Vintage Treasures: The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard

Vintage Treasures: The People of the Mist by H. Rider Haggard

The People of the Mist H Rider Haggard-back-small The People of the Mist H Rider Haggard-small

I’ve never read any H. Rider Haggard… which is a pretty serious oversight for a guy in my position. He wrote a handful of acknowledged classics, including She and some 14 novels featuring Allan Quatermain, the most famous of which is King Solomon’s Mines. But if I were stuck on a desert island (a fate that’s starting to look more and more appealing as the years go by) and could grab only one Haggard novel before the ship went down, I think my first choice would be his 1894 classic The People of the Mist. It was reprinted in paperback for the first time in English in 1973 as part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy library, with a thoughtful 6-page introduction by Lin Carter. The wonderful wraparound Dean Ellis cover (above) has always fired my imagination, as has the description on the inside cover.

The internationally famous author of She and King Solomon’s Mines writes a glittering adventure set in ancient Africa — a marvelous tale of peoples hidden in a valley cut off from the rest of the world, their primitive and savage culture harking back before the mists of time.

Haggard possesses the gift not only of making his tales seem totally authentic, but of stretching out suspense to its outside limits — and surely no adventure has had as breathtaking a climax as the hurtling ride over a trembling icepath that occurs in People of the Mist!

The People of the Mist was published in December 1973 as part of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy line. It was edited by Lin Carter, with a wraparound cover by Dean Ellis. It is 365 pages, priced at $1.50. Remarkably, it is still in print today in over a dozen different editions, including eight different digital editions, starting at 99 cents.

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Tony Den

Another one for my list John. It seems every time I tick something off The List, I am adding another. Oddly enough I recently decided to do some catching up on the classics and purchased King Solomons Mines, She and Allan Quartermaine. Haven’t read them yet.

Of specific interest to me is Haggard worked in what was to become South Africa (was still separate republics and colonies then), so a bit of local context for me.

Thomas Parker

This one has been on my shelf since I bought it at the Change of Hobbit bookstore in L.A in 1976. I guess it’s about time I got around to it…(and She and King Solomon’s Mines are seriously awesome books…)

Aonghus Fallon

I must check out ‘People of the Mist’! I read ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ and ‘She’ years ago (the 1965 film version of the latter is pretty good too).

There’s always something about a particular book that you remember. This is what I remember from ‘She’ (thanks to the wonders of the Internet, it only took a second to source):

‘As we hurried down the stair I observed that the steps were worn in the centre to such an extent that some of them had been reduced from seven and a half inches, at which I guessed their original height, to about three and a half. Now, all the other steps that I had seen in the caves were practically unworn, as was to be expected, seeing that the only traffic which ever passed upon them was that of those who bore a fresh burden to the tomb. Therefore this fact struck my notice with that curious force with which little things do strike us when our minds are absolutely overwhelmed by a sudden rush of powerful sensations; beaten flat, as it were, like a sea beneath the first burst of a hurricane, so that every little object on the surface starts into an unnatural prominence.
At the bottom of the staircase I stood and stared at the worn steps, and Ayesha, turning, saw me.
“Wonderest thou whose are the feet that have worn away the rock, my Holly?” she asked. “They are mine — even mine own light feet! I can remember when those stairs were fresh and level, but for two thousand years and more have I gone down hither day by day, and see, my sandals have worn out the solid rock!”
I made no answer, but I do not think that anything that I had heard or seen brought home to my limited understanding so clear a sense of this being’s overwhelming antiquity as that hard rock hollowed out by her soft white feet. How many hundreds of thousands of times must she have passed up and down that stair to bring about such a result?’

I’ve been a fan of those Ballantine ADULT FANTASY volumes. I pick them up whenever I find them. I just picked up three Clark Ashton Smith volumes in the series at a AAUW Book Sale.

Joe H.

I love Haggard — my favorite is probably She. A few years ago I started a project (probably never to be completed) of reading all of his novels in more-or-less order of publication. (I picked up one of those “Complete Works of Haggard” sets for my Kindle for about $0.99.) His first few novels (Dawn, The Witch’s Head, etc.) are kind of competently-written but eminently forgettable Victorian romance; but then along comes King Solomon’s Mines and it was one of those books that just changed the world.

