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King Solomon's Mines

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In the 1937 version of "King Solomon's Mines", a young Irish woman goes into the African desert on a quest to find her fortune-seeking father. She's accompanied by the sensible Allan Quatermain, a singing prince in disguise (played by Paul Robeson), and a pair of recreational adventurers. Along the way they battle extreme thirst, a bloodthirsty witch named Gagool and the upset belly of a volcano.

\The film is loosely based on the 1885 novel by H. Rider Haggard, which had at its center a search for an Englishman's missing brother and an interracial romance in addition to the legendary diamond mine. Haggard penned the novel in a few short weeks after betting his brother he could write something at least half as decent as Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island (1883). The result launched a genre known as "lost world" stories that included sensational tales of adventure by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Conan Doyle, Rudyard Kipling and H.P. Lovecraft. Scholars find fertile ground in such novels for the cultural, racial and gender biases they may simultaneously challenge and reinforce.

The 1937 film adds a layer of interest to the postcolonial conversation about Haggard's tale. At a time when black actors rarely played anything but butlers and pratfalling clowns, Paul Robeson played Othello on Broadway and brought America to tears singing "Old Man River". Later in life, he fought against apartheid in the U.S. and colonialism in Africa. His politics, which included Socialist leanings, earned him FBI surveillance and blacklisting during the McCarthy Era. Perhaps Robeson's role as a wronged African prince who fights to reclaim his throne may be a metaphor for something.

The Science

Vincent Cheng

Vincent ChengVincent Cheng of the University of Utah discusses science, racism and the film "King Solomon's Mines".

 

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Vincent Cheng

Department of English - University of Utah

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