Monday, June 28, 2010

King Solomon's MInes

by H. Rider Haggard

A shallow narrative that springboard even shallower values of a highly distrubing nature. The story features two dimensional characters trapped in a one-dimensional plot, focused on trying to locate a valuable ancient treasure and battle off the hostile natives that emerge in challenge. Judged aesthetically it’s a thorough-going failure, only generating the most transitory of popular interest, and managing to fuse an action-oriented story with a fundamental absence of real tension. While there are frequent moments of violence it’s clear that the story is far too enamored of its stock characters to really do them harm, and it works to make the main themes be echoed to the point of redundant obtusiveness. I should say that I wasn’t bored reading it, but that was largely inseparable from probing it for historical themes and context, and if engaged in it purely aesthetically I suspect I’d have found it agonizing.

The historical context largely concerns it’s nature as nineteenth century colonial adventure fiction, and the way it ties discourses on gender and race into the story. It’s hardly subtle about either preoccupation, repeating both forcefully to the level of a ritualistic fetish or explicit political propaganda. If nothing else, the novel provides enduring proof that the whole gender analysis as a critical academic theory is entirely justified, and shows how some imperial tropes weren’t really very subtle. So, for instance we have native Africans choosing to sacrifice them for the heroic white colonialists, and in so doing establishing themselves as real men. We have black women being attracted to white men by their inherent superiority, but also feeling instinctively that such interacial sexual mixings would be against the intents of nature. We have the map for exploring the portion of Africa directly rendered in the shape of the female body.

Worse than: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Better than: ?

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