Thursday, 5 July 2012

She by H. Rider Haggard (3/5)

The back says: ‘My empire is of the imagination.’ These are the words of Ayesha, the mysterious white queen of a Central African tribe, whose dead 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 the hidden realm, She is the goal of the 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 that the male!

I say: This book has got me slightly torn because, on the one hand I enjoyed Haggard’s writing, but on the other hand, I didn’t particularly like the story and all the heavy Christian symbolism and references.

And there were many to be had.

The entire text is pretty much riddled with allusions to Christianity in one way or another. Some of them were glaringly blatant, whereas others were pointed out to me by the notes. I don’t mind religion in my fiction, but this whole thing with Leo, Holly and Job going to Africa on a ‘mission’ and Haggard repeatedly quoting or referencing the bible was a tad too much.

A huge tad.

Another thing that I really don’t like with old-timey literature is this whole ‘white man’s burden’ approach to Africa and Africans portraying them as savages. Yes, there are tribes that could be called savage, but the whole symbolism of the way they behaved and how they were ruled by this white woman is just more than I bear to discuss right now.

Although I would love to entirely pick this novel apart.

The story itself was rather silly, for lack of a better word. There were a few action scenes that were rather enjoyable, but since I don’t like adventure stories, unless they are in some way humorous, this was never really for me to like.

100 Classics Challenge be damned.

So yeah, the story itself would have gotten a 2/5, but since I would have given the text a 4/5 from a literary viewpoint, we shall settle for a 3/5. I would be interested in picking up another of Haggard’s novels to further examine his writing, and maybe someday I’ll find someone who’ll enjoy dissecting this novel with me.

*This is my eighth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my 100 Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).


  1. I read King Solomon's Mines and quite enjoyed it. I don't remember any Christian symbolism but that might have washed over me. So it could be that it did contain some. It was all very imperial though. White man goes to Africa to make his fortune but the local savages can't be trusted. I took all that with a pinch of salt and liked it in the end. The part that also got to me was the detailed description of hunting.

    I probably will still read this one though (eventually).

    Sounds like your classics challenge is becoming a chore. Not sure I could keep going with it if I felt like that. Good luck though.

    1. I remember reading King Solomon's Mines in my teens and in Swedish and have always thought I'd read it in English (along with a lot of other classics). My memories of it are great, so we'll see what I think of it when I read it again. If it's as imperial as She, I might get annoyed. I realise that that's what a lot of literature was like back then, but it still irks me.

      I definately think you should read She - you'll probably have a different take on it. Sometimes I focus too much on little annoyances rather than just taking the story for what it is - I'm aware of it and trying to rectify it, but progress is slow.

      And yeah, this classics challenge is turning out to be a hate/love kind of thing. Based on the authors that I've been introduced to that I love, it's been worth it... I have to keep telling myself this in order to finish the challenge. Only 49 to go!