illustrated with a portrait of a young H. Rider Haggard
& images from rare dustwrappers
The success of H. Rider Haggard is a case of the right man in the right place at the right time with the right idea.
Haggard was an Englishman of Danish descent, born in Norfolk on June 22, 1856. Family tradition asserts that the line descends from a gallant Danish nobleman named Ogard perhaps the Danish knight Sir Andrew Oggard, or Ogard, who fought at the siege of Orleans & who may have come to England in the retinue of Anne of Denmark.
After schooling, Haggard struck out for one of the last frontiers, Africa, which was still the Dark Continent in his day, largely unexplored, scantily settled or mapped, a vast realm whose marvels & mysteries had yet to be unriddled. Haggard settled in the Transvaal, becoming a government official at 21; he raised the Union Jack over Pretoria with his own hands when England annexed the territory in 1877. Returning to England a mature, world-traveled adventurer, Haggard dabbled at the study of law, but also began writing books on the side. After a few early misses, he made his first great success with a romance called King Solomon's Mines, which he wrote in six weeks on a bet. It was published in 1885.
King Solomon's Mines is a breathtaking adventure story in which a party of Englishmen, led by the soft-spoken but intrepid "great white hunter," Allan Quatermain, discover the lost diamond mines of the Biblical monarch in the trackless wilds of unexplored Africa. The novel was a spectacular success; in fact, it is one of the most fabulous successes in the history of English literature.
There are, of course, many writers who make it big with one novel & who never manage to duplicate that first sensational triumph again. Happily, such was not the case with Haggard. King Solomon's Mines was published by Cassell in September 1885; within five months, Haggard was at work on another romance of mysterious Africa She. If anything She was even more successful. Today, both romances are still kept continuously in print in a variety of editions; both have been filmed time & again, & both have sold millions of copies.
"The right man in the right place at the right time with the right idea." Here's what I mean by this. Haggard, a born storyteller with brilliant narrative gifts, had been lucky enough to have lived in Africa, & could depict the landscape & the natives with such authenticity of atmosphere & detail of setting as to capture the imagination of his generation. (Indeed, there were many who refused to believe that such utterly realistic romances were merely romances, & one leading merchant actually planned to launch an expedition to find Haggard's purely imaginary lost diamond mines of King Solomon!)
Then again, Haggard was lucky enough to come in at the very beginning of the golden age of the adventure story. It had already begun Charles Kingsley had published Hereward the Wake in 1866, Blackmore's Lorna Doone was published in 1869 but Haggard appeared on the scene just as this trend was approaching its height. In the single span of six years between 1883 & 1888, the English-speaking world thrilled to a rapid succession of masterpieces of imaginative adventure from Robert Louis Stevenson, Treasure Island, Dr. Jekyll & Mr Hyde, The Black Arrow, and Kidnapped; from Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet; & from Haggard, King Solomon's Mines, She and Allen Quatermain.
Haggard continued to ride the crest of this wave, achieving with later books such as Cleopatra, Ayesha, Montezuma's Daughter, and Queen Sheba's Ring, a popularity both immense & lasting, & despite competition from brilliant new books like The Lost World, The Jungle Book, Phra the Phoenician, Prester John, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and Kim. He is still today what he was nearly a century ago: one of the most popular writers of all time, unchallenged master of the adventure romance, & one of the greatest of all fantasy writers.
But the true secret of Haggard's gigantic success lies in the fact that he did something very well something that no one had done at all before him.
To explain this, let me again turn back the clock to the period in which his first books appeared. For if Haggard wrote at the dawn of the golden age of the adventure story, he also appeared during the opening phases of what you might call the heroic age of archaeology.
The discovery of the ancient world had begun a century before his birth. Alcubierre began digging up the buried city of Pompeii in 1748; Grotefend had stumbled upon the secret of reading Babylonian cuneiform in 1802; Champollion had conquered the mystery of the Rosetta Stone in 1821; Botta discovered the ruins of Nineveh in 1843; by 1845, Layard was excavating the tomb of Nimrod, the greatgrandson of Noah; by 1870, Schliemann was discovering the lost city of Troy; & in by 1881, Brugsch was opening up the age-forgotten secrets of the Valley of Kings. In time he would unearth the mummies of forty Pharaohs.
