by Mike McHugh
Few home educators, including those who are involved with some form of “classical” learning, are familiar with the works of the nineteenth century novelist Sir H. Rider Haggard. This prolific author, best known for his classic novel King Solomon’s Mines, deserves to be re-discovered by a whole new generation of Christian families. Henry Rider Haggard wrote sixty-six novels during his lifetime, as well as numerous papers and articles, many of which are still in print to this day.
Before I proceed to recommend a select grouping of Haggard’s novels, I will provide a brief biographical overview of his life and literary career.
Sir Henry Rider Haggard was born in England on June 22,1856. He was the eighth of ten children. During his childhood days, he received most of his primary and elementary education at home through private tutors and occasionally at a local grammar school. His education was also enhanced by his parents, who took him on frequent trips to the European mainland when he was a young man.
In 1875, when Haggard was nineteen, he traveled to South Africa to work as a secretary for the newly appointed governor of Natal. Three years later, this young Englishman resigned his post at the high court of Pretoria to take up ostrich farming in Natal. After a period of two years, Henry Haggard decided to take an extended vacation and sail back to England to visit his family.
It was during this trip in 1880, that Haggard met a Norfolk heiress by the name of Mariana L. Margitson. After a brief period of courtship, this couple was married on August 11. The newlyweds soon returned to their farm in Natal in order to resume the business of farming. In his spare time, Henry Haggard began to work on his first manuscript and also took up the study of law. In 1882, Mr. & Mrs. Haggard decided to sell their farm in Natal and return to England.
H. Rider Haggard completed his law studies in 1884, and accepted a call to the bar of attorneys in London where he worked as an assistant to a chief judge. It was during this time that he made use of what he describes as his “somewhat ample leisure time in chambers” to write his first successful novel King Solomon’s Mines. This book, as he put it, “finally settled the question of whether to pursue a legal or literary career.”
Haggard traveled extensively throughout the world during much of his married life. The knowledge that he gained of the culture and terrain of little known civilizations, equipped him to be able to skillfully write a host of adventure novels set in many different regions of the world. The recognition of his achievements as a writer were crowned in the year 1912, when Henry Rider Haggard was knighted.
Sir Haggard died in London on May 14,1925, at the age of sixty-eight.
Over the last few years, I have had the pleasure to own and read several of the novels that were written by H. Rider Haggard. Although many of his literary works are focused merely on entertaining readers, he did produce a few novels that have genuine spiritual and historical value. My personal favorites are Pearl Maiden: A Tale of the Fall of Jerusalem (1903), The Brethren: A Tale of the Crusades (1904), and Lysbeth: A Tale of the Dutch (1900). Each of the three adventure novels referenced above provides readers with a solid understanding of an important historical period.
The book entitled Pearl Maiden is set during the first century, and records the events leading up to as well as following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman legions in A.D. 70. Readers learn about the hardships that Christians and others had to endure at this point in history. Although the author takes great effort to present the historical details connected to his story accurately, he also skillfully develops his characters in a very vivid and stirring manner. In other words, Haggard is a gifted novelist who knows how to write a history-based novel that is not only technically correct, but also captivating and inspiring.
The novel entitled The Brethren is a fascinating tale of love and chivalry, unfolding during the climactic days before the opening of the Third Crusade, often known as the King’s Crusade. This touching story centers upon the lives of two English knights who are in love with the same maiden. The devotion of these men is tested when their beloved is carried away against her will to Palestine, and eventually to the court of the famous Muslim leader, Saladin. Their quest to reclaim Rosamund, the kidnapped maiden, thrusts the brethren into a web of intrigue and treachery that remains unbroken until they have endured epic crusader battles and a bloody siege of Jerusalem. Wonderful lessons regarding loyalty, virtuous romance, and the importance of strong family bonds are seamlessly blended together by the author in this unforgettable novel.
The third and final novel in this series is entitled Lysbeth. This novel recounts the true and inspiring story of a young Dutch woman who is forced to endure the tribulation of the Spanish occupation of her country, and the terrors of the Inquisition of the 16th century. The momentous events of her life unfold amidst the turbulent struggle for Dutch independence and religious liberty, led by William the Silent. Readers will be confronted with intense action scenes, touching portraits of courage and faithfulness, as well as a powerful message regarding the immense value of religious liberty.
The three novels by Sir H. Rider Haggard described above are published by Christian Liberty Press. To order these novels individually, or as a set, go to christianlibertypress.com.
All of the novels by Haggard are wonderful books to use as summer reading, or as family “read aloud” books. In my own experience, I found that as I began to read each of these volumes, I did not want to put them down until I had reached the end of each story. Particularly in cases where parents have a hard time trying to motivate their children to read good literature, I am confident that the novels by H. Rider Haggard will provide such young people with just the inspiration that they need to read more often.
Copyright 2008 Michael J. McHugh
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