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Fantastic Fiction: 1

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Fantastic Fiction: 1
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Author(s): H. Rider Haggard
Date Published: 2010/06
Page Count: 448
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-243-7
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-244-4

The first of a four volume collection of fantastic stories

H. Rider Haggard's ability to give his audience a good tale well told is not in question. He was one of the most popular authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and some of his novels are well known—at least by title—to almost everyone. His story of Ayesha—'she who must be obeyed'— has been filmed and in its day was one of the best selling novels ever. King Solomon's Mines, introduced the public to the little, wiry, white hunter Allan Quatermain. It too became instantly popular and the character went on to feature in a host of different adventures on the dark continent as well as on the silver screen several times. Leonaur have gathered together several Haggard collections for modern readers to enjoy. There is, of course, the two volume Ayesha quartet, but also the Quatermain series, the African Adventures series, the Historical Adventure series and the series of adventures set in the Ancient World. Irrespective of his central theme Haggard was never one to shy away from elements of the supernatural or fantastical, witches, ghosts, familiar spirits, god gorillas and the like appear unquestioned in even the most realistic of his stories. So it is less than surprising that Haggard also produced a body of work that positions itself uncompromisingly in the realms of the incredible. This special four volume collection from Leonaur gathers together those stories—each book featuring one novel and one or more shorter works—in a satisfying four volume set for his many aficionados to collect and relish. Available in soft cover and hard back with dust jacket.
In volume one, the first story is the novel When the World Shook. The nations of the earth are tearing themselves apart during the Great War when our heroes sail to the South Seas—complete with shipwrecks, cannibals and exploding volcanoes—to discover the remnants of a lost race which has been held in suspended animation for a quarter of a million, years having reached advanced technology only to be brought down by barbarism. The shorter work, Doctor Therne examines the acceptance and dissention over vaccinations in medicine.

Next moment a wonder came to pass. The whole massive rock began to turn outwards as though upon a pivot! I saw it coming and grabbed Bickley by the collar, dragging him back so that we just rolled clear before the great block, which must have weighed several tons, fell down and crushed us. Tommy saw it too, and fled, though a little late, for the edge of the block caught the tip of his tail and caused him to emit a most piercing howl. But we did not think of Tommy and his woes; we did not think of our own escape or of anything else because of the marvel that appeared to us. Seated there upon the ground, after our backward tumble, we could see into the space which lay behind the fallen step, for there the light of the sun penetrated.<br>
The first idea it gave me was that of the jewelled shrine of some mediaeval saint which, by good fortune, had escaped the plunderers; there are still such existing in the world. It shone and glittered, apparently with gold and diamonds, although, as a matter of fact, there were no diamonds, nor was it gold which gleamed, but some ancient metal, or rather amalgam, which is now lost to the world, the same that was used in the tubes of the air-machines. I think that it contained gold, but I do not know. At any rate, it was equally lasting and even more beautiful, though lighter in colour.<br>
For the rest this adorned recess which resembled that of a large funeral vault, occupying the whole space beneath the base of the statue that was supported on its arch, was empty save for two flashing objects that lay side by side but with nearly the whole width of the vault between them.<br>
I pointed at them to Bickley with my finger, for really I could not speak.<br>
“Coffins, by Jove!” he whispered. “Glass or crystal coffins and people in them. Come on!”<br>
A few seconds later we were crawling into that vault while Bastin, still nursing the head of Oro as though it were a baby, stood confused outside muttering something about desecrating hallowed graves.<br>
Just as we reached the interior, owing to the heightening of the sun, the light passed away, leaving us in a kind of twilight. Bickley produced carriage candles from his pocket and fumbled for matches. While he was doing so I noticed two things—firstly, that the place really did smell like a scent-shop, and, secondly, that the coffins seemed to glow with a kind of phosphorescent light of their own, not very strong, but sufficient to reveal their outlines in the gloom. Then the candles burnt up and we saw.<br>
Within the coffin that stood on our left hand as we entered, for this crystal was as transparent as plate glass, lay a most wonderful old man, clad in a gleaming, embroidered robe. His long hair, which was parted in the middle, as we could see beneath the edge of the pearl-sewn and broidered cap he wore, also his beard were snowy white. The man was tall, at least six feet four inches in height, and rather spare. His hands were long and thin, very delicately made, as were his sandaled feet.<br>
But it was his face that fixed our gaze, for it was marvellous, like the face of a god, and, as we noticed at once, with some resemblance to that of the statue above. Thus the brow was broad and massive, the nose straight and long, the mouth stern and clear-cut, while the cheekbones were rather high, and the eyebrows arched. Such are the characteristics of many handsome old men of good blood, and as the mummies of Seti and others show us, such they have been for thousands of years. Only this man differed from all others because of the fearful dignity stamped upon his features. Looking at him I began to think at once of the prophet Elijah as he must have appeared rising to heaven, enhanced by the more earthly glory of Solomon, for although the appearance of these patriarchs is unknown, of them one conceives ideas. Only it seemed probable that Elijah may have looked more benign. Here there was no benignity, only terrible force and infinite wisdom.<br>
Contemplating him I shivered a little and felt thankful that he was dead. For to tell the truth I was afraid of that awesome countenance which, I should add, was of the whiteness of paper, although the cheeks still showed tinges of colour, so perfect was the preservation of the corpse.<br>
I was still gazing at it when Bickley said in a voice of amazement: “I say, look here, in the other coffin.”<br>
I turned, looked, and nearly collapsed on the floor of the vault, since beauty can sometimes strike us like a blow. Oh! there before me lay all loveliness, such loveliness that there burst from my lips an involuntary cry:<br>
“Alas! that she should be dead!”<br>
A young woman, I supposed, at least she looked young, perhaps five or six and twenty years of age, or so I judged. There she lay, her tall and delicate shape half hidden in masses of rich-hued hair in colour of a ruddy blackness. I know not how else to describe it, since never have I seen any of the same tint. Moreover, it shone with a life of its own as though it had been dusted with gold. From between the masses of this hair appeared a face which I can only call divine. There was every beauty that woman can boast, from the curving eyelashes of extraordinary length to the sweet and human mouth. To these charms also were added a wondrous smile and an air of kind dignity, very different from the fierce pride stamped upon the countenance of the old man who was her companion in death.<br>
She was clothed in some close-fitting robe of white broidered with gold; pearls were about her neck, lying far down upon the perfect bosom, a girdle of gold and shining gems encircled her slender waist, and on her little feet were sandals fastened with red stones like rubies. In truth, she was a splendid creature, and yet, I know not how, her beauty suggested more of the spirit than of the flesh. Indeed, in a way, it was unearthly. My senses were smitten, it pulled at my heart-strings, and yet its unutterable strangeness seemed to awake memories within me, though of what I could not tell. A wild fancy came to me that I must have known this heavenly creature in some past life. <br>
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