Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 412
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.