03. The Works of H. Rider Haggard

On a happy note, I recently finished reading four excellent novels by H. Rider Haggard – King Solomon’s Mines (1885), She (1886), Allan Quatermain (1887), and The People of the Mist (1894). This was not the first time these novels had passed across my plate but they were every bit as enjoyable this time around as they were the very first time. Haggard is an excellent author and I heartily recommend these stories.

For those not familiar with Haggard a few words are in order. Haggard spent many years of his young adulthood in Natal and became very familiar with the country thus enabling him to write so authoritatively on the country and its peoples. After returning to England Haggard happened to read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island and remarked that while it was good, he could do better. A bet was made and six weeks later King Solomon’s Mines was finished and a new career for Haggard had begun. The titles listed above are only a few of the many the writer produced and the average reader would be well pleased with numerous of his other works.

Allan Quatermain is a direct sequel to King Solomon’s Mines. The story of She is not directly related to Allan Quatermain but does have a prequel (She and Allan, 1921) in which the hunter meets She-who-must-be-obeyed. While The People of the Mist is an outstanding adventure novel, the two characters are mostly shadowy copies of Quatermain and Umslopogaas.

These accounts are good reading but going beyond this, the most interesting thing about them are certain similarities that appear in the later Doc Savage series. Examining these relationships our attention centers on the following characters: Allan Quatermain, Captain John Good, Umslopogaas, Otter, Horace Holly, and Leo Vincey.

Perhaps the most attention-grabbing character encountered is Captain John Good, late of the Royal Navy. Quatermain makes it a point to emphasize Good’s absorption with his personal appearance in King Solomon’s Mines.

There he sat upon a leather bag, looking just as though he had come in from a comfortable day’s shooting in a civilized country, absolutely clean, tidy, and well dressed. He wore a shooting suit of brown tweed, with a hat to match, and neat gaiters. As usual, he was beautifully shaved, his eye-glass and his false teeth appeared to be in perfect order, and altogether he looked the neatest man I ever had to do with in the wilderness. He even sported a collar, of which he had a supply, made of white gutta-percha.

In the sequel, Allan Quatermain, John Good’s obsessive fascination with his dress becomes a focal point of one chapter. The group has trekked hundreds of miles across the unexplored wilderness. Sufficient to say, without spoiling the tale for the uninitiated the feats are extraordinary. After these travails, the group prepares to meet an official entourage from the local government. Good astonishes everyone by calmly producing his full naval uniform. Before leaving England, Good had taken the unusual precaution of having the uniform hermetically sealed in a metal container that he then carted all over the African continent.

We watched this undoing with the tenderous interest, and much speculation. One by one Good removed the dull husks that hid their splendours, carefully folding and replacing each piece of paper as he did so; and there at last lay, in all the majesty of its gold epaulettes, lace, and buttons, a Commander of the Royal Navy’s full-dress uniform – dress sword, cocked hat, shiny patent leather boots and all. We literally gasped.

Good’s resplendent dress makes an admirable impression upon the native population. So much so, that within a short time the native tailors have produced a significant number of copies. The fact that so many people were similarly adorned became enormously embarrassing to Good leading him to abandon his dress uniform and adopt the native costume.

Captain Good is pernickety in his attire and appearance to the point of absurdity. Yet in King Solomon’s Mines, circumstances force him to parade around clad only in a flannel shirt, without his pants, and with only one side of his beard shaved. His pale white legs are a thing of hitherto unknown beauty to the native population. To further add to his indignity, Good is forced to play the part of wizard with the natives by “magically” removing and reinserting his false teeth.

Could the dignity of a man who prized his physical appearance be demeaned any worse than this? Well, yes it could. At the end of the story, Quatermain receives a letter encouraging him to come to England, enjoy his newly found wealth, and live near his friends. The letter also notes that Captain Good is furious, as the story of his “beautiful white legs” has somehow ended up printed in the society section of the local paper. Certainly, this is the ancestor of one of Monk Mayfair’s jokes on Ham Brooks.

