Henry Rider Haggard, who comes before Wilbur Smith?

Patrizia Poli
3 min readJul 25, 2022

We all know that Henry Rider Haggard (1856–1925) is fully considered, thanks to Ayesha’s cycle — in particular to the best seller “She”, but also to adventurous Gothic tales such as “The Lady of Blossome” — the precursor of fantasy and imaginative literature, like Lovecraft, Poe, Verne and Stevenson.

But have we ever wondered who was there before Wilbur Smith, the hunts, the savannahs, the tribal struggles between Zulu, the adventure novel par excellence? He, Henry Rider Haggard, with his famous work “King Solomon’s Mines”, and the legendary character of Allan Quatermain.

Both in “She” and in “King Solomon’s Mines”, adventure finds its central core in the relationship with wild, uncontaminated and virgin nature but, above all, in the exploration and discovery of hidden “lost ” worlds, in vogue in the Victorian period, created by Kipling, Conan Doyle, Rice Burroughs, and later amplified by Hollywood (think of films like” The Lost World: Jurassic Park “). In Haggard these are caves, containing secrets and mysteries remained unknown to most (how can we not think of the mines of Moria?). All too obvious symbols of descent into the unconscious. It is not surprising that Ayesha’s cycle attracted the attention of Freud and Jung.

There are many topoi of fantastic literature, such as Ayesha’s sudden aging in “She”, which reminds us of Morgana’s in “Excalibur”, or the Spirit of the Flame that brings us back to the final scene of “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” . Here too it is the abuse of magic that corrupts and destroys instead of vivifying and strengthening. Another topos is agnition, with the recognition of Umbopa / Ignosi as the legitimate king of the Kukuana in “King Solomon’s Mines”.

Henry Rider Haggard was born near Norfolk, where he spent an unhappy childhood because of poor health and learning difficulties. He attended parapsychological circles and was convinced that he himself had extraordinary faculties. He leaved for Natal where he was captured by the charm of southern Africa. He wrote “King Solomon’s Mines” to show that he could invent a story on par with Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”, after some of his short stories had not met the success he hoped for. The novel is from 1985 and immediately became a best seller, followed by “She” in 87.

Patrizia Poli

Patrizia Poli was born in Livorno in 1961. Writer of fiction and blogger, she published seven novels.