She (novel)

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cover of She: A History of Adventure
Author H. Rider Haggard
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Series Ayesha Series
Genre(s) Fantasy novel
Publisher Longmans
Publication date 1887
Media type print (hardback)
Pages 317 pp
Followed by Ayesha, the Return of She

She: A History of Adventure is a novel by H. Rider Haggard, first serialized in The Graphic from October 1886 to January 1887. In reprints it was extraordinarily popular in its time, and has remained in print to the present day. She is generally considered to be one of the classics of imaginative literature[1]and with 83 million copies sold in 1965, one of the best-selling books of all time[2].

In this work, H. Rider Haggard developed the conventions of the Lost World sub-genre, which many other authors emulated.[3]


[edit] Explanation of the novel's title

The title is short for "She Who Must Be Obeyed", a translation of the Arabic honorific used for Ayesha by the Amahagger, a tribe whom she has enslaved. In childhood, Haggard's nursemaid used to menace him with an ugly doll which went by the name "she who must be obeyed".[4] (The phrase acquired additional significance in British popular culture as the name by which John Mortimer's character Horace Rumpole refers to his wife.)

The Norse Death Goddess is called Hela and the name was later used by Rider Haggard in his two "Viking" novels, Eric Brighteyes (1891)[5] and The Wanderer's Necklace (1914)[6]. The mythological Hela had an allegorical "deathbed" called Kör that means "disease" in Old Norse. In She, Ayesha lives in a city named Kôr that had its original inhabitants decimated by a terrible "plague", and its vast catacombs serve as a giant deathbed.[7]

The name of Haggard's mother was Ella Doveton, and "ella" is Spanish for "she"[8][9], also resembling "Hela".

There is indication that Haggard knew some words of Spanish or Portuguese (both the languages have the word "ella" with the same meaning), there are several relevant Portuguese characters in his books. Portugal was the first colonizer of the African lands to which Rider Haggard travelled and in these nations there are many inhabitants that speak that language even today (see Portuguese-South Africans [10].

The character was supposedly inspired by the Balobedu Rain Queen Masalanabo Modjadji. Jung, who admired Haggard's myth-making powers, used She to illustrate his concept of the anima.

Her true name "Ayesha" is a variant transcription of the Arabic word pronounced Aisha, meaning "she-who-lives" . This was also the name of the favorite wife of Muhammad whose "controversial" character forms a template for some aspects of Ayesha's personality.

Also the "correct" pronunciation of Ayesha[11], indicated by Haggard himself, alludes to Asha that is a close parallel to the Goddess of Truth that was worshipped in Kôr and which is compared with Ayesha and her elusive nature in the books.

[edit] Plot summary

A Cambridge professor, Horace Holly and his ward, Leo Vincey, travel to Africa, following instructions on a potsherd (the "Sherd of Amenartas") left to Leo by his biological father. (Haggard made a physical copy of the potsherd which is now in the collection of Norwich Castle Museum.) They encounter a white queen, Ayesha, who has made herself immortal by bathing in a pillar of fire, the source of life itself. She becomes the prototypical all-powerful female figure. She is to be both desired and feared. She is a breathtakingly beautiful creature who will not hesitate to kill any one who displeases her or stands in her way. The travelers discover that Ayesha has been waiting for 2000 years for the reincarnation of her lover Kallikrates, whom she had slain in a fit of jealous rage. She believes that Vincey is the reincarnation of Kallikrates.

Haggard's copy of the Sherd of Amenartas

In the climax of the novel, Ayesha takes the two men to see the pillar of fire. She wants Leo to bathe in it as she did so that he can become immortal and remain with her forever. His doubts about its safety lead her to step into the flames once more. However, with this second immersion she reverts to her true age and immediately withers and dies. Before dying she tells Vincey, "I die not. I shall come again."

Throughout the book Haggard explores the themes of power, life, death, reincarnation, sexuality, and fate.

In the original novel, Ayesha is to a great extent selfish and amoral, caring very little for the feelings or even the lives of others so long as she gets what she wants. However, it is evident that, in the course of writing the novel, Haggard moved away from a purer conception of feminine evil. Indeed, one sees the process of transition fossilized in this sentence from the chapter entitled “Ayesha Unveils”:

I have heard of the beauty of celestial beings, now I saw it; only this beauty, with all its awful loveliness and purity, was evil — at least, at the time, it struck me as evil.

In the sequel Ayesha (1905) and in prequels She and Allan (1921) and Wisdom's Daughter (1923), Haggard attempted to vindicate her character, and she comes more to resemble the elder Irene of George MacDonald's The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie.

This book was translated into Urdu in the early 20th century by Munshi Muhammad Khalilur Rehman, a noted scholar, under the title "Azra" and was published from Lahore. It became a big best-seller and is still being printed from Lahore. The sequel was also translated by the same scholar under the title "Azra ki wapsi".

[edit] Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

She has been adapted to film at least nine times (as La Colonne de feu in 1899 and as She in 1908, 1911, 1916, 1917, 1925, 1935, 1965, and 2001, with a dubious[citation needed] further claimant by that title in 1982).

A television series titled She was produced by the South African Broadcasting Corporation in the late 1970s or early 1980s.

There have been several audio adaptations, including at least two from the BBC, the most recent being a Radio 4 broadcast starring Tim McInnerny on 2 and 9 July 2006.

