Haggard's Hobbit? Allan Quatermain as a Literary Progenitor of Bilbo Baggins: A Different Sort of Anti-Hero

A young J. R. R. Tolkien.
A young J. R. R. Tolkien.

New! Hobbit Trailer

A quick note:

This hub was written "back in the day" when Guillermo del Toro was still slated to be the Hobbit movie director. However, the main point of this hub is not so much about the upcoming Hobbit movie, but rather, a comparison of two fictional characters, Bilbo Baggins and Alan Quartermain. I believe this comparison may be of interest to certain readers, and such interest would not really depend in any way on who exactly will direct the movie. So even though the following article contains references to del Toro directing the Hobbit, I have not bothered to rewrite or edit out those references. Besides, it seems there is a strong possibility that del Toro's vision in terms of visual design and animatronic characters may still play a considerable role in the final film version.

Sir Henry Rider Haggard
Sir Henry Rider Haggard

A Short Cut for Treasure Seekers

'One nice thing about deciding to read books and stories about Allan Quatermain, and other books by Haggard, is that it can be done for FREE (as long as you already have an internet connection, computer, etc). You can download dozens of Haggard works from Project Gutenberg. Another great free venue for reading haggard is on Google Book Search. If you set Google's book search to "full view" mode, you can read the stories in actual book formatting. Also check out also offerings of etexts available for Kindle, an Amazonian portable (paperback-sized) electronic book reader.'

 

If you're counting down the years, months, days, hours, minutes and seconds until

Guillermo del Toro's movie version of The Hobbit hits theaters, there are several things you can do to take the edge off your craving. You could watch or re-watch previous films by Guillermo del Toro, studying and savoring his stylistic and visual vocabulary, and engage dreamily in extrapolation of and speculation upon possibilities for how this director will handle Middle Earth. Particularly del Toro's recent movie, Hellboy 2, The Golden Army , where you can see the director deliberately throwing in references to elves and perhaps other topics that are pertinent to Middle Earth.

Another possibility for whiling away the time until The Hobbit reaches the big screen, is to re-watch Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings film trilogy, especially if you haven't seen the special extended DVD versions, which make the movies even more faithful to the original books in many details and general feel. Doing so may feed your hopes and/or fears for how del Toro's version/s will turn out.

You could also re-read the book itself--The Hobbit itself, that is, which is always a highly recommended course of action, at least to my way of thinking. You can also read other of Tolkien's many works, or any of the many, many works written by others about Tolkien's works, life, etc. This also can be highly interesting and rewarding.

But it may be that you don't want to risk overexposure to Tolkien before the movie. I believe, no matter how much of an enthusiast you are, even if you have been named an elf-friend, and a star is kindled in your brow that is visible to others of like mind and heart, it is still possible to become a bit benumbed if you overdo your immersion in all things Tolkien preparatory to the anticipated cinematic event.

If that is the case (or even if it is not) I have what I think you may find a very interesting proposition--especially if you've never had the pleasure of making the acquaintance of the work of H. Rider Haggard.

Haggard was a fairly prolific writer, and perhaps best known as the author of King Solomon's Mines , which was published in 1885 and introduced to the world that intrepid (?) adventurer, Allan Quatermain (more later on why I placed a question mark behind 'intrepid').

 

 

 

 

"If you care for journeys there and back, out of the comfortable Western world, over the edge of the Wild, and home again, and can take an interest in a humble hero (blessed with a little wisdom and a little courage and considerable good luck), here is a record of such a journey and such a traveler." -- J. R. R. Tolkien

The above quote, by Tolkien, regarding his story The Hobbit, and its protagonist and "humble hero", Bilbo Baggins, might have been quite accurately applied, I believe, to Rider Haggard's creation, Allan Quatermain. In this hub I will explore some of my reasons for this belief, and, I hope, convince you to delve into a new world of action and adventure, and better still, other things that cut far deeper, and stir the pulse more strongly and subtly, than mere outward danger and excitement.

So, just who is this Allan Quatermain? All too likely, and most regrettably, in these degenerate times in which we live, your only exposure to Quatermain may very well have been that of seeing or hearing him cited as a sort of Indiana Jones prototype. This reputation which Quatermain today enjoys (and I use 'enjoys' with irony, in case you hadn't noticed) is due not so much to the original books themselves (in which Quatermain features) as it is to several movies based on the books--and I should add and emphasize, based LOOSELY.

I think the day is coming when one or more of Haggard's stories will get the kind of reasonably-close-to-reverential movie adaptation that recent trends lead us to hope for. I have only seen one movie adaptation based (LOOSELY) on Haggard's work, and that was King Solomon's Mines (the film), of 1985. The 1985 film starred Richard Chamberlain as Allan Quatermain, and Sharon Stone as, well, as one of those superfluous love interests that get thrown into nonreverential movie adaptations of books whose shoelaces they're not worthy to touch. And it--the film-- was absolutely wretched. The movie was really just an excuse to try to cash in on some of the residual popularity of Raiders of the Lost Ark , which had enjoyed such widespread success and acclaim in 1981.

