Allan & the Ice-Gods

David Pringle

   

Although it did not appear until two full years after his death on 14th May 1925, Allan and the Ice-Gods (Hutchinson, May 1927) was not quite the last of Rider Haggard's novels. It had been preceded by the posthumous The Treasure of the Lake (1926) — also an Allan Quatermain story — and it was followed by a final pair of posthumous titles, Mary of Marion Isle (1929) and Belshazzar (1930), both unrelated to the Quatermain series. We know that Haggard liked to write well ahead of his approximately annual publishing schedule and to store his finished manuscripts in a safe, so it comes as no great surprise to read in Morton Cohen's excellent biography of the author that Allan and the Ice- Gods was written as early as 1922. What comes as much more of a surprise is to learn from Professor Cohen that this far-out adventure tale of a modern-day hero who takes an hallucinogenic drug which allows his consciousness to plunge backwards through time, entering the mind of an Ice-Age man, was actually plotted in collaboration with Rudyard Kipling, eminent author of The Jungle Book and Kim:

"In the course of their association, Kipling suggested the idea for at least one of Haggard's tales (When the World Shook), he took a considerable hand in plotting five others (The Ghost Kings, Red Eve, Allan and the Ice-Gods, The Mahatma and the Hare, The Way of the Spirit), and he read (or was read) at least six stories in manuscript... For this much we have evidence...

"Kipling seems to have given Haggard the most elaborate assistance on Allan and the Ice-Gods, which they worked over on Haggard's visit to Bateman's [Kipling's home] in February 1922. The evidence rests in a group of seven pages (four quarto sheets) containing detailed plotting, alternating between Haggard's and Kipling's handwriting... [and] a list in Kipling's hand of the characters of the tale, with accompanying phrases that either explain the meaning of their names or give a thumb-nail description... On the reverse of one page, Haggard wrote: 'Synopsis of story drawn up by Rudyard K & myself at Batemans (Feb. 1922) H. Rider Haggard.' Of particular interest is the fact that the larger part of the writing is in Kipling's hand..."

— Morton Cohen, Rider Haggard: His Life & Work,
London: Macmillan, 1960; 2nd edition, 1968, p204-206

It would be a mistake to make too much of that, however — to regard Allan and the Ice-Gods as essentially Kipling's novel. It may contain some of Kipling's ideas, but the style is pure Haggard; and, after all, Haggard himself had earlier been an inspiration to Kipling — the latter testified in his autobiography that the idea for the Mowgli stories in The Jungle Book (1893) had suddenly flashed upon him while he was reading the episode of the "wolf brothers" in Haggard's Zulu romance Nada the Lily (1891). Also, Kipling may well have been influenced by the tale of Hendrika the baboon-woman in Haggard's earlier novel Allan's Wife (1889) — an interesting female model for both Mowgli the wolf-boy and Edgar Rice Burroughs's Tarzan the ape- man (the latter was first presented to the world in 1912, in the pages of an American pulp magazine, All-Story). The give-and- take between these turn-of-the-century popular writers was considerable, although Haggard, who was nearly a decade older than Kipling and wrote his first Allan Quatermain story, King Solomon's Mines, in 1885, takes precedence over most.

It was an extraordinary era for popular fiction, this period from the 1880s to the First World War which the critic Roger Lancelyn Green has called the Age of the Storytellers. At exactly the moment when Haggard was enjoying his first flush of success with King Solomon's Mines, in 1885, Robert Louis Stevenson was writing his celebrated novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (published January 1886) and Arthur Conan Doyle was scribbling his "shilling shocker" A Study in Scarlet, about the adventures of a near-superhuman detective called Sherlock Holmes (foolishly rejected by the leading publisher of shilling shockers, Arrowsmith, it languished for over a year until its appearance in Beeton's Christmas Annual, 1887). At almost the same moment, too, a very young Herbert George Wells was conceiving the ideas, and writing the early drafts, of what would become his first great success in the field of scientific romance, The Time Machine (in book form, 1895; but the crude prototype was serialized as "The Chronic Argonauts" in the Science Schools Journal, 1888). Five authors, above all others, were to dominate the Age of the Storytellers, and those five were Stevenson, Haggard, Doyle, Kipling and Wells. Between them, they bequeathed to the 20th century, to its legacy of popular prose fiction and film, so many of the great and enduring characters, ideas, themes, situations and genres.

One of the new sub-genres which arose in that period was the tale of prehistory, the adventure story set in the remotest conceivable human past. In many ways, this type of tale blended well with those that explored the "wild man" or feral-child theme, alluded to above: both sub-genres were imaginative responses, however muddled, to the 19th-century discovery of fossilized hominid remains, such as the famous Neanderthal Man, and to the new biology of evolution by Natural Selection, as expounded by Charles Darwin. The colourful and conventional historical romance, full of knights in armour or Romans in togas, had been a popular genre for a long time, at least since the days of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe (1819) and Bulwer Lytton's The Last Days of Pompeii (1834), but the pre-historical romance — inspired more by the sciences of archaeology and paleontology than by any written records, and thus more a form of science fiction than of historical fiction — was a new thing in the late 19th century.

