Landscape in King Solomon’s Mines by Rider Haggard

Subject: Literature
Pages: 15
Words: 4238
Reading time:
15 min
Study level: Master


Many fictions presented by British writers have used landscape as a theme that has a major role in the historical perspective of the people, especially Africans. In this dimension, it is critical to note that landscape represents more than a description of objective nature. It’s a way of viewing nature and a person’s relationship to it, in both social and psychological aspects. For example, Europeans saw nature as channel through which they related with the rest of the world, other creations and elements. In this regard, Haggard has used landscape to represent historical nature of the world, especially the virgin land of Africa. The racial segregation could be traced back to ages of our forefathers (Carter 26).

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Africa has for a long time been reflected as a ‘dark continent’ by many European authors, a land full of chaos and infightings. The representation of Africa as a continent sealed away from the European light of civilization was depicted in many books published in early years of slave trade and after. According to Haggard (26), African land is blessed with a lot of wildlife, as they encountered troop of giraffes. The common representation of culture, religion, land and other issues suggested that Africa was a virgin land, devoid of civilization. Africans were seen as primitive, immoral and superstitious. The landscape in Africa was unique, something not seen by Europeans, with many explorers putting a lot of emphasis on the need to learn more about Africa’s huge tropical jungle, deserts, indigenous plants and animals. Due to this perception created by the European explorers, they saw that the only way to get Africans out of darkness is to colonize them and their land towards the end of 19th Century.

Rider Haggard, in his fiction book King Solomon Mines, has presented a number of themes that would significantly describe Africans and Africa as raw, with a lot of wealth and resources to yet to be excavated (Haggard 51). The book involves a group of boys with a mission to find a treasured wealth in the virgin African land- a treasure that is concealed into the heart of African land, King Solomon Mines. In this book, Haggard constructed Africa in a manner suggesting what many English men thought of it- “King Solomon’s Mines”, with features depicting the land as full of resources yet to be exploited. He is visibly contrasting the image portrayed by the English men in South Africa, who created boundary in a landscape initially seen as free for all. The aim of this paper is to investigate and analyze the theme of landscape as represented in the book, King Solomon’s Mines. The landscape is seen as wilderness, but with a potential benefit that is only comparable to the Garden of Eden. Additionally, he sees Africa as representing a real underworld which hosted the historically ancient civilized white community in Europe. Though the author’s imaginary landscape is fictional in nature, it represents the imaginations and desires of many scholars in the “post-Shepstone era” (Coan 29)

African Landscape as a Wilderness yet to be explored

In this book, Haggard has represented African landscape as a whole wilderness, which can present a lot of opportunities for adventure. In this perspective, wilderness may be seen in two dimensions: light and darkness. In the perspective of light, wilderness is a source of pleasurable adventure, which is in contrast to the western civilized landscape. In other words, wilderness presents a lot more benefit to the English than what they experience back in Europe. It is in African landscape that the jaded English man can get an opportunity to rejuvenate himself after endless struggle to cope with busy lifestyle of the civilized western landscape. On the darkness perspective, African wild landscape is seen as a source of backwardness, alienation, and absolute source of mystery that affects the residents and visitors negatively.

To a certain extent, the African landscape presented by Haggard in the King Solomon’s Mines is similar to the landscape represented in the Passage to India, where “the Indus and the Ganges, unmanageable streams” represents a total wilderness experience by the travelers (Forester 8). In this historical artwork, the author Edward Morgan Forster considers the clarity of Mediterranean Sea water as a sign of human virtue. On the other hand, the terrains of the land in India and around the sea suggest the strangest of all natural creations, unexploited land with a lot of darkness. The African fresh nature offers Britons opportunities to spend free time together, gaining vast amount of pleasure and refreshment. It is in this dimension that Haggard criticizes the middle class Britons who would do anything in the name of looking for wealth, with no interest at preserving the natural sense of the landscape that would be critical in offering the needed rejuvenation (Suleri 89).