These fantastic discoveries took Europe by storm, transforming the intellectual history of the age. Chapter by chapter, lost & forgotten eras of man's remote past were coming to light.
And it was Haggard's remarkable good fortune to appear just before this heroic period reached its glorious noon. She was published in book form just two years before Petrie opened the tomb of Amenemhet III; Heart of the World appeared just four years before Evans dug up the lost city of Knossos on Crete; When the World Shook, that fantastic tale of the discovery of human beings perfectly preserved from the destruction of a forgotten civilization of the mythic past, was printed three years before Howard Carter broke the age-old seal on the door of the tomb of Tutankhamen; a spectacular Egyptian romance, Wisdom's Daughter, came to press the year after "King Tut's Tomb," with its astounding curse, amazed the world.
This brilliant succession of momentous historical & archeological discoveries, extending from the discovery of Pompeii in 1748 to Schleimann's fantastic discovery of the lost city of Troy in 1870, had aroused in the reading public an immense curiosity concerning the ancient world. Haggard's eerie romances of the lost world of antiquity were just what the public wanted. But Haggard carried things a bit further. Historical romances of antiquity were all very well Haggard wrote many of them; so did other authors. But, whether consciously or through sheer auctorial instinct, Haggard extended the romance of antiquity into a new dimension of story-telling, & in so doing won the immortality for which most authors strive in vain.
For even more exciting than the discovery of lost cities of the past, dead & buried & forgotten for thousands of years, is the discovery of an ancient city tucked away in some far corner of the world still inhabited! This idea was the secret of his success; it made She an immortal classic; it won tremendous popularity for Allan Quatermain and The People of the Mist. It was Haggard's greatest innovation, & although the idea may seem remarkably simple in hindsight, or even perfectly obvious, he was the first to use it; & the world has never forgotten him because of it .
Haggard invented a new type of fantasy adventure for which the term "the lost race novel" was later coined. Writers virtually fell over each other, following in his footsteps as they do in the wake of every literary innovation. One of the fist to "do a Haggard" was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Lost World (1912) tells of the discovery of an Amazonian plateau filled with survivals from the past, in this case, pterodactyls & dinosaurs, from a past more remote than Haggard's merely human antiquity. Somewhat later, with The Maracot Deep (1928) Doyle brought modern explorers to a domed city on the ocean's floor which had survived after the doom of Atlantis.
Even earlier than Doyle, however, James Paul Kelly had written Prince Izon (1910), which has modern-day Aztecs living in a hidden city in the Grand Canyon [note: the illustration above right is a detail from the binding of Prince Izon]. And Aztecs had cropped up even earlier than this, in Thomas Janvier's romance of "contemporaneous antiquity," The Aztec Treasure-House (1890). As more writers got into the act, the scope of the lost-race school widened: Percy Brebner's The Knight of the Silver Star (1907) has a lost kingdom of Crusaders still going strong in a secret valley of the Caucasus; & Gilbert Collins, in The Valley of Eyes Unseen (1923), has Macedonian soldiers, descendants of the army of Alexander the Great, hidden away in China; while in The Moon Gods (1930), Edgar Jepson has a colony of Carthage turn up in the wastes of the Sahara. The most recent great success of this school is probably James Hilton's famous best seller, Lost Horizon (1933).
The most successful of Haggard's many literary disciples were both American pulp-magazine writers. I refer, of course, to the great A. Merritt & the immortal Edgar Rice Burroughs. While Merritt's work derived almost entirely from Haggard, he scrupulously avoided using Africa as the locale for any of his lost-race romances, setting The Dwellers in the Mirage in Alaska, The Face in the Abyss in the Andes, & The Moon Pool in a cavern-world under the island of Ponape in the Pacific. Burroughs was less scrupulous, & in his Tarzan novels Africa is discovered to house forgotten colonies of Romans, Egyptians, Atlanteans, & even a pair of lost cities, one occupied by Crusaders & the other by Saracens.
