As an aspiring author I try to write as often as possible but always remember to have a book on the bedside table. I read for many reasons mostly the sheer joy of the pastime but I am constantly trying to improve myself as a writer finding worthwhile lessons in my successful peers whether they’re currently enjoying life in the bestsellers list or they have long since written their final words. As I continue my own writing journey (hopefully towards publication!) I’ll be sharing my thoughts on all my latest reads and maybe reveal who I find the most inspiring along the way.
Henry Rider Haggard – The People of the Mist (1894)
Of H. Rider Haggard’s novels I had only previously read King Solomon’s Mines (1885) so was happy to try another of his works. I was most intrigued by The People of the Mist which promised another of Haggard’s African adventures but would it be as memorable as King Solomon’s Mines?
The novel begins with brothers Leonard and Thomas Outram who lose their home and money and for poor Leonard the prospect of marrying his beloved Jane Beach. The brothers head for Africa to seek their fortune and buy back their estate. When we pick up their progress years later Thomas is on the brink of death and leaves Leonard to continue their quest alone. Leonard is joined by the loyal Zulu Otter who refers to Leonard as Baas and is motivated by nothing more than helping his master’s plans come to success. When Leonard and Otter meet the mysterious Soa she gives Leonard a ruby jewel and promises she’ll lead him to more if he’ll help rescue a Portuguese girl Juanna Rodd from slavery. Soa claims to know the whereabouts of the People of the Mist and assures Leonard that they have enough rubies to restore him to a position of great wealth. Leonard is motivated purely by money to begin with but when he meets Juanna everything changes.
Haggard’s adventure gets going pretty quickly once Leonard has left Jane Beach behind. Both are heartbroken at the separation but with Leonard penniless Jane’s father won’t allow any kind of union. Leonard’s hopes are of riches and fame in Africa but it doesn’t quite work out that way. When we join Leonard and his brother Thomas in Africa around seven years have passed and the brothers are no closer to success than when they first arrived. Leonard has to watch his brother die before resuming his journey with the loyal Otter by his side. Otter is gifted with amazing strength but at times he appears to be a kind and gentle man his primary focus being Leonard’s welfare and having no real desires or ambitions of his own. The meeting with Soa promises an upturn in fortune for Leonard and Otter but rescuing Juanna from slave owners is a high price for the promise of treasure from a stranger.
Leonard’s liberation of Juanna costs money and as part of the deal the slave owner is adamant that his prize must be married before he’ll release her. Leonard reluctantly steps forward to partake of the union and this begins the problem for our young couple. Although they have mutual affection for each other from the start Juanna’s knowledge of why Leonard has released her changes her opinion of him dramatically. To her Leonard is motivated only by riches which is initially true but once he meets Juanna Leonard finds himself attracted to her even at the unthinkable forsaking of Jane Beach back in England. After escaping from the slave owner Leonard has a large party join him on the journey into the heart of Africa to seek out the People of the Mist. A priest Francisco joins the group and is poignantly drawn to Juanna though his feelings are buried for the sake of devotion to his faith. After an exciting gathering of companions for Leonard Haggard takes us to the highlight of the book which is the discovery of the People of the Mist.
Soa knows that the group may not survive for more than a few seconds on reaching the People of the Mist so formulates a deceptive but cunning plan to have Juanna and Otter pose as two of the gods that the people worship. Soa’s knowledge of their religion allows Juanna and Otter to pass some tests and they are soon accepted at the behest of the ruthless Nam who oversees the religious devotion which involves human sacrifice in the mountains to a giant crocodile that the People of the Mist worship. Things become even more complicated when the elevation of Juanna and Otter as gods sees King Olfan removed from power though his disappointment is alleviated somewhat by his love for Juanna. Suddenly the group have to continue their deception under intense pressure and growing suspicion from the People of the Mist. Nam and Soa are not what they seem and Leonard’s hopes of acquiring a treasure trove of rubies becomes ever more uncertain.
Haggard’s novel builds up to a great climax as Leonard and the surviving members of his group look to escape from the People of the Mist. One of the highlights is surely the amazing Otter’s underwater battle with a giant crocodile while the flight across a steep glacier is just as exciting. The book probably suffers most at the very end when we have to have a resolution of sorts for Leonard. Whether things work out well for him and Juanna I won’t say but his primary concern of reclaiming his home does have an outcome but it all seems a tad too easy and convenient in the end. All the potential problems Leonard was set to bring back to England are washed away in a few pages which is a shame considering the death-defying moments that have come before. I supposed Haggard was maybe thinking his characters had been through enough and deserved some luck for a change.
The People of the Mist is a great read an exciting adventure in the heart of Africa which may seem a tried and tested formula by today’s standards but back when Haggard was writing it would have been something very fresh and new indeed. With two Haggard books now read I’m looking forward to delving even further into his collection.