Haggard shows that African landscape is constructed in the form of gender fiction, with the colonizers expressing their intent and ability to dominate and rule the natives of the African land. However, it is observable that while the feminization of the African landscape in the King Solomon’s Mines is a sign of colonizers mythical desires and intentions to show that they are better than the indigenous people, A Passage to India presents a completely different perspective of the landscape. In the latter, the landscape presents relatively complex situations of a land with multifaceted dimensional role which exposes weakness of the colonial rule, as imperialism is considered an act of inhuman disinterest (Sulei 18). In fact, A Passage to India is somewhat contrasting Haggard’s perception of Africa, with the former portraying the weaker side of the Englishman’s rule. It suggests that the colonial rule and interaction was unrecognized, and presents landscape as just a form of secondary narrator in the book’s imperialism.

The desire to go further and have fresh moments in the wilderness of African land is all that makes the English man happy, as suggested by Haggard. The author portrays African vast landscape as a source of human contact with nature, unlike the isolated human vs. nature in Europe. The image represented by wild games and savages in African landscape reveals wonderful scenery that is more of beauty than darkness. Unlike the well-trimmed landscape, fully cultivated land, highly formal lifestyle, and decently dressed people of Europe, African landscape is natural, indigenous, wide desert landscape that offers unique scenery (Young 48). Basically, the desire of many Englishmen was to get opportunity to enjoy their free time in Africa to watch wild animals and many other unique unchanged or untrimmed landscape of Africa. In the general aspect, the light side of wilderness in the African landscape is its potential to offer adventure for the depressed westerners. It’s a recreational aspect that offers opportunities for people who want to be heroes in exploration matters. The landscape is therefore portrayed as a perfect venue for hunting wild animals, an imagination that the author uses to suggest that Africa is a land full of adventure.

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Haggard’s suggestion that Africa as “a vast nobleman’s park” is quite unique as he suggests that the continent may become parkland when harnessed in favor of the white mans’ own design and desire (Stiebel 39). In other words, its colonization and imperialism would offer them opportunity to acquire these lands and transform them to more beautiful sceneries fit for rest. Stiebel (39) observes that in as much as Haggard portrays Africa to be better at it’s the then state, it could as well be interpreted to mean that the continent would be much better in the future if their people were to acquire land. In essence, this could be linked to his reference to African landscape as savanna in The Symbol of Landscape, which is a clear sign of clever manipulation of literary work to appeal to the readers in attracting their attention (Ranger 173). In his own statement, Haggard says, “I discovered eight varieties of antelope, with which I was previously totally unacquainted, and many species of plants, for the most part of the bulbous tribe” (Low 51).

In the contrast, the dark side of the wilderness in the African landscape is visible in the general topography presented by Haggard. In order for one to achieve the desired heroism goals, there’s a level of perseverance needed to overcome the challenges presented by the rugged terrain, dangerous wild animals, rivers and thorny landscape. The ability to overcome the hazards presented by such events is a clear sign of dangerous adventure, which leaves many breathless and unable to continue any more. His imagined nature of the landscape is what makes him construct a well-structured description of the so called ‘virgin land’. He constructs obstacles to be overcome for one to be successful in the adventure and explorations. In the movement of the young men in the novel, Haggard suggests that the journey is quite challenging and does not require light-hearted people. For example, he illustrates this by having no female in the journey, a sex portrayed as weak. In fact, the book’s only female characters represented are two, with one being too old to be considered for such adventure and another being too young. The journey involved moving from their homes in Britain to the uncharted land of virgin African landscape. In fact, European explorers need the local Africans to show them the way in the landscape. The journey could also lead to their death, in addition to presenting the adventurers with the toughest psychological tests of their lives. Low (91) puts candidly, “it’s a trek from the known to unknown, with characters moving from symbolic landscape where their moral and physical ability is put to test”. In fact, the adventurers’ movements in a landscape that is full of deserts, crossing swamps, mountains and grasslands full of dangerous wild animals in addition to less-hospitable people. The desolated land, that stretched further than the horizon, presented a jungle difficult to penetrate, posing a real nightmare to the people who decided to pursue the journey.

To continuously keep all aspects of wilderness into the story, the author uses some imagery to portray a feature of rugged topography, with poor access that limits transport and communication. This in contrast to the well manicured gardens of the European landscape. Cosgrove (171) describes it as a whole concept of rugged nature, full of greens, fruits and seeds with the only control being nature that decides where it thrives.

