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altheaann

altheaann

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She - H. Rider Haggard I'd never read this classic of adventure-fantasy before. For some reason, I'd always assumed the the author was a contemporary of Robert E. Howard, and that it was published sometime in the 1930s or thereabouts. Not so! It was published in 1887!

The story is fairly simple: An ugly, rather reclusive academic is asked to become ward of a young boy. When the boy, Leo, comes of age, he opens a package left to him by his dead father, and discovers a tale that he is descended from a fabulously long line of Greco-Egyptians, and that somewhere in darkest Africa, there is an immortal goddess who is somehow bound up in his life. Although taking this with a grain of salt, the two are compelled to go investigate the tale - and indeed, they find the fabled, immortal SHE, Ayesha, who believes that Leo is the reincarnation of her long-dead love - who, incidentally, she murdered in a jealous fit.

Although, for his time period, Haggard was apparently considered to be remarkably tolerant and broad-minded, a lot of this book wound be found quite shocking in may ways to most modern audiences.
Haggard does go out of his way to be clear that many of the prejudices in the book are those of his characters - but prejudices of his own (or of the society of his times) can also be found coming through loud and clear. There are definite racist, anti-Semitic and very non-feminist views voiced, as well as the fact that the lower-class Englishman, their servant, is basically a humorous sidekick, his class used for laughs. (which, now that I'm thinking about it, has really kinda become a cliche in this whole genre, even in recent times.)

My copy of the book was from 1972, and I was a bit surprised that it was published unexpurgated, as I know that a bunch of Robert E. Howard's works were censored in their publications from around that time (eliminating references to 'subhuman black savages' and that sort of thing.) (I have mixed feelings about that... I'm generally against censorship, but I'd rather read stories without such content, obviously.)

However, I did enjoy reading this book. It IS an entertaining story, subtexts aside. And it's also interesting, historically, to see the attitudes of the 19th century through the lens of a story like this. It's also interesting to see how much philosophizing, poetics, & etc are included in what was unapologetically written as a sensationalist adventure story - a 'wild romance', as it's referred to in the opening of the sequel!

The attitudes, and the different levels of them, seen in this book could fuel quite a lot of analysis - I'm not surprised that it's been studied in college classes - but right now I'm too tired to get into an extended essay!