The Stone of Solomon
Story Number: 28
Writer: Peter O’Donnell
Artist: Steve Dowling/ John Allard
Published: 4th July 1955 – 25th January 1956 (O136 – P21)
Number of Episodes: 176
The Stone of Solomon opens with Garth finding himself in a desert valley beneath a twin-peaked mountain, and entering an ancient temple in a vaulted cavern. Beyond and between two carved stone columns is an altar, and Garth finds himself being drawn towards it, seeking he knows not what.
Above the columns is a cross-piece, on which large stone idols are lined in a row, and as Garth passes beneath, one of them suddenly swings downwards on a pivot, threatening his life. He cries out and finds that Lumiere is shaking him awake. He has been sleeping in a lounger on the terrace of his country house. Garth tells Lumiere that he has been experiencing the same strange, recurring dream. Lumiere wonders if Colonel Starke’s mind-ray had affected him, despite his protective screening, then Garth remembers that throughout his dream he had heard the words “Haggar El Affia” ringing in his head.
Lumiere thinks the words may be Arabic, and offers to take Garth to see his friend Dr. Hakka, an Arabic scholar. Garth agrees, and he and Lumiere visit Dr. Hakka, who listens to the story of Garth’s recurring dream. He tells them that “Haggar El Affia” translates as ‘the Stone of Power’, and according to legend it was the precious gem stolen from the crown of King Solomon after his death. Having heard Garth’s account, Hakka wonders if there might not be some grain of truth in the legend, which records that in this mystic stone lay the source of Solomon’s power over women. Whoever held the stone would be able to command any woman to obey him. Garth realises that he was seeking this mysterious stone in his dream, then catches sight of a small paperweight statuette of Pan on Hakka’s desk. He remarks that its horns remind him of the twin peaks of the mountain in his dream, shaped like the horns of a goat.
Hakka becomes excited, confirming that ‘Goat’s Head Mountain’ actually exists in a remote tract of the Sahara, far south of the Atlas Mountains. Going to his library shelves, he locates the book he remembers as referring to the mountain. It had been so named by an explorer some thirty years ago, who had described it in his book shortly before he died. He recorded it as lying a hundred miles south of Assali, a little village by the Kaffra oasis. Hakka adds that the village has grown over the years, but is “virtually at the limit of even primitive civilisation,” beyond which is the eternal desert with its scattered nomads. Garth looks at the explorer’s sketch in the book, and recognizes it as the mountain in his dream. He resolves to travel to Assali, in order to get to the bottom of the mystery.
Leaving Lumiere to catch up on his neglected scientific researches, Garth flies to Africa. Two weeks later, he arrives in Assali, driving a hired truck. He is spotted by a man and a young woman as he alights from his car to enter an inn, where he has booked. The man, whom the girl addresses as “Jahni”, remarks cryptically: It is the big man! He has come!”
He asks the woman to visit Garth that night, and bring him to where he will be waiting, south of the village. She is to speak to him the words which Raan, the sooth-sayer, told them to say, to ensure Garth’s compliance.
Shown to his room at the inn, Garth asks the proprietor if he knows of any local guide who can take him to Goat’s Head Mountain, far to the south. But to his disappointment, he is told not to trust any guide: the land to the south is barren desert, unexplored and dangerous.
That evening, Garth is relaxing on his veranda, reflecting on the enormity of his task in finding the place he seeks alone in the vast expanse of desert and mountains. In the alley below, the Arab girl – evidently coming to see Garth – is being grabbed and set upon by two assailants.
As she cries out, Garth jumps down and routs her attackers, knocking them out. He carries the shaken girl back to his room inside the inn. She tells him that her name is Karima, and that she has travelled many miles to meet him. The innkeeper remarks that the girl, as a beautiful stranger, appears to have attracted the attention of rich merchants seeking to add her to their harem. Garth is puzzled how she even knew of his existence, and Karima tells him that her people have long known that “a big man” would one day come to their aid. As Garth hesitates, she speaks the words she had been told to say: “Haggar El Affia,” and that is sufficient to get Garth to agree to go with her. As they leave, the innkeeper implores Garth not to go unarmed, and to accept his gift of a dagger.