Major Wootton

I’ve read about 30 of Haggard’s books. Probably She or King Solomon’s Mines is the one to read if you’re only going to read one. But many of the others remain entertaining. I’d rate Montezuma’s Daughter pretty highly. There’s a “Zulu trilogy” with Allan Quatermain that features real characters such as Tchaka/Shaka: Marie, Allan’s Wife, and Finished. Nada the Lily is a barbaric romance that probably would have appealed to Robert E. Howard. I’m not sure that the two Ballantine reprints of Haggard are as good as these (they were The World’s Desire and The People of the Mist–not that I’d discourage anyone from reading the latter). What’s going to be Haggard at his best isn’t always easy to guess ahead of time, in my experience. For example, you’d expect that When the World Shook, with its Atlantis theme, would be a highlight of Haggard’s work; but I didn’t find it so; it seemed, as I recall, rather talky and uninspired. Conversely, to take an extreme example, I found his mundane novel about vaccination (!!), Dr. Therne, quite interesting.

He was important for Tolkien, as I have argued in the entry on 19th- and 20th-century literary influences on Tolkien in the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, which your nearest university library may own. (See also my book on J. R. R. Tolkien: Studies in Reception, due out this summer from Nodens Books.)

Offhand, if you want a formula for finding good Haggard books, I’d suggest

1.exploring the books he wrote between King Solomon’s Mines and Montezuma’s Daughter

2.the Allan Quatermain books — although, sadly, the one in which he brought Allan and Ayesha (She) together wasn’t one of his very best

3.books with an African setting

Poke around in this very useful handlist:

These are some quick comments, not testimony under oath.

Major Wootton

Speaking of Rider Haggard, I think he would have relished the possibilities of this news item:

Joe H.

Major Wootton — You’ve definitely read a lot more Haggard than I have! And I’d agree with just about everything you said.

The fact that he actually lived in South Africa gives the books an air of authenticity far beyond anything you’d find in, e.g., Burroughs’ Tarzan books. And Haggard’s treatment of African natives is probably about as good as can be expected given the time & place in which he was writing; again, much better than Burroughs.

Joe H.

Also, that handlist is fascinating — I know most of the listed books only as titles, if even that.

Thomas Parker

I read Haggard’s Cleopatra a few years ago and loved it – it’s the genuine article – a roaring, clanking, steam-spewing 19th century historical melodrama. It’s an absolute blast; it was published in 1889 – I wonder how many of today’s highly trumpeted best sellers will still be read with pleasure in 2138?

James Enge

Those Ballantine Adult Fantasy paperbacks! Always amazing to look at. Thanks for the glimpse of this one.

I read a few of the Allan Quartermain books as a teenager; I haven’t looked at them in decades, though. Wonder how they hold up. But I liked them pretty well back then. I tried his “Eric Brighteyes” and it didn’t work for me.

The art of the mass-market paperback peaked in the late 60s/early 70s at Ballantine. Or so it seems to me: maybe it’s one of those “golden age of science fiction” things.

James McGlothlin

Serendipity! I just finished this book about two weeks ago! I had read She about two years ago and loved it. I’m currently reading King Solomon’s Mines right now.

I wouldn’t call Haggard a great writer, but he does get you caught up in the adventure and the mysteriousness of the ancient civilization that the story is about.

I agree with Wooton that if you only read one Haggard it should be She, but I’m not finding King Solomon’s Mines nearly as entertaining as She or People of the Mist. Actually, I’d personally rate People of the Mist at the top (though these are the only three Haggard books that I’ve ever read).

Joe H.

James — Where are you in KSM? As I recall, a lot of it was just a trek across the savannah.

(And another thing I’d mention about the Quatermain books in particular is that, well, Quatermain is a hunter and, at least in the ones I’ve read, tends to leave more than his fair share of dead elephants, lions, etc., in his wake.)

James McGlothlin


I’ve just gotten to the point where they discover there is a long lost tribe on the other side of the mountains (they just barely survived the passing of the desert). And yes, it seems that Quatermain tends to leave a trail of animal carnage in his path.

Joe H.

OK, I think you’re at the point where things start to pick up, or nearly there. I’ll be curious to know what you think when you’re finished.

