The Mahatma and the Hare: A real charmer

The Mahatma and the Hare by H. Rider HaggardThe Mahatma and the Hare by H. Rider Haggard

The Mahatma and the Hare was first published in book form in 1911, and is one of H. Rider Haggard‘s rarer titles. The idea for this short novel came to Haggard, he states in the book’s preface, after he had read a newspaper account of a hare that had swum out to sea to avoid being captured by pursuing hounds. In Haggard’s story, the self-called mahatma — a spiritual man who is able, when asleep, to view “The Great White Road” on which the souls of those recently departed enter heaven — encounters the hare of the title after that animal’s death. The hare tells the mahatma of the hardships and cruelties of his recent life: of how his entire family had been hunted to extinction; of his narrow escapes from hunters, greyhounds, and other hunting dogs; and, finally, of how he met his end. The hare also gets to debate the issue of animal rights with his chief hunter/enemy, near the book’s end. This hunter is given time to plead his case, but Haggard’s sympathies (and the reader’s) are certainly with the poor, oppressed hare. This is a book that animal-rights activists will just adore, not to mention those readers who loved Richard AdamsWatership Down. It is simply but beautifully written by Mr. Haggard; his only piece of fiction from the period 1910-11. Haggard, who himself had been an ardent hunter all his life, supposedly gave up the sport after writing this book. But strangely, despite Rider’s future abstinence from hunting after this time, he continued to write of this sport in his future novels, especially those dealing with Allan Quatermain. But then again, Quatermain’s profession WAS big-game hunting.

The Mahatma and the Hare is short enough to be easily read in one or two sittings and, with its fablelike quality, is even suitable for the kiddies. Although it shares many of the concerns found in other Haggard novels (spiritualism, afterlife, game hunting), the presentation here is quite different. The author is decidedly trying to alter readers’ outlooks and morals with this book, but somehow, the light, simple tone prevents things from getting too preachy.

This may be a harder Haggard title to find in its original form, but the copy that I recently read, from Ayer Publishers, is a reprint edition that came out in 2000. It is a facsimile copy of the original Longmans, Green edition, and includes a dozen beautiful illustrations by W.T. Horton and H.M. Brock. For those not willing to shell out major bucks for a first edition, the Ayer volume is a great deal. The book is a real charmer, and I do recommend it.

Editor’s note: A free Kindle version is available.

Publisher: There is a man who has lost his wife and daughter. He is the sole survivor in the accident and feels great guilt. And in this guilt, he begins to drink more and more each day. Then one day as the man was contemplating suicide, a stranger named Joren comes along and tells him not to worry. He tells him of reincarnated souls, of a life beyond the mortal one, and he teaches the man to transcend his physical body. But will he like what he finds on the other side? H. Rider Haggard was an English author known for his fantastic adventure stories as well as his sympathetic portrayal of native peoples. He is best known for creating the fictional character Allan Quartermain. A character that has been resurrected as a comic book hero in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Sean Connery played the role of Allan Quartermain in the film adaptation of the comic. The Mahatma and the Hare is considered one of Haggard’s more existential pieces.

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SANDY FERBER is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum is Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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2 comments

  1. This sounds like something a little different!

  2. Sandy Ferber /

    Indeed, Marion. Haggard’s shortest novel, and the only one that I would say is readable by small children….

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