Any love for H. Rider Haggard?

I’ve been on a Haggard binge, picking up free books via Project Gutenberg…and I have to say, I ain’t impressed.

He seems very dull! His books are episodic, sharing this quality with the picaresque novels of the decades previous to his. He has a penchant for LONG speeches. And he telegraphs terribly, giving away plot elements in advance.

His vision is pretty good. He sets the table for high adventure. The elements are all there.

But when it comes to telling a thrilling story…he’s a wet blanket. He’s inferior to Talbot Mundy, or, for goodness’ sake, the young Kipling. He reminds me a bit of Edgar Rice Burroughs…at his worst. And even Burroughs had a LOT more “blood and thunder.” Haggard seems to be all talk and no boom.

I like the books of his that I have read. Do you have a particular title(s) in mind?

I have Morning Star, King Solomon’s Mines, She, and The People of the Mist. The latter is my favorite I think.

King Solomon’s Mines was a great read. At least I thought so when I was 11 years old.*

Not long ago I attempted to read She. Didn’t get through more than about 30 pages. Rambling and dull.

*probably not a good idea to see if it still has the same appeal.

SHE is the greatest adventure novel ever written. The classic that inspired many others.

Starts off with mysterious message that needs decoding, goes on to picaresque adventuring through Africa, ends up with mind blowing super goddess character completely at odds with contemporary femmes fragiles (in TRILBY and DRACULA) or femmes fatales (VENUS IN FURS or SALOME).

You are showing your 20th century bias.

If I remember correctly, Haggard also wrote a bunch of stories about a British colonial administrator in Africa who had particular success keeping the local tribes and chiefs peaceable and friendly. I can’t remember much detail now, including the character’s name, and I don’t see anything about these stories in Wikipedia. I seem to remember he had a trusty native servant who helped him. Pretty condescending over all, but considering the time surprisingly sympathetic to the native Africans.

I can’t say they make great reading either, but you can dip into them for a story or two and then read something else for a while.

I like Haggard. I’ve read She more than once, King Solomon’s Mines, Ayesha, the Return of She (which features, I think, the very first time in fiction that a character known and shown to be really dead returned for a sequel. Sherlock Holmes doesn’t count – we never saw the body), She and Allen (which united Allen Quatermain from King Solomon’s Mines with Ayesha from She), and People of the Mist.
Haggard was wordy, but it was partly the way of fiction back then. He may have been an imperialist, but he provided non-stereotyped black characters who could hold their own – Umslopogaas from Mines, Otter the dwarf from People of the Mist (Think of him as kind of a black Tyrion Lanister – he’s a heroic and accomplished individual, not made fun of either for his race or his stature). In Mines one of Allen’s companions becomes virtually engaged to a black woman, but she dies before they can marry.

I recently read Allan Quartermain again. The writing is certainly dated, but I enjoy writing of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Sorry, but I read it years ago, and I don’t remember liking it all that much nor did it make much of an impression on me. There are other adventure novels from roughly the same era that I’ve liked more, by Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. (Some would add Robert Louis Stevenson, but for some reason I’ve never enjoyed Treasure Island as much as its reputation makes me think I ought to.)

It’s “Quatermain” (without the first ‘r’). Common error. I loved his books when I discovered them as a young teen back in the 60s. Quatermain was like an early version of Indiana Jones.

When they made the abysmal Richard Chamberlin/Sharon Stone version of King Solomon’s Mines they definitely played up that angle, making Chamberlinn play Quatermain as if he were Indiana. And to make it perfect, they got John Rhys Davies (Saleh from *Raiders of the Lost Ark * and Last Crusade) to play a major role.

It’s not only Quatermain in fantastic fiction – Professor Bernard Quatermass from Nigel Kneale’s 1950s BBC serials (and the movies based on them) gets an added “r” to his name a lot, too - people mistakenly call him “Quartermass”

Try the annotated version of SHE, published by Indiana U. Press, which is the one I read in adulthood. There’s a lot of shit going on that’s not immediately noticeable if you’re not prepared for it.

It’s especially good during the “deciphering the Sherd of Amenartas” chapters.

I too thought She was boring. I never bothered to read any of his other books. One of those things that inspired a whole genre, but the original is just plain dull.

I always thought it was funny that the main doctor on General Hospital was named Alan Quatermain.

Maybe Edgar Wallace’s Sanders series ?
Wallace was a disciple of Kipling, not that it showed that much since he settled on the East End gutters to leafy suburbs of London mostly. Complete with villainous large-scale gangs.
Incidentally Kipling and Haggard corresponded after the First World War, bonding over their hatred of bungalow buildings and trade unions. Both moved sharpish to the right as old age took over.

Ah, Bosambo wasn’t really a servant, more a semi-christian trusted rogue Chief. I think a now forgotten American singer called Paul Robeson portrayed him in the, no doubt ineluctably less racy film adaption; to his later regret — --- as he too moved rightwards, ending up with the stodgy old communists.

As a little kid, I read the Classics comic version of “King Solomon’s Mines” a hundred times, but I’ve never read any of Harvard’s actual books.

Haggard. Or was that spellcheck doing its thing?

Yeah, stupid spell check is always correcting valid sentences and turning them into nonsense.

I liked “King Solomon’s Mines”. I don’t remember it being particularly dull, but maybe I have a greater tolerance for 19th century writing in general.

I like his stuff, but I have a liking for 1800s to early/mid 1900s ‘purple prose’ though I have a real liking for Sax Rohmer [Fu Manchu] and Abraham Merritt [Burn Witch Burn] and the stultifying detail is typical … .

Wow, no. Not even close. “She” was a half-decent read, but it suffered from all the flaws I objected to in my OP. “King Solomon’s Mines” was a better book…and it, too, has severe drawbacks.

(I’m mostly talking about stylistic flaws, such as giving away plot elements in advance, extremely long speeches, and pedestrian narrative that lacks concrete visual details. Stupid mistakes regarding eclipses hardly count.)

Well, yes and no. I’m very fond of many writers from earlier times, quite a few of whom are stylistically Haggard’s superiors. Conan Doyle is certainly better.

On the other hand, yes, I do favor a “modern” descriptive/narrative style, and plots that have unitary cohesion rather than being sequences of episodes. I like “the state of the art” as it is today.

And on the gripping hand, there’s a hell of a lot about 20th century literature I heavily dislike. Hemingway is, in my opinion, next to unreadable.

I’ve never read any Merritt: is “Burn Witch Burn” a good book to start with? Or do you have another recommendation for a reader as an introduction?

I like the Fu Manchu novels, but, wow, do they have flaws. They, too, are highly episodic (were they originally published in serial form?) They’re also repetitive: you’d think, after the thirtieth time, Nayland Smith would learn not to just charge into a series of tunnels that Fu Manchu has been using. There are going to be traps!

(What’s most intriguing about the Fu Manchu novels is how, by the very end, Rohmer had gotten past the stereotypical racism, and was able to make a young Chinese man the hero of a novel. Chinese communism was the creeping evil that needed to be opposed, not merely Chinese culture.)

Still, in terms of pure story-telling skill, Rohmer is ahead of Haggard. Rohmer simply spins the superior yarn.