Thursday, March 8, 2012

Literary Death Match: Treasure Island vs. King Solomon's Mines

Welcome once again to Literary Death Match, the ultimate brawl in bookish blood sports. Today’s books vie for the title of “Best Victorian Adventure Novel Involving a Map,” and squaring off for your viewing pleasure are Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines. Let’s send you over to Shelf Actualization Arena and Mike Thackery and Tom Galbraith, who have the call from there.

[Mike] Thanks, Mac.  Yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyou’re looking live from Shelf Actualization Arena, where thousands of literature lovers are gathered to witness the grisly demise of a beloved literary classic. Two great books, two inspiring authors, and only one ticket home. <Turns to Tom> Tom Galbraith, an interesting story links today’s Literary Death Match competitors.

[Tom]  That’s right, Mike. It starts all the way back in the 1880s, when Treasure Island became an overnight sensation. H. Rider Haggard, himself an aspiring novelist, wasn’t all that impressed with the book and made a five shilling bet with his brother that he could write a better one. Six weeks later he was submitting King Solomon’s Mines to publishers.

[Mike] Impressive turnaround. Did he ever collect on the bet?

[Tom] I actually don’t know the answer to that, Mike, but the book was marketed as “the most amazing book ever written,” it became an instant best-seller and it’s been in print ever since.

[Mike] I guess we find out today whether Haggard was able to top Stevenson or not. And it’s going to cost the loser a lot more than five shillings.

[Tom, laughing] That’s right, Mike. One of these books won’t be going home tonight.

[Mike] So let’s talk about the matchup. Both books are products of the Victorian era, and each one explores the exotic reaches of the British Empire.

[Tom] Right. Both books center around English protagonists. Haggard gives us Alain Quartermain, the prototypical great white hunter, and Stevenson gives us Jim Hawkins, a young boy who’s only dreamed of the kinds of adventures his story will shortly throw him into.

[Mike] Does setting come into play here today?

[Tom] It certainly could, Mike. But I think it’s a toss up. Treasure Island obviously takes us to the high seas and a beautiful tropical island; on the other hand King Solomon’s Mines transports us to the interior of what Victorian readers would have called the Dark Continent. Hard to say which one does a better job of capturing the imagination of the readers.

[Mike] It will be interesting to see. What about the maps?

[Tom] Well, each book makes use of a treasure map to jumpstart the quest of its characters. Both protagonists come upon their respective maps through the death of a mysterious stranger. Treasure Island’s map creates the well-known concept of “X” marking the spot, but only King Solomon’s Mines  actually displays the map in the original novel. Hard to know how those facts will play out today.

[Mike] To find out, let’s turn our attention to the ring, now, where they’ve just rung the starting bell.

[Tom] And boy, Mike, Haggard’s novel is really amped up…

[Mike] Indeed he is. It’s all Treasure Island can do to keep a little distance between them. But King Solomon’s Mines  not wasting any  time down there, coming out of the gates with a fine opening line. Stevenson’s book looking a little off his game already.

[Tom] It really was a nice opening, Mike. It’s conversational, it’s personal, it’s clearly a break from the stuffy Victorian literature of Haggard’s time.

[Mike] And Treasure Island  tries to match it, but he’s clearly frazzled, Tom.

[Tom] Oh, he definitely is. A couple of things here: Treasure Island  goes for a conversational tone, which is a good tactic. But his opening line is trying to do a little too much. In one sentence we’ve already got treasure, we’ve got the time period, we know at least three characters who will survive any danger the book throws at them, we’ve also got the book’s title and the introduction of Billy Bones. It’s just too much too fast.

[Mike] He manages to get some nice shots in, though, and…

[Tom] -Oooh!

[Mike] –Wow! And some cheap shots, too, it would seem. Treasure Island  making an early accusation of racism against King Solomon’s Mines, taking a wicked swipe at the eyes of his competitor, and by the looks of it, Tom, Haggard’s book can’t see anything out there right now.

[Tom] No. He’s clearly in pain, grabbing at his eyes and frantically trying to locate his trainer.

[Mike] All to no avail, apparently. There is a lot of blood out there, and Treasure Island  is not letting up one bit.

[Tom] Well, we know there are no rules in Literary Death Match, but I don’t know that this is a good tactic by Treasure Island. Haggard’s attitudes on race are really a mixed bag. Stevenson’s book points to the “barbarian” tribal chief and the evil witch doctoress in Haggard’s adventure, but completely ignores the characters of Ignosi and Foulata, who are shown to be every bit as noble and heroic as their English counterparts in the novel.

