Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Haggard, [Sir] H Rider

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(1856-1925) UK civil servant, barrister, politician and writer, knighted in 1912, who spent 1875-1881 in the Colonial Service in Africa, an experience which provided him with background material for his best fiction. His basic attitude to issues of imperialism and race can be understood as conservative, but hints of Fin-de-Siècle cultural pessimism, and the stresses of his private life (married to another, he lived for years close to the woman he had always loved), frequently undermine any sense that he was a simple advocate of the still-expanding British Empire, or that his attitude to women and to "other" races was straightforward. The uneasy timbre of his work as a whole became evident in the mid-1880s with his third and fourth novels, King Solomon's Mines (1885) and She: A History of Adventure (1886 chap). Lost-world venues (see Lost Races) are often central to his best tales, and an obsessive conflation of Immortality, Reincarnation, Lamia and Goddess motifs recurs throughout his oeuvre.

The urgent forward thrust of his storytelling genius can give, in other words, the mistaken impression that he is at heart a propagandist for the Empire – an impression no more (or less) accurate that given by the works of Rudyard Kipling, who was a friend of HRH's and shared with him the intuition that the White Man's pomp was an imposture. Generally speaking, HRH's storylines are most evocative when they turn their back on the bluster and regalia of empire and move into the unknown, the lost, the Heart of Darkness, the eternally recurring. The gaze of the best HRH novels is towards the past. In view of this essential escapist orientation, it is not surprising that when Edgar Rice Burroughs, the 20th-century writer HRH most visibly influenced, created Tarzan he was able to penetrate to the wish-fulfilment heart of the HRH protagonist; Tarzan is not, in essence, a "timeless" occupant of the Heart of Darkness but a great lord, with Talents, on permanent holiday.

Much of HRH's best work is contained in the Quatermain sequence, which appeared over a 40-year span. Titles are given here in order of internal chronology (in each case, the date of the action precedes the title): 1835-1838 Marie (1912); 1842-1869 Allan's Wife (1887 US), which was incorporated into Allan's Wife and Other Tales (coll 1889); 1854-1856 Child of Storm (1913); 1857 A Tale of Three Lions (1887 chap US) – assembled with "Hunter Quatermain's Story" from Allan's Wife and Other Tales as Allan the Hunter: A Tale of Three Lions (coll 1898 US); 1859 Maiwa's Revenge (1888 US); 1870 The Holy Flower (1915; vt Allan and the Holy Flower 1915 US); 1871 Heu-Heu, or The Monster (1924); 1872 She and Allan (1921 US), also linked to the Ayesha sequence; 1873 Treasure of the Lake (1926 US); 1874 The Ivory Child (1916); 1879 Finished (1916); 1879 "Magepa the Buck" in Smith and the Pharaohs and Other Tales (coll 1920); 1880 King Solomon's Mines (1885); 1882 The Ancient Allan (1920); 1883 Allan and the Ice Gods: A Tale of Beginnings (1927); and 1884-1885 Allan Quatermain: Being an Account of his Further Adventures and Discoveries in Company with Sir Henry Curtis, Bart., Commander John Good, and One Umslopogaas (1887; cut by other hands vt Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold * 1986 as a movie novelization). Nada the Lily (1892 US), not directly connected to the sequence, deals with the early life of the Zulu hero Umslopogaas, who in later years becomes one of Allan Quatermain's faithful Companions.

There are inconsistencies in the series. Quatermain died at the end of Allan Quatermain (1887), and HRH responded to the popularity of the character by retrofitting new instalments into sometimes implausible gaps in Quatermain's previous life. The results are various, and for fantasy readers several of the instalments are of little interest. Some – including Maiwa's Revenge, Marie, Child of Storm and Finished – deal almost exclusively with the Zulu nation's doomed resistance to the advance of the white empires; others are straightforward adventure tales. The central text remains the first, King Solomon's Mines, which establishes Quatermain as an Underlier for the intrepid Hero who is called into the kind of Planetary-Romance world which replaced the lost world as a usable venue. Burroughs's John Carter of Mars, in the Barsoom series, is the first and most important example. King Solomon's Mines is also important to the history of fantasy because the impossible lost world it depicts underlies later visions of the longed-for land from the deep past, because it offers a vivid model for the Quest tale, and because the subplot dealing with Umbopa, the Hidden Monarch of the kingdom of the Kukuanas, is shaped (though lacking circumstances) as a fantasy Story. All of these qualities were ditched from the movie King Solomon's Mines (1985), which was an adventure yarn in pale emulation of the Indiana Jones sequence. Earlier versions were King Solomon's Mines (1937), which is ponderous and worthy, and King Solomon's Mines (1950), which is drastically underplotted but pretty.

Some of the later volumes in the sequence move into remoter regions of the imagination. These include The Ancient Allan and Allan and the Ice-Gods, in which Quatermain Timeslips (in a Dream) to, in the first book, ancient Egypt and, in the second, to prehistory (see Prehistoric Fantasy); Heu-Heu, or The Monster, in which a God is exposed as fraudulent but the native sorcerer has genuine powers. In Treasure of the Lake Quatermain is tricked into helping instal a new Year King in a plot clearly derived from the work of Sir James Frazer.