James McGlothlin

I’ll come back and post it here. I’ll be finished with it in the next 2-3 days. I just read the chapter last night that gives the sort of intrigue/soap opera history of the king and a lost prince, etc. I can already see some writing on the wall there!

Joe H.

Yeah, definitely, although this is one of the first books to write on that particular wall …


It took about 40 years to collect and read all the Allan Quartermain novels (14) and 4 short stories. The short story Magepa the Buck was the hardest simply because apparently it appeared in a collection called Smith and the Pharoahs. I discovered Haggard as being an author admired by Edgar Rice Burroughs who like a god to me when I was a pre-teen and devoured the Ace and Ballentine books. Ballentine printed King Solomon’s Mines and Allan Quatermain and then stopped. The Rochester NY library had a copy of Finished (third in the Zulu triology) and I obtained a few from England. back then it seemed so special to get voumes produced overseas-we’re talking latter 1960s. At any rate to my mind The Ivory Child is the perfect Quatermain novel as it has ALL the things one would expect–secnes in England, prophecies of doom, damsel in distress with a hint of Godess about her, magic in the form of a giant elephant, a lost tribe, the expected ‘red shirt’ death and the tragic death of a main characyer-all o Haggard’s trademarks he tended to repeat over and over it seemed. Ballentine also published the four She novels in the 70s releasing them in chronological order rather then the written one. Personally now as an adult I find She slow and the Return long winded but She and Allan (wow a team-up-the delight of a comics lover’s heart) is the best-and witch doctor ikali always steals the show. Wisdom’s Daughter somehow lacked for me–Ayesha seemed out of her depth and way too chatty and frankly the mystique of her character was ruined for me. Just saying. Other then Eroc Brightyes and Nada the Lily which I treat as a Quatermain prequel of sorts never read People of the Mist as I tend to follow series.Good to know Haggard is NOT forgotten. A special thank you to Mr. O’Neill for help with my password. By the way real name Richard Marvin–the Allard was a nickname which started as ajoke in another website since after all in cyberspace do we really know who we all are. A couple people got the joke-much didn’t and I will admit slowly but surely The Shadow is fading from the public awareness.

Major Wootton

I might like She and Allan more if I gave it a second reading.

Do you know C. S. Lewis’s immortal quip about Ayesha as she appears in Wisdom’s Daughter (the one where she’s so chatty?)? He said: If she really was Wisdom’s daughter,s he didn’t take after her parent.

Lewis’s love of Haggard is on record in more than one place, including his review of Cohen’s excellent biography of haggard. There’s a worthwhile essay on haggard by Graham Greene too, I believe, in an essay collection called The Lost Childhood. Roger Lancelyn Green has a chapter on Haggard in a book called Tellers of Tales that focuses largely on the massive legacy of Victorian and Edwardian authors who wrote books that you can enjoy as a youngster and still enjoy as an adult.

Allard, were those Haggard books you ordered from England published by the firm of MacDonald, with illustrations by Hookway Cowles?

Thomas Parker

Haggard is a secret – or not so secret – love of a lot of writers, including Graham Greene.


To Major Wooten -your question about the English editions being McDonald rang a bell. This would have been around 1967 or so. I KNOW I had Nada the Lily, Allan and the Holy Flower, She and Allan and The Ivory Child. The Holy Glower cover had the scene where the Lady is holding up her arm to try to get native to spare her lover’s life who’s unconscious on a litter; Ivory Child’s cover has Quaterman trying to take a shot at Jana the elephant and She and Allan has Allan running out of a cave I believe with a ghostly appearing Ayesha seemingly floating behind him if memory serves. My current copies are mostly from Wildside Press with a few hardcovers. Treasure of the Lake was the last one to be found after Heu-Heu and frankly both disappointed. I’m 65 and have a dear friend in Texas whose I hope to pass the set on to when my time comes-the only lady I ever knew who likes Haggard-my wife tolerates my reading/collecting since the bills get paid-mostly on time. 🙂 Sorry about lack of memory on the publisher. Scanton Books were the ones that ordered them for me-using paper route money at the time. Out of Rochester NY area -not sure if they are in business anymore since life and the Air Force took me out of New York and eventually stranded me in Ohio-long story.


One last not to the Major-I had never heard that quote from Lewis-thanks. I really like his Screwtape Letters but have found Narnia series slow. Some of his Christian writings leave a great deal of solid manner to be thought over.