Karima leads Garth to an encampment outside the village, where Jahni is waiting. He greets Garth genially, and reveals himself to be an Englishman, “Johnny Merridew, Eton, Oxford and one-time officer in the long-range desert group…at your service!” He had fallen in with Karima’s people, the Murahbi, during the desert war, and afterwards had decided he liked the Arab way of life, and had returned and became one of them. He asks Garth to accompany them to his tribe, some four days’ journey to the south in a valley near Goat’s Head Mountain.
Karimi tells Garth that Raan the Soothsayer had sent dreams to Garth to bring him here, in accordance with an ancient prophecy that when destruction threatened the tribe, ‘a big man’ would save them. Now, because the Stone of Power, lost for thousands of years has been found, and is in evil hands, their soothsayer had summoned Garth to save their people. Their ruler, the Emir Haroun – now old and feeble – is relying on him.
Garth agrees to go with them, and is provided with a horse for their desert trek. He learns that the stone had not been stolen from Solomon’s crown, but as he lay dying the king had given the gem to the Elders of the Murahbi, charging them to guard against it falling into evil hands. To safeguard it, the tribe had left Solomon’s empire, and trekked across the desert before settling in a green valley near Goat’s Head Mountain. The tribe was sworn to secrecy, and across the generations the secret of its hiding place had been lost. But now it had been rediscovered by a man call Zahgoul.
Jahni is about to tell Garth more as they are sitting at their camp fire, when Karima notices that an armed man is watching them from a high ridge in the mountains. The sun glint on his rifle prompts her to hurl herself at Garth, pushing him sideways to avoid a bullet from the rifle. She herself suffers a flesh wound, and as Garth tends to her behind some rocks, Jahni fires back at their attacker with his own rifle.
The man pinning them down is evidently one of Zahgoul’s men. Zahgoul had tried to oust the Emir, but when his coup failed, he had fled into the desert with a bunch of his followers. These renegades have been preying on the tribe as brigands. Garth quickly evolves a daring strategy, exposing himself to their attacker, and shouting insults. This provokes him into jumping up, enabling Jahni, an expert marksman, to pick him off.
Jahni and his forces have so far been able to find Zahgoul’s hidden stronghold. Jahni believes that Zahgoul may have stumbled upon the hiding place of the Stone of Power. Garth tells him that he saw that place in his dream – a great underground temple.
At length, they arrive at the valley of the Murahbi, and Garth has an audience with the Emir. He tells Garth that Zahgoul has used the Stone of Solomon to compel his daughter Sheri to join him. Helpless before its power, she is betrothed to him. Under ancient law, after the passage of two new moons, she will become his wife. Garth must find and rescue her before this, as the Emir cannot make war against the husband of his daughter.
Garth encounters the Emir’s 15-year old son, Ahmed. He has immense youthful arrogance, and is itching to take over from his ailing father. Ahmed is annoyed that he has not be entrusted to lead the search for his sister.
Garth quickly formulates his plan: he and Jahni will ride into the mountains alone, inviting Kahgoul’s men to capture them and take them to their leader. In this way they will be taken to the secret stronghold. Garth is gambling that Zahgoul will not kill them immediately, but will hold them captive to provide good sport for him at his wedding to Sheri. Once inside the stronghold, Garth believes he can turn the tables and bring back Sheri and the Stone of Power.
They are unaware that Ahmed is following them, and when Garth and Jahni allow themselves to be captured by two of Zahgoul’s men, Ahmed shoots them from cover, thinking that he has proved himself. Jahni berates him for his blundering interference, and Garth gives him a good hiding by spanking him like a child! (Note, dear reader, that this was published in 1955!)
