Haggard: Exploring the Lost World
What do Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones have to do with writer H. Rider Haggard? All of these pop culture darlings have Haggard to thank for popularizing the Lost World genre. Haggard’s formula for his brainchild genre combines romanticized quest, foreign landscapes, and a fixation of imperialist ideals to yield a familiar structure for modern readers. This romantic adventure pattern has been widely utilized and is still a major literary form.
One of the most outstanding elements of the Lost World genre is its depiction of the romanticized quest. Whereas earlier literary words that featured “Lost Worlds” often took a Swiftian stance, as in Samuel Butler’s novel Erewhon, a critique of mechanized industrialism widely interpreted as a satire on Victorian society, Haggard’s novels are heralded as the first of a new breed of writing, hinging upon a romantic quest (Orwell 1). Haggard’s rendition of the romanticized adventure narrative is one that often features protagonists that possess unusual intellect or strength and are especially attractive to readers because of their integrity and courage. In Haggard’s novel She (1886), the romantic heroes featured both varieties of romantic appeal; Horace Holly, an outwardly ugly, yet intelligent and thoughtful man accompanies his antithetically beautiful and congenial ward Leo Vincey to the interior of Africa and seemingly a whole new world from their comfortable and academic existence in England. To the modern reader, Holly and Vincey’s adventure, is not exceedingly different from Dr. Alan Grant’s exploration of Jurassic Park, or Indiana Jones’s travels to seemingly ancient worlds and cultures.
The Lost World genre would be incomplete without the introduction of a foreign world to explore and overcome obstacles within. Haggard’s novel She, takes place in modernity, but heroes Holly and Vincey must also be keenly mindful of historical events and antiquated languages and customs in order to complete their mission of bringing “She who must be obeyed” to justice. This depiction of an utterly foreign setting is later sampled by Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World (1912), in which the protagonists take an expedition to the Amazon basin in South Asia to explore the prehistoric flora and fauna that still inhabit the area. The lost worlds of Haggard and Doyle paved the way for the dazzled audiences of Jurassic Park and Indiana Jones, which feature forgotten creatures and terrifying feats of human triumph over environmental adversity.
The writing of H. Rider Haggard was unabashedly imperialist. Having spent a large part of his life in South Africa and participated in the quashing of tribal altercations, he wrote in his journal article “The Transvaal” that it was Britain’s “mission to conquer and hold in subjection” races deemed lesser, “not from thirst for conquest but for the sake of law, justice, and order” (Haggard 78). Haggard’s interest in taming the wild and uncultivated expanse has become a major theme in future novels of the Lost World genre. In Haggard’s case, this intention to temper the raw and untamed power of a new place seems admirable, but in many recent pop culture works, there seems to be a robust aversion to this sort of intrusion upon native races, as an embrace of cultural relativism. Regardless of their support or rejection of imperialism, it remains an important fixture of the genre.
Because of his unique stance on the exploration of “lost worlds,” he created a fuller picture of the modern idea of romanticized quest, foreign landscapes, and a fixation of imperialist ideals and is one of the founding fathers of the Lost World Genre.
Haggard, H. R. “The Transvaal.” Macmillan’s Magazine May 1877: 77-78.
Print.George Orwell, Erewhon, BBC Home Service, Talks for Schools, 8 June