Who comes before Wilbur Smith?

Patrizia Poli
3 min readFeb 19, 2022

We all know that Henry Rider Haggard (1856–1925) is fully regarded, thanks to the Ayesha cycle — most notably the best seller “She”, but also adventurous gothic tales such as “The Lady of Blossome” — the forerunner of fantasy and literary imagination, like Lovecraft, Poe, Verne and Stevenson.

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

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

The topoi of fantastic literature are many, such as the sudden aging of Ayesha in “She”, which reminds us of Morgana in “Excalibur”, or the Spirit of the Flame which takes 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 enlivening and strengthening. Another topos is the acknowledgment, 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 due to poor health and learning difficulties. He attends parapsychological circles and is convinced that he himself is endowed with extraordinary faculties. He leaves for Natal where he will be captivated by the charm of southern Africa. He writes “The Mines of King Solomon” to demonstrate that he can invent a story on par with Stevenson’s “Treasure Island”, after some of his stories had not met the success he hoped for. The novel dates back to ’85 and immediately became a best seller, followed by “She”, in ‘87.

Rider Haggard travels the world, visits Egypt, like Wilbur Smith, and Mexico, getting…

Patrizia Poli

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