The more recent Mummy franchise is much more successful at riding the Indy swell while remaining enjoyable on its own terms. Let me add, perhaps a bit belatedly, but very truthfully and sincerely, that I actually do enjoy and admire much about the Indiana Jones movies, especially the original Raiders of the Lost Ark . But King Solomon's Mines and the entire Quatermain chronicles are so good in their own right, and in a way so different from the way that Raiders is good, that the attempts to present King Solomon's Mines as a Raiders clone, a sort of Raiders -Lite, is nothing less than an outrage and a tragedy, something akin to giving someone a transfusion with blood that does not match their true blood type. That is why I hope, with this hub, in my own small way, to help get Quatermain and Haggard acknowledged more and more as fascinating precursors of Bilbo Baggins and Tolkien, rather than being merely thought of as rather primitive forebears of Indiana Jones. Nevertheless, even if you search for Haggard books (rather than movies "based" on the books) on Amazon or at some other bookseller, you are likely to see a preponderance of references to Indiana Jones. I suppose this is probably seen as the best marketing strategy for convincing contemporary readers that these are tales of exciting action and adventure, etc, etc., and the fact is that action and adventure are in plentiful supply in Haggard's stories!

I should mention that another possible way in which you may have been exposed in our day and time to Allan Quatermain is through a comic book series, graphic novel, and feature film all appearing under the title of The League of Extraordinary Gentleman . League , the brainchild of Alan Moore, essentially takes characters from well known Victorian era literature, such as Quatermain, Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock's smarter brother), Captain Nemo, Professor Cavor, and Mina Harker (creations of authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Bram Stoker) and recasts them as secret agents/super heroes recruited into a secret super hero league. I did enjoy some aspects of League . However, for reasons that will become clear as this hub progresses, I did not find League 's version of Allan Quatermain to really capture any real flavor of Haggard's original Allan Quatermain. The 'steam punk' genre lens through which the comic books are presented, although stylistically interesting, tends to have a rather flattening effect on all the characters, reducing them to cardboard cutouts, although very aesthetically interesting cardboard cutouts. For me the most interesting treatment in the series is of Captain Nemo, whose background as a dispossessed Indian prince is highlighted and expanded upon. Yet even with Nemo there is not much of a feeling of depth in the delineation of his character.

 

Captain Frederick Selous was a real life prototype of Allan Quatermain.
Captain Frederick Selous was a real life prototype of Allan Quatermain.
Captain Selous again-- a better visual to associate with Allan Quatermain than was Sean Connery, in my humble opinion.
Captain Selous again-- a better visual to associate with Allan Quatermain than was Sean Connery, in my humble opinion.

As for the film version of League, the choice to cast Sean Connery as Quatermain, although probably a shrewd financial decision in terms of box office take, was a fatal slap-in-its-own face as regards any hope of conveying Quatermain's true character as conveyed in Haggard's tales. As we will see, Quatermain, although often capable of extraordinary things, is no extraordinary gentleman in the sense of someone who should be played by leading man material such as the likes of Sean Connery. (Does anyone else besides me remember going to see the movie "Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves" and hearing an almost universal chuckle run through the audience near the end, because of the too-obvious, too-predictable choice of Connery to make a cameo as King Richard the Lion Heart?) Likewise, the leading man star power/charisma of Harrison Ford is part of what makes Indiana Jones a far different animal than Allan Quatermain, and hence the constant efforts to compare the two so terribly misplaced and ill-spent.

Doubtless one reason that King's Solomon's Mines was chosen as the basis of an attempt to make an Indiana Jones movie clone was that there were some superficial similarities between Indiana Jones and Allan Quatermain and their respective adventures. (Another is that the stories are conveniently out of copyright). In King Solomon's Mines (the book) and other stories by Haggard in which Quatermain appears, adventures that involve contact with exotic cultures and quests for ancient treasures often feature prominently. However, whereas Indiana Jones is a professor and professional archeologist, Quatermain is a rather humble hunter, sometimes an ivory hunter (back when that was not illegal), often trying his hand at other trades or small business ventures (usually with little, no, or even negative financial returns) and often serving as a guide for hunting parties or other types of travelers or tourists. Indiana Jones travels all over the world in search of holy grails, both figurative and literal, of archaeology, whereas Quatermain travels mostly within portions of Africa, with intermittent visits to England.

And more of Captain Selous, with a big game rifle.
And more of Captain Selous, with a big game rifle.

Much (more) comparison and contrast could be made between Indiana Jones and Allan Quatermain, but I feel that in the long run the contrasts overpower the similarities. I won't go into all the details here--perhaps another hub, another day to do justice to that topic. I will add a little more later relating Quatermain and Jones to one another. But for now, one way to get a quick handle on the key difference is suggested in the ways that the two characters are presented. Indiana Jones is first and foremost not an homage to any character in a book, although the original King Solomon's Mines was published in 1885, was very popular, and so should logically be acknowledged as a precursor and possible inspiration for Raiders of the Lost Ark . However, Raiders was really intended to evoke and bring back the excitement and experience of serial films from earlier decades that had featured action heroes of which Jones was intended to be the heir apparent and epitome. And so the presentation of the tale does hark back to that of such serial films. King Solomon's Mines , the book, on the other hand, belongs to another tradition, with its own, very different types and modes of storytelling. I have read before that Haggard wrote the book in an attempt to outdo Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island . King Solomon's Mines , however, has a much different feel than Treasure Island . I believe that many critics feel Island to be a literarily superior specimen compared to KSM . Yet I find it hard to compare the two. Personally, I feel that both are excellent in their own right, in their own proper domains. One thing in common to be found in both Treasure Island and King Solomon's Mines is that both stories are told by first person narrators. Not only this, but both first person narrators make explicit reference to the fact that they are setting down an account of adventures through which they have already passed, and returned from. And this point brings us to what seems to me an opportune point of departure for comparing Allan Quatermain and Bilbo Baggins.