There were French-language precedents (one can find French precedents for most 19th-century trends in popular fiction) — an 1861 novel called Paris avant les hommes (Paris Before Men) by Pierre Boitard seems to have been the first — but in English the tale of prehistory really got underway in the 1890s and the decades following. Examples of the form include A Son of Noah by Mary Anderson (1893), From Monkey to Man by Austin Bierbower (1894), The Story of Ab by Stanley Waterloo (1897), "A Story of the Stone Age" by H. G. Wells (serialized in The Idler, May- September 1897), The Pagan's Progress by Gouverneur Morris (1904), A Woman of the Ice Age by Louis Pope Gratacap (1906), Before Adam by Jack London (1906), The Red Feather by Theodore Goodridge Roberts (1907), Wolf: The Memoirs of a Cave Dweller by Peter B. McCord (1908), Longhead by Charles Henry Robinson (1913), Stories of the Cave People by Mary E. Marcy (1917) and In the Morning of Time by Charles G. D. Roberts (1919). Rider Haggard's friend and erstwhile collaborator, the folklorist and amateur anthropologist Andrew Lang, had been one of the earliest in the field with his amusing short story "The Romance of the First Radical" (1886).

Thus Haggard was contributing to an already well-established genre when he came to write Allan and the Ice-Gods in 1922, and few of his ideas were "original." There had been many tales of small primitive tribes struggling with dangerous environments, savage beasts and their own atavistic impulses. Even his framing device, of a hero's slip backwards in time into an earlier incarnation of himself, was well-worn: Jack London had utilized something similar in Before Adam. But Haggard's narrative has the virtue of being more vivid than most, more deeply imagined. Once past the opening couple of chapters, with their rather heavy- handed humour and elements of authorial self-parody (the ageing Allan Quatermain in terrified flight from his own particular cut- price version of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, Lady Luna Ragnall), the reader is gripped by the prehistoric characters, the descriptions of their world, and the set-piece action scenes. There are many good things: the mammoth and the hairy ape-man trapped inside the glacier, where they are mistaken for "ice-gods"; the making of the great axe by Pag the Cunning Dwarf; the hero's duel-to-the- death with the old tribal chieftain, Henga; the trapping of the wolves and the killing of the sabre-tooth; the coming of the golden-haired, heartbreaking Laleela in her dugout canoe; the fight with the aurochs; and so on. The character of Pag, in particular, dominates the novel; he is another of Haggard's wise and wonderful dwarfs (compare Hans the Hottentot in The Ivory Child — of whom, we learn in the final chapter, Pag is almost certainly a "pre-incarnation" — or Otter, the stunted but formidable Zulu warrior in The People of the Mist).

Prehistoric romance has remained popular since Haggard's contribution to the form; in fact, it has gained a whole new lease of life in the last couple of decades thanks to Jean M. Auel's bestselling series of "Earth's Children" novels (The Clan of the Cave Bear [1980], etc) — compare Auel's Ayla, the stone-age blonde, with Haggard's Laleela. Among the lesser-known recent examples of prehistoric fiction are Philip Jose Farmer's Hadon of Ancient Opar (1974) and it sequel Flight to Opar (1976), action-adventure yarns which readers of Haggard's novel should find particularly interesting. Although they are billed as prequels to Edgar Rice Burroughs's "Tarzan" novels, set circa 10,000 BC and involving a sophisticated civilization which flourishes around an inland sea in central Africa, a civilization which founded Tarzan's lost city of Opar, they are also, as it turns out, sequels to Allan and the Ice-Gods. The characters of Laleela and Pag recur — renamed by Farmer "Lalila" and "Paga" — and are imagined fleeing southward to Africa from the European locale of Haggard's novel. Pag, or Paga, carries with him the marvellous axe which he fashioned from meteoric metal.

When I interviewed Philip Jose Farmer many years ago, in 1976, he had this to say:

"My Oparian civilization is not founded just on elements from Burroughs. It represents an amalgamation between Burroughs and Haggard. This huge axe-head made from meteorite iron actually first appeared in Haggard's Allan and the Ice-Gods. There are two characters in the first novel, Hadon of Ancient Opar, who appeared in Haggard's book, Lalila and the dwarf Paga — or Pag, as he was called in Haggard's novel. Now the hero of Haggard's novel has died in my novel; he gave the axe to Pag, who in turn has given it to Kwasin [one of Farmer's heroes]. Kwasin will have this huge axe through the series, and eventually it will go to Hadon's son, who, after the great catastrophe, will emigrate to the south and found the city of Kor which appeared in Haggard's She. And this axe, if you're familiar with the Allan Quatermain novels, later on fell into the hands of Umslopogaas, the great Zulu hero, who shattered it in the city of Zu-Vendis, you remember [the reference is to the climax of Haggard's Allan Quatermain, 1887]. So... I'm tracing the history of this axe from Haggard to Burroughs and back to Haggard; and I'm incorporating Haggard's lost cities into Burroughs's lost cities."

— Philip Jose Farmer,
interviewed by David Pringle on 14th June 1976

Unfortunately, Mr Farmer (who is now 80 years of age) did not write a third "Opar" novel, and so we never did get to learn the story of Pag's axe in full; but the notion of it surviving to become Umslopogaas's great war-axe, the dreaded skull-tapper known as "Woodpecker," is pleasing, and I am sure Haggard himself would have appreciated it.

copyright 1999 by David Pringle, all rights reserved





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