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Haggard, H Rider

Entry updated 21 November 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1856-1925) UK civil servant, lawyer, agricultural expert and author. Haggard spent the years 1875-1881 in the Colonial Service in South Africa, where he gained much of the material for his fiction. On his return to the UK he read for the bar while at the same time beginning to produce novels and other work. With his third and fourth published novels, King Solomon's Mines (1885) and the even more successful She: A History of Adventure (2 October 1886-8 January 1887 The Graphic; cut 1886; full text 1887), Haggard was catapulted into fame, and soon left the bar; he was knighted in 1912. These two novels of anthropological sf remain his most famous; they established a pattern he would follow for the rest of his career. That pattern – which seems central to the shaping of what much later became known as Imperial Gothic – might also be described as a central model for Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Science-Fantasy subgenre whose popularity attended the latter's revival in the 1960s: it is a pattern in which realistic portraits of the contemporary world (in Haggard's case South Africa) are combined with backward-looking displacements (in his case invoking Lost Worlds, Immortality and Reincarnation) to give a general effect of deep nostalgia. Haggard was fascinated by ruins, ancient civilizations and primitive customs, attempting to use their resonances as a kind of radar to locate himself (and his readers) in the precarious and fragile late-imperialist world which had also fixed his imagination (see Ruins and Futurity). But it is clear that he felt that the vision of a purposeless universe revealed by the theory of Evolution was essentially correct, and that (for instance) the British Empire was an arbitrary construct in the sands of time, not an hierarchy that revealed the fitting ascendancy of the West; in this, he is clearly distinct from near contemporaries like John Buchan or Rudyard Kipling. Works of his later years are perhaps carelessly read as rebarbatively defensive of the values that made it possible to create an empire.

An allied interest in the Pseudoscience of Spiritualism link Haggard to such contemporaries as Bulwer Lytton and Marie Corelli, though in fact his central literary friendships were with Andrew Lang and Kipling (see above); but although he shared with the latter a fin de siècle sense – which proved entirely accurate – that the British Empire was on the wane, he took this as an expression of the nature of the world, not as an affront to selfhood. His prose was sometimes overblown, but he was a gifted storyteller with a powerful imagination and the ability to create memorable heroic figures, like the Zulu Umslopogaas, whose early life is the subject of the remarkable Nada the Lily (1892).

Umslopogaas appears also in Haggard's principal sequence, the novels about white hunter Allan Quatermain which gave Africa to the world as a great adventure and romantic haven in the mind's eye, and to which he added sequels and prequels throughout his career. The Checklist (see below) presents these titles in order of publication; the sequence is given here, however, in order of internal chronology, the dates in which they are set preceding the titles: 1835-1838 Marie: An Episode in the Life of the Late Allan Quatermain (September 1911-February 1912 Cassell's Magazine; 1912); 1842-1869 Allan's Wife (1887), which was incorporated into Allan's Wife and Other Tales (coll 1889; exp vt Hunter Quatermain's Story: The Uncollected Adventures of Allan Quatermain 2003); 1854-1856 Child of Storm (1913); 1859 Maiwa's Revenge; Or, the War of the Little Hand (July-August 1888 Harper's New Monthly Magazine; 1888), a short novel narrated much later by Quatermain in a Club Story frame; 1870 The Holy Flower (December 1913-November 1914 Windsor Magazine; 1915; vt Allan and the Holy Flower 1915); 1871 Heu-Heu, or The Monster (March 1922-March 1923 Hutchinson's Story Magazine; 1924); 1872 She and Allan (July 1919-March 1920 Story Magazine as "She Meets Allan"; 1921); 1873 The Treasure of the Lake (February-May 1926 Hutchinson's Adventure-Story Magazine; 1926); 1874 The Ivory Child (2 January-1 May 1915 Melbourne Argus; 1916); 1879 Finished (January-May 1917 Adventure; 1917); 1879 "Magepa the Buck" (Christmas 1912 Pears' Annual) in Smith and the Pharaohs and Other Tales (coll 1920); 1880 King Solomon's Mines (1885); 1882 The Ancient Allan (March-October 1919 Cassell's Magazine; 1920); 1883 Allan and the Ice Gods: A Tale of Beginnings (1927; vt Allan Quatermain and the Ice Gods 2003); 1884-1885 Allan Quatermain: Being an Account of his Further Adventures and Discoveries in Company with Sir Henry Curtis, Bart., Commander John Good, R.N., and one Umslopogaas (January-August 1887 Longman's Magazine; 1887; vt Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold 1999) [see Checklist for movie adaptation]. The precise period covered in A Tale of Three Lions (October-December 1887 Atalanta; 1887 chap US; rev as coll, vt Allan the Hunter; A Tale of Three Lions 1898) was not determined.