The Hobbit 's alternate title is "There and Back Again, A Hobbit's Holiday", and we learn that Bilbo Baggins himself, after returning from his "holiday" of adventure in the wide world outside the Shire, applies himself to the task of writing down his adventures, rather in the mode of Quatermain and Jim Hawkins (the narrator-protagonist of Treasure Island ). Of course, The Hobbit which is available to us in modern times is, if I understand correctly, not quite Bilbo's original story, but rather a translation/interpretation by Tolkien based on either Bilbo's original manuscript or some copy or handed-down-version of it, with the intention by Tolkien of making the work more accessible to those unschooled in the ancient tongues and tales of Middle Earth. So there is a question of whether Bilbo used first-person narrative voice in his original version of There and Back Again . I would tend to think not, but I base that opinion solely on a conversation between Bilbo and Gandalf in The Fellowship of the Ring , in which Bilbo tells Gandalf he's finally thought of an ending for his book: "And he lived happily ever after, till the end of his days", which, because of that telling 'he', to me suggests use of second person rather than first person.

Nevertheless, when we place Allan Quatermain and Bilbo Baggins, and the tales in which they figure, side by side, many interesting similarities emerge. In The Hobbit, Bilbo is, rather against his better judgement and outward inclinations, swept up into a plan cooked up by Gandalf and Thorin & Company to reclaim a long lost treasure, and indeed to reclaim a long lost kingdom--Thorin Oakenshield's Kingdom Under the Mountain, the Lonely Mountain. In King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quatermain also finds himself part of a party seeking things which include fabulous treasure and a king who reclaims kingship of a mysterious kingdom, although in this case not all which is being sought is revealed at the beginning of the quest. However, the catalyst that starts Allan on his adventure is his agreement to help Sir Henry Good in the search for Good's long lost brother. In both stories, revenge is contemplated against a formidable usurper of the relevant lost kingdom.

Before going further, I feel I should insert a warning here that there will be plenty of plot spoilers included in this hub, as far as the story of The Hobbit goes. I am writing this under the assumption that it may (hopefully) be interesting and useful to persons already well familiar with The Hobbit, but who are unfamiliar with the works of H. Rider Haggard. Accordingly, I will try to limit or avoid any serious plot spoiling where King Solomon's Mines or other Haggard tales are concerned.

One nice thing about deciding to read books and stories about Allan Quatermain, and other books by Haggard, is that it can be done for FREE (as long as you already have an internet connection, computer, etc). You can download dozens of Haggard works from Project Gutenberg. Another great free venue for reading haggard is on Google Book search. If you set Google's book search to "full view" mode, you can read the stories in actual book formatting, which may be a bit easier on the eyes than Gutenberg's text files. Of course, there's no substitute for the real printed page, so you can also order plenty of different versions and editions of many of Haggard's works through Amazon or some other bookseller. Check out also offerings of etexts available for Kindle, an Amazonian portable (paperback-sized) electronic book reader.

Another part of the pleasure, especially to be relished by the most avid, inveterate, incorrigible, and voracious book worms and bibliophiles, of starting in to read Haggard's books about Allan Quatermain and others, is that there is a LARGE supply of words to be consumed. Because of the success of King Solomon's Mines, Haggard went on to write MORE than a dozen prequels and sequels to the story, which taken in aggregate, paint a picture of adventures and experiences from every epoch of Quatermain's life from its beginning to its end. It offers an all too rare thing, this literary character arc that covers so much, so many things, as they come, as they endure, and as they are lost.

 

An illustration from Ayesha, another Haggard tale which influenced Tolkien's Middle Earth.
An illustration from Ayesha, another Haggard tale which influenced Tolkien's Middle Earth.

Actually, to return for a moment to similarity that may be noted between Allan Quatermain and Indiana Jones, the theme of loss, which is present in many of Quatermain's narratives, does become somewhat apparent in the most recent Indiana Jones movie, The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. We find an Indiana Jones who seems to have been made aware of his mortality, and left feeling a bit adrift, by the recent losses of both his father and one of his closest friends and colleagues. Also, Indiana is aware that he is not as young as he used to be, and that much is changing in the world. The theme of loss is also highlighted in the fact of his being reunited with his long-lost love, Marion; even though Indy and Marion reconcile, and apparently will remain together henceforward, they are both aware of the many years that were in a sense lost, during their separation from one another.

Now, I don't want to mislead anyone into thinking that Allan Quatermain is morbid, or given to brooding and mulling darkly over the past. But any themes of loss that are merely brushed in Crystal Skull are explored much more deeply, and from a great variety of angles, in the narratives which Quatermain recounts to us. Furthermore, the use of first-person narrative in presenting Quatermain's stories adds extra dimension to and allows us extra insight into Quatermain's experiences and their effect on his thoughts and feelings and subsequent choices and actions. Often, in the course of retelling events, Quatermain will "digress" into philosophical musings, and these also add to the insights we may derive about Quatermain, and perhaps about broader issues, say, perhaps, life, or the human condition.

