QUAINT #21 The Lost Race Story

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The Lost Race Story. Stories in which unknown lands and races are discovered have been written for centuries, but in the last two decades of the 19th century a new type of story involving their discovery was created. The genre began with the 1885 publication of H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines and the 1887 publication of Haggard’s Allan Quatermain. These stories created the blueprint for dozens of writers to follow and established the Lost Race story. Lost Race stories can be defined as stories in which travelers from the modern world discover lost, forgotten, or hidden races, cities, cultures and civilizations in hidden or remote valleys or undersea or underground areas on or beneath the Earth.

19th century writers before Haggard wrote versions of the Lost Race story. Historical romances  using Lost Race themes and motifs written appeared before King Solomon’s Mines. Several writers created works similar to Haggard’s, including Lady Mary Fox’s Account of an Expedition to the Interior of New Holland (1837), and Elton R. Smilie’s The Mantitlians; or, A Record of Recent Scientific Explorations in the Andean La Plata, S. A. (1877). But none caught the imagination of the public in the way that Haggard’s work did, nor were they written with Haggard’s knowledge of the lands he wrote about or with his literary style. Haggard also had the advantage of writing at a time when the number of unknown, unexplored territories was rapidly diminishing. Travel writing was increasingly common, and even female explorers were traveling to remote areas and describing them for the English reading audience. The lure of a new discovery in a distant and inaccessible area was an obvious one for readers. Finally, Haggard and his immediate successors wrote during the age when archaeological discoveries, from the 1870 excavation of Troy to the opening of the Valley of the Kings in Egypt in 1881, were thrilling readers and uncovering lost and forgotten cultures.

Allan Quatermain, having waited until the last minute, orders his men to fire in this illustration by Thure de Thulstrup from Maiwa's Revenge (1888). Image & caption courtesy of Wikipedia.

A variant of the Haggardian Lost Race story was the Ruritanian romance, after Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda. The Ruritanian novel combines the historical novel with the Lost Race story, and is about an outsider, traditionally American or British but only human in science fictional or fantasy versions of the story, who travels to a small, fictional kingdom, usually European but occasionally Asian. The kingdom is a nostalgic throwback to earlier times, complete with a feudal system, royalty, and sword-wielding, duel-interested nobility. The outsider falls in love with a member of the country’s royalty and becomes that country’s ruler, marries that country’s ruler, or helps decide the rulership of that country. There were predecessors to The Prisoner of Zenda, including Robert Louis Stevenson’s Prince Otto (1885) and Archibald Gunter’s Mr. Barnes of New York , but it was Hope’s work, with George Barr McCutcheon’s Graustark, which created the late 19th and early 20th century craze for the Ruritanian romance.

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3 responses to “QUAINT #21 The Lost Race Story

  1. Anne McClintock has some interesting things to say about King Solomon’s Mines in her brilliant work of postcolonial analysis, “Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest” (London: Routledge, 1994)

  2. premmiumshlock

    Just came to this site via Sepia Mutiny, where someone had posted in the News sidebar the recent piece on the Punjabi-Mexican community of California. Had been familiar with Karen Leonard’s work (though I’ve not completely read her book yet) but not the PBS documentary you also cite, so thanks for the tip. Interesting post here, too. Had a course in college on race and masculinity in British military/imperial culture in the 19th century, which included King Solomon’s Mines among the readings. Would recommend Heather Streets’ The Martial Races if you’re not already familiar with it. Doesn’t deal with Solomon (or much fiction, other than perhaps some Kipling — I don’t remember) but it’s great for context. Don’t think I’d heard of the Anne McClintock work either — thanks, Yakoub.

  3. Pingback: QUAINT #28 A PARISIAN SULTANA by Adolphe Belot | Beyond Victoriana