TO THIS DAY I am convinced that wearing glasses has kept me from my proper life -- that of swashbuckler and adventurer. Who could imagine a nearsighted Tarzan or Robin Hood? As a boy I dreamed of defeating the Cyclops, of foiling that criminal mastermind the insidious Dr. Fu Manchu, of leaping into a hansom cab while shouting, "Come Watson, the game is afoot!" In book after book, I journeyed with my heroes across the stars or up the Amazon, as handsome, quick-witted, athletic and -- above all -- keen- eyed as the best of them.
Of all the adventure novels devoured 25 years ago my favorite, just edging out The Count of Monte Cristo and The Lost World, is H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines. Read and reread when I was 10 or 12, Haggard's book begins as all good thrillers should -- with a dying man and a crumbling map pointing the way to hidden treasure. Before long, the grizzled hunter Allan Quatermain, joined by Sir Henry Curtis and Captain John Good, have set out with the Zulu Umbopa to cross unexplored Africa in search of Solomon's fabled wealth. On their trek the band encounters rogue elephants, blistering deserts, traitorous guides; they discover a lost kingdom, fight pitched battles, suffer torture and imprisonment, and foolishly defy the curses of the witch- woman Gagool. By the story's end though, a chief will be restored to his throne, evil defeated through great sacrifice, and fabulous gems found -- and lost forever. . . Well, not forever. In a few years, I hope, my son Christopher will take up King Solomon's Mines and dream his own dreams over pages that his father has never forgotten.