Friday, March 1, 2013

The People of the Mist by H Rider Haggard

I am always ready to read a Haggard book, but there’s a reason why this one in particular caught my attention. I was browsing Ebay at one point, wondering if there were any reasonably-priced Haggards around, when I stumbled upon this remarkable ad, which I reproduce in the original formatting.


A superb tale of a British treasure hunter 

in the wilds of the Dark Continent 

seeking his fortune and instead 

discovering romance (scantily clad naturally),

lost races and malignant local deities 

who are not fond of intruding square 

jawed stiff upper lipped types 

This almost Molesworthian précis is, I’m glad to say, pretty much correct (although I didn’t notice the romance being scantily clad). Our story opens as the broodingly handsome Leonard Outram and his brother Tom lose their family home and family honour. They make an oath to win it back, and go off to Africa in search of their fortunes. Seven years later, after the death of his brother, our hero is no closer to his goal. But then, one dark and stormy night, a malevolent crone from the bush begs their help. Her mistress Juana has been kidnapped by slave traders along with the rest of the settlement’s people. If Leonard and his servant Otter will extricate the damsel from her distress, promises Soa, she will lead them to the lost city of the People of the Mist, and to their fabulous wealth.

Leonard agrees, and he, Otter, Juana, and the scheming Soa set out on the adventure of a lifetime, rounded off by a daring masquerade, a giant crocodile, last-minute escapes, human sacrifice, villainous high priests, and a flurry of melodramatic romance.

All Haggard’s books tend to be great fun, and this is certainly one of them. It’s not one of my favourites, like Nada the Lily or The Brethren, as it comes down rather on the light-hearted end of the scale—yet without being as silly as Queen Sheba’s Ring. Generally, it’s a serviceable and unabashed adventure story for those of us who like that kind of thing.

As usual, Haggard’s worldview is just a little bit off. One paragraph in particular reminded me of something I’d read in Rushdoony’s Biblical Philosophy of History—Leonard muses:
“Our father was our first enemy; he brought us into the world, neglected us, squandered our patrimony, dishonoured our name, and shot himself. And since then what has it been but one continual fight against men and nature? Even the rocks in which I dig for gold are foes—victorious foes—" and he glanced at his hands, scarred and made unshapely by labour. "And the fever, that is a foe.” 
In the Biblical worldview, says Rushdoony, humans are subject to God, and made rulers over nature. But in the humanist worldview, an attempt is made to dethrone God and put him under man. His point was that this inevitably results in nature becoming man’s master; the theory of behavioural psychology is an obvious example.

Yet, in the end, The People of the Mist seems to come down on the side of Providence, not materialist determinism. Leonard and his allies do succeed in triumphing over Nature at the end; yet it’s not his own efforts, but an unforeseen Providence that brings about the happy ending.

Still, this is the kind of book that would be spoiled by rigorous analysis! I read it on holiday, with a great deal of enjoyment. A solid Haggard.

Gutenberg etext


Unknown said...

I just discovered your blog! It's wonderful. I added this Haggard text to my collection and hope to read it soon. Thanks!

Suzannah said...

Welcome, and I'm glad you like it :)


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