Six Degrees: From Van Helsing to Allan Quartermain
After a long winter nap, Six Degrees of Kool Books is at last ready to stir from hibernation! This week as we emerged from our slumber we’ll set off on a journey into deepest, darkest Africa. But before we board the steam liner headed for adventure, since it has been so long, you might have forgotten just what Six Degrees is really all about. Basically its a literary game where we connect a character from one book to a similar character in another book and then write about our choices and post them for others to read. If you’d like all the details, as well as links to all of the other posts in this series, go to the Six Degrees main page and read all about it.
And now that we’ve got that bit of “bookkeeping” out of the way, let’s jump into our virtual time machine and head all the way back to the last entry in this series, Jenelle Schmidt’s musings on the iconic novel by Bram Stoker, Dracula. One of the most compelling characters from that novel was certainly Van Helsing, the leader of the group of vampire hunters. As Jenelle wrote:
He is Dutch, a professor, incredibly intelligent, and has many strange personality quirks that only serve to make him more interesting. Of the “Crew of Light,” Van Helsing is the one most qualified to hunt vampires, and often overshadows the rest of the band.
A different kind of darkness
To me, the dark quest to hunt down Dracula has a similar feel to the exploits of a band of hunters from another novel, King Solomon’s Mines, by H.Rider Haggard. And the leader of that band, Allan Quartermain plays a similar role to the one Van Helsing did in Dracula. Both are sort of jacks of all trades and incredibly resourceful, natural leaders with an instinct for landing on their feet in tough situations.
Quartermain may not be a professor, but when it comes to practical knowledge of the mysterious African continent, he probably knows enough to have earned a Ph.D. An expert shot and an indefatigable adventurer, he was a sort of Indiana Jones before there was an Indiana Jones (indeed there have been several movies featuring Allan Quartermain’s exploits though I have not seen them). Though Quartermain and his crew are not actually looking for Solomon’s mines themselves, but rather another man who was and who has gone missing, they pull off more than their share of adventurous exploits by the time the last page is turned in this novel, and end up confronting evils which, in their own way, are nearly as frightening as Count Dracula.
Among Quartermain’s companions, Sir Henry Curtis is a typical Englishman, though endowed with exceptional strength and bravery. He is the instigator of the adventure for it is his brother who has gone missing. He, like Quartermain, is not after Solomon’s riches, but only concerned for his brother’s welfare.
Captain Good of the Royal Navy is a friend of Henry’s and a skilled combatant in his own right, though shorter and less intimidating than his friend. He shows much more interest in the wealth of Solomon than the others, but he does not let that jeopardize the safety of his friends. Good, unlike his more rough and ready companions, is a bit vain about his appearance, though this actually turns out to their advantage a few times.
Umbopa is one of their native african porters. He seems more refined and well-mannered than most of the indigenous population and actually takes a great deal of interest in the expedition, beyond the mere earning of his wages. Umbopa is not what he seems, but I won’t spoil his secret for those who have not read the book. Like all the main characters though, he is generally pleasant and easy to root for.
Foulata is another one of the natives who tries to help out the English protagonists. She is portrayed as beautiful, meek, and compassionate and develops a special affection for Captain Good. Though she does not come into the book until later, she none-the-less makes an impression as someone who rises above the savage society in which she lives.
Finally there is Gagool, a shriveled, shrunken old hag and one of the creepiest characters I have ever read about in fiction. I’m sure she has given more than a few children her fair share of nightmares over the years. She is as shrewd as she is ugly, coming across as someone who is purely and wholly evil without a shred of remorse for the pain and suffering she has caused.
If you haven’t read this novel, I urge you to give it a try. It truly captures the feel of untamed, deep, dark africa in all its beauty and savagery to the point that it doesn’t feel so much like somewhere on earth, but another world altogether.
And that’s our stop on the Kool Books expedition for this week. We’ve traveled to so many places thus far, we could put even Allan Quartermain to shame. I can’t wait to see where we end up next!