I recall reading an essay by C.S. Lewis, entitled "The Mythopoeic Gift of Rider Haggard" in which Lewis highly praised the titular mythopoeic gift of Haggard. Yet Lewis also stated that the mythopoeic gift existed in Haggard almost in clinical isolation from other literary merits such as style, in which Lewis felt Haggard to be highly deficient. And Lewis also seemed to find Haggard's, or Quatermain's, frequent 'philosophical' discourses highly annoying. Well, despite my often high opinion of Lewis' own writings, I find after reading widely through Quatermain's stories that, while I do agree with Lewis about the high mythopoeic value inherent in the tales, I do not agree with Lewis' dismissal of the philosophical musings. Whatever their formal qualities, these musings give us insight into Quatermain's actions and experiences in a way that invites us to pause and reflect on our own lives, and on the ways in which our own best laid plans are apt to go awry, although sometimes, though usually not nearly as often as we would like, things do work out "all for the best".

Well, by this time, after getting a bit sidetracked, the trail may be growing a bit cold for pursuing my originally stated intent of comparing Allan Quatermain to Bilbo Baggins. So, to renew and redouble my efforts in that regard, let me next point your attention to heroes, something which both Allan and Bilbo feel themselves NOT to be. Near the beginning of The Hobbit , when Gandalf is explaining his seemingly strange choice to recruit Bilbo to help the Dwarves regain the lost kingdom and lost treasure, the wizard says something to the effect that great warriors and heroes being somewhat scarce, or else otherwise occupied, in their day and time, he had settled upon employing a BURGLAR to help them. In other words, Gandalf didn't consider Bilbo to be a hero type, at least not in the stereotypical sense.

 

President Theodore Roosevelt during a safari hunt.  To me, Roosevelt would seem to be more the 'Boromir type'.
President Theodore Roosevelt during a safari hunt. To me, Roosevelt would seem to be more the 'Boromir type'.

A good example of someone who probably would fit into the widely accepted notion of what a hero should be like would be Boromir from The Lord of the Rings , a man both tall and strong, a warrior thrawn and fell, of mighty renown in feats of arms, indomitable, plainspoken, assertive. Bilbo, on the other hand, in The Hobbit , shows himself to border on timid, and is thought by the Dwarves to cut a rather rediculous figure, producing an inauspicious first impression if ever there was one. And, of course, being a hobbit, Bilbo is very obviously not a man both tall and strong. Yet, what was said later of Frodo , might well be said also of Bilbo: "there is more to this Hobbit than meets the eye"--which was true even before Thorin bestowed upon Bilbo the princely gift of a mithril coat. For one thing, Bilbo has, as do all hobbits, a sort of gift of 'natural magic' that allows him to move so quietly and inconspicuously, when he wishes to, that to "big people" like you or I it would appear preternatural. Also, as we are told at one point, in what I believe is an editorial comment inserted by Tolkien, that Bilbo, again like other hobbits, had resource to a great many folk sayings that allowed him to "keep his chin up" in times of trouble or crisis, helped him not to give in to despair or confusion, and encouraged in him a great deal of self-reliance when most needed. Another interesting quality of Bilbo, as the Dwarves come to believe upon prolonged acquaintaince with him, was that he possessed a very substantial asset: luck.

There was yet another, very very important quality of Bilbo, which led Gandalf to pick him to complete the "lucky number" for the Dwarves' company. In fact, it was THE deciding factor in Gandalf's decision, although we are not told that in The Hobbit , but later, in The Lord of the Rings , when Gandalf is looking back upon the past and contemplating something rather like the hand of providence in his fateful choice of Bilbo, which time had proved to be a most fortunate choice for the wellbeing of all Middle Earth. That deciding factor had been Bilbo's kindliness.

That kindly quality of Bilbo, of his heart, guided his choices at many points along his journey in The Hobbit , affecting many outcomes, and setting in motion events that would have far-reaching consequences. A key example would be Bilbo's choice when he had the opportunity to slay Gollum, who, enraged by the loss of 'his Precious', pursued Bilbo with murderous intent. To kill Gollum then would have very plainly been an act of justifiable self-defense, made all the easier by the fact that Gollum was so plainly such a "loathsome creature". And yet, Bilbo did not strike. "Pity stayed his hand". Two branching consequences flowed from this choice of mercy, which later flowed back into one another. One was that Bilbo, taking the ring up in a spirit of mercy and pity, was able to possess the Ring for many years without being twisted finally by the ring into an agent of evil--although the Ring did eventually have some bad effects upon Bilbo, he was not consumed by it, as Gollum had been, and was even able, incredibly, to give up the Ring of his own free will when that test came. The other main consequence that flowed from Bilbo's choice to let Gollum live was that Gollum eventually led the Ringbearer and Samwise into Mordor, and what is more, Gollum-- perhaps fulfilling some strange pattern of fate, destiny, or what have you-- was the instrument by which was done what even the Ringbearer himself was unable to do: the final destruction and annihilation of the One Ring, and with it the power of Sauron.

