Henceforward they had to satisfy their aesthetic longings with his one whisker, his transparent eye, and his movable teeth. – HRH

Explorer Highlight: Allan Quatermain –  I read my first book for pleasure in quite someq time. Maybe a year? Maybe longer. During my grad program all I read were boring finance, econ, and leadership books. I forgot how great reading can be. For my first book I picked the 1885 novel “King Solomon’s Mines” by H. Rider Haggard. While it’s not a road trip book in the vein of “On the Road” or “Travels with Charlie”, it does involve a road that’s essential to the story and a handful of travelers looking for adventure. I think it’s appropriate enough to discuss in this blog.

My introduction to Allan Quatermain was in the comic book “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” by Alan Moore. I read the comic sometime in the early 2000s and my impression of Quatermain was that he was a grizzled man’s man who had a days scruff even after shaving with his giant boot knife and never smiled a day in his life. Sure he’s an emaciated opium addict at the beginning of the comic but there are all kinds of references to him being a great hunter and hero of the British empire. Of course Sean Connery played him in the movie adding to that image of a stoic bad-ass.

Nope. That is not how Haggard depicts him. A great hunter? Yes. A heroic soldier who charges into battle with a blood chilling battle cry? No, that was his friend. Quatermain describes himself several times as a coward. In the climactic battle he can be found with the reserve troops in the back. Throughout the entire book he’s pretty confident he’ll die on this adventure. He only goes on it because the leader of the group promises to leave Quatermain’s son a significant amount of money should they all die.

In all honesty though, Quatermain is a pretty brave guy. He does fight in the final battle, he goes on an adventure he’s sure will kill him, and he doesn’t break down crying whenever he’s in a near-death experience. He stands strong in the face of adversity, remains clever when scared, and faces down people and animals alike. You can still be stoic with knocking knees right? I’m looking forward to reading Haggard’s other books, especially the continuing stories of Quatermain.

Here’s the plot in a nutshell. A guy wants to find his missing brother. That guy and a former Navy captain hire Allan to take them across a vast desert that has never truly been mapped, over mountains that have never been climbed, to find a kingdom based around King Solomon’s mines that no one has ever seen. The map they do have is from a Spaniard that died generations ago and is spotty at best. They can’t carry enough water to make it all the way to the mountains, so they hope the oasis drawn on the map decades ago is still in the middle of this desert. This is all a terrible idea.

They make it with the help of a guide, climb the mountain, follow a vast paved road (I told you there was a road) to a kingdom ruled by a jerk and his witch. There is a lot of fighting in a rebellion, many people die, and our heroes visit the mine’s where they find massive treasures. I’m not going to give away anymore info because I highly encourage you to read it. If you do you can find out who won the rebellion, if they found the guy’s brother, and if they got super rich from the mines. You will also learn why the Navy guy had to walk around pant-less, one half of his face unshaven, and moving his fake teeth around (see title of this post).

Lessons learned:

  • It’s okay to be a coward as long as you work through the fear.
  • Pale legs can get you girls.
  • Never trust a mummified witch who may be centuries old.
  • Betting H. Rider Haggard five shillings that he can’t write a novel half as good as Treasure Island will lead to a book that sells faster than it can be printed.

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