H. Rider Haggard’s thirteenth novel and his seventh “romance,” as his novels set in foreign locales or ancient lands were then called, The World’s Desire makes excellent use of the knowledge of ancient Egypt that Haggard had gathered for his earlier She: A History of Adventure (1887) and Cleopatra (1889). Haggard also benefited from the editorial skills of his collaborator, Andrew Lang. British editor of Harper’s and prolific author of juvenile fiction, Lang was a fierce proponent of “romance”—particularly Haggard’s and Rudyard Kipling’s—against literary “realism.” Both the novel’s style and various biographical materials indicate that his contribution to the collaboration probably was minor.
Although the novel was poorly received when first published, The World’s Desire quickly earned large profits, and a new edition appeared in 1894 (by the first publisher, Longmans, Green) with original artwork by Maurice Greiffenhagen. Through 1978, the novel was never out of print. It is regrettable that copies of The World’s Desire are now difficult to find, for the novel provides a rousing narrative of adventure, magic, and passion, one that is closer to contemporary “sword-and-sorcery” fantasy than are most of Haggard’s other works. The novel includes stunning set-pieces (equal in power to Ayesha’s fateful bath in the flame of eternal life in She), most notably...
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