As for Haggard himself, he continued writing romances of antiquity & lost-race fantasies ford the rest of his life. He was created a Knight of the Order of the British Empire in 1919. He died just short of his sixty-ninth birthday, on May 14, 1925. He was a prolific writer of enormous energy & prodigious capacity for work, & his production so far outpaced his publishers' ability to publish that new novels continued to appear for some years after he died, the last, I believe, being Belshazzar in 1930.
Haggard wrote so many books that, while just about everyone must know a couple of the more famous ones (at least She and King Solomon's Mines, surely!), the bulk of his work remains unfamiliar to all but the fantasy collectors & connoisseurs. The connoisseurs also know that some of his most brilliant imaginative work appears in some of the most neglected & least known of his books.
This is the case with The World's Desire, the fantastic romance he wrote with his friend Andrew Lang, which brings Odysseus & Helen of Troy together in the shadowy temples of immemorial & mysterious Egypt. And it is also the case with The People of the Mist, a sensational adventure story which explores the dark heart of cryptic Africa, bringing to light a fantastic lost civilization from time's forgotten dawn. It first appeared in England in 1894; it was written at the end of that first amazing decade of Haggard's career the ten years in which he wrote more than seventeen novels, among them five or six of the most celebrated romances in our language. He wrote it at the height of his powers, in the full glorious flush of his first successes, & it remains a highwater mark of the imaginative romance, seldom approached, rarely equalled, never surpassed. Yet its glory has been lost in the fame of the better publicized novels.
So let us turn to his less-well-known books, for among them lie some of this most superb fantasies, like The People of the Mist. It is a magnificent story, the one most often compared to Merritt, & it is almost impossible to find. The last printing in America that I know of was in August 1915, well over half a century ago. Half a century is about forty-nine years too long for such a good book to be out of print, so we bring it to you now, as fresh & vigorous & exciting as when it was written at the close of the last century.
Hollis, Long Island, New York
Notes by the Editor
1. Haggard of course was not first to use the Lost Race motif. Earlier representative examples of the genre include Lady Mary Fox's Account of an Expedition to the Interior of New Holland (Ln: Bentley, 1837); William Starbuck Mayo's Kaloolan; or, The Adventures of Jonathan Romer of Nantucket (NY: Putnam, 1849); A. R. Middleton Payne's The Geral-Melco; or, The Narrative of a Residence in a Brazilian Valley (NY: Norton, 1852); Gustave Aimard's The Indian Scout, A Story of the Aztec City (Ln: Ward & Lock, 1861); James Fenimore Cooper's The Monikins (Boston: Dutton, 1865); Bulwer-Lytton's The Coming Race (Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1871); Robert Ellis Dudgeon's Colymbia (Ln: Trubner, 1873); Peter Fishe Reed's Beyond the Snow: Being a History of Trim's Adventures in Nordlichtschein (Chicago: Lakeside, 1873); the anonymous Etymonia (Ln: Tinsley, 1875); Ellis James Davis's Pyrna: A Commune; or, Under the Ice (Ln: Vickers, 1875); Elton R. Smilie's The Mantitlians; or, A Record of Recent Scientific Explorations in the Andean La Plata, S. A. (Cambridge, Mass: Riverside Press, 1877); Harry Collingwood's The Log of the Flying Fish (Ln: Blackie, 1887); & so many more that we may safely assume young Rider was more than once exposed to the theme before he set out to refine it to the heights of artistic power.
2. It could be argued that the thread of Lost Race novels regarding Aztecs such as A. R. Middleton Payne's 1852 fictional travel-log which many at the time took to be a true account constitute a thread distinct from that which followed Haggard. Certainly Incans and Aztecs & eventually Mayans all these were early believed to be the last Atlanteans remained the most popular "lost races" even after Haggard drew attention to Africa & even with the rest of the world providing alternate locations & peoples to discover. Rider made late additions to the South American variety himself partly with his historical novels of Aztec America, Virgin of the Sun (1922) and Montezuma's Daughter (1893), & wholeheartedly with his 1909 lost race novel The Heart of the World inspired by newly discovered Mayan ruins. Even with these, it remains that South American lost race tales were being written before e'er Rider set pen to page. It can nevertheless be as strongly argued that no lost race novel that followed She and Allan Quatermain can have escaped Haggard's signal influence whether set in Africa, Central America, Antarctica, the Gobi, the Australian outback, or the bottom of the sea. And the plethora of super-queens that rule these lost races (as imagined by authors other than Haggard) are frequently given names that are frank variants on Ayesha beginning with the letter "A" (when not "M" in subliminal or subconscious homage to the Virgin Mary!).
