The Yellow God: An African adventure

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsThe Yellow God by H. Rider Haggard fantasy book reviewsThe Yellow God: An Idol of Africa by H. Rider Haggard

H. Rider Haggard’s 33rd work of fiction out of an eventual 58, The Yellow God was first published in the U.S. in November 1908, and in Britain several months later. In this one, Haggard deals with one of his favorite subjects — African adventure — but puts a fresh spin on things. Thus, instead of Natal, Zululand, the Transvaal and Egypt, where the bulk of his African tales take place, The Yellow God transpires, for the most part, in what I gather is now northern Nigeria. And instead of big-game hunter Allan Quatermain (the protagonist of no less than 14 Haggard novels), here we are given Alan Vernon, an ex-Army colonel who, with his steadfast servant Jeekie, goes on a quest to find the legendary gold hordes of the undiscovered Asiki people. And, after braving a harrowing trek during which they encounter poison-arrow-shooting dwarves, good-hearted cannibals, fierce beasts, raging rivers, swamps and a monster storm, the lost people of Asikiland are indeed discovered, and Haggard treats us to yet another mysterious civilization, as well as its imposing ruler. In this case, it is the beautiful but wicked woman named the Asika, who I suppose some readers would deem a poor man’s Ayesha of She fame, but who is quite an interesting character in her own right. As did Ayesha herself, the Asika takes a hot-blooded fancy to her white visitor, who she sees as a returned soul mate, and decides to keep him and Jeekie around … in perpetuity.

Anyway, The Yellow God, while certainly not in the same league as She (but then again, how many books are?), is still quite an entertaining yarn. It is lesser Haggard, sure, but I still prefer even the lesser works of the man who has been called “the greatest adventure fantasist of all time” over most others. The book’s main fault, I feel, is that it is not adequately fleshed out, not as detailed, as some of the author’s best works. Indeed, the description of Bonsa Town, the main village of the Asiki, is somewhat difficult to envision, and the sketchy information that Haggard gives us (an island, a waterfall) only succeeds in making the place dreamlike; almost surreal. As for the yellow god of the title, the so-called Little Bonsa, it is difficult to tell whether the darn thing is a statue or a mask, and just how the wearer of the thing is able to see out of its bejeweled eyes.

Still, I suppose that these are minor matters, and that most readers will be content to settle into a fast-moving adventure that is both exciting and amusing. And most of that amusement, for me anyway, comes from the Asiki native Jeekie, who is easily the most well-drawn and appealing character in the entire book. Unlike Quatermain’s diminutive Hottentot sidekick Hans, Jeekie is very tall and very strong; similar to Hans, he is also very funny. His manner of expression, a unique blend of the King’s English and pidgin slang, is a real riot, and he never seems to be at a loss for an amusing quip. For example, check out what he yells at one of the attacking dwarves that he has just blown away: “Ah! my boy … how you like bullet in tail? You not know Paradox guaranteed flat ‘jectory 250 yard. You remember that next time, sonny.” Longtime fans of Haggard will not be surprised to learn that, like Hans, Jeekie proves himself the toughest, smartest and most resourceful character around. He elevates the book above the commonplace, much more so, at least, than the comparatively colorless Vernon.

Anyway, I suppose that the bottom line is that The Yellow God is not up to the same extraordinarily high standards of many of the author’s other tales, but still provides fine entertainment value. It’s an easy read, a real page-turner, and I can honestly recommend it to one and all. And oh … just wait till you see what Vernon does to the Big Bonsa. Very strange, in the extreme!

Since The Yellow God is in the public domain, you can find it free on Kindle.


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SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), 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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