Garth perforce has to double back to return Ahmed to his father. The next night they make a camp by the bank of a river which seems to be flowing out of the mountain. But Ahmed falls asleep whilst he is supposed to be on watch – and they are captured again. The three captives are led into the heart of Goat’s Head Mountain, and across a narrow bridge of rock which leads down into a great hollow plain, wherein lies Zahgoul’s hidden fortress.
Zahgoul is delighted to have captured his old enemy Jahni, and the Emir’s “puppy who would be king”, as well as the ‘big man’ of the prophecy. The sadistic Zahgoul then lets them join him at a great feast, with entertainment from dancing girls. At all times they are covered by armed marksmen, so Garth is unable to make any move. At length Zahgoul orders his favourite dancing girl, Leah, to fetch his “betrothed”.
Sheri is brought into the great hall, and Zahgoul opens a casket which has been brought into him, taking out the Stone of Solomon. Holding it in the palm of his hand, he commands Sheri to perform “the forbidden dance of the Moon-Goddess,” to the mortification of Ahmed.
Under the mystic hypnotic powers of the gem, Sheri is forced into a humiliating dance, shedding most of her clothes. Zahgoul returns the jewel to its casket, and orders his right hand man, Horka, to return it to its hiding place until he requires it again. He then asks for two swords to be brought for the climax of his “entertainments.”
Garth and Jahni are ordered to fight a duel to the death of one of them. If they refuse Zahgoul will have Ahmed murdered before his sister’s eyes. Garth mutters to Jahni to make their fight look real, and to drive him up a flight of stairs towards an open window. Garth then kicks Jahni in the chest and down the stairs, then turns and jumps out of the window, some 20 feet above the ground outside.
Zahgoul immediately despatches men to guard the narrow rock bridge – the only way out of the stronghold – and to search the valley for Garth. But the wily Garth is instead climbing up the outside wall of the temple, seeking a place to hide inside it. Sword in hand, he pushes shutters aside, and climbs in through a window on an upper level…and finds himself in Sheri’s bedroom, with the girl lying on the bed!
Elsewhere, Zahgoul orders Jahni and Ahmed to be imprisoned. They are lowered through a floor trap into a dungeon in the bowels of the temple.
In her extensive apartment, Sheri leads Garth to an inner chamber so their voices cannot be heard by the guard outside her door. It is lavishly appointed, with a large sunken swimming bath. Garth questions her as to the hiding place of the Stone. Sheri reveals that the boastful Zahgoul had once shown her that it rested beneath the great granite slab of an altar which can only be moved by a hidden counter-balance. She is able to tell Garth its location, but counsels that he must wait until the hue and cry following his escape has died down.
Zahgoul, at the prompting of the sly Leah, has finally ordered a thorough search of the temple – so far without result. Only Sheri’s apartments remain to be searched, and a man is despatched to carry this out. Sheri, however, had anticipated this: when the man enters, she is bathing nude in her sunken bath. She scolds the chastened guard as he stammers that he had been ordered to make the search. Would he have found her thus if any man was present? She threatens to report him to Zahgoul, and he makes a hasty exit. Garth emerges from hiding, grateful for Sheri’s sacrifice of her dignity to buy him much-needed time.
Musing on the source of the water in the bath, Garth realises that the river he saw earlier must flow directly beneath the stronghold – useful information for the plan he is formulating. Later that night Garth overpowers the guard outside Sheri’s door, and binds and gags him. Garth tells Sheri to remain in her apartment until his return, and sets off to locate the altar in the temple vaults.
He is unaware that he has been spotted by Horka, who follows him covertly awaiting his chance to kill Garth himself, and gain Zahgoul’s favour. Garth passes warily between the pillars he had seen in his dream, watching the row of idols above, but they do not move. He concludes that Zahgoul must have disabled the mechanism and made it safe.