The nature of landscape and its ownership

According to Haggard, land ownership is linked to the hierarchical life of the Africans who believed in small ownership structure of land, and not the large European land owned by a few in Europe. In essence, the farmers’ ability to transform the landscape through farming is based on the ability to acquire such land, through crude farm equipments. This is in contrast to the European version of ownership that is reflected on large scale farming approaches. In African landscape, the people’s tilling of the land cannot transform the landscape, and the ownership is only based on one’s ability to cultivate the raw land. Haggard describes it as an enclosure, likened to the biblical Garden of Eden which had little human presence, with little encroachment on the natural land. However, Haggard dislikes the idea of colonialists destroying the natural landscape in an effort to build their own version of better landscape. To him, this is the source of topographical misplacement of African civilization.

The legendary belief that Solomon’s Mines is a far place that has eluded many white men due to its distance from where there were passable routes. It was through this image that African land was rugged and needed special kinds of people to survive, thus Englishmen approached it as a source of wealth of both knowledge and wealth. According to the author, the land of African was full of mystery, and no one claimed to own specific area that was not cultivated.

The Life of the People, Animals and the Terrain

The harsh climate echoed in the book is a representation of what explorers encountered. According to the author, the presence of the Europeans explorers was based on the belief that they were too weak to support themselves in a general aspect of life on the African land. The vast landscape was tiresome and many Europeans who went there could not get its easy. For example, the author’s description of the man who was emaciated beyond recognition, “the figure crept along on its hands and knees, then it got up and staggered forward a few yards on its legs, only to fall and crawl again” (Haggard 11). This statement signified a sign of distress, emaciation and tiredness. Significantly, it became apparent that the person had gone numerous miles without sufficient food and water. The ultimate thought on this was that the journey had evolved into one such terrific adventure, where all the reserve food and drinks the travelers had carried got finished and all they were left with was fate. The lack of water as moaned by the emaciated man suggested landscape of trouble, with little to support human existence. The moaning of the man in need of water suggested land of trouble, with no guaranteed foodstuff to eat.

The wild fruits and animals suggested untamed land- land yet to be harvested. The travelers experienced a long journey full of adventures, sometimes traveling on foot because their oxen could not go past some terrains. For example, Haggard partially narrates their journey from Durban to the interior of other parts of South Africa. In such a journey, the author uses landscape of South Africa, an expansive environment full of wild animals, fruits and indigenous trees. In fact, they were scared of the tsetse flies that characterized the land. The journey that took close to five months, from January to May, went from Durban to Sitanda’s Kraal. With a lot of struggles and adventures, the travelers believed that the journey was more of adventures into a primitive land with a lot of potential than a land with much to offer at its present state. This is basically why they considered the journey personal sacrifice and individual responsibility to liberate the people of Africa, by making use of the virgin land in question.

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The lives of animals in the jungle are in chaos as depicted by the author. As Haggard writes, they encountered wild animals which struggled to survive within the jungle. Wild animals kill themselves in an attempt to survive with the limited resources such as water. For example, Haggard (24) states, “From the direction of water came sounds of violent scuffling, and next instant there broke upon our ears a succession of the most awful roars.” This description of the animals suggests a land with no adequate resources to sustain the dwellers; a land where people and animals kill each other for the limited resources. Essentially, water represents life, and its shortage means suffering that may even lead to death.

The Rugged Topography and Rich Minerals: Landscape Feminization

According to many travelers, it was evident that majority of the people who lived in the African landscape had known little in terms of the rich minerals that were found in the land. The landscape defined as full of poverty is a land of no benefit if it is not liberated. The author describes how they lost several oxen on their journey. For example, the mention of cobra biting one of the oxen to death is a sign of dangerous terrain, and the fact that three of their oxen died from “poverty” is a significant show of land with little to offer humanity, leave a lone domesticated animals.

