H Rider Haggard

Sir Henry Rider Haggard, H Rider Haggard (1856-1925), English writer of adventure stories. Most famous of which was King Solomon's Mines (1885) and She (1887). Other novels included Allan Quatermain (1887).

In total H Rider Haggard wrote thirty-four adventure novels variously set in Africa, Mexico, Iceland, Egypt and Turkey.

Born in Norfolk, he left England at the age of nineteen and went to South Africa. Later he served in the Transvaal as a Master and Registrar of the High Court. Whilst in Africa he acquainted himself with the Zulu culture. It is believed that whilst in Africa, that he had an affair with an African woman, a profound relationship, which perhaps influenced his portrayal of women and subsequent psychoanalytic interpretations of his works.

Returning to England in 1881, he married a Norfolk heiress, Mariana Louisa Margitson. H Rider Haggard then settled down in Norfolk, where he devoted most of his time to agriculture on his estate in Norfolk, and to writing his novels, many of which were set in Africa.

After retiring to his Norfolk country house, H Rider Haggard devoted himself to his writing. He had earlier published a study of contemporary African history. His first books, Dawn (1884) and The Witche's Tale (1884), were undistinguished. According to a story, when Treasure Island by R L Stevenson first appeared in book form in 1883, H Rider Haggard did not think much of it, and made a five-shilling bet with his brother, that he could write a better story. The outcome, written in just six weeks, was King Solomon's Mines, a story of a group of treasure hunters searching for a legendary diamond mine in a lost land. Shades of Indiana Jones to come?

The adventure tale became a sensation, and the book has been in print ever since. He repeated the success with She.

King Solomonís Mines (1885) was an immediate success, its story, suggested by ruins in what is now Zimbabwe, dealt with the adventures of an English explorer among remote tribes. The characters who appeared in the book were featured in sevearl other books, including Allan Quatermain (1887).

H Rider Haggard is often compared with his friend Rudyard Kipling, a fellow colonialist and story teller, but the comparison does not stand scrutiny. Nor does the comparison with fellow colonialist and and writer of adventure fiction John Buchan.

The films in the Indiana Jones series are sometimes put in the same league, but this is to cast pearls before the swine, American movies aimed at American teenagers with attention spans measured in milliseconds.

She is a very powerful novel. It explores themes of love and hate, evil and good, religious thought, and is a good adventure yarn. Even the best of today's fiction writers are not in the same literary league.

She was a very powerful female figure, hence her full name amongst the African natives over who should held sway, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.

The critical commentary in Wikipedia that 'Ayesha is to a great extent selfish and amoral, caring very little for the feelings or even the lives of others so long as she gets what she wants' is simply false. She herself explains that she derives no pleasure in the punishment she hands down, but that it is necessary to exact control of the local natives, who would kill each other if left to their own devices, and indeed, we see how they set upon our heroes. We also see the commentary is false from her actions, thoughts and philosophy.

A two-part adaptation of She was broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on 2 and 9 July 2006 (repeated 8 and 15 July 2006).

In addition to writing, H Rider Haggard was an adviser to the British government on agriculture.

In 1895, H Rider Haggard stood unsuccessfully for Parliament for East Norfolk. Between the years 1912 and 1917 he traveled extensively as a member of the Dominions Royal Commission. H Rider Haggard was an expert on agricultural and social conditions in England and on colonial migration. His books on farming, such as The Farmer's Year Book and Royal England, were based on long journeys through the country and his own research. For his non-fiction, such as The Poor and the Land (1905), and for his government services, H Rider Haggard was knighted in 1912. In 1919 he was created Knight Commander of the British Empire.

H Rider Haggard died in London, 14 May 1925. He left behind four completed novels. Three of Haggard's siblings - Andrew, Edward, and Eleanora - also published fiction, Eleanora under her married title, Baroness Albert D'Anethan.

Literature ~ Rudyard Kipling
(c) Keith Parkins 2006 -- July 2006 rev 0