Some years later we come across a member of Doc Savage’s crew, Ham Brooks. Like Captain Good, Ham is the image of sartorial perfection. Clothes are his passion. Yet, who do you suppose ends up, often enough, dressed in rags? Here is an example from The Quest of Qui (July 1935) where Ham is described as a Beau Brummell of New York.

Ham’s garb just now would have been a disappointment, however. It consisted entirely of a gunnysack, none too clean. Two holes had been torn in the bottom for Ham’s legs, and he filled the rest of the sack – it was not a very large on snugly indeed.

The wonderful preciseness of Ham Brook’s clothes and his unending obsession with them are themes repeated throughout the Doc Savage stories. Time after time, Ham’s attire is noted with distinction. All too often, he has the failing of picking fashion over practicality, especially in wilderness settings, and ends up seeing his neat safari outfit literally reduced to rags.

We learn the Captain Good is also something of a lady’s man. He is always looking for an opportunity to make a favorable impression on the fairer sex. Expressing his reasons for joining the group on their second adventure to Africa, Good reveals that his reason for leaving is not a woman but if it was it would be several and not one! Later in the story, the three companions are busy learning the language of the land. Good makes clear to their instructors that in their country the very best tutors are chosen from the most handsome looking females. This, he explains, facilitates the learning process. Of course this is all done without the knowledge of his companions or the queen who looks with not some small favor upon one of the men. The net result is a scene ending in a comical fashion.

Good seems to have an overpowering weakness for women. In fact, his passion for a certain lady influences him at one point whereby he fails in his duty. In the Doc Savage stories both Ham Brooks and Monk Mayfair are considered something of lady’s men. Both are always on the lookout for a new conquest when it comes to the fairer sex but Monk Mayfair seems the most ambitious of the pair. In this regard we can make a direct correlation to the wolfish character of Monk Mayfair, who often allows a pretty turned leg to get the better part of his judgment and lead him into disaster.

Captain Good always wears a monocle. The monocle wearing is every bit as extreme as his affectation with clothes. Quatermain begins wondering whether Good wears the eyepiece in his sleep. It is another idiosyncrasy that is afterward adopted by one of Doc’s men, William Harper Littlejohn.

In She, we meet a character named Horace Holly who is apelike in appearance, good-natured, very ugly and very strong. Short, thick-set, and deep-chested, almost to deformity, with long sinewy arms, heavy features, hollow grey eyes, a low brow half overgrown with a mop of thick black hair …

I was branded – branded by Nature with the stamp of abnormal ugliness, as I was gifted by Nature with iron and abnormal strength and considerable intellectual powers.

In both appearance and strength Holly brings to mind the image of a large ape. So much so that one of the characters in the adventure nicknames him Baboon. It is not an insult, but rather a term of affection bestowed upon Holly by his benefactor, Billali. Holly’s description is not so different from that of Monk Mayfair the hairy ape-like chemist from the Doc Savage stories as shown in The Man of Bronze (March 1933).

Last came the most remarkable character of all. Only a few inches over five feet tall, he weighed better than two hundred and sixty pounds. He had the build of a gorilla, arms six inches longer than his legs, a chest thicker than it was wide. His eyes were so surrounded by gristle as to resemble pleasant little stars twinkling in pits. He grinned with a mouth so very big it looked like an accident.

Monk’s real name is Andrew but he so much resembles an ape, that like Holly, he is endowed with a simian nickname. Likewise he is also endowed with tremendous strength being able to fold silver dollars in half. He also possesses an outstanding intellect being one of the most respected chemists in the world.

Holly gives an exhibition of his extraordinary strength in She. During a fight he becomes mad with rage and takes on two robust natives and crushes the life from them in a death hug. He wraps his long arms around his opponents and squeezes them until their ribs break. He does not release his grip until his opponents are dead.

They were strong men, but I was mad with rage, and that awful lust of battle which will creep into the hearts of the most civilized of us when blows are flying, and life and death tremble on the turn. My arms were about the two swarthy demons, and I hugged them till I heard their ribs crack and crunch up beneath my grip.

