The shortest title in this month’s challenge is that of She by H Rider Haggard. This is a book of the early twentieth century/late nineteenth century and resembles the adventure stories of Arthur Conan Doyle, Bulldog Drummond, Robert Louis Stevenson and John Buchan. It is a “gung ho” adventure story and very much of its age. I enjoyed reading it but there were times when the attitudes and language made me wince and I wouldn’t want a reading diet that contained a lot of similar stories.
The book is told as a narrative by an older adventurer who is following the narrative of a previous adventurer who has willed him a very ancient text. I have noticed that a lot of books at this time were written the same way (think of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde for example) and it removes you slightly from the story – on the whole I prefer a more direct first person narrative but the way in which the story was told didn’t get in the way of the enjoyment for me.
The two men are following an ancient text which takes them into the heart of Africa and an “undiscovered” tribe who are in thrall to a woman “She who must be obeyed”. You need to treat this a bit like a fantasy because the descriptions of Africa and the African people are definitely insulting to the ancient civilisations of that continent. The adventurers battle through difficult terrain and fight off opposition from the people who inhabit the lands through which they travel. They are eventually captured by those who serve “She” and fall into her power. In the end they will need to escape and not all the party will succeed.
“She” is a woman with power which she uses to be arbitrarily cruel. She seduces men by her beauty and has drunk from a spring which gives her eternal life so she has lived for generations. In the end, of course, no woman can hold that sort of power and live….
The book is non-stop adventure moving from one action scene to another. It is quite definitely divorced from reality and Africa is used as a proxy for a fantasy world made up by the author. The book concentrates a bit too much on beauty and equates ugliness with undesirability. The characters are happy to shoot and kill anyone who gets in their way and treat people whose language and habits they don’t understand as “savages”. In the end you rather wonder why they bothered to go other than because “it was there” or because they were “good sports”.
I did enjoy reading this book but I wasn’t blind to its faults and don’t intend to read a lot more in a similar vein.