Tuesday, 22 June 2010


“An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” - G.K. Chesterton

It is the anniversary of the birth of Henry Rider Haggard today (1856–1925). He was an English novelist and Victorian writer of African frontier adventure novels like “King Solomon’s Mines” (1885) and the sequel “Allan Quatermain” (1887). The phrase “She-who-must-be-obeyed” comes from a character in Haggard’s 1887 book “She”. I first discovered Haggard in my early teens when we were living in a small country town and I was a regular visitor of the public library. I found a treasure trove of all of Haggard’s novels in a corner and read them all with great alacrity after sampling the first one. It was real gung-ho, boy’s adventure stuff that any teen with an active imagination would enjoy and I still remember the pleasure of reading those novels – trashy but good!

When he was a young man, Haggard spent several years in South Africa as a functionary of the British government, and Africa became the prime setting of many of the adventure stories he wrote later. Haggard was living in Britain when he published “King Solomon’s Mines” in 1885. He reportedly wrote the entire novel in six weeks after making a friendly wager with his brother that he could write a better story than Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”.

The book was a huge success, and over the next 40 years Haggard wrote dozens of similarly exotic short stories and novels, including “Allan Quatermain” (1887), “She” (1887), “Cleopatra” (1889), “Nada the Lily” (1892), “Montezuma’s Daughter” (1893), “The Ghost Kings” (1908) and “Belshazzar” (published posthumously in 1930). The Haggard style featured a variable but dependable blend of hidden treasures and ancient artifacts, jungle beasts, creepy ghouls and mystical spirits, lost civilisations, and big-hearted, gun-packing gentlemen adventurers. Does all of this ring a bell? Can you recognise elements of the Indiana Jones series of films? They are in a similar style and I am sure that George Lucas would certainly have read Haggard too!

Haggard also developed a serious interest in social and agricultural reform; he wrote “The Poor and the Land” in 1905 and was appointed a special commissioner for the Colonial Office the same year. He was knighted in 1912 and made a Knight Commander (K.B.E.) in 1919. His autobiography “The Days of My Life” was published in 1926, the year after his death.

While Haggard’s novels portray many of the stereotypes associated with colonialism, they are unusual for the degree of sympathy with which the native populations are portrayed. Africans often play heroic roles in the novels, although the protagonists are typically, though not invariably, European. This is something that made me appreciate this author further, especially as during my teens there were stirrings of social activism, increased political awareness, appreciation of the evils of racism and discrimination…

However, don’t get me wrong, this is prime escapist fiction, pure and simple. It does not pretend to be high literature, but for its genre, it is very good.


  1. I have seen the Richard Chamberlain film of King Solomons Mines but was not aware of this author. Some of the titles sound interesting. Thanks for the suggestion Nic!!! I'll check him out at my local library.....

  2. Rider Haggard was also a Freemason and a lot of his works were influenced by the society - good Victorian literature