The Wizard: A wonder-filled entertainment

The Wizard by H. Rider HaggardThe Wizard by H. Rider Haggard

The Wizard, H. Rider Haggard’s 21st novel out of an eventual 58, was initially released as a serial in a publication called The African Review and then in its complete form in the October 29, 1896 Arrowsmith’s Christmas Annual for Boys. It was the third of four African novels that Haggard wrote from 1895-97, the others being Black Heart and White Heart, Swallow and Elissa, all of which I can highly recommend, by the way, especially Swallow.

The Wizard tells the story of Thomas Owen, a British missionary who ventures into the wilds of south central Africa to bring the Good Word to a tribe called the Amasuka, or the Children of Fire. A previous missionary had been killed by the tribe for his failure to work Christ-like miracles, but Owen, who Haggard eventually refers to as a saint, is undaunted. His advent at the tribe precipitates all manner of problems, including a poisoning attempt on its king, Umsuka; the seemingly inevitable conflict with head medicine man Hokosa; and a civil war between the princes Nodwengo and Hafela.

I have yet to read a Haggard book (and I’ve read almost 40 at this point; the author can prove addictive!) that did not feature several action sequences, and The Wizard is no exception. Owen undergoes several trials by fire against the wizard guild — trials that resemble chicken runs with lightning — and the civil war that ultimately erupts in the land of the Amasuka features several exciting battle scenes and sieges. Haggard was a master at clearly describing these epic battle sequences to make them easily visualized by the reader, and his skill is in full flower here.

As in so many of Haggard’s other novels, fantastical elements come into play. Hokosa does indeed seem to be in command of some supernatural forces (he is able to commune with the spirits of the dead, for example), and Owen the saint is apparently capable himself of working miracles. He seems to be endowed with the power of far sight and the ability to deflect lightning, and like a true saint, sacrifices much over the course of the novel with a willing and forgiving heart. Like Haggard, he is a true Christian believer, whose faith he deems the only shield that is necessary.

Similar to Haggard’s 1920 short story “Little Flower,” The Wizard is basically concerned with the battle between two opposing theologies (in the short story, the Rev. Thomas Bull goes up against the Zulu wizard Menzi), and although both wizards are shown to be truly adept at the mystical arts, both are ultimately swayed by the Christian missionaries, although for very different reasons.

The Wizard also features still another of Haggard’s strong native female characters: Hokosa’s ambitious second wife, Noma. Though not nearly in the same league as Ayesha, from Haggard’s seminal fantasy She (1887), or even as well drawn as Nada (from Haggard’s superb 1892 novel Nada the Lily) or Mameena (from 1913’s Child of Storm), she is nevertheless a memorable creation, and is largely responsible for pushing the action along in the book’s second half.

The Wizard has been written in a simple, straightforward style by Haggard, and at less than 300 pages, is one of the author’s shorter novels. It is filled with Christian allegory but never becomes preachy or polemical. Still, adherents of the Christian faith may be inclined to give it an extra star, if only for the presence in it of apparent modern-day miracles that are scattered throughout. Though little read today, The Wizard is a wonder-filled entertainment, and still another feather in Haggard’s already crowded cap.


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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 in 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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7 comments

  1. Sandy; thanks for sharing a review of this very interesting and overlooked writer. I’ve read about 4 Haggard books, but haven’t really delved into the African series. It’s plain he loved it there. I’ll have to order this now — it looks like a solid read. You’ve really piqued my interest.

    • Sandy Ferber /

      Glad to be of assistance, Marion, and thanks for the kind words. I have many more Haggard reviews in the pipeline that may be coming your way on this site. If I may suggest some other African titles by Haggard that I preferred over “The Wizard,” though, they would be any of the 14 Allan Quatermain books, “Swallow,” “The People of the Mist,” “Nada the Lily,” “Jess” and “The Ghost Kings.” Like I said, this author CAN prove addictive!

  2. At last, somebody who also has Rider Haggard as their favorite author! I thought I was the only one…I’m always looking for his books, they are very hard to come by and pricey but I keep looking. I look forward to reading more reviews of his books.

    • Sandy Ferber /

      Hi, Rachel! Trust me…you are far from being the only Haggard fan out there. Why, there is a Haggard Society that you can join…if you care to attend meetings in the U.K., that is! Anyway, Wildside Press has just about all the Haggard titles available at semidecent prices, but DO check eBay, first, where I have purchased many old Haggard titles–in some pretty old editions–for $20 or less. Lots of Haggard stuff is always available on eBay….

  3. I’ve read a couple of the Quartermain books — good fun; and She and The Return of Ayesha. And one where they go to the center of the earth (yes, it is Haggard) and I can’t remember the name of it.

    Can you recommend a good biography of Haggard?

    • Sandy Ferber /

      Hi, Marion. I have one at home by a guy named D.S. Higgins. It’s a little on the dry side, but very informative. There are many other bios out there, however….

    • sandy ferber /

      Oh…and I believe that book you refer to is called “When the World Shook”….

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