3. While Hilton's 1933 classic is indeed the most successful "later" Lost Race novel, the genre trundled along another twenty years in the pulps (Burroughs & Merritt looming largest as Lin notes, but a hundred other lost race tale-spinners were never reprinted from the pulps) & in young adult books (such as in the Tom Swift and Tom Swift Junior books; in the late 40s, C. Bernard Rutley wrote four excellent lost race boys' novels; many others). But even as adult literature Lost Horizon does not quite provide a definitive end-mark, as Harold Lamb's A Garden to the Eastward (NY: Doubleday, 1947) was a best seller in its day, placing a lost race in a volcanic crater in the Mid East; while Dennis Wheatley's The Man Who Missed the War (Ln: Hutchinson, 1945) with two Antarctic lost races was a notable success in its decade; as was archeologist Jacquetta Hawkes' Providence Island (NY: Random House, 1959), depicting an advanced lost race on a Pacific Island. Every decade provides a couple examples so the subgenre never dies despite that the world provided no more uncharted regions wherein to place them; & if one listed the obscurer books of the later period, they would be many enough. Still, Lin is undoubtedly correct in suggesting the 1930s was when the theme ceased to be such a singular driving force in adult adventure fiction, not coincidentally the time when the stars began to be the repository of strange new races of science fiction creatures.
A Closing Remembrance: Lin Carter is to this day acknowledged as having been a giant among fantasy editors, do primarily to his overseeing the Ballentine Adult Fantasy Series (though Betty Ballantine merits a percentage of that credit), & because of his many influential anthologies of heroic fantasy which were certainly among my favorite books. His own novels & tales were somewhat "dissed" in their day, but in retrospect, many of us read them because they were pretty darned entertaining, not because we had no taste. And compared to the dreck that today appears monthly from major publishers packaged as fantasy most of it closer to bodice-ripper than adventure fantasy Lin's achievement looms ever more creditable for its sincerity & naive power. At least one of his short stories springs to mind as flawless art: "Zingazar" told from the point of view of an ancient sword. I'm also fond of his faux Clark Ashton Smith imitations, which read nothing like CAS but have a likeability as colorful short-short prose-poems.
The only time I saw Lin was at a convention where he was exceedingly unbathed, cadging potato chips & hoping a publisher would buy him lunch, & sleeping nights upright in lobby chairs. I did not know about the drugs. I was just surprised he seemed to be experiencing an unemployed teenagers' rather than a successful adult author's convention. He had not nearly reached his low point at that time; he was hyper & amusing though it was hard not to keep looking at his long, thin, matted, uncombed hair. Nearer the end of his life, having had many splendid down-&-out adventures including getting shot at by his black girlfriend & losing most of his books & treasures in a series of evictions, he had done much harm to his body. And Lin finally understood he had to pull himself together hence withdrew to a clinic that did not permit him to communicate with the outside world. Rumor spread that he'd died. I sent him a note saying I hoped he wasn't dead, but if he was dead, I wished him luck in the afterlife. He eventually wrote back an extremely comic reply about his recent demise, but getting better. It really seemed he was going to get through it intact, but you don't dose your internal organs with street pharmaceuticals for that many years & live happily ever after. The next time it was rumored he was dead, it was true. I did not know him well, but it struck me as a real loss at the time, & it still seems a sad misfortune. Some of his fantasy novels were actually short novellas that appeared only as slim, cheap paperbacks, often in series-sets of from three to five episodes for each setting or chracter. Perhaps someday some of these will be reissued in fine edition omnibuses & Lin's works will survive.
-Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Seattle, December 1998
"Lost Races, Forgotten Cities" is copyright © 1973 by the Estate of Lin Carter, reprinted from the Ballentine Adult Fantasy edition of Haggard's The People of the Mist, by permission of Lin's literary executor, Robert M. Price. The Notes to the essay are copyright © 1998 by Jessica Amanda Salmonson.
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