Another quality that becomes more and more apparent, as the events of The Hobbit unfold, is Bilbo's ability to think for himself, consult with his own conscience, and to make some very tough choices. After that formidable and crafty usurper, the dragon Smaug, is cast down and destroyed, and the Dwarves retake possession of the Kingdom under the Mountain, a very tense and lamentable development ensues. Men and Elves, thinking the Dwarves were probably slain by the dragon, come to the Lonely Mountain, and against all hope, find Thorin and his company alive and well and in possession again of their inheritance. Yet, instead of celebration, there is hostility. The men of Lake Town demand restitution for the damage caused by the dragon. The elves also are insistent upon a share in the riches of Smaug's hoard. The Dwarves are affronted at what they perceive as an attempt at domination by outside cultures and foreign authorities, and stubbornly refuse even to negotiate. It is Bilbo whose kind heart actually allows him to see more clearly than any of the others on either side of the argument--perhaps a pertinent lesson for us in these days when it is common to hear "you're too nice" used to express disapproval, but never "you're too mean"-- and when, to the common way of thinking, the way to see clearly and objectively is not to have a kind heart, but to have a cold and cynical outlook.

 

The treasure map from Treasure Island, which inspired Haggard to write King Solomon's Mines.  Maps to treasure featured prominently in KSM as well as in The Hobbit and LOTR.
The treasure map from Treasure Island, which inspired Haggard to write King Solomon's Mines. Maps to treasure featured prominently in KSM as well as in The Hobbit and LOTR.

Be that as it may, Bilbo does see clearly, and having seen, is not content to merely think. The hobbit makes a very difficult choice, one that may very well cost his life, and will certainly cost him the friendship of the Dwarves. He sneaks out one night, and gives to the elves something they can use as a powerful bargaining chip with Thorin: the great jewel, prized above all by the Dwarves, the Arkenstone. When Thorin finds out what Bilbo has done, the hobbit does narrowly escape being killed by the dwarf in his rage; in the end, Thorin settles for casting Bilbo out and branding him a traitor. Despite all of Bilbo's efforts, a peacable resolution to the stand-off falls through, leading to the Battle of the Five Armies. Many die that day, and Thorin himself is mortally wounded. Yet, before the dwarf dies, he asks that Bilbo be brought to see him, and the two are reconciled before Thorin's spirit departs. Then, we are told, Bilbo weeps at the loss of his friend.

Having catalogued some pertinent details from The Hobbit and LOTR, if we now turn our attention again to Allan Quatermain, we may readily pick out many distinctive details that will remind us a bit of Bilbo Baggins. A somewhat superficial (perhaps) detail is that Allan is also somewhat diminutive of stature. We are told in one story that Allan is shorter than his first wife, and in many stories Alan refers to himself in terms that show he regarded himself as rather scrawny and not particularly distinguished or attractive. Yet, just as with Bilbo, there is more to Allan than meets the eye. He is, particularly when young, surprisingly tough, wiry, and agile, and able to come through harrowing scrapes surprisingly intact for the most part. This ability to survive danger is due not only to Allan's athletic ability and stamina, but also to a certain shrewdness, which is also a parallel with Bilbo, who has a great deal of Hobbit sense and knows how to keep his head on straight after he gets over some of his initial diffidence and timidity. Speaking of timidity, Quatermain, as he recounts his tales, at times will reproach himself with lacking courage or even with being a coward. This is partly due, no doubt, to a certain modesty in his nature in recounting "exploits", but seems to also be grounded in a real sense of inadequacy. Here it may be noted that those who like to indulge in the highly entertaining past-time of analyzing tales for signs of the famed "unreliable narrator" will have much field for play in the Quatermain tales. An interesting twist is that Allan seems to be an unreliable narrator, in a sense, when telling of his own cowardice, because it is apparent from reading the stories that Allan must have often taken terrible risks, with little regard to his own life and limb, in order to help or rescue friends or others in danger. Meanwhile, it is also refreshing to have someone whose outward actions are often brave, to acknowledge that his inward feelings were anything but brave. Another reason Allan may have felt himself to be somewhat of a coward at times was that his native shrewdness and specialized experience gave him the ability to see all too clearly the likely outcomes of situations. Possessing a strong inner conviction that "discretion is the better part of valor" may not always lead to one winning public acclaim as a hero, yet this aspect of Allan's character and personality no doubt helped him to keep many of his friends and acquaintances from injury, tragedy, and death.

It seems that the one area in which Allan will verge upon boasting when recounting his adventures, is his ability to shoot accurately.  Allan feels great confidence in his ability to shoot accurately when hunting or snap-shooting, although he says that he's never tried his hand much at formal target shooting.  As we listen to more and more of his tales unfold, we do come to share Allan's high opinion of his ability as a marksman.  Yet, the theme of humble hero, or hobbitesque 'anti-hero' intrudes into even this area of Allan's life-- often to great humorous effect.  Read The Ivory Child and you will see an Allan Quatermain who is exasperated and mortified, in the most amusing way, by a perhaps inexplicable lapse in his 'super power'.  In a similar way, Tolkien often makes us laugh in The Hobbit by having even Gandalf pull some real bloopers or land in situations a bit beyond his control.  Gandalf and Thorin both are a little put out during their stay at The Last Homely Home when Elrond notices the moon-letters which they had failed to see on Thorin's treasure map.  And of course Bilbo, especially during the first half of the story, is constantly beset by rather humiliating run-ins with adversity. 

