I had never heard of Alan Quartermain until two years or so ago. Then I discovered that Quartermain was a famous adventurer in epic stories written by H. Rider Haggard. When I stumbled across this unabridged audio book, I decided to listen to it. It would seem that the Quartermain series began with King Solomon’s Mines (1885) and continued for about a dozen titles. The book I picked up called Allan Quartermain (1887) is the sequel to Mines, but chronologically, it is also the last adventure of Quartermain. After the success of these two stories, Haggard wrote more adventures about Quartermain that took place at various points during his life. Enough with the background and on to the story….
This book begins with Quartermain mourning the death of his son Harry. His two companions Captain Good and Sir Henry sat around London twiddling their thumbs. The three friends then decided to return to Africa for one last big adventure. As fate would have it (it was in the script), they had heard of a lost tribe of white men in the heart of Africa and they wanted to see if the stories were true. Beginning their journey, they picked up their old Zulu companion Umslopogaas. The party battles vicious African natives through night time ambushes and later in a great battle to rescue a missionary’s daughter. They struggle against traitorous help and travel through a great underground river before reaching their destination.
Their destination is interesting. What one considers an ideal society says much about what they believe. Haggard writes about a lost society that worships the sun and dresses immodestly. He makes a big deal that the men and women only cover half of their chest and that everyone is good looking. This race, the Zu-Vendis, practiced polygamy and fought each other regularly, but overall was considered a superior society to Western civilization. In most instances, their failings were glossed over as minor. Sir Henry caused a great stir between the twin queens with predictable results…..
Overall, this was a well-written story. The biggest problem was philosophical. For example, Sir Henry decides (in the last chapter) to bring Christ to the people of Zu-Vendis, while he had submitted to and participated in their pagan sun worship ceremonies without a hint of disapproval. Haggard appears to be very supportive of syncretism though he favors Christianity. Furthermore, Haggard treats the African’s with some disdain (as was common in his day). Actually, for what it is worth, Haggard shows far more respect for the African then just about any author that I have read from that time period. The Zulu, Umslopogass, is highly respected by Quartermain while some of the other Africans are simply barbarous and evil.
In its favor, the book demonstrates good Victorian behavior through the example of Quartermain. Quartermain always strives to treat women well, even when they are his enemies. He also has great respect for creation and others. He often chooses to find peaceful solutions whenever possible though he is never afraid to execute truth and justice. Is he perfect? Nah, but he is certainly a better role model than most main characters in modern fiction.
If you have the opportunity, you should read this book. Quartermain is the quintessential adventurer; the original Indiana Jones. Have you ever read King Solomon’s Mines? What did you think?