just unnaturally long-lived and plays at witchcraft): they use magic rifles, call up eclipses etc, in order to meddle with native politics, just as Gagool (who, being a native, perhaps has more justification) does.  If Twala’s exterminations regularly kill off a number of natives, the white men’s support of Ignosi’s claim results in many many more native dead – and ironically, although they intend to save Foulata from death, her devotion to them ultimately brings her death anyway, when she accompanies them on their treasure-hunt. 

             If Gagool embodies physical sterility, that turns away from vitality/reproduction into hatred and murder, then she is perhaps not too far off from the white men, who tend to symbolize celibacy, and whose actions are also associated with slaughter (of animals, but who are quickly prepared to kill other men as well, as Q says “I’ve killed many men in my time” p. 9).

             Geopolitical supernaturalism never works completely effectively in demonizing the native and separating the other from the white self; however, it does work at a deep unconscious level in suggesting a common anxiety that unites all humanity.  In this case, it is strangely enough not Gagool’s cruelty and professed witchcraft that threatens (the white men double this), but her role as crone, as possessor of knowledge and guardian of a past which threatens progress (for both Kukuanas and whites).  She is the repository of knowledge: about the mines, history, racial-cultural relations (her prophecy of “the tread of the white man coming from afar,” “I have seen the white man, and know his desires” p. 148).  Interestingly, she terrifies both natives and whites with her eerie knowledge – symbolizes the common/universal desire to forget, to overcome prohibitions and taboos.  She may also represent matriarchal and matrilineal power in exaggerated/grotesque form – the (in Latin) “male mater” (she says “perhaps it was my mother’s mother who told me” p. 253, and chides Infadoos with “thou didst threaten thine own mother” p. 261).  It is only with Gagool’s death that change and progress can come – on the one hand, a moral-seeming progress (liberalization of Kukuanaland politics, friendship with the white men), but on the other hand, also conveniently a progress which brings wealth and the prospect of future white-native interactions.