H. Rider Haggard

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Henry Rider Haggard (HAG-urd) has long been esteemed as a writer of evocative adventures involving civilized European heroes impelled to travel into unknown realms and encounter occult forces. Born in England in 1856, Haggard possessed a firsthand knowledge of Africa, having gone to South Africa at the age of nineteen as secretary to Sir Henry Bulwer, the governor of Natal. Later, holding a position on the staff of the special commissioner, Sir Theophilus Shepstone, Haggard became a master of the High Court of the Transvaal.

In 1879, he married and read for the bar, to which he was called in 1884. He felt drawn to literary work, however, and in 1882 he published his first book, Cetywayo and His White Neighbours, written in defense of Shepstone’s policy, which had been overthrown when the Boers took over the Transvaal. Though the book was received favorably at the Cape, it did not draw the general attention that Haggard later won. Two novels—Dawn and The Witch’s Head, the latter treating a British defeat at Isandhlwana—appeared without stirring notice. King Solomon’s Mines, however, an African adventure inspired by the Zimbabwe ruins, achieved an immediate and spectacular success. Equally well received was his next novel, She, describing explorers who meet a mysterious and eternally beautiful woman ruling a lost African tribe. These works set the pattern for a number of later novels about Africa, often involving the hero of King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quatermain, or the central figure of She, Ayesha (She and Allan featured both characters). Haggard traveled widely and also produced adventures about other exotic cultures, including the ancient Egyptians (Cleopatra), the Vikings (Eric Brighteyes), the Aztecs (Montezuma’s Daughter), and the Mayans (Heart of the World).

Haggard displayed in his own life the union of the practical and the romantic which marks his heroes. He displayed an intense interest in rural and agricultural problems. He himself was not only a practical farmer on his Norfolk estate but also a member of several commissions which studied agricultural and social conditions. Some of these reports evolved into The Poor and the Land. Haggard was knighted in 1912.

In his later decades, Haggard perhaps diminished his own stature by producing scores of lesser novels, and for a time his reputation appeared to be on the wane. With the reemergence of the fantasy genre in the 1960’s, however, there was renewed interest in his works, marked by republication of a number of novels and several film adaptations.


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Henry Rider Haggard, the sixth son of William and Ella Haggard, was born at Bradenham Hall, Norfolk, England on June 20, 1856. His father was a flamboyant lawyer and country squire who ruled his household strictly. His eccentricity as a lawyer earned him considerable local notoriety, and his abusive treatment of his tenants and servants made him infamous throughout the county.

Though his father's short temper often made home life difficult, Haggard's gentle mother compensated somewhat for her husband's volatile behavior. Ella Haggard was a published poet, and she encouraged her son's interest in reading. Haggard read with relish such works as the Arabian Nights' Entertainments, Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, and Alexandre Dumas's The Three Musketeers. Haggard loved adventure tales of all types, and his childhood reading anticipated the exciting fiction which he himself would write years later.

Young Haggard was not considered a promising student, and after attending a small country school he went to grammar school in Ipswich for three years, where his academic performance was relatively undistinguished.

Squire Haggard secured his son an appointment to the staff of a friend, Sir Henry Bulwer, who had been appointed lieutenant-governor of Natal in South Africa. Thus, in 1875, at nineteen, Haggard made his first trip to Africa, the continent that would be the setting of many of his most famous stories. While in South Africa...

(The entire section is 1,393 words.)