Allan has a lifelong ability to make friends, even with people from cultures or backgrounds far different than Allan's own, and this also is akin to Bilbo's ability to form lasting friendships with dwarves, elves, and a certain wizard. Like Bilbo, Allan tends to have a kind heart, and so he often finds himself pulled into "adventures" because he has acted to or agreed to help out a friend or even a stranger who is in need of assistance. Allan also knows a great many languages used in different regions he lives in or visits in Africa, as well as some European tongues, and his ability to communicate with such a wide variety of people greatly enhances his ability to get himself and others out of dangerous situations that arise. Furthermore, communicating with individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures gives Allan much food for thought in his moments of leisure, coloring his perceptions and shaping his 'philosophy of life'. Bilbo may be seen to indulge in philosophical musings as well, particularly in his poetry, such as the poem which starts "I sit beside the fire and think", and also shows in his poetry the influence upon his thinking exerted by contact with elvish culture, as when Bilbo composes a poem about Earandil while staying in the House of Elrond.

 

H. Rider Haggard
H. Rider Haggard

I had mentioned, that, much like Bilbo, Allan Quatermain has a kindly and sympathetic heart. If you only read King Solomon's Mines, you may not realize fully how good-hearted Allan can be. In King Solomon's Mines, Allan is middle-aged, and has already been through numerous battles, in actual wars as well as in other skirmishes, engagements, and ambushes, and has seen death and torture come many times in many guises to take those around him, several times to almost take him. Due to having thus become somewhat hardened by a good many year's exposure to suffering, violence, and man's inhumanity to man, when we see him in King Solomon's Mines, Allan may come off at times as a bit callous, at least in his outer actions and speech.

Yet we must remember that the very thing that really convinces Allan to agree to share in the adventure is the fact that he is moved by Sir Henry's desparate search to find his lost brother and make amends for the argument that caused their estrangement. Allan's shrewdness and practical knowledge of cultures with which he interacts also leads him to often try to hide any such outward sign of kindness that might be misconstrued as softness, weakness, or stupidity, and thereby trigger contempt or even outright hostility, even including violent attack. That is not to say that he shows no kindness at all, or acts cruelly, but simply that he tries to exercise caution. Also to be considered is that Allan's own native culture, as a Victorian-age British man, does not encourage a great deal of demonstrativeness or outward signs of emotion. Quite the contrary, which is another reason why the first person narration greatly enhances our ability to understand Allan and get to know him.

If you continue reading through Haggard's other books and stories about Allan's life, many events, thoughts, and experiences through which Allan passes help to paint in details of a picture that shows him to be a kindly individual indeed, full of sympathy, willing to help those in need, often at great risk and sacrifice, and capable of forming very deep attachments for friends. I don't wish to include any serious plot spoilers, but in Allan and the Holy Flower, near the end of the story, observe what makes Allan weep, and you will see deep into his nature, and find it, as I said, capable of the deepest sympathy, and empathy, and perhaps find stamped there a record of his own sorrows and griefs that will arouse your own sympathy and empathy.  Also, to wander a bit from The Hobbit, turn your attention for a moment to The Lord of the Rings and think of the devotion that exists between Frodo and Sam, particularly on the trek into Mordor.  Then read Allan's story of The Ivory Child and see if you find something similar. 

It seems to me that no matter the outward demeanor he presents to the world, the toil and suffering of years has actually made Quatermain inwardly less and less hardened. In fact, even though Quatermain himself tells us several times throughout his body of work that his tastes as a reader are rather limited, inclining principally towards the Old Testament and something called "The Ingoldsby Legends" (try googling it sometime), I believe that Quatermain would have appreciated one of Bilbo's verses, which the hobbit spontaneously composes upon returning home to Bag End after his 'holiday':

"Eyes that fire and sword have seen, And horror in the halls of stone, Look at last on meadows green, And trees and hills they long have known."

Bilbo, no less than Allan, had known war, privation, danger, and terrible risk.

 

Rider Haggard again, looking a bit like Hunter Quatermain in this shot.
Rider Haggard again, looking a bit like Hunter Quatermain in this shot.

I think another source of similarity, of a feeling of kinship between the writings and literary characters authored by Tolkien and Haggard, is the fact that the two writers had met in life with a great deal of down-to-earth, real world experience that added depth, color, flavor, and texture (grit) to their creative work. Their fiction was informed by a lot of nonfictional experience. In Tolkien's case, part of this experience was gained during his service in the trenches of the first World War. Haggard, although his accounts of events and history in Africa have been fictionalized and re-told with a great deal of poetic license, nevertheless presents a lot of interesting details that would not be nearly as convincing if Haggard had not in real life spent quite a few years living and working in Africa, in what was then considered a frontier.

Also, both men lived in times when much that we take for granted nowadays was either nonexistent or viewed much differently. There is a certain realism in both authors' cognizance of limitations. Even though both may have their protagonists (humble heroes) as well as their villains accomplish rather extraordinary things, this is balanced quite sufficiently by those real world limitations to make the stories much more interesting and believable. For example, sickness. Bilbo, after becoming a barrel rider, suffers from a miserable cold. To "cheat" a bit and pull an example from LOTR, think back to Frodo's recovery, involving many days of sleep, after Elrond's surgery at Rivendell. I was reminded of this when reading a Haggard story set when Allan Quatermain was quite young. After just-barely-successfully helping to defend a homestead belonging to some neighbors from a prolonged attack, young Allan, even though he had been able to perform a great number of heroic feats during the crisis, is sick and bedridden for many days afterwards, so great had been the strain on his body, mind, and spirit. Such details ring true of times and places when people didn't have access to antibiotics, I.V. drips, and a host of other things we take for granted nowadays, and which distance our outlooks and perceptions from those of the characters in such tales perhaps more than we realize.