[Mike] King Solomon’s Mines  seems to be regaining his bearings, but he’s backed himself into a corner and Treasure Island is unleashing a barrage of quick body blows now.

[Tom] This could actually help King Solomon’s Mines  by taking some of the focus off of his face.  And I’ll even say that Treasure Island  needs to be careful not to tire himself out here.

[Mike] But pounding away relentlessly may be the strategy, Tom. His trainer told us before the fight that Treasure Island was going to zero in on that weak mid-section of King Solomon’s Mines  and, as promised, he’s aiming every last punch between the shoulders and the belt.

[Tom] Right. It’s actually a good idea when you consider that the greatest weakness of Haggard’s book is that it begins to drag about half way through.

[Mike] And why do you think that is? Does the action slow down?

[Tom] Not exactly. Towards the middle we get, in effect, an armed conflict, a civil war among the African natives, which puts the main characters very much in danger, so there’s still plenty of action. But more than anything, the journey to the mines  slows down.

[Mike] The quest gets stalled.

[Tom] Exactly. The quest gets stalled, and they just spend too much time in Kukuanaland.

[Mike] Well, say what you will about his lackluster opening, but Treasure Island seems to have a nose for his opponent’s weaknesses. He is just zeroing in on that soft mid-section. And from where I’m sitting, Tom, it seems to be paying dividends.

[Tom] It is. It looks..

[Mike] He’s going down! King Solomon’s Mines  has gone down! Did you ever think we’d be three minutes into this match and see one of these books crawling for the ropes?

[Tom] Absolutely not. And this is the worst possible situation for Haggard’s book, Mike. He really needs to get to the mines, to get to the ending and try to match up with Treasure Island  there.

[Mike] He may not get the chance, Tom. He is barely moving out there and this crowd is in utter shock. Let’s go ringside to Kelly Wallace. Kelly? What can you tell us from down there?

[Kelly] Well, as you can see behind me, King Solomon’s Mines  is in a bit of trouble, Mike. If he has any chance at all in this match, he needs to go after Treasure Island’s weaknesses. But right now he’s on the mat, holding onto the ropes for dear life.

[Mike] It looks as if Treasure Island may be a little fatigued himself, Kelly.

[Kelly] Right. He’s backed off for the time being, but this match still very much in his con…

[Mike] –I don’t mean to interrupt, Kelly, but it looks as if something has just been passed to King Solomon’s Mines  from the crowd. Can you get a good look at what it might be?

[Kelly, turning to look at the ring] I can’t get a good look at it, Mike, but it could be… <turning quickly back to the camera> Nope! It’s a tire iron, Mike! King Solomon’s Mines  now has a tire iron and by the looks of it Treasure Island doesn’t know what’s coming.

[Mike] Well, the crowd sees it. They’re whipping themselves into a frenzy down there.

[Tom] Nope. They see something else, Mike and Kelly. It looks like we’re about to get some visitors.

[Mike] Oh my! Kelly?

[Kelly, with her finger in her ear] Yes, Mike?

[Mike] Kelly, you need to move out of the way. They’re…

[Kelly] It’s very hard to hear you down here, Mike. This crowd is suddenly in an uproar. It’s…

[Mike] Kelly? They’re… <Kelly and her camera man are brutally trampled as an oncoming horde of derivative Treasure Island  books and novels rush the ring>  Oh my! Kelly? Kelly Wallace? Did we lose Kelly?

[Tom] I’d say so, Mike. She just got mowed down by Treasure Island  prequels, sequels, and just about any book that’s ever featured a peg-legged pirate with a parrot on his shoulder. They’re here to protect the father of all pirate novels, apparently.

[Mike] And hold the phone, Tom. They’re about to get some company of their own!

[Tom] Wow! Yeah, let’s not forget that King Solomon’s Mines  created a genre all his own, Mike. And it appears that the so-called “Lost World” novels are coming to his defense. I’ve never seen a crowd worked up like this before.

[Mike] The crowd is absolutely out of their minds! No one expected a Battle Royale today, but that’s exactly what they’re getting out there, Tom.

[Tom] Right. You can see Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot, Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, and several other literary heavyweights out there now, going toe to toe with Treasure Island and his cronies and, from my vantage point, making short work of them all.

[Mike] Ladies and gentlemen, I’m rarely speechless. But there’s no way for me to describe the abject mayhem that has broken out in the ring. We see the officials now pulling some of the extra fighters out of the ring, some of them on stretchers, others returning willingly back up the aisles. But the tide definitely seems to have turned in favor of King Solomon’s Mines.

[Tom] And it looks like our own Kelly Wallace is being loaded onto a stretcher right now as we get ready to finish this match, Mike.