In 2008 it has been reworked as a rock opera by Clive Nolan, in a project with Agnieszka Swita as Caamora. Visit

[edit] Popular culture

In addition to Tremayne's book, there are at least three other alternate tales of Ayesha: the first being King of Kor or She's Promise Kept, a Continuation of the Great Story of She (1903) by Sidney J. Marshall; the second being Journey to the Flame (1985:11/01) by Richard Monaco. Unlike Vengeance, King, and Journey, Sherlock Holmes: On the Roof of the World; or The Adventure of the Wayfaring God by Thomas Kent Miller (1987) attempts to fit within the canon of Haggard's four novels — and within that for Sherlock Holmes established by Arthur Conan Doyle. Further, She was rewritten as H. Rider Haggard's She [Retold] (1949) by Don Ward for Dell.

Haggard's She was lampooned by four works in 1887:

  • He by Andrew Lang and Walter Herries Pollock
  • He, A Companion to She, Being a History of the Adventures of J. Theodosius Aristophano on the Island of Rapa Nui in Search of His Immortal Ancestor by John de Morgan
  • He (“by the Author of It, King Solomon's Wives, Bess, Much Darker Days, Mr. Mortons Subtler and Other Romances”) by an unknown author
  • It, A Wild, Weird History of Marvelous, Miraculous, Phantasmagorial Adventures in Search of He, She, and Jess, and Leading to the Finding of It; A Haggard Conclusion by an unknown author

(These were collected as They (1978) by Robert Reginald and Douglas Menuille.)

W. H. Auden poked fun at She with one of his Literary Graffiti (a collections of clerihews):

Sir Rider Haggard
Was completely staggered
When his bride-to-be
Announced "I AM SHE!"

In addition, the story was lampooned in two issues of Justice League Task Force written by Peter David. In these issues, the Martian Manhunter takes on a female form (“Joan J'onzz”) to join an all-female Justice League — Wonder Woman, Maxima, Vixen, Gypsy and Dolphin — in confronting “Her Who Must Be Served”.

The Marvel Comics character Kismet, originally known as "Her", was also named Ayesha at one point.

In 1887, Window Curtains (1880) by Timothy Shay Arthur, an otherwise unrelated tale of embezzlement, was reissued as “Me” Or the Story of the Window Curtains – A Companion to “She”, and falsely attributed to Haggard.

In the British series Rumpole of the Bailey, Horace Rumpole refers to his wife as "She Who Must be Obeyed," the same epithet applied to She in the original novel by her subjects.

The character La, of Opar, created by Edgar Rice Burroughs is, clearly, influenced by Haggard's She.[12]

She was also the prototype of the Empress Jadis (the White Witch) in C. S. Lewis's The Magician's Nephew[13][14]

In Marvel Comics X-Men's stories it was stated that Ayesha was the name of an ancestor of Ororo Munroe , also known as Storm. Ayesha was the Supreme Sorcerer of her times[15]. The original tiara used by Storm is, quite probably, a reference to the ankh that symbolizes Ayesha's cult in Return of She.Her elemental powers are very similar with the special faculties that were used by Ayesha in the same novel.

Ayesha is considered by numerous scholars as an influence on Galadriel and other similar characters in J.R.R. Tolkien's Legendarium such as Melian, and, quite possibly, also Lúthien Tinúviel and Varda. Her "negative" attributes seem to be mirrored by Shelob ( a pun containing "she" and "lob", an archaic English name for "spider")and Ungoliant [16][17]Tolkien has acknowledged that, indeed, he liked Haggard's novel and used some "devices", such as the shard of Amenartas, as an inspiration to the analogous Book of Mazarbul and, quite probably, the Testament of Isildur that appeared in The Lord of the Rings.[18]

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ H.P. Lovecraft has stated in his seminal essay Supernatural Horror in Literature: The romantic, semi-Gothic, quasi-moral tradition here represented was carried far down the nineteenth century by such authors as Joseph Sheridan LeFanu, Wilkie Collins, the late Sir H. Rider Haggard (whose She is really remarkably good), Sir A. Conan Doyle, H. G. Wells, and Robert Louis Stevenson
  2. ^ Time on She: "Since then it has sold 83 million copies in 44 languages." (17 September 1965)
  3. ^ Lin Carter, ed. Realms of Wizardry p 64 Doubleday and Company Garden City, NY, 1976
  4. ^ 2
  5. ^,
  6. ^
  7. ^ "She has great possessions there; her walls are exceeding high and her gates great. Her hall is called Sleet-Cold; her dish, Hunger; Famine is her knife; Idler, her thrall; Sloven, her maidservant; Pit of Stumbling, her threshold, by which one enters; Disease, her bed; Gleaming Bale, her bed-hangings".. In the original Norse idiom: Éljúðnir heitir salr hennar, Hungr diskr, Sultr knífr, Ganglati þræll, Ganglöð ambátt, Fallandaforað grind, Þolmóðnir þresköldr er inn gengr, Kör sæing, Blíkjandböl ársalr hennar eða tjald.[1]
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^'s+Mines+and+As+Minas...-a0165576536
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^;col1
  15. ^ The Marvel Tarot Direct Edition One Shot, June 2007
  16. ^
  17. ^
  18. ^'s+She%3a+Burke's+Sublime+in+a+popular+romance.-a0146063132

1. Austin, Sue. "Desire, Fascination and the Other: Some Thoughts on Jung's Interest in Rider Haggard's 'She' and on the Nature of Archetypes" Harvest: International Journal for Jungian Studies, 2004, Vol.50, No.2 (Full Text)

2. Fuller, Alexandra. King Solomon's Mines: Introduction, Modern Library Edition, 2002.

[edit] External links

[edit] References

  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 137. 
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