Saturday, May 24, 2014

"She: A History of Adventure (She #1)" By H. Rider Haggard

Have you ever heard the phrase, "She who must be obeyed"? Yes, it's from this book. I always thought disgruntled husbands had formed a committee and brainstormed to come up with the phrase, and perhaps they did. But this is where the phrase was first recorded, so maybe H. Rider Haggard was the first disgruntled husband, and made all the rest of male population read this book before marrying.

The phrase doesn't come up in this book until 70+ pages into the book, so if you're reading it to satisfy curiosity (as I did, partly), you will probably end up reading it fully. I picked it up at a thrift store, because I noticed there was an introduction by one of the Society of Authors I'm Obsessed With, Margaret Atwood. And, naturally, there was that phrase on the back cover, and my curiosity was piqued.

The Plot:
Horace Holly and his ward, Leo Vincey, opened up a box given to Leo from his father, only to be opened when Leo turned 25 years old. The mysterious contents lead them on a voyage to Africa, where they end up stranded, only to be captured by the feared white queen Ayesha (She-who-must-be-obeyed) and her lethal tribe.

I was really disappointed in this book. It seemed like all the authors I loved adored it: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, and I assume Margaret Atwood, as she wrote the foreword. I didn't. I thought it was a good story, but why does She have to be white? Yes, this was a Victorian book, and things like that couldn't be done, but I was majorly bummed out about it. Why set a fantasy kingdom in Africa, only to have white people as the main characters? Victorian era, sometimes I loathe you.

An interesting aspect is that a female holds the most power in this book, which doesn't happen often in books of this period. This was supposedly because a woman holding that much power was a woman to be feared at that time, and this could be true of some modern dreads as well. A woman has never held the highest office (President) in the United States, and frankly, I don't know why not. Do men still have this fear of women? Are women unwilling to challenge that ceiling? Do we, as Americans, feel safer with a man in charge as opposed to a woman? I am a non-political blogger, but I feel obligated to ask questions that books bring into my mind, and while I read She, there were plenty of them relating to a female's position of power.

This is a book I wanted to love, but many aspects fell short of my great expectations. People of color were portrayed as inferior or uncivilized, and not used as main characters, even though the book is set in Africa. There was great adventure, but it was somewhat predictable for me to read, and the mystery of She still manages to linger, despite reading the book fully. While I will probably not read its sequels, She has a far-reaching influence on the fantasy genre, especially on female antagonists like the White Witch from The Chronicles of Narnia and Galadriel from The Lord of the Rings. Despite its impact on many of my favorite authors, I only grant She a three star rating, as an adventure story with supporting elements of fantasy, horror, mystery, and romance.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars, for a good adventure with disappointing aspects.

Content: Violence, bigotry, and a Victorian mindset of Africa (in this case, it's a bad thing). Ages 16+.

Page Count: 313 in my edition

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