H. R. HAGGARD (PART 2)

For in 1881, the British Empire handed the Transvaal back to the Dutch.  Haggard opposed the formation of the Boer state.  He believed the Boers would impose an oppressive government on the natives, exploiting the land and its population for wealth.  Nevertheless, the British no longer controlled the area.  Haggard and his wife sailed for England, where they lived in Ditchingham, Norfolk.  Haggard studied law and in 1884 began practicing in London.  To relieve the tedium of his new profession, Haggard began writing.  His first book was Cetewayo and His White Neighbors, a study of African history of that period.  In fact, it was a poorly disguised condemnation of Britain’s policy in Africa.  The book was not popular, and Haggard was criticized for his viewpoint.

Haggard’s next literary effort was Dawn, a novel, which was followed closely by another novel, The Witch’s Head.  Both novels were uninteresting melodramas full of poorly painted bad guys, along with inklings of things to come – clairvoyance and foreseeing the future.  The Witch’s Head was notable only because portions were autobiographical.  This marked the first time Haggard injected scenes from his own life into his writing. 

According to legend, the turning point in Haggard’s writing came about due to a bet.  One of Haggard’s brothers bet five-shillings that Haggard couldn’t write a novel as good as R.L. Stevenson’s Treasure Island, which had just been released to much acclaim.  Haggard took the bet.  Six weeks later Haggard finished King Solomon’s Mines, the first of the Allan Quatermain novels. King Solomon’s Mines is the story of treasure hunters seeking the source of the Biblical king’s fabulous wealth.  As the story unfolds, a simple treasure hunt becomes something much more – a spiritual trek through a lost land.  Haggard introduces a race of noble savages, an evil witch doctor, and African animism, all of which influenced later writers, such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, and Hollywood movies, such as Tarzan and Indiana Jones

King Solomon’s Mines became an overnight bestseller.  Ever since initial publication in 1885, the book has never gone out of print. 

Haggard’s next novel – She – was just as popular as King Solomon’s Mines.  She introduced a flame of perpetual youth, hallucinogenic psychic powers, and reincarnation.  An adventurer, Leo Vincey travels to Africa to discover the history of a dead ancestor named Kallikrates, who was an Egyptian priest.  After trials and dangers galore, Vincey arrives at the Kingdom of Kor, where he meets She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.  Her name is Ayesha.  And in her, many scholars see a reworking of the Wandering Jew. 

By this time, Haggard was wealthy and famous.  Still residing in Ditchingham, when he wasn’t dictating his next book to his secretary, he was overseeing his farm or traveling around the world.  Haggard visited most of Europe, along with Egypt, Africa, North America, and South America.  It was while Haggard was in Mexico – in 1891 – that his only son died in London.  Haggard not only grieved inconsolably, he also suffered tremendous guilt, wishing he had been there when the tragic event occurred.

Haggard kept writing, completing as many as three novels per year.  Although primarily remembered as the author of ‘adventure’ novels, Haggard’s repertoire included other genres.  For example, Mr. Meeson’s Will was a psychological novel, while Cleopatra was an historical novel.  Eric Brighteyes, a Norse saga, along with The World’s Desire, a sequel to Homer’s Odyssey, demonstrated the breadth of Haggard’s interests and talent.