Again, if we look at the Doc Savage stories we see Monk Mayfair employing this same feat in The Polar Treasure (June 1933).

This gigantic individual held three mean-eyed men in the hooplike clasp of his huge arms. The trio were helpless. Three guns, which they had no doubt held recently, lay on the floor.

There is another male character in She – Leo Vincey. In physical appearance, Holly remarks that his ward, Leo Vincey, is unequalled in good looks. Intellectually he is described as “brilliant and keen-witted but no scholar.” It seems that Holly is perhaps overly harsh in his analysis. Leo has successfully mastered his studies, which include Greek, Arabic and the higher mathematics. The young Vincey is also an excellent marksman and superb athlete.

Leo’s education is all aimed at achieving a stated goal – the righting of a wrong, or more specifically – revenge! Revenge to be exacted upon a certain individual. From his youth his education has been such to prepare him for the quest that lies before him.  Haggard tells us his name, Vincey, is derived from the Latin term vendix, which means Avenger. Years later in the pulps, we see another youth trained along similar lines but in infinitely greater depth. His goal too is to see to the righting of wrongs and in a way is a sort of revenge aimed not at a single individual but at crime and injustice itself.

There are two more characters that should be discussed. The first is Umslopogaas who accompanies the trio in Allan Quatermain. If ever there was a character that rivaled Allan Quatermain in terms of affection from the reader then it is Umslopogaas. He is a mighty warrior, a homeless Zulu chief whose loyalty is unending.

His weapon of choice is a great ax and his greatest pleasure in life is derived from fighting worthy opponents. He is dreadfully successful in his battles, also being known by the names of Woodpecker, and Slaughterer. The Woodpecker name comes from his using the pointed end of the ax to poke holes in an opponent’s skull. To Umslopogaas’ mind, this was more sportsmanlike than simply chopping his adversaries to pieces with the broad end. This fierce fighter likes nothing more than a good battle. It is a characteristic Monk Mayfair also enjoys.

Lastly we find another notable character in The People of the Mist, a native named Otter who is described as being ugly to the point of hideous. But he was also good natured, amazingly strong and a wonderful companion. The most interesting thing about Otter relating to the Doc Savage series is his physical description which bears some resemblance to that later given to Monk Mayfair. Here is Haggard’s description of Otter.

But what he lacked in height he made up in breadth; it almost seemed as though, intended by nature to be a man of many inches, he had been compressed to his present dimensions by art. His vast chest and limbs, indicating strength nearly superhuman, his long iron arms and massive head, all gave colour to this idea.

Another remarkable fact found in the stories is the use of chain mail armor in both King Solomon’s Mines and its sequel Allan Quatermain. The stories take place in the late nineteenth century and chain mail had been seriously out of fashion for some years. But the locale for King Solomon’s Mines is the unexplored regions of Africa and involved native warfare fought with spears and knives so the armor is appropriate. What is most notable is the description of the armor as being so fine and of such excellent workmanship that you could ball it up and completely cover it with both hands. Even more amazing, given the excellent craftsmanship of the armor, is the fact that it is apparently several hundred years old.

The lesson learned from the body armor causes the three adventurers to commission new chain mail to take with them on their return trip to Africa in Allan Quatermain.

The workmanship was exceedingly fine, the web being composed of thousands upon thousands of stout but tiny rings of the very best steel. These shirts, or rather steel-sleeved and high-necked jerseys, were lined with ventilated wash leather, were not bright, but browned like the barrel of a gun; and mine weighed exactly seven pounds and fitted me so well that I found I could wear it for days next to my skin without being chafed.

The items are described as being outmoded in the above story, suitable only against bladed weapons. But forty-five years later we find Doc Savage’s crew wearing bulletproof vests made of chain mail armor as described in The Land of Terror (April 1933.)

The bulletproof vest which he wore was of mail, not rigid armor plate. It was a vest designed by Doc Savage for himself and his men to wear continually, and therefore it was light, intended to save them only from an occasional bullet.

