Henry Rider Haggard sets out to create an epic tale of courage, a breathtaking drama that attempts to capture, within its limits, the universal spirit of adventure. He appeals in particular to the proverbial young male that seeks an audacious inspiration in life by which to model his own. He entices his readers because his motives lie simply in his desire to entertain, to delight, and to enthrall anyone with a prolific imagination.
However, this purely entertaining account of an eclectic and adventuresome trio clearly manifests its motives by the simple elimination ambiguity, leaving little or nothing to the whims of infinite interpretation. As it is, everything within the novel seems to have the intention of being taken “with a grain of salt. ” Haggard knew his audience, a pretentious and nationalistic society bent on world domination or at the very least determined to reduce the rest of the world to nothing more than a means to meet their desires.
And with these precepts in mind, Haggard creates a fantastical tale, taking heed of what is socially acceptable and what is not, all the while maintaining western superiority over the rest of the world. “The fact of the matter is, that I thought that the best plan would be to tell the story in a plain straightforward manner…I cannot help thinking that simple things are always the most impressive, books are easier to understand when they are written in plain language, though I have perhaps no right to set up an opinion on such a matter. Haggard 6).
In this introduction/disclaimer, Allan Quatermain as our narrator, comes clean with his intentions, providing a stabilizing retrospective for the ensuing epitaph. He seems well aware of the vague line between words intended for fiction and those intended for controversy. And by designating the jolly old Quatermain as narrator, Haggard vicariously endear himself to his readers by exuding a simple humility in light of his grander than grand expos, all the while disposing of the pretense intrinsic to most literary works.
Haggard, due to the relative sensitivity of his subject matter, has no desire to have his novel the target of unwarranted and unwanted social and literary criticism. In that, he makes certain that he reaffirms his intentions of entertainment rather than controversy. In addition, despite Haggard’s prevalent use of juxtaposition throughout the novel its effect often seems more in the amplification of details rather than in the desire for an elaborate interpretation.
When we, as readers, see Sir Henry Curtis and Umbopa juxtaposed together as those of equal stature and standing, Haggard is careful to provide a socially acceptable basis for this collation by stating that Umbopa’s complexion as being “light…scarcely more than dark” (Haggard 49). He makes certain that what we notice first about Umbopa is his light complexion. Such is also the case with the Kukuanas who, although black, appear to be descendents of an ancient Solomonic civilization.
It is this foundation that once again reasserts the social basis for the Kukuanas appearing as magnificently and more notably as intelligently as they do. However, these ulterior motives seem to have the effect of abating KSM’s literary merit. It is not say that the appreciation of details is forsaken by the lack of a complex thought process, but rather it is the presence of those explicit details that adds considerably to the drama of the momentous nature of the plot. For it is the plot that Haggard seems to regard with the highest esteem. The ensuing story line is simple at best.
Even in the event of a scene which seems to present prospective avenues of interpretation, Haggard, with the simplest of intentions in mind, chooses not to leave his account to the whims of interpretation, and thus chance, but rather leaves little doubt of the history just witnessed by providing a lucid and unadorned explanation. Such is the case in regard to the three “Silent Ones,” “there upon huge pedestals of dark rock, sculptured in unknown characters, twenty paces between each, and looking down the road which crossed sixty miles of plain to Loo” ( Haggard 258).
What seems to strike me most about these characters is Haggard’s reference to them as “a most awe-inspiring trinity” (Haggard 258). Rendering an almost immediate allusion to the proverbial holy trinity of Christianity. However because it has not been quite the custom to equate Christianity with the deficiently developed religions of Africa’s native population, for such would most certainly be looked upon as a major faux-pas given time period that KSM was written.
Haggard rather than leaving the reader to decide for him or herself the essential meaning of the colossal trinity, proceeds to provide a definitive yet particularly forestalling explanation of their origin. It is fitting that these figures have bewildered the Kukuanas for generation, subversively stating that although the Kukuana’s are Europe’s equals in some respects they lack the understanding and the desire to discover the origins of the unknown, a distinct dichotomy with respect to our inquisitive heroes.
So it is no surprise that these figures, whose esoteric origin had perplexed the Kukuanas for generations, are dubbed almost immediately upon sight by the visitors “from the biggest star that shines at night” (Haggard 114), their history revealed and mysterious captivation diminished. Once again reaffirming Europe’s intellectual as well as social dominion over any and all other cultures in its midst. In fact, Haggard’s inherent flair for the dramatic lends the novel a fantastic element likened to a Hollywood story line.
A kind of movie where one walks out of the theater simply entertained and nothing more. So it is no coincidence that this fast paced action novel is comparable to a Hollywood movie in that it contains a simplistic formula for entertainment. On one side, we have our heroes, Allan Quatermain/Macumzahn “the one who keeps his eyes open ,” Captain Good/Bougwan the “glass-eye,” Sir Henry Curtis/Incubu “the elephant,” and Umbopa the heir to the throne of the Kukuanas.
On the other, we have two classic villains, Twala, an unjust and evil king with a duplicitous ascent to the throne, and Gagool, an inhuman wretch responsible for the death of not only Umbopa’s father, but also thousands of innocent Kukuanas. It is no coincidence that these are the only characters that are both capable of being the villain and black enough to play the part. In fact despite the Kukuanas noticeably light complexion Twala is described as “Twala the One-eyed, the Black, [and] the Terrible” (Haggard 118), not coincidentally the only true “Black” among them.
The plot is action-packed, carried along by one dramatic scene after another in which we as readers are witness to amazing feats of strength, bravery, and guile, leaving little or no time for readers to dwell much on any aspect of the novel except the plot. Haggard even goes so far as to implement a divisive source of comic relief in the form of Good, whom we see deified by the Kukuanas, who delight in the sight of his “bare legs,” “transparent eye,” “half-haired face,” and “vanishing teeth” (118 Haggard).
By the end of the novel we see all strings tied, imparting a sense of conclusive triumph without controversy. Haggard’s audience gets exactly what it wants, the black evil doers are vanquished; peace, justice, and tranquility are returned to Kukuana land; our deserving white and pseudo-white heroes are the benefactors of the plunders of Solomon’s fabled mines; and we as readers are left thoroughly entertained.