But one thing stood out. It was evident the land was rich with minerals, which included diamond and gold. This mineral fertility represents a form of feminization that would eventually work for the major theme of the novel, feminization. Moreover, the travel routes as shown by the travelers suggest a figurative structure of a female body (Cosgrove 69). One of the main obstacles available in the general journey along the African land landscape involves persevering somewhat unbearable terrains full of mountains, valleys and deserts. It is observable that the travelers almost died due to too much hunger that led to starvation, thirst and extremely high temperature. But still, Quatermain and his colleagues showed their ability as men, or what one would refer to masculinity in managing to go through the jungle. In this dimension, Haggard links the dominating Europeans with masculine objects and activities, while feminism with the native Africans. It is prudent to state that classical myth of empire, with imperialism in land are just available for the white man to colonize. Basically, this kind of landscape presents an adequate challenge to the travelers, which tests their ability to penetrate the jungle, thus proving their manhood in wading through the obstacles to get access to the cave full of treasured elements of the wilderness. The crossing of the Bathsheba’s Breasts leads Quatermain to declare that the magical nature of the place together with the belief that all the imminent dangers had been left behind along the journey, and that they had at last arrived at the promised land. According to Haggard, the overwhelming sense of dangers was left behind as they had finally reached their preferred destination, which shows how they managed to develop their mown identities as far as exploration is concerned (Haggard 109). This subsequently suggests that they were overwhelmed with joy as they reached this level, against the wildest dream of expectation. Landscape application in this perspective gives some form of positivism in the colonization because men who do not have specific credentials and have lesser social standings in the society may be in a position to develop themselves through such adventures of the British colonies.

The use of landscape in the presentation of feminism illustrates how the travelers were anxious about the empires that existed in these lands. This loss of sense of identity and rampant corruption illustrates that the imperialism dominated the sense of the whole process, making it a structure that encouraged fleecing and injustice in the distribution of resources (Appleton 70). The explorers on the other hand may be questioned for the shortcomings in their effort to exploit the resources, symbolically raping the land of its vast resources. Logically, this creates a sense of balance between masculine white men and the feminine indigenous people. It is also important to note that there is symbolism in the process of opening up of this gap between Africans and Europeans. In fact, as they went into the treasure cave, they manage to go through several metaphorical sexual unions that rejuvenated their identities as men (Appleton 72).

In similarity, A Passage to India echoes a similar perspective in the gendering of the whole process of the interactions between the travelers and the indigenous people. The author, Forester poses some questions related to how fair, legitimate is the processes initiated by the colonialists in an attempt to transform the indigenous landscape as well as culture in the process. Haggard illustrates that the land of the Kukuanas represents a certain form “paradise”, with no exoticism in its structural and social settings (Appleton 72). While the land of Kukuanaland depicts certain level of colonial fantasies that do not put any form of reality, it is acknowledgeable that the imagination of this land by the colonialists is a sign of their own desire to have their wills and desires fulfilled. The colonialists strived to have a certain level of control order taken into consideration, with the main aim of establishing their imperial power on the people. The Englishmen managed to sweep across the entire estate, developing a structure that would allow them have their way in the control of every aspect of economic, social and political aspects of the land. With the help of some form of boundary, the Britons imposed the imperial authority that would be retained in the future labels of colonial identity as a form of continuity.

Landscape as a Source of Social Exclusion

The caves presented in this book represent some form of social balancing between the people and nature. While the colonialists saw caves as a source of mystery, it is evident that the natives had not considered them as a mystery but a source of spiritual prowess. The caves in this fiction are considered valuable and source of treasure in the whole process. The Europeans connection of the caves and other form of landscape to their masculinity is a sign of feeling superior to the natives. They express their masculinity at the more feminized native people, thus creating a sense of lordship in their interactions. In other words, while the people are willing to develop a social structure that has a better connections, the colonialists uses these landscape features to separate themselves from the natives, building a social exclusion mechanism that portrays them as better explorers of the feminine natives. The type of British colonialists in this book suggests how these people strived to take over the imperial landscape from the Africans. Quatermain and those who accompanied him are better off after they were able to find “the real Africa” as the book succumbs to the desires of the colonialists in the overall development of the theme (Appleton 73).