Not all these books could be described as Science Fantasy, but all project that sense of desiderium – the longing for that which may never have existed, but which now seems poignantly lost – that lies at the heart of true science fantasy; and those titles written late in Haggard's career – like The Ancient Allan, a tale of love-death set in Egypt – confusedly adhere to outmoded political values (see above), while at the same time they express their author's potent (but submerged) sexuality in venues so remote that a suppressed libidinousness can become, occasionally, almost explicit. But Allan and the Ice Gods, which generally conforms to this description, interestingly sends Quatermain thrown back in time by means of a Drug where he inhabits the body of a paleolithic man through a process of Identity Transfer (see also Prehistoric SF); his attempts to Uplift his new people force upon him an awareness of the decrepitude of modern civilization, and he desists.

It is, however, in the Ayesha sequence that Haggard's Victorian libido found easiest release from the chains of the present. The sequence comprises She: A History of Adventure (2 October 1886-8 January 1887 The Graphic; cut 1886; full text 1887; cut W T Stead, vt She: A Romance of Marvel and Mystery 1896; rev vt The Annotated She 1991 US [see Checklist for full title] ed Norman Etherington is a variorum text with erratic additional notes); Ayesha: The Return of She (December 1904-October 1905 Windsor Magazine; 1905; vt The Return of She: Ayesha 1967); She and Allan, which provides a link with the Quatermain series; and Wisdom's Daughter: The Life and Love Story of She-Who-Must-be-Obeyed (March 1922-March 1923 Hutchinson's Story Magazine; 1923). Haggard created here, in the immortal and subversive Ayesha, what has come to seem an abiding emblem of that longing for "primitive" transcendence that typically marks the end of eras; but her lamia-like sexual power over men, which is presented as being parasitic upon the male principle, typically exemplifies Late Victorian male wrestling with issues of Sex and race; her sudden ageing in the first volume of the sequence (later volumes dally inconsequentially with her earlier life) has an effect both tragic and petty (see Apes as Human). The World's Desire (April-December 1890 New Review; 1890), with Andrew Lang, a pendant to the main series, is in part a Fantastic Voyage tale which carries Odysseus into new adventures, during which he discovers that Helen of Troy and Ayesha are one. A knotted eroticism also infuses When the World Shook: Being an Account of the Great Adventure of Bastin, Bickley, and Arbuthnot (November 1918-April 1919 The Quiver; 1919), a novel plotted in part by Kipling (who later helped Haggard with Allan and the Ice Gods): the three eponymous Victorians find the high priest of Atlantis in Suspended Animation; having caused the first Flood, he is about to start another; his daughter, likewise discovered, causes ructions in the hearts of the three.

Haggard can seem both heated and evasive to modern readers, but read in context he is a figure of very considerable power, an exemplar of his times, a stirrer in deep waters. [DP/JC]

see also: Anthropology; Dime-Novel SF; History of SF; Origin of Man; Pulp; Radio (USA); Series.

Sir Henry Rider Haggard

born West Bradenham, Norfolk: 22 June 1856

died London: 14 May 1925


This listing excludes posthumous omnibuses after 1930. Where US edition precedes UK by less than a month, we follow the flag and cite the UK edition.


Allan Quatermain


individual titles (selected)

about the author


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