Well, I hope I've whetted your curiosity, and your appetite, for reading Quatermain's narratives. There could be far worse ways to pass the time until shooting and post-production wrap up and the cinematic version of The Hobbit unfolds before our eager eyes. Reading for yourself, you can judge for yourself to what extent Allan Quatermain and Bilbo Baggins resemble each other. If you read enough of the Quatermain tales, you can also compare many other characters that appear to Bilbo and other characters from Tolkien's works. For example, in The Hobbit, Bilbo has an uncomfortably close encounter with a wizened creature of incredibly advanced age in an underground cavern. In King Solomon's Mines, Allan Quatermain, and a couple of his friends, also have an extremely disconcerting close encounter with a wizened creature of an incredibly advanced age, in an underground cavern. The creature in KSM even has a two-syllable name that starts with the letter 'G'!!

Take a look also at Haggard's books She and Ayesha, which are also very well known, and which also influenced Tolkien in developing the world of Middle Earth.

 

 

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Comments 14 comments

Cris A profile image

Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Wow this is a thorough and great read. Its very detailed and investigative arguments make up for a very fine entertainment. But what I like about it the most is it's accesibility - none of that high-brow hermeneutics that snuff the readers' patience and marginalize them in the process.

I think you make a strong argument as to the parallelisms between the two literary heroes you discussed above. But I read somewhere that Tolkien was heavily influenced, in his writing of the Hobbit, by medieval fantasies like Beowulf and Arthurian legends. Though I don't know the first thing about Haggard (if the Chameberlain-starrer does not count LOL), Would it be safe to entertain the thought that the likeness you point out happened because both books are actually progenies of another hero-tale?


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

Thoroughly sound, thoroughly readable, and thoroughly enjoyable to read. Yes, you have indeed whetted my appetite for Haggard, as I don't recall ever having read KSM -- a lapse, as I now realize! By coincidence, I have just finished reading The Hobbit (after a year and a half of not being able to read anything) and was much taken with Bilbo Baggins's kindly heart, especially when it becomes apparent that his goal is the journey there and back -- and not necessarily the plunder of Smaug's cave.

Ok -- I'm off to find King Solomon's Mines. . .


watcher by night profile image

watcher by night 7 years ago Author

Chris A, thanks for your interesting comments-- you know, by the way, I would seriously enjoy seeing you write a hub detailing "high-brow hermeneutics" and the marginalization of readers, as well as any other insights you have into making writing accessible. What do you say?

As for your questions/comments about Tolkien's influences, I have read also that he was influenced by ancient tales such as Beowulf and Arthurian tales (Tolkien wrote a translation of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight"). Also, I've read that there are a great many elements in common between Lord of the Rings and Wagner's Ring Operatic Cycle. Other influences included the Pre-Raphaelite era William Morris (you can read his tale "The Well at the World's End", which has a medeival setting and an especially interesting first few chapters). As for Haggard influencing Tolkien, I have read elsewhere that Tolkien had said or written things that indicated he was somewhat directly influenced by at least one of Haggard's books, "She" or "Ayesha". I think it would be safe to entertain the idea that a lot of similarities between Bilbo and Allan Quatermain could be explained simply by the two authors working within a common tradition/background. But I think it's justifiable to speculate (but not insist upon) the possibility that the Chronicles of Quatermain could have played some part (perhaps slight) in shaping Tolkien's ideas of Bilbo's character and personality. And, perhaps more importantly, I hope that speculating upon such possibilities might help me to one day create my own humble hero protagonist/s.


watcher by night profile image

watcher by night 7 years ago Author

Theresa,

You really made my day!! Actually succeeding in whetting an appetite for Haggard is such a rewarding experience! Well, of course one always envies someone else who's reading a favorite book for the very first time. So I envy you, LOL. Of course, re-readings are equally good, but in their own way. Well, I really hope that you won't be disappointed, and I hope that after reading you'll offer your own two bits' worth on KSM and hunter Quatermain.


Cris A profile image

Cris A 7 years ago from Manila, Philippines

Uh-oh I guess I went too far with my comment on the accessibility of literary criticism and hermeneutics! LOL But okay, I love dares and challenges - so I might contemplate on the idea - but i'm not promising here. Honestly, I'm not certain as to the validity of my comments regarding the influences of both authors - but at the time of reading this, i just thought that it was a delicious idea - and curious too - so i asked anyway.  :D


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

I am so glad you became a fan so I could stumble upon this hub! King Solomon's Mines and She were among my favourites when I was growing up and I just love the way you've brought Allan Quartermain to life. I agree with you about The League of the Extraordinary Gentlemen - I watched it and remember thinking that the one actor who would have been perfect for the part would have been David Niven.