Major Wootton

Hi, Allard — I was lucky in that when I was getting into Haggard I was able to find a number of his books at the Bartlett Street Book Store in downtown Medford, Oregon. I guess someone’s collection had ended up there. I paid as little as 50c, no more than $8 or so for the ones I bought. More recently, I’ve found his books available as free downloads at Project Gutenberg. I paste the text as a Word document, select a typeface and type size that are agreeable, and print them out, binding the loose sheets with large staples. Each book becomes a “multi-volume” edition this way. The “books” don’t look great, but they are ideal for bathtub reading; doesn’t matter if they get splashed on!

Yes, I agree about the Lewis Christian writings; and his small book The Abolition of Man has been valuable to me over against the notions of progressive education.

I couldn’t tell if the books you describe where MacDonald Illustrated editions, but I bet they were. I think MacDonald was the English-language outfit keeping Haggard (other than She and King Solomon’s Mines, and maybe one or two others) in print at that time.

Googling “Scanton Books” didn’t pay off.

Joe H.

As with so very, very, very many things, I owe my introduction to Haggard to Lin Carter, who had an excerpt from She in his Realms of Wizardry. That led me to an omnibus collection in the general fiction section of the public library that included She, KSM, Cleopatra and Allan Quatermain, almost all of which I instantly adored. (Cleopatra, for whatever reason, didn’t quite grab me the first time around.)

Then I started finding some of the random 1960s/1970s paperbacks (from Ballantine and Zebra) in the local used book store.

And these days I can just go onto Amazon and buy a collection of his complete works for $1.99. Or I can get the free Gutenberg editions, but I’m happy to pay a buck or two for the convenience of having them all gathered together.

Sarah Avery

Rochester had a brief moment as a hub for second-hand booksellers. The internet had made it possible to sell worldwide, but hadn’t yet killed off the mom and pop shops. Rochester’s a bookish town with cheap storefront space and a low cost of living. For a few years, my grandparents’ house was walking distance from half a dozen used book stores, all lined up on Monroe Avenue. They’re all gone now.

The reason they were on Monroe Avenue in the first place was that the beloved Village Green Bookstore had been there, before Borders and Barnes & Noble drove it under. Allard, did you ever behold the magnificence that was the Village Green Bookstore? Until the superstores rose, VG had the biggest SF/F section I’d ever seen. After Borders it wasn’t the biggest anymore, but it was still the best-curated. They could have held their own alongside any bookseller in any convention dealers’ room at any convention in the country.

Major Wootton

Sarah, Allard, and others, you’re invited to go here

to share your memories and sense of loss regarding bygone bookstores, with other readers who will appreciate your experience!

Joe H., I think I know the book you mention. It’s called The Works of Haggard and the binding is red cloth or imitation leather, right? That’s the book in which I read Cleopatra around 1973, and I’m pretty sure that was an abridged edition. I have an unabridged edition and maybe should tackle that sometime. That’s also the edition in which I first read Allan Quatermain, which I now have in an Oxford World’s Classics paperback with notes.

Lin Carter put me, also, on to Haggard, Joe, but in my case the book that did it was his 1969 “Look Behind” book on Tolkien. “The only influence Tolkien will admit to these days (not counting, of course, the Northern mythology, which will be examined in detail in a subsequent chapter) is H. Rider Haggard’s She” — p. 20. So I had to track that down at the Ashland, Oregon, public library. Allard, their edition was one of those MacDonald editions.

Joe H.

Yes, definitely Works of Haggard, cloth-bound in red. I can’t say whether Cleopatra was abridged or not. After my first run-through, I mostly switched to the Dover Three Adventure Novels, which included She, KSM and AQ. I’ve since gone back and reread Cleopatra and have more of an appreciation for it now.

Major Wootton

I referred on June 2 to Ballantine reprints of Haggard. I meant the two Ballantine Fantasy series reprints — The World’s Desire and The People of the Mist. Ballantine also reprinted some Haggard outside the Fantasy series edited by Lin Carter. I just caught my misstatement and hope nobody was confused.

