Vitally Haggard

A few words on Haggard. No, not Merle Haggard, though that man is worthy of a torrent of digital ink. I’m writing here about Henry Rider Haggard, traveler, lawyer, author.

I’m reading Allan Quatermain currently, a book I should have read decades ago. I’m not unfamiliar with Haggard. I finished King Solomon’s Mines about a year ago. Eric Brighteyes perhaps a decade back. I recall doggedly pushing through She about thirty years back, during college, in a vintage hardcover edition. That one I’ll revisit soon; I have a paperback copy on my lunch book To Read Pile.

I greatly enjoyed King Solomon’s Mines. It is a classic adventure novel. But it is conceivable, at a bit past the midway point, that I like Allan Quatermain even more. There is an element of sword-and-sorcery about it, a certain proto-fantasy adventure feel. The battles are epic and carefully detailed. The exploration and hardships of 19th century expeditions in Africa are fully realized, but added to that are fantastic details such as underground rivers and fiery natural gas jets.

And then of course there is that classic pulp S&S touch, the lost civilization. Writers from Doyle to Burroughs have played with this theme, a concept at least as old as Prester John.

I can only assume Haggard influenced Robert E. Howard. I’m sure that is far from an original notion. Scholars and literary biographers have probably explored this concept, with detailed textual comparisons and excerpts from letters. But originality isn’t the only virtue; there’s no reason I can’t note the same thing. I can see hints of Haggard in everything from Solomon Kane, to Conan, to Howard’s more contemporary heroes, such as El Borak. 

Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps Howard’s more important influences were more recent, say Harold Lamb or Talbot Mundy. I don’t know.

I do know that I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Allan Quatermain. I also know that I’d love to read short stories detailing the adventures of Umslopogaas and his axe. What a great character. I was happy to discover that he appears in other novels by Haggard. I’ll have to track those down.

Something to look forward to.