HRH's Ayesha sequence – She: A History of Adventure (1886-1887 The Graphic; cut 1886 chap US; text restored 1887 UK; cut 1896 UK), also published as The Annotated She: A Critical Edition of H. Rider Haggard's Victorian Romance (1991 US) ed Norman Etherington, with unreliable notes but a variorum text; Ayesha: The Return of She (1905; vt The Return of She: Ayesha 1967 US); She and Allan (1921 US), which provides a link with the Quatermain series; and Wisdom's Daughter: The Life and Love Story of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed (1923) – is of strong fantasy interest. The first novel was rewritten as a movie tie by Don Ward (1911-1984) as She: The Story Retold * (1949 US), though the movie itself seems not to have been made. Other movie versions of She have been released, however (see She).

Ayesha is a minor incarnation of the Goddess, partaking in her nature of both Isis and Aphrodite, which causes unending internal warfare as Isis calls her spirit into realms described by HRH in occult terms and Aphrodite requires her to act like a Lamia. But HRH's portrayal of her descends only rarely to unction or caricature, and Ayesha remains – along with Umslopogaas – his most successful character creation. In She the immortal Ayesha rules the Lost World of Kör in the heart of Africa, to which are drawn young Leo Vincey and his companions. He is either a descendant or a Reincarnation of Kallikrates, the ancient Egyptian priest whom Ayesha loved and killed. Leo is both revolted and tempted by her extraordinary beauty, her violent imperious person, and by the promise of Immortality. In the end, She seems to perish – ageing instantaneously into a monkey-like creature – in the Pillar of Life that Leo has balked at entering. In the direct sequel, Ayesha, Leo once again is drawn to seek out the goddess, taking 18 years this time to accomplish his Quest, finding her at last in Turkestan, where she rules a lost world, reincarnated this time as an ancient woman. In passages reminiscent of ordeals described in many Folktales (see also Gawain), Leo is asked to choose the crone over a younger woman, and completes his Night Journey into her arms by choosing correctly. Unfortunately She kills him with a kiss, and as the novel closes she has departed for the Land of the Dead to find her lover. It is in this novel that She becomes an important Underlier. The further volumes in the sequence are less central.

Other HRH novels of interest are singletons. They include: The World's Desire (1890) with Andrew Lang, in which Helen of Troy plays a role similar to that of Ayesha; Eric Brighteyes (1891; vt The Saga of Eric Brighteyes 1974 US), a Nordic Fantasy told in a sustained prose imitation of Saga style, and as cruel as most Nordic fantasy; The People of the Mist (1894), a lost-world tale set in Africa; Heart of the World (1895 US), a lost-world tale set in Mexico; Stella Fregelius: A Tale of Three Destinies (1903 US), sf with occult touches; Benita: An African Romance (1906; vt The Spirit of Bambatse: A Romance 1906 US), a Supernatural Fiction; The Yellow God: An Idol of Africa (1908 US), whose evil, multiply incarnated priestess is a parody of Ayesha; The Mahatma and the Hare: A Dream Story (1911), a kind of Posthumous Fantasy in which the eponymous mahatma converses with a hare on the Great White Road the dead take, and is horrified by the hare's description of his death at the hands of English hunters; and Red Eve (1911), in which Murgh, a personification of Death, traverses a plague-afflicted Europe. There are fantasticated or supernatural elements in some of the other novels, such as Cleopatra: Being an Account of the Fall and Vengeance of Harmachis, the Royal Egyptian, as Set Forth by his Own Hand (1889 US).

HRH could shift from subtlety to coarseness, from original insight to tendentious cliché within a single paragraph. His tales remain powerfully in the memory, but tend to disappoint on being reread. His influence comes from his capacity to create images of adventure and unattainable romance, from the mythopoeic vividness of the underliers he created. But there is almost always a lingering sense that an HRH tale could have been told better. Over the past century, many writers have tried to do this. [JC]

other works: Beatrice (1890); Montezuma's Daughter (1893); The Wizard (1896), also incorporated into The Wizard, and Black Heart and White Heart (coll 1907; vt Black Heart and White Heart, and The Wizard 1924); Swallow: A Tale of the Great Trek (1899 US); Elissa, the Doom of Zimbabwe: Black Heart & White Heart (coll 1900 US; rev vt Black Heart and White Heart, and Elissa 1900 Germany; "Elissa" only vt Elissa, or The Doom of Zimbabwe 1917 UK); Lysbeth: A Tale of the Dutch (1901 US); Pearl-Maiden: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem (1903); The Brethren (1903); The Ghost Kings (1908; vt The Lady of the Heavens 1908 US); The Lady of Blossholme (1909); Morning Star (1910); Queen Sheba's Ring (1910); The Wanderer's Necklace (1914); Moon of Israel: A Tale of the Exodus (1918); When the World Shook: Being an Account of the Great Adventure of Bastin, Bickley, and Arbuthnot (1919), sf; The Missionary and the Witch-Doctor (1920 chap US); The Virgin of the Sun (1922); Queen of the Dawn: A Love Tale of Old Egypt (1925); Mary of Marion Isle (1929; vt Marion Isle 1929 US); Belshazzar (1930); The Best Short Stories of H. Rider Haggard (coll 1981) ed Peter Haining. There are also various omnibuses.

further reading: H. Rider Haggard: A Bibliography (1987) by D E Whatmore; Rider Haggard and the Fiction of Empire: A Critical Study of British Imperial Fiction (1987) by Wendy R Katz; Rider Haggard and the Lost Empire (1993) by Tom Pocock.

[Sir] Henry Rider Haggard


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.