For readers who are interested in Haggard’s possible influence on Tolkien, let me recommend my forthcoming book J. R. R. Tolkien: Studies in Reception, due out this summer from Nodens Books, and my entry on 19th- and 20th-century influences on Tolkien in the J. R. R. Tolkien Encyclopedia edited by Michael Drout. I think that Haggard was really important for Tolkien and that this probably would have been written up sooner except that most people just read KSM and She, maybe one or two others. But Haggard was a copious writer, and new books under his name appeared from the 1880s to around 1930 (after his death!).

He himself seems to have thought his best romances were the ones written around 1886-1895 or so (I don’t have the exact remark at hand). After about 1894 he dictated them, and there may be a connection. However, I think the dictation approach apparently did work pretty well for him in some books composed when he assumed the Quatermain persona, in books like Allan and the Holy Flower. That’s my impression.


To Sarah and the Major: In 1968-69 Rochetser NY had three bookstores I frequented about every two months or so by way of a Greyhound bus from nearby Spencerport NY which I considered home for the most part (another long dull story). The Mecca was the Clinton Avenue Bookstore where comics, books, and pulps were there in abundance. We were there mostly for cheap back issue comics (we stuck our noses up at $3 for Brave and Bold #28 since it had already been reprinted-the first Justice League of America issue-sigh) and ignored the detective pulps-another huge error since I now casually collect Dime Detective mostly for John K. Butler stories (46 issues to date but four of them are missing pages-sigh) but when you’re young interest are all over the place. Was the first time I ever saw or heard of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian and yes the Frazetta covers sealed the sale. World Press also had current comics and I remember seeing early Erb-doms and German editions of Perry Rhodan there. There was third used hardback store run by a very courteous gentleman whose name and store I can NOT recall but he sold me some Graustark novels by George Barr McCutcheon when I was feeding my Prisoner of Zenda itch. Of the few Burroughs I hung onto–the Venus series =The Mad King is oony other one still owned. He was impressed we even had heard of McCutcheon let alone Sabatini and Haggard and I wish I had explored his store more. The Monroe store you refer to I never got to or heard of and back then would have had no way to get there. My parents really hated the comic book obsession and would have balked at driving me around for ‘silly’ novels. One last McDonald memory of the hardcovers–they were uniform covers with all white borders around the cover art. I recall seeing She and Allan a year or so back at Dark Star in Yellow Springs and I suspect I’ll be maming a journey there soon to recheck now that my memory has been stirred up.

Major Wootton

All this talk of Haggard has got me rereading Allan and the Holy Flower.

James McGlothlin

@Joe H

I finished King Solomon’s Mines tonight. Meh . . . I still like The People of the Mist better. Though, World’s Desire is probably my favorite Haggard, though it is co-written.

Joe H.

Yeah, I was kind of amused to find out that Haggard collaborated with Andrew (Colored Fairy Book series) Lang.

Didn’t Lang also have a very, very small hand in She? Maybe just helping with some of the poetry?

James McGlothlin

I don’t know. I’m not familiar with who Lang was (though I remember Lin Carter saying he was a classicist). World’s Desire reads much differently than any of Haggard’s other (three) books that I’ve read. It reminded me somewhat of Mistress of Mistresses by E.R. Eddison.

Joe H.

It’s been a long time since I read World’s Desire; just flipping through it at random, the prose kind of reminds me of some of Haggard’s other historicals — you might check out Cleopatra, e.g.

These days Andrew Lang is probably best known (if he’s known at all) as a children’s author/editor — he was responsible for the Colored Fairy Book series (The Blue Fairy Book, The Red Fairy Book, etc.) which I think is probably still in print from Dover to this day.

Major Wootton

I don’t remember if Lang assisted Haggard on SHE, but he did get help from someone with some of the inscriptions on the pot-sherd, perhaps a schoolmaster.

Joe H.

Distinctly possible I’m misremembering something … I’m pretty sure I saw a note in the annotated She, but I got that from the library probably 15 years ago, so my recollection is … fuzzy at best.

Major Wootton

By the way, the Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy series, which was perhaps inspired by the Ballantine series, reprinted several volumes by Rider Haggard.

The Haggard tale listed there as The Spirit of Bambatse is available, along with tons of other Haggard books, at Project Gutenberg, where it appears as Benita. That’s the only Haggard reprint in the Newcastle series that I haven’t read yet.

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