fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe People of the Mist by H. Rider HaggardThe People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard

Sir Henry Rider Haggard, the so-called “Father of the Lost Race Novel,” didn’t write such stories featuring only Allan Quatermain and Ayesha, She Who Must Be Obeyed. For example, his 17th novel, The People of the Mist (1894), is a smashing, wonderfully exciting, stand-alone lost-race tale featuring all-new characters. But the first third of the novel is hardly a lost-race story at all, but rather one of hard-bitten African adventure.

In it, we meet Leonard Outram, a penniless British adventurer who is seeking wealth in the wilds of the “Dark Continent” after losing his family lands and estates (through no fault of his own, it should be added). He becomes involved in the rescue of a young Portuguese woman from the largest slaving camp in Africa, and this thrilling and quite suspenseful section of the book offers more entertainment value than most entire novels. But it is only after Leonard and Otter (his four-foot-tall Zulu sidekick) rescue Juanna Rodd that the book really takes off, and the hunt for the People of the Mist, and their legendary jewel horde, begins. Once the lost race has been discovered, Leonard & Co. become embroiled in a plot involving the impersonation of gods and priest vs. king politics, and Haggard throws in some violent sacrifices, a giant crocodile god, a “toboggan” escape along a precipitous glacier, some romances and a good deal of humor (thanks to that wonderful Otter character) to keep the reader consistently amused. The theology of this lost race is nicely detailed and, as is fortunately common in a Haggard tale, the author offers many commentaries on the side regarding his philosophies of life.

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For those readers who have enjoyed other tales by Sir Henry (I’ve read 45 or so at this point; the man CAN prove addictive!), The People of the Mist will resonate all over the place, bringing to mind both earlier and later Haggard works. For example, the character of Soa (Juanna’s insanely jealous nursemaid) is similar to Hendrika the Baboon Woman in Allan’s Wife (1889). Otter himself is a precursor of Quatermain’s Hottentot sidekick Hans, especially when he attempts to fight the giant crocodile god, much as Hans would later fight the monstrous snake god in The Ivory Child (1916). (These giant animal gods, it should be noted, are likely inspirations for all those similar monstrosities in the tales of Robert E. Howard, just as Hendrika was a likely inspiration for Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ Tarzan.) But there is no way in the world that a reader — even one familiar with the author — will guess how things turn out for our intrepid explorers, in this continuously engrossing tale.

That said, it should be noted that Haggard is guilty of a few slips in the course of the book. A huge gem of the crocodile god is carved from a sapphire; several hundred pages later, it has become a ruby. The motto of Leonard’s family is said to be “For Heart, Home and Honour;” later on, that motto is said to be “For Home, Honour and Heart.” But these are minor matters that only the sharpest-eyed readers will notice (my personal curse, I suppose). The overwhelming majority of readers, I feel, will be so busy being thrilled and entertained that they will never notice these little goofs. The bottom line is that The People of the Mist is still another wonderful page-turner from H. Rider Haggard. Now, when is some respectful filmmaker going to spend $200 million to bring THIS ONE to the big screen?


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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