Thank you for bringing Rider Haggard into focus - he well and truly deserves to be among the greats!


watcher by night profile image

watcher by night 7 years ago Author

Thanks so much, Shalini! Yes, Niven would have suited the part very nicely. Well, if you were going to produce your own epic movie adaptation of King Solomon's Mines or She (take your pick), who would be your front runners for director, actors, and locations to shoot? You should really do a Hub or more on your own impressions of Haggard's works. So good to find someone else who shares my deep appreciation for him!


Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

OK - here goes! You're obviously an expert here so I'm not sure if it will pass muster!

King Solomon's Mines:

Director: Anthony Minghella

Allan Quatermain:  Ralph Fiennes

Location: Somewhere in Africa – or maybe even Peru/Ecuador?

She:

Director: Kevin Macdonald 

She:   Angelina Jolie/Salma Hayek

Leo:  Jude Law

Location: Somewhere in Africa – or maybe even Peru/Ecuador?

As for the hub - with a hubname like yours, I doubt if anyone is better suited to do it!


callumfox 5 years ago

This combines the best things in hubs: information and entertainment. Not only is it awesome in scope (and length), it has also introduced me to a new storyteller. I confess, I only first heard of Allan Quatermain because of the League movie, knew he was a 'public domain' character, but nothing beyond that. Thank you for writing on this and sparking my interest in such an overlooked (and fantastic-sounding) series.


watcher by night profile image

watcher by night 5 years ago Author

Callumfox, thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed the hub... and that you're interested in checking out the Allan Quatermain stories. I just got finished re-reading "Allan and She", which seems to me to include an interesting exercise in the use of the "Unreliable Narrator" at multiple levels.

I just read your hub on Tolkien in which you talked about the richness of the world and languages that Tolkien created in Middle Earth as a backdrop for his stories. If you read several, or all, of the Quatermain stories, you get a similar feeling... Haggard references many other stories in passing during each of his adventures, often with slightly different versions of a particular story. Certain portions of Africa (and sometimes England) form the backdrop of Haggard's tales, and many cultures and languages intermix in their pages.

I hope you will read Haggard and let me know how you like it, and what you think about it.


aethelthryth profile image

aethelthryth 3 years ago from American Southwest

Having just discovered your articles, I haven't had time to read to see if you have maybe mentioned this point already, but I think it was C.S. Lewis who mentioned a movie version of King Solomon's Mines having somewhat ruined the effect of a scene by replacing a fear with deep roots in the human psyche with another fear more easy to portray on-screen.

Anyway, I remembered that comment when I watched Lord of the Rings, and saw how the fear of the unknown, supernatural, powerful, and infernal in the book's scene where the Balrog approaches, is instead portrayed as mere acrophobia.


watcher by night profile image

watcher by night 3 years ago Author

Aethelthryth, thanks for your comments. Yes, C.S. Lewis talked about the quality of a specific fear... being shut in, in KSM, and being shut out, in H.G. Wells' "The First Men in the Moon." Movies often do take the easy way out, treating excitement and adrenaline as general all-purpose substitutes for specific archetypal fears. I think movies have been trying to improve on portraying books accurately. I'm sure it's not always easy to make the translation. Sometimes I don't mind changes in details. In the movie version of "The Return of the King," the Riders of Rohan cry "Death!" in a loud voice under somewhat different circumstances than they do in the book... but I thought the scene was still very effective and moving. In the Balrog scene you mentioned, maybe things got bogged down in trying to get the special effects right, to create a creature of "shadow and flame," and not enough thought was put into more subtle ways of making us aware of the "fear of the unknown, supernatural, powerful, and infernal"...


Zippydapanhead 2 years ago

Just a short pitch to those who are considering beginning interaction with Quatermain via the League (heaven forbid) or KSM (I believe this the most common portal)... there are fairly solid sequential guidelines that may provide an alternate but entertaining experience*.

In reflecting on my reading relationship with Quatermain, I found my greatest satisfaction in Allan And The Ice-Gods... and I have suggested to friends who ask about my fascination with these books that they begin with Ice-Gods and therein dive straight into the overwhelming story of Lady Ragnall and Haggard's fantastic vehicle of Taduki.

The Project Gutenberg tip is excellent however I had to do additional internet work to freely access Ice-Gods.

*1817: Birth of Allan Quatermain

1835–1838: Marie (1912)

1842–1843: "Allan's Wife", title story in the collection Allan's Wife (1887)

1854–1856: Child of Storm (1913)

1858: "A Tale of Three Lions", included in the collection Allan's Wife (1887)

1859: Maiwa's Revenge: or, The War of the Little Hand (1888)

1868: "Hunter Quatermain's Story", included in the collection Allan's Wife (1887)

1869: "Long Odds", included in the collection Allan's Wife (1887)

1870: Allan and the Holy Flower (1915)

1871: Heu-heu: or, The Monster (1924)

1872: She and Allan (1920)

1873: The Treasure of the Lake (1926)

1874: The Ivory Child (1916)

1879: Finished (1917)

1879: "Magepa the Buck", included in the collection Smith and the Pharaohs (1920)

1880: King Solomon's Mines (1885)

1882: The Ancient Allan (1920)

1883: Allan and the Ice-gods (1927)

1884–1885: Allan Quatermain (1887)

c. 18 June 1885: Death of Allan Quatermain


GetitScene profile image

GetitScene 2 years ago from The High Seas

Excellent work! BIG Haggard fan, myself so I was very pleased to see an interesting article about him and his works.

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