The establishment of tents during the journey suggests how the colonialists excluded themselves from the communities they were to colonize, making use of the lack of express ownership of the vast land to build their own tents, that would eventually exclude them from the rest of native people of Africans. The landscape allows these colonialists to develop a social exclusion structure that does not only separate them from the people but from other regions that they could explore more. Because they are unable to build this inclusion with other people, they use tents to separate themselves from others. The landscape on the other hand does not only build a barrier between the indigenous people and the colonialists, but also separates the latter from each other. The fact that the landscape is vast enough to separate them suggests that one can easily die from hunger or thirst without the knowledge of others. The landscape pulls the characters apart from each other, building hierarchy of status among those in charge from those working under other people.

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Significance of the Map in King Solomon’s Mines

Maps have been used in historical books to represents some form of significance to the audience. King Solomon’s Mines is a book that has a map with some form of social significance. The map takes the form of a woman, representing the image that Africa is female, ostensibly to be explored by the male Europeans. This figurative approach to literature is used to separate the two races, whites and blacks. The racial separation is used to widen the gap between Europeans and Africa, in terms of civilization. In regard to this, Europeans are considered civilized while Africans are seen as uncivilized or primitive.

On the other hand, it is evident that the map in King Solomon’s Mines is used to separate the femininity from masculinity. While Africans are considered tough to be able to survive in such a landscape, they are considered inferior to their European counterparts. The inferiority is connected to the historical gender discrimination in the global world. Women were considered inferior to men; always seen as people to be helped and supported to rise against any difficult situation. As illustrated in the book, the author’s use of words like ‘breast’ and ‘nipple’ to describe certain routes to be followed to King’s Palace along the maps clearly indicates his intentions to feminize Africa.


Principally, the use of various types of landscapes in the book suggests the need to build the interaction between characters, especially between the locals and the foreigners. The landscape pulls the characters apart in the entire book, even though our expectations differ markedly from this perspective. The use of basic components of nature such as land, streams, earth, mountains, horses, the birds, sea animals, and the sky in the imagery perspective clearly shows that the author recognizes the connection between them. The land, though rugged, mountainous, expansive, and full of mysterious elements has a lot of potential to rejuvenate the Europeans from their artificial trimmed landscape of Europe. On the negative side, this landscape is difficult to cross, with the travelers encountering several huddles on the way. Even the native people who guided them found it difficult to go through the entire journey. Several oxen died on the way, and sometimes the travelers had to use their foot to cross the expansive land. The author has also used gender to separate the two groups, the native people and the colonialists. The colonialists considered themselves masculine while treating native people as feminine. Generally, landscape has presented more than just ordinary physical presence, but revealed real emotional, social and economic connections between the people and nature.

Unlike the map in King Solomon’s Mines that has historical significance, the map in Treasure Island does not represent any historical significance whatsoever. Basically, Treasure Island by Robert Stevenson represents the present landscape, full of cosmetic image. The artificial image of the map does not present real place to be considered historical in nature, thus portraying the belief that the adventured places in the novel were already explored and transformed into cosmetic features.

Works Cited

Appleton, Jay. The Symbolism of Habitat: An Interpretation of Landscape in the Arts. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1990.

Carter, Paul. Turning the Tables- Or, Grounding Post-Colonialism. London: Routledge, 1996.

Coan, Stephen. ‘When I was concerned with Great Men and Great Event’: Sir Rider Haggard in Nata. Natalia, 1997, 26: 17-58.

Cosgrove, Denis. Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape. Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.

Forester, Morgan. A Passage to India. London: Harcourt, 1924.

Haggard, Rider. King Solomon’s Mines. London: Publishers, 2005.

Low, Gail. His Stories? Narratives and Images of Imperialism. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1998.

Ranger, Terence. Landscape Gendering in Zimbabwe. South African Review of Books, 2005, 6, 2: 7-8.

Stiebel, Lindy. ‘As Europe is to Africa, So is Man to Woman’: Gendering Landscape in Haggard’s Nada the Lily. Current Writing, 12, 1: 63-74.

Suleri, Sara. The Rhetoric of English India. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.

Young, Robert. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London: Routledge, 1995.