Garth is unable to find the lever to move the altar slab, so he sets his back to it, with his feet against the wall. To the astonishment of his watcher he attempts to move the block by sheer main strength. Incredibly, he succeeds. As Garth sprawls full-length, exhausted by his effort, Horka springs out of concealment, advancing to kill him. But as he passes between the pillars, one of the stone idols swings down and crushes him: Garth’s moving of the altar had unlocked the mechanism!
Garth finds the Stone of Power in a cavity under the altar – as well as a roll of ancient plans for the building of the temple. Donning Horka’s robes as a disguise, Garth moves warily back through the temple to reach Sheri’s room – but is spotted by Leah, the dancing girl. She attempts to kill him with a dagger, but the silken rustle of her clothing is sufficient to give Garth a split-second warning, and he is able to grab her wrist and disarm her. Clamping one hand over her mouth, he holds the Stone in the other, commanding Leah not to cry out, and to obey him in all things. As one hypnotised, she follows him to Sheri’s room.
Meanwhile, the lustful Zahgoul has entered Sheri’s apartment, and imprisoned her in his arms. But he breaks off his advances as he hears the muffled cries of the bound and gagged guard in a corner. Alerted that treachery is afoot, he opens the door to summon his men – only to find Garth standing there! Garth’s reactions are the faster, and he knocks Zahgoul out with a tremendous right hook to the jaw.
Garth binds and gags Zahgoul, to the chagrin of Sheri who would rather he were killed. Garth tells her he cannot harm a helpless man. She waits in frustration as Garth studies the plans of the temple. Then, using the Stone of power, he commands Leah to take them to where Jahni and Ahmed are imprisoned. As they leave, Sheri arms herself with Zahgoul’s knife.
At the dungeon, Garth lifts the heavy circular cover, while the women wedge a thick length of wood to hold it up. To Sheri’s amazement, Garth again uses the Stone, this time to order Leah to go and free Zahgoul, and tell him that the big man has released his friends and that they have escaped from the temple. Then Garth ties a rope to the wooden wedge and lowers Sheri down into the cell, before following himself, carrying a lamp from above. He then yanks on the rope, pulling the length of wood down into the cell, and allowing the heavy cover to fall back into position.
Garth then informs the others that the plans he has found show that there is a sloping tunnel running downwards from the cell to an underground river. In the past it was used to dispose of the bodies of prisoners who died in the cell. Now, it could be their way out.
In Sheri’s rooms, Leah frees Zahgoul and tells him that all the prisoners have escaped and fled from the temple. Zahgoul’s first thought is for Solomon’s Stone and he rushes down to the vault, where he discovers Horka’s body and the theft of the Stone. The furious Zhagoul is still hopeful that he will recapture Garth – the bridge is the only way out and is now heavily guarded. And with the breaking of dawn, Garth’s party cannot hide unseen in the valley.
In the cell, Garth and the others are probing the walls for the tunnel opening. Ahmed discovers an area where the blocks are held by dirt rather than mortar. It is sealed tight, not having been used for many years. But by using the wood as a battering ram, they manage to force it open. However, the noise they make is heard above, and Zahgoul is summoned. He orders the cover to be raised. Jahni and Ahmed have already escaped down the sloping tunnel chute to the river. Before Sheri and Garth can follow, the cell cover is moved aside, and Zahgoul orders one of his men to shoot them. Garth grabs Zahgoul’s dagger from Sheri and hurls it unerringly into the man’s heart. Garth then gathers Sheri into his arms and jumps down the chute. All four escapees are swept by the current along the underground river, and after having to swim the last section underwater holding their breath, they eventually emerge into the open air.
They have emerged at the spot where they were camped when Zahgoul’s men had captured them, and Garth finds a rifle that had been left behind. He gives the rifle to Ahmed and orders him to guard Sheri as they follow the river back to their village. There he is to raise a force of warriors and ride back to the stronghold. Garth and Jahni will stay behind and find a way to hold the bridge over the ravine. When eventually faced by a superior force, it is Garth’s hope that the renegades can be made to surrender without bloodshed.
