Myths of 'dark continent' rehashed

BOOK REVIEW: King Solomon's Mines, the Henry Rider Haggard book, has been reprinted. It was first written in 1885 and has undergone several revivals and reprints since then.

It is related in the first person by Allan Quatermain.

One of the characters, Nevil, goes off to make his fortune by finding King Solomon's lost diamond mines in Africa.

Quatermain sends his map to help and that is the last anyone hears from Nevil. It turns out that Nevil is really the estranged brother of Sir Henry Curtis.

Curtis wants to make amends so he and his friend Captain John Good bribe Quatermain to take them across an endless desert and up and down the mountains on an adventure that will hold you to the end.

They undergo several trials and tribulations, meet strange tribes and kings and generally have a jolly brave and exciting "Boys Own"-style adventure, surviving great perils, finding some diamonds and then sailing back to England to complete their lives.

With them is their helper, Umbopa, who carries a secret of his own.

Umbopa is portrayed as someone who believes in witchcraft and does not deserve to change his life .

He is referred to in the story as Cetshwayo's man in the Nkomabakosi Regiment.

He is quoted in the book: "My name is Umbopa. I am of the Zulu people, yet not of them. The house of my tribe is in the far north; it was left behind when the Zulus came here a 'thousand years ago', long before Shaka reigned in Zululand. I have no kraal; I have wandered for many years..."

The Black Consciousness theory has challenged the myths in King Solomon's Mines and one can't read Haggard without also reading Steven Biko, Amilcar Cabral and others.

The book was written long ago when there was a narrow world view that Africa was the "dark continent" from which nothing good could emerge and it was ready to have its resources plundered, so in that way it is a bit outdated.

Haggard was born in England. He lived on the African continent for seven years and died in 1925.

This edition of King Solomon's Mines is part of the Collins Classics projects for "books for the millions".