Edited by Daniel Karlin
Part of the Oxford World's Classics series
'My empire is of the imagination.' These are the words of Ayesha, the mysterious white queen of a Central African tribe, whose dread title, 'She-who-must-be-obeyed', testifies to her undying beauty and magical powers; but they serve equally well to describe the hold of her author, Henry Rider Haggard, on generations of readers. Writing 'at white heat', and in the flush of success after the publication of King Solomon's Mines, Haggard drew again on his knowledge of Africa and of ancient legends, but also on something deeper and more disturbing. To the Englishmen who journey through shipwreck, fever, and cannibals to her hidden realm, 'She' is the goal of a quest bequeathed to them two thousand years before; to Haggard's readers, 'She' is the embodiment of one of the most potent and ambivalent figures of Western mythology, a female who is both monstrous and desirable - and, without question, deadlier than the male.
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- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 320 pages, 2 line drawings
- Publisher: Oxford University Press
- Publication Date: 12/06/2008
- Category: Classic fiction (pre c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780199536429
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- Hardback from £46.00
Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.
Review by CBJames
She by H. Rider Haggard is one of the worst books I've ever enjoyed. The writing is stilted, the dialogue is ridiculously both overwrought and formal, the plot is absurd, the characters are two dimensional, the laughs are unintentional. I loved it.The story follows an aging Oxford don, "on the wrong side of 40" as he says, Horace Holly and his young ward the handsome Leo Vincey, called the Lion because of his wonderful golden curls. The two set out with their man servant Job in search of a lost African kingdom ruled by a powerful, undying woman, Ayesha called She Who Must Be Obeyed by her terrified subjects. Leo's father, whom he never knew, left him an iron box to be opened on his 21st birthday. The box contains evidence written and physical linking Leo back through a long lineage to a ruler of ancient Egypt who loved Ayesha only to die by her hand. Aeysha is cursed with long life, forced to live over 2000 years alone while she waits for the reincarnation of her beloved Kallikrates to appear. Leo, of course, looks just like the paintings of Kallikrates.Then story starts to get ludicrous. I can understand why She was huge a success when it was first published in 1887. I can even understand why it would spawn three successful sequels. (It has sold over 83 million copies and been translated into 44 languages. I just wish one of them had been English.) At the end of the 19th century powerful women were a major concern among English authors. The New Woman was asserting herself all over the place making more than a few male authors very nervous. Africa was of great interest to the reading public in the 19th century, and Haggard is credited with inventing the lost kingdom genre of adventure fiction with his very popular stories of Allan Quartermain the hero of King Solomon's Mines. (The phrase She Who Must Be Obeyed later resurfaced as the "name" John Mortimer's Rumpole used to call his long-suffering wife.) All this makes sense to me given the culture of the time, but why She and its sequels should still be in print today is a mystery to me. Maybe just for the laughs. Take this passage:"Ah, so!" he answered. "Thou seest, my son, here there is a custom that if a stranger comes into this country, he may be slain by 'the pot' and eaten.""That is hospitality turned upside down," I answered feebly. "In our country we entertain a stranger, and give him food to eat. Here you eat him, and are entertained.""It is a custom," he answered, with a shrug. "Myself, I think it an evil one; but then," he added by an afterthought, "I do not like the taste of strangers, especially after they have wandered through the swamps and lived on waterfowl."Or this one:"My love! my love! my love! Why did that stranger bring thee back to me after this sort? For five long centuries I have not suffered thus. Oh, if I sinned against thee, have I not wiped away the sin? When wilt thou come back to me who have all, and yet without thee have naught? What is there that I can do? What? What? What? And perchance she--perchance that Egyptian doth abide with thee where thou are, and mock my memory. Oh, why could I not die with tjee, I who slew thee? Alas, that I cannot die! Alas! Alas!" and she flung herself prone upon the ground, and sobbed and wept till I thought that her heart must burst.Or this one:"I want a Black Goat, I must have a Black Goat, bring me a Black Goat!" and down she fell upon the rocky floor, foaming and writhing, and shrieking for a Black Goat, affording as hideous a spectacle as can be conceived.See what I mean. In spite of this there were a few scenes in She that came close to brilliant. One in particular described a ritual sacrifice She presided over in one of the many temple chambers in her underground palace. Slaves enthralled to her mysterious powers brought forth the mummified bodies of kings left for centuries in the tombs. Some they threw on a large bonfire while others the put inside holders along the walls lighting their heads as though they were torches. There's an image to haunt your dreams and something a Freudian analyst could really sink his teeth in to.The main reason I was able to enjoy reading this book was not to read it but to listen to it. If you've not discovered it yet Librivox.org is an excellent site for free downloadable audio books. It's an organization run by volunteers. People from all over the world can sign up to read a chapter from a wide selection of works in the public domain. These chapters are then collected and posted as downloadable zip files. Hearing She read by so many different people and with so many different accents made it much more fun. I heard male and female voices from America, England, India, New Zealand and one who struck me as having a Russian accent. Some readers were better than others and each came up with their own way to pronounce Kallikrates, but this added to the overall charm of the project. It was like having your parents read to you, a kind of outsider audio art. I've downloaded several more books, none of them sequels to She.
Review by joririchardson
Distinct and memorable characters, an interesting plot, and an impressive knowledge of language, history, and philosophy could have made this book amazing. However, I wasn't all that impressed by the writing style, which seemed lacking. The author also tended to go on and on about trivial, insignificant details. This caused the book to become monotonous at times.I also hated the plot progression after about the late middle of the book, and the ending was even worse.However, I did like the well drawn characters and strange originality of this story.Okay.
Review by Diwanna
I'm not sure where I got the idea to read this book, but I'm glad I did. It is a good, classic adventure through Africa and the mysteries that lie therein. Realistic thrills and adventure with a smidgen of the supernatural I can see why it was so popular 120 years ago. If you like Indiana Jones or Allan Quartermaine(also by the same author) you'll enjoy this one.