[Mike] And of course our thoughts and prayers go out to Kelly and her family. We’ll certainly keep you updated on her condition as information comes in. But back to the ring now, where Treasure Island  looks to be on his last legs.

[Tom] He really is, Mike. King Solomon’s Mines  is just focusing like a laser on Treasure Island’s weaknesses, taking shots at the hiring of Long John Silver to run the galley of the Hispaniola, the almost unbelievable ability of Jim Hawkins to repeatedly escape danger, and the absurdity of Jim’s falling into the apple barrel where he eavesdrops on the plans for the upcoming mutiny.

[Mike] That last one had to hurt, taking the form of a nasty  pile-driver. I don’t see how Treasure Island comes back to win this one.

[Tom] And this is why Treasure Island  wanted this match over early, Mike. Stevenson’s characters find Captain Flint’s treasure- all of it- and return home victorious. The mystique is gone, the story is over, and you can see that Treasure Island’s got nothing left in him down there.

[Mike] Out of gas.

[Tom] Completely out of gas. But with King Solomon’s Mines  we get only the briefest glimpse of a much grander treasure, and while the characters escape with the few jewels they can shove in their pockets, the mystery of the mine is just as palpable on the last page of the novel as it is on the first page, Mike. It’s still alive in the reader’s imagination. And that’s what great books do.

[Mike] Well, something else great books do is finish off their opponents, and it looks like this crowd is in for a treat, Tom.

[Tom] Oh my goodness!

[Mike] The crowd rising to their feet as King Solomon’s Mines  climbs the ropes. Treasure Island  is on all fours, not really aware of what’s about to happen.

[Tom] And this is what they came for, Mike.

[Mike] Yes it is. This is his signature move. King Solomon’s Mines  steadies himself with one foot on either side of the top turnbuckle aaaaaaaaaand wow!

[Tom] A body slam off the top turnbuckle. What a finish!

[Mike] That ought to just about do it. Treasure Island  is not even moving, Tom. And yes, the referee is now calling the match for Haggard’s novel. So King Solomon’s Mines, and not Treasure Island, is crowned best Victorian Adventure Novel Involving a Map. Let’s get you back to MacEvoy DeMarest in the studio. Mac?

[MacEvoy] Thanks to Mike Thackery and Tom Galbraith, and of course, a special thanks goes out to our ringside reporter Kelly Wallace. We’re all hoping for a very speedy recovery for Kelly. <Turns to his colleagues> Tucker? Orlando? I think it goes without saying that we all got more than we bargained for in that fight. Your thoughts on today’s match:

[Orlando, looking at Tucker and tracing out an “X” with his finger on the table] …

[Tucker, looking back at Orlando] What?

[Orlando] You know what. You know what goes here. Let’s have it.

[MacEvoy] Not sure I understand, and I know  the folks at home don’t understand.

[Orlando, looking at Tucker] He knows what goes here. “X” marks the spot, Tucker. I want my five shillings.

[All three, laughing] <Lots of cross talk>

[MacEvoy] Well, I think you’ll both agree that there’s not a lot we can add to what happened out there today. H. Rider Haggard can finally lay claim to his  five shillings and… <looking at Tucker>

[Tucker, begrudgingly reaching into his wallet] Okay, fine…

[MacEvoy] … and so can Orlando Carmichael. From Orlando, Tucker, myself and the rest of the Literary Death Match production team, we wish you all the best. Join us next time as the fairer sex takes its turn inside the ring.  Which novel will be crowned “Best Book by a Brontë Sister?” Tune in to find out. Take care everybody.

<Closing credits roll over the excited, silent banter of the trio>



  1. This is, BY FAR, the best blog series EVER. I'll be smiling all day, thinking about this. Can't wait for the Bronte sisters. Again, genius.

  2. Thanks. Our first Death Match was the top vote-getter in the 3QuarksDaily Arts & Literature contest, but sadly, the editors of the site did not choose us as a finalist.

    That doesn't mean we can't keep having fun, though. I imagine the Bronte sisters could get a little catty, but maybe that's just me being sexist. We'll see...

  3. I think it's safe to say that you have missed your calling in life, MacEvoy. You should definitely be an english teacher. I think I will refer to you as Professor from now on. Loved it and can't wait for the next installment. Also ashamed to say I have never read King Solomon's Mines. I will get on that and see if I agree with the outcome of this match.

    1. Perhaps. But my English teacher had a penchant for throwing his telephone out of his fourth floor window. He must have been in a pretty dark place. Not sure I need to go there...

  4. He may have thrown a telephone, or stapler (or two) out the window, but did you learn anything from him? Dark place or not, I can't say I left empty headed.