Haggard, H. Rider (Sir Henry Rider Haggard)

Encyclopedia of the Literature of Empire - Mary Ellen Snodgrass 2010

Haggard, H. Rider (Sir Henry Rider Haggard)

Haggard, H. Rider (Sir Henry Rider Haggard) (1 856-1925) British adventure novelist

A reformer, chronicler, and storyteller, Henry Rider Haggard drew on the literature of colonial adventurers and his own experiences to initiate a new literary fashion known as the “Lost World” genre. His writing would influence contemporary and later writers such as Sir ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE (1859— 1930), RUDYARD KIPLING (1865-1936), Edgar Rice Burroughs (1875-1950), H. P Lovecraft (18901937), and Michael Crichton (1942-2008).

Born in Bradenham, Norfolk, England, Haggard was educated at a private day school in London and then at Ipswich Academy. In 1875, after having previously failing an army entrance exam, he went to Natal to become the secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, the lieutenant governor of Natal, South Africa. This experience provided the source of local-color articles Haggard wrote for Gentleman’s Magazine and Macmillan’s Magazine and for his Allan Quatermain series. He traveled widely in Africa during the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War and the First Boer War (1880-81). During a return visit to England in 1880, he married Louisa Margitson; the couple went back to Africa for another two years before finally settling in Norfolk and then in London. Called to the bar in 1884, Haggard practiced law only occasionally, preferring instead to write novels.

Haggard created his signature characters from the adventures of a London-born contemporary, expeditioner and guide Frederick Courteney Selous (1851-1917), a forerunner of fictional heroes like Indiana Jones. While halfheartedly practicing law, the author romanticized the colonial rape of Natal, Zululand, the Transvaal, and Zimbabwe in King Solomon’s Mines (1885), England's initial African adventure fiction and the first to feature Allan Quatermain. In a salute to the Victorian frontiersman, Haggard declares, “There is no journey upon this earth that a man may not make if he sets his heart to it” (Haggard 2004, 49), an expression of the can-do spirit of the explorers David Livingstone (1813-73), Henry Morton Stanley (1841-1904), and Mungo Park (1771-1806). Haggard tinged his settings with an ominous silence, such as that framed in Black Heart and White Heart: A Zulu Idyll (1900): “There seemed to be no life here and no sound—only now and again a loathsome spotted snake would uncurl itself and glide away, and now and again a rotten bough fell with a crash” (Haggard 1900, 27). The overblown heroics reflect the popular British conception of challenges to masculinity in a series of perilous treks through the bush.

Like Kipling and the Ukrainian dramatist and satirist NIKOLAY GOGOL, Haggard maintained firm beliefs in the civilizing capabilities of imperial conquest. His fiction made a substantial impact on gullible readers, and his popular swashbuckling novels shaped the attitudes of a generation of stay-at-homes concerning the South African frontier and the subjugation of nonwhite peoples in a foreign land. Vicariously, armchair travelers set off to live in the moment during safe fantasy forays in the exotic unknown typified by the titles

The World’s Desire (1890), Heart of the World (1895), and The People of the Mist (1894). Freed of social constraint and decorum, the escapist reader experienced an atavistic past governed only by the demands of survival.

The Finite Empire

Presaging the Lost World motifs of the American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan saga, Haggard vindicated the prototypical big-game hunter, often accused of imperial villainy and waste. The Quatermain series placed such men on equal footing with the black bush dweller, a liberalization of attitude later represented by the safari organizers Bror Blixen, Berkeley Cole, and Denys Finch-Hatton in ISAK DINESEN’S Out of Africa (1937). In Allan Quatermain (1887), the elephant stalker’s dissatisfaction with African loot and with the decimation of animals reflects the growing British ambivalence toward the colonial pillage of Africa’s natural resources and continental integrity. To the protagonist, avarice reveals the absence of true Christianity in people who are “fixed night and day upon Mammon’s glittering image” (Haggard 2007, 469). In the introduction to Allan’s Wife (1889), Haggard lamented the alteration of the Transvaal plains after the Boers seized the goldfields: “The game has gone; the misty charm of the morning has become the glare of day” (Haggard 1889, v). The complex character of Quatermain came to life on the screen in the acting of Stewart Granger in King Solomon’s Mines (1950), George Montgomery in Watusi: Guardians of King Solomon’s Mines (1959), Richard Chamberlain in King Solomon’s Mines (1985) and Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1987), Sean Connery in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), and Patrick Swayze in a later reprise of King Solomon’s Mines (2004).

By age 50, Haggard renounced his notoriety for penning best sellers and turned his attention to the decline of the African native under colonial rule. Like the English-Canadian FRONTIER writer Grey Owl (Archibald Belaney, 1888-1938), author of The Men of the Last Frontier (1931), Haggard recognized that despoliation of the wild was irreversible. As a supervisor for the Dominions Royal Commission in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa, he began studying racism, land swindles, agrarian and herding conditions, and the plight of migrant Zulu laborers and miners. In his journal, Diary of an African Journey (1914), he speaks of battling the “darksome, unknown powers in Government offices” (Haggard 2001, 34), a bureaucratic combat far removed from the swagger of Allan Quatermain. Of the struggle to anglicize Rhodesia, he observed that, unlike the more hospitable regions of Australia and Canada, Rhodesia was not “a land suitable to the permanent establishment and reproduction of Europeans” (284). His tone discloses a race prejudice rooting blacks in lands that are uninhabitable by less robust white overseers. Nevertheless, he deplored the aim of the white race to govern Africa.


Haggard, H. Rider. Allan Quatermain: The Zulu Trilogy, Marie, Child of Storm, and Finished. New York: Wilder, 2007.

------- . Allan’s Wife. London: Spencer Blackett, 1889.

----- . Black Heart and White Heart. London: Longmans, Green, 1900.

----- . Diary of an African Journey: The Return of Rider Haggard. New York: New York University Press, 2001.

----- . King Solomon’s Mines. Whitefish, Mont.: Kessinger, 2004.

Hopkins, Lisa. Giants of the Past. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 2004.