THE TADUKI QUARTET by H. Rider Haggard
The great adventure fantasist H. Rider Haggard, over the course of his 40+-year career, wrote 14 novels dealing with the adventures of perhaps his greatest character, English hunter Allan Quatermain. Four of these are loosely connected affairs that have sometimes been referred to as the “taduki quartet,” taduki being an inhaled drug with mystical properties that features in no less than three of those books. Here, for your one-stop taduki shopping, I present four mini-reviews of the books in this remarkable series, in their chronological order of publishing appearance:
Allan and the Holy Flower (1915) — This is one of the 14 books that H. Rider Haggard wrote (starting with King Solomon’s Mines) depicting the adventures of Allan Quatermain, great English hunter in the wilds of mysterious Africa. I was a little worried when I started this book, as it took around 1 1/2 whole pages to get going, but then the next 394 pages proved just as action-packed, fast-moving and entertaining as can be. The story concerns an expedition for a very rare orchid, and the search for the kidnapped wife of one of Quatermain’s friends. There are any number of tremendous battle scenes, and before all is said and done, we have run up against a giant gorilla god, cannibals, slave traders, a very suspenseful lake chase, evil wizards, a hidden volcanic sanctuary… and on and on. And for fans of Quatermain’s Hottentot sidekick, Hans, let me add that this great character has rarely been shown in a more humorous or heroic light. Haggard’s imagination seemed to be working overtime on this book, and despite an occasional inconsistency here and there (e.g., in one spot he writes that the Mother of the Flower is always eaten by her followers, and later on he writes that she is buried), the result is one tremendously entertaining yarn. What an incredible movie this would make, if done faithfully! Here is the free Kindle version.
The Ivory Child (1916) — This novel is a direct continuation of Allan and the Holy Flower, and it does help to have read the previous book. Also referenced are other Quatermain novels such as Marie (1912), Child of Storm (1913) and Allan’s Wife (1889), and while a knowledge of these earlier books will make for a richer experience, The Ivory Child can certainly be read on its own. In this one, Quatermain goes on a quest to find his buddy’s kidnapped wife (in that respect, it is similar to Holy Flower), but also gets involved in a lost tribe’s civil war. Thrown into the mix are a gigantic and evil elephant god, a monster snake guardian (the possible inspiration for all those snake gods in Robert E. Howard‘s Conan tales), several great battle scenes, psychic visions, taduki drug use, a hailstorm, Egyptology, a shooting competition, a sandstorm, etc. Haggard throws quite a bit into this one to ensure a good time. And for fans of Hans, Quatermain’s heroic and amusing Hottentot sidekick, this one provides quite a little tearjerker ending. It’s all wonderfully pulpy and quite amusing; a ripping good yarn, as they used to say. So seek this one out here; it will reward your efforts! Here’s the free Kindle version.
The Ancient Allan (1920) — In this book, our hero, Allan Quatermain — through the use of the inhaled taduki drug — views one of his previous incarnations. During that lifetime he was Shabaka, in the age when Egypt had been conquered by the Persians. This book is a direct continuation of the previous Quatermain novel, The Ivory Child (which itself is a continuation of Allan and the Holy Flower), and a reading of that previous novel is fairly essential before going into this book. Lady Ragnall returns in this one and shares Quatermain’s drug-induced vision. While not as battle-intensive as other books in the series, this novel is always interesting, and does feature, amongst other things, a lion hunt, a blind wizard in a cave, a visit to Ethiopia, a fight with a crocodile, and a rousing climactic battle between the forces of the Persians and the allied Egyptian/Ethiopian armies. And for fans of Hans, there is a previous incarnation of that great character, as well. It’s all fascinating and exciting stuff; never a dull moment, and all that. So seek this one out… you won’t be disappointed! Free Kindle version.
Allan and the Ice Gods (1927) — This is the last of the Allan Quatermain novels that Haggard wrote, and completes the loosely linked quartet that began with Allan and the Holy Flower, continued into The Ivory Child and then The Ancient Allan. (A reading of these earlier books is recommended before going into this one.) In this final Quatermain outing, a posthumous affair that was first published two years after Haggard’s death, our favorite hunter again partakes of the taduki drug, as he did in the previous two novels, and gets to see a previous incarnation of his — when he was Wi, the leader of a small tribe during one of the Ice Ages. The story is simply written but zips along at a brisk pace. There are several terrific action set pieces: Wi’s fight with Henga, the previous chief of the tribe; the trapping of the wolf pack; the fight with the sabertooth; the battle with the Redbeards; the showdown with the aurochs; and the final cataclysm. The members of the tribe are sharply and sometimes humorously drawn. (Rudyard Kipling helped Haggard with the planning of this novel.) All in all, I really enjoyed this book.
The further good news is that, after many decades of being out of print, these books, and all of Haggard’s other 54 fiction titles, CAN once again be purchased. I recommend them, one and all, for your reading pleasure…