A Review: Part II She By H. Rider Haggard

November 20, 2009

A Contribution To The

ERBzine ERB Library Project

She

by

H. Rider Haggard

Review by R.E. Prindle

From London To The The Caves Of Kor

     She is dedicated to Andrew Lang:

I Inscribe This History To

ANDREW LANG

In Token Of Personal Regard

And Of

My Sincere Admiration For His Learning

And His Works

     One may well ask then who is this Andrew Lang and what is his learning?  In point of fact Haggard not only dedicated She to Lang but wrote three books in collaboration with him.  Andrew Lang, 1884-1912, was a Scottish scholar specializing in folklore, mythology and religion so you can see where Haggard came by much of his esoteric knowledge.  In addition Lang was one of the founding members of the Society For Psychic Research and a past-President.  Lang wrote dozens of books over his lifetime.  He even wrote a parody of She in 1887 called He.  Today he is remembered only for his collections of fairy tales.  Twelve volumes in all each titled after a color such as The Crimson, or Blue or Pink or Gray Fairy Book.  The volumes are undergoing a fair revival now with a collector’s edition published by Easton Press and several nicely bound volumes by the Folio Society.

     The nineteenth century was the one in which advanced knowledge of the past was rapidly extending European knowledge greatly.  The Rosetta Stone deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics had been achieved as recently as the 1830s.  Nineveh and the Assyrian ruins had been unearthed.  Schlieman had discovered the locations of  Troy and Mycenae.

     The exoteric side was covered by the academics while the esoteric side was covered by independent scholars like Madame Blavatsky and probably Andrew Lang.  There was a clean split between the academic Patriarchal view of  ancient history and the emerging Matriarchal view that had just been developed by the Swiss mythologist, J.J. Bachofen.    Bachofen organized ancient history into Hetaeric, Matriarchal and Patriarchal periods.  He himself was a member of the successor  Scientific period.

     The academics totally rejected the notion of  a Matriarchal period.  This, of course, led to a complete inability to understand Homer, both Iliad and Odyssey. The Iliad especially is a description of the war by the Patriarchy to destroy Matriarchy. 

     Lang seems to have understood the Matriarchal phase of ancient history.  He must have passed this knowledge on to Haggard.  Ayesha, as She, rules a Matriarchal society.  While the ideas represented in She must have seemed bizarre or merely an amusing reversal of the Patriarchal world at the time, today it all reads comprehensibly.  It rings true if not exact.

     C.G. Jung, the psychologist, who developed such notions as the male Anima and the Shadow was very immpressed by what he saw as the male Anima in She.  Madame Blavatsky lauded the book for its esoteric content.  But then, Haggard was firing on all eight cylinders when he wrote it, it is difficult to conceive of a more perfect fantasy/adventure novel.  Indeed Haggard subtitles the novel: The History Of An Adventure.

     Haggard was an excellent Egyptian scholar.  He not only visualized Egypt convincingly in his Egyptian novels but his Egyptian ideas pervade the African novels.  Many of them involve Egyptian influences and even peoples filtering down into East and Central Africa.  The Ivory Child is a case in point as is She.

     The set up to the trip out is brilliant incorporating details that become cliches in B movies.

     Leo Vincey’s father before he died gave a metal box to Leo’s guadian, Horace Holly, that wasn’t to be opened until Leo was twenty-five.  This box is now opened.  It contained a letter to Leo, a potsherd (a piece of a broken jar) covered with ‘uncial’ Greek lettering, a miniature and a scarab containing Egyptian hieroglyphics that read ‘Royal Son of the Sun.’

     Thus Haggard captured most if not all of the elements that went into the intellectual aura fostered by B moves primarily in the first years of the talkies through the thirties.  That entailed things like the Curse of the Pharaohs, movies like The Mummy  melding into Wolf Man, Dracula, Frankenstein and African juju spells.  Things against which Europeans had no defense because the ancient magic was stronger than modern science, or so we were led to believe.  I can’t speak for others  but it took me a while to shake this oppressive spirit.  This was pretty strong stuff for my ten to twelve year old brain.  Not to mention being bombarded by The Creature From The Black Lagoon, The Thing and The Day The Earth Stood Still.  We wuz tried in the fire and come through good.

     The gist of it is that Leo’s ancestor Kallicrates lived in the time of the last Pharaoh Nectanebo as one of the royal family.  Spookier still Nectanebo was said to have fled Egypt before the conquering hordes, going to Macedon where he secretly impregnated Olympia, Philip’s wife, who then gave birth to Alexander which made him the rightful heir to the Pharaohship instroducing Greeks as rulers into his city of Alexandria.

     At any rate Kallicrates girl friend, Ayesha, killed him in a jealous rage.  The family nursing vengeance for all these two thousand years it is Vincey’s mission if he chooses to accept it, to follow the ancient map to the Caves of Kor and kill Ayesha or, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed who has been nursing regrets over killing Kallicrates two thousand years previously.  Listen to me, I’m tellin’ ya it’s all here.

     So Vincey, Holly and their man Job set out to find this place in Africa even more remote, if possible, than King Solomon’s Mines.  And a heck of a lot more hostile too.

     The trip out is some of Haggard’s finest writing.  They are to be looking for a rock formation on the coast in the shape of a gorilla’s head.  Sailing the coast they miraculously spot this head just as a terrific squall sends their felucca, dhow or other exotic ship from foreign  climes to the b ottom.

     But, even though the ship sinks they beat the reaper because they brought a boat containing unsinkable water tight compartments.   As the storm subsides the three survivors along with an Arab float into the mouth of the appropriate stream as though it were all foreordained.  What follows is some excellent writing with details I don’t need to recount.

     Suffice it to say they are dragging their boat along an ancient canal when they are accosted by men from Kor.  Ordinarily these guys would have speared them and moved on, no strangers needed in Kor.  Using her magic She had learned of Leo’s coming a week previously thus ordering their lives spared while they were to be brought to her.  Uh huh.

     The detailing is terrific, this book is tight and well organized.  It moves right along.  The land is under the thumb of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.  This is a tight Matriarchy as we now recognize not  just some strange place where a woman is in charge.

     While the three are entering the Caves of Kor, Leo Vincey, being the cynosure of all female eyes, a knockout named Ustane steps up and kisses him.  Not averse to a public display of affection Leo lays one on her back.  New to the area and not aware of the customs of the place Leo had just accepted Ustane as his woman.  In town for a few minutes and already married.  That’s the way things happen in this particular Matriarchy.  Ustane is now in conflict with Ayesha, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.

     The stage is now set for the main drama when Ayesha recognizes Leo as her long lost Kallicrates come back from all those reincarnations at last.

     The exoteric Catholic Church is thus thrust aside in favor of all the heretical doctrines of the esoteric which have been bubbling under the Hot 100 for two thousand years.  These unfamiliar esoteric doctrines would become the mainstay and staple of science fiction/fantasy for the next one hundred years.

     Just as an example of how Burroughs probably learned esoterica, I became familiar with estoeric themes myself from reading 1950s science fiction and fantasy- Amazing Stories, William Tenn, Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury  and all that sort of stuff without realizing what I was taking in,  thus Burroughs surrounded by the Society for Psychical Research,  Camille Flammarion, George Du Maurier and Stevenson et al. naturally learned the esoteric language.  No mystery, he was speaking in tongues before he knew it.

      Leo is awaiting the summons from Ayesha which will be covered in Part III.

 

 

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