Then, in Allan Quatermain, our band of adventurers discovers an unknown country deep in the African interior, which the inhabitants have named Zu-Vendi, or “yellow country”. Like the Valley of the Vanished found in The Man of Bronze it is an isolated and undiscovered country. The natives shun contact with the outside world. Similarly, both lands are rich in gold. In both stories an outsider becomes the heir of the gold.

It is an odd fact that the first story of the Doc Savage series, The Man of Bronze, begins with the death of the father and chronicles the first adventure of the son. Conversely, Allan Quatermain begins with the death of the son and chronicles the last adventure of the father.

There we have it. Individually, these little coincidences mean little. But taken in the whole it is good evidence that H. Rider Haggard had some influence over the development of certain characters and concepts in the Doc Savage series. So I think someone over at Street & Smith, be it Lester Dent, John Nanovic, or Henry Ralston, had read H. Rider Haggard along the way and incorporated these traits into the Doc stories.

A year later now, a few more Haggard tales have passed my way and a couple of more coincidences have surfaced. Sammy is an unusual character from Alan and the Holy Flower (1915):

Sammy was the son of a native Christian preacher, and brought up upon what he called “The Word.” He had received an excellent education for a person of his class, and in addition to many native dialects with which a varied career had made him acquainted, spoke English perfectly, though in the most bombastic style. Never would he use a short word if a long one came to his hand, or rather to his tongue. For several years of his life he was, I believe, a teacher in a school at Capetown where coloured persons received their education; his department,” as he called it, being “English Language and Literature.”

Here is an example of Sammy’s vernacular:

“No, Mr. Quatermain,” he answered, “the morning is extremely fine, and like the poor Hottentot, Hans, I have abjured the use of intoxicants. Though we differ on much else, in this matter we agree.”

Now while Sammy does not use words as cryptically as Johnny does in the Doc Savage stories it would seem to me that they are cousins of a sort. Certainly, Sammy’s description as never using a short word when a long one was available is the same later used for Johnny. The last time we see Sammy mentioned he is described thusly:

Sammy, too, was set up as the proprietor of a small hotel, where he spent most of his time in the bar dilating to the customers in magnificent sentences that reminded me of the style of a poem called “The Essay on Man” (which I once tried to read and couldn’t), about his feats as a warrior among the wild Mazitu and the man-eating, devil-worshipping Pongo tribes.

All I can say about this is that I will be superamalgamated!

Moving on, the next notable Haggard story is The Ivory Child (1916):

I had heard a good deal about Lord Ragnall, who, according to all accounts, seemed a kind of Admirable Crichton. He was said to be wonderfully handsome, a great scholar–he had taken a double first at college; a great athlete–he had been captain of the Oxford boat at the University race; a very promising speaker who had already made his mark in the House of Lords; a sportsman who had shot tigers and other large game in India; a poet who had published a successful volume of verse under a pseudonym; a good solider until he left the Service; and lastly, a man of enormous wealth, owning, in addition to his estates, several coal mines and an entire town in the north of England.

What a character! Does he remind you of someone else? Now this was the first time I had ever heard of the “Admirable Crichton”. Indeed, when I first saw it occurred to me that it was a misprint and should probably be “admiral”. But it wasn’t and the background of the Admirable Crichton soon came to light.

Webster’s dictionary informs “The Admirable Crichton” was a Scottish man of letters and adventurer named James Crichton (1560-1582). Delving deeper one learns this astonishing young man was a veritable child prodigy and accomplished athlete. It is reported that this genius held a debate at the university in Paris, France. He successfully answered any question given of him while using a dozen different languages. This is even more astonishing given the fact he was only seventeen years old at the time.

So in one single paragraph Haggard gives us not one, but two men who exemplify traits that are later embodied and enlarged upon in Doc Savage. One more notable fact from this story is the man who is Lord Ragnall’s personal attendant. He is a man named Samuel Savage. By itself, the name is nothing but coupled with the unique description of Lord Ragnall it does tend to raise one’s eyebrow.