Thursday, November 11, 2010


By H. Rider Haggard

This is the novel that launched the fictional career of Allan Quartermain and the literary career of an obscure imperialist named H. Rider Haggard. They are both still going strong. Allan Quatermain has been played by a variety of movie stars (including Richard Chamberlain, the edition of the book I have ties in with the 1985 film version) most recently Sir Sean Connery in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Although Haggard died in 1925, post-colonialist lit-crit types still like to review his books and prove he was a British Imperialist.

What this book really is, is a prototype of the “lost city” adventure. Readers of the Solomon Kane yarns by Robert E. Howard will feel at home. Allan Quartermain is a British South African. He is an old hand at scouting and hunting, a South African equivalent of Kit Carson. A couple of British gentlemen approach him to guide an expedition into the interior to locate a missing friend. They also find a lost civilization that didn’t even know it was lost. Legends of startling antiquity mix with frontier rumors. There are great heaps of treasure and even bigger heaps of trouble to be found.

Haggard essentially wove a South African “Western” into an adventure story of the fantastic unknown. He knew what he was talking about. Haggard’s dad informed his son he was a useless blockhead and should get up and do something with his life if he didn’t get killed in the process. With that bit of paternal support Haggard went to South Africa, specifically the Transvaal. It was a rough time and Haggard departed after the local Boer settlers kicked the Brits out in a brief war of independence.

Perhaps there were men that Haggard knew in South Africa that were the model for Quartermain. He’s certainly not the typical action-hero. Quartermain is a little guy, he’s past his prime, describes himself as timid, and has an unfashionable brush cut. He makes an engaging narrator, offering detailed info on the best type of oxen to buy for travel on the veldt, describing the muddled interaction of Europeans and Africans who can’t quite grasp each other’s culture, and of course telling of thrilling adventures.

The edition I have includes stills from the Golan & Globus version of King Solomon’s Mines that was apparently intended to get a boost from the popularity of Indiana Jones. I’ve never seen it, but it seems to refer to some other story than the one I read (mine had fewer women and Germans).
-Dave Hardy



Tim Mayer said...

Excellent adventure novel. Postcolonial studies types would do well to read Prince Lightning's warning at the novel's conclusion before judging it.

Dave Hardy said...

I've read a lot more Haggard since I wrote this. Child of Storm & Nada the Lily pretty much demolish the idea that Haggard could only write about natives subservient to white men or that he was on some sort of jihad against strong women.

Anonymous said...

According to what I had heard, Haggard himself was added to the mix when George Lucas created "Indiana Jones". By the way, am very, very intrigued by your post on Absolute Write Water site, speaking about other "Frontier Lands" and the such. If your still interested in speaking of these, you can e-mail me at I have been trying to get a series of books started. My idea has South Africa involved. Looking to hear from you.