Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Worlds of Wonder Wednesday: Kukuanaland

The book that launched a thousand other "lost world" books, King Solomon's Mines is a colonialist Victorian adventure novel, focusing on a group of explorers setting out to find the treasure room of Solomon's diamond and gold mines. Before they can reach the mines, however, they must pass through Kukuanaland, a distopian community surrounding the mines. Kukuanaland is filled with natural wonders, and run by a tyrant, whose advisor is a witch. After the arrival of the European explorers, it's discovered that one of their African porters is actually the true king of Kukuanaland, and he runs a rebellion, eventually replacing the original tyrant. The witch is crushed by a rock in the mines in a scene that's always reminded me of the Disney version of Snow White.

What's interesting to me about Kukuanaland isn't necessarily anything about the place itself, but rather the way in which it portrayed Africa to an enormous amount of British citizens. The book was a tremendous bestseller, and the first adventure novel about Africa. At a time when the Valley of the Kings was being excavated and there were still many parts of the globe left unseen by European eyes, including much of central Africa, the book became a passport and left an indelible vision of the continent as a place of turmoil, violence, witchcraft, and untapped resources. Certainly without it, Heart of Darkness and others would have been written, published, read, and would have contributed to this vision, but King Solomon's Mines, as accessible and fast-paced as any modern movie would be, seems to have kickstarted it all.

For what looks to be a much better analysis than I've provided here, check out chapter one of Artificial Africas: Colonial Images in the Time of Globalization. I haven't read it all, but the few paragraphs I glanced over looked intriguing. You can find the complete text of King Solomon's Mines online for free (here) if you have a kindle or infinite patience for reading on a laptop screen. I don't have the paper I wrote on it filed on this computer, but if anyone's interested in other sources, comment here and I'll take a look at it for you.

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