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"She" is an often overlooked masterpiece by Rider Haggard, who is perhaps better known as the author of "King Solomon's Mines." Yet, while the latter concerns itself with the conventional and well-worn theme of 'treasure-hunting', "She" stands out magnificiently as a carefully woven adventure story, not of greed, but of love, entangled by the strangling hold of destiny. The plot moves rapidly, Haggard pays immense attention to detail, and makes tremendous effort to establish the credibility of the story before the reader. This adds to the realism of the plot, and immediately engages the reader into the tale. Leo Vincey, the brilliantly handsome male protagonist, sets out in search of the mysterious "White Queen" of Africa to fulfill the dying wishes of his father. He is followed by his butler and his guardian, one Hollace Holly, who is also the narrator of the adventure. Their journey from the hallowed and comfortable halls of Cambridge, to the deepest heart of nineteenth century Africa, is filled with visually magnificent encounters with wild beasts and men. But the real story kicks in only after they have been captured by the Amahagger people and brought before Ayesha, the fabled "White Queen", or, as her own people calls her, "She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed." Though deceptively young, the enchantingly beautiful Ayesha is twenty centuries old, and possess great charisma and magic which holds the Englishmen captive and pliant to her every wishes. The rest of the story reveals the long-hidden mysteries of the exotic Queen and her people, and charts the desperate attempt of the protagonist to escape his fearful destiny with her. Haggard's accomplishments lie with his ability to paint a detailed and visually enchanting description of the wondrous landscape of Ayesha's Kingdom of Kor. In the book, it is not unusual to find four to five pages purely devoted to stunning
and powerful evocations of audio and visual scenes, which, if handled by a lesser writer, would have bored the ordinary reader. Instead, Haggard breathes life into his characters. Had this book been written in the late twentieth century, the author would certainly have been accused of writing the book with making a movie in mind.
I've already reviewed "Allan Quatermain" by Rider Haggard, so I thought I would continue the tradition! She is an African adventure story. A Cambridge Don, Lawrence Holly and his ward, Leo Vincey, travel into the heart of Africa where they find a seemingly immortal white queen ruling a tribe of cannibals. The plot is gripping, like "Allan Quatermain". The story is truly eerie. The Amahaggar people live in caves hollowed out of mountains by a prehistoric race who also possessed skills akin to Egyptian mummification techniques. However these mysterious techniques are much more effective than the Egyptians' and result in bodies being perfectly appeared; people dead for thousands of years appear to be merely sleeping. The book concludes with a journey into the centre of a mountain, across a ravine in the heart of the earth. Ayesha, the queen, promises eternal life to Leo who becomes her lover; the ending is a true shock which I won't spoil for you. Like "Allan Quatermain", this story reveals a lot about Victorian preoccupations with recent scientific theories. Darwin's "Origin Of Species" has a clear influence on the novel. Orientalism was a major interest of the Victorian era and this is displayed in the Egyptian-influenced parts of the book. This was Haggard's best-selling work in Victorian times and deserves to be equally popular now.