However, Ahmed – who has been rapidly maturing throughout their ordeals – volunteers to stay with Garth, so Jahni goes with Sheri instead.
In the temple dungeon, Leah believes that Garth and the others have merely escaped into a well, and will have drowned. Accordingly she orders a man to be lowered down the chute on a rope to retrieve the Stone of Power from Garth’s dead body. When he shouts to be drawn up again he reports that there is no well, but rather a fast-flowing underground river. Leah reports this startling news to Zahgoul, telling him that by hard riding, Zahgoul and his men could overtake the fugitives who are on foot, before they can reach the Murahbi village. Zahgoul promises that after he has killed Garth and taken his revenge on Sheri, he will make Leah his Queen.
Meanwhile, Garth and Ahmed have spotted one of Zahgoul’s men who has wandered across the bridge. Garth takes him out, gaining his rifle and a bandolier of ammunition. On reaching a ridge overlooking the rock bridge, Garth instructs Ahmed to settle into a good position with rock cover, to pick off any man coming across the bridge.
Down in the stronghold, Zahgoul calls all his men to horse to ride with him after the fugitives. The bridge is too narrow for more than one horseman at a time to cross, and Ahmed is able to pick them off with his rifle. Zahgoul orders his men to dismount and move across the bridge on foot, en masse. Ahmed cannot shoot all of them, and although some will die, enough will be able to get through and overpower him. Zhagoul makes sure that he has one of his men as a human shield in front of him.
Garth then produces his ace – something of a party piece in several stories. He puts his shoulder to a tremendous boulder, and using his superhuman strength sends it crashing down the mountain track leading directly to the bridge. It lands with sufficient force to smash clean through the section of the bridge holding the men, plunging Zahgoul and most of his men to their deaths in the depths of the ravine.
Some hours later, Jahni, with Sheri riding at his side, arrives with their army. They are hailed by Ahmed, who tells them of Garth’s triumph. A rope ladder is erected across the gap in the rock bride, and the surviving renegades – who have surrendered – move across. Sheri tells Garth that her father the Emir will be merciful: after a year of hard labour on the land as serfs, they will be grateful to take their place in the tribe once again. As the final figure comes across, Sheri remarks to Garth: “Here comes Leah – the last of them, Garth…and the worst!”
As Leah passes Garth she suddenly whirls round, wielding a dagger to plunge into his back. A rifle shot rings out, and Leah’s dead body spins down into the abyss. Sheri had been watching her…ready and waiting for such a move!
The victorious army returns to the village, which serves to revitalise the ailing Emir, especially when he learns of the role played by Ahmed. The boy pays tribute to Garth for guiding him “from youth and arrogance to manhood and wisdom.”
Garth stays on for a few days to attend the wedding of Jahni and Karima, and when he takes his leave the Emir gives him the Stone of Solomon as a gift, to do with as he pleases. The tribal elders have decided that its power is too dangerous, as it had almost destroyed the tribe. Garth decides to take a boat back to England, rather than fly. He needs time to think what he will do with the Stone of Power.
Back in London several weeks later, Garth relates his story to an excited Lumiere. Lumiere demands that he hands over the Stone to him for scientific study. He is appalled when Garth tells him that he does not have it – he had thrown it overboard on his voyage back! Garth had decided that once modern scientists had analysed it and exploited it, it would pose a deadly danger.
The final panel shows the Stone of Solomon in its final hiding place – nestling amongst weeds on the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea!
Synopsis by Philip Harbottle
In a feature encompassing the entire history of the much-loved strip, Garth writer Philip Harbottle pays tribute to artist and editor John Allard, who worked at the Mirror for over 50 years, outlining his huge contribution to Garth‘s enduring success
Strip dates given are those of their original appearance in the British newspaper the Daily Mirror, first compiled by Geoffrey Wren and Ann Holmes and updated by Ant Jones and Philip Harbottle
Garth © REACH/ Daily Mirror