Book Review: Allan Quartermain by H. Rider Haggard (Three Stars)


Book Review: Allan Quartermain by H. Rider Haggard

(Three Stars)

“A hundred thousand spears shall sparkle in my train like star glimmering down.”

A lost world adventure. Later nineteenth century equivalent of contemporary science-fiction, fantasy adventure story. In 1887 it was plausible that a country “the size of France” could be hidden—and isolated—in central Africa, but then we accepted that Asia could hide a mythical Himalayan utopia in 1933.

“I say that as the savage is, so is the white man, only the latter is more inventive, and possesses the faculty of combination; save and except also that the savage, as I have known him, is to a large extent free from the greed of money, which eats like a cancer into the heart of the white man.”

Reflects the racial and sexist idioms of the day, but surprisingly enlightened for that time. The reader doesn’t have to look too deeply to find a critique as well as a defense of English upper-class attitudes and behavior. On the other hand, the sensitive will find plenty to offend.

“Better it is to slay a man in fair fight than to suck out his heart’s blood in buying and selling and usury after your white fashion.”

Quibble: unlikely after having lost all their supplies, they should happen to have retained three tunics of chain mail and one set of formal military wear. At least they had the decency to run out of bullets. “Sir Henry was able to show them how to make glass.” “We even succeeded in demonstrating the principle of the steam-engine.”

“How can a world be good in which Money is the moving power, and Self-interest the guiding star? Wonder is not that it is so bad, but that there should be any good left in it.”

With his critique of his own times, one wonders what Haggard would think of ours.

“I cannot see that gunpowder, telegraphs, steam, daily newspapers, universal suffrage, etc., etc., have made mankind one whit happier than they used to be, and I am certain they have brought many evils in their train.”