She - A History of Adventure (1886)
Spine Front Cover Book Details
H. Rider Haggard
Publication Date 1998
Format Leather-bound (220 x 145 mm)
Publisher The Easton Press
Genre Science Fiction
Product Details
Series Masterpieces of Science Fiction
No. of Pages 257
Paper Type Acid-neutral paper
First Edition No
Personal Details
URL This book on
Rating 8
No. of Reviews 26
Frontispiece/Illustrator Frank Kelly Freas
Introduction/Foreward Everett F. Bleiler
Original Details
Original Publication Year 1886
Ayesha is She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, a 2,000-year-old queen who rules a fabled lost city deep in a maze of African caverns. She has the occult wisdom of Isis, the eternal youth and beauty of Aphrodite, and the violent appetite of a lamia. Like A. Conan Doyle's Lost World, She is one of those magnificent Victorian yarns about an expedition to a far-off locale shadowed by magic, mystery, and death.
Tim Stout writes, in Horror: 100 Best Books, "As the plot takes hold one has the fancy that [Ayesha] had always existed, in some dark dimension of the imagination, and that [H. Rider] Haggard was the fortunate author to whom she chose to reveal herself." Haggard did, in fact, write this book in a six-week burst of feverish inspiration: "It came faster than my poor aching hand could set it down," he later said.

Drawing on his knowledge of Africa and of ancient legends, Haggard weaves this disturbing tale of Ayesha, the mysterious white queen of a Central African tribe. She, or "She-who-must-be-obeyed," is the embodiment of the mythological female figure who is both monstrous and desirable, and deadlier than the male.
Collector's Notes

Few authors have the insight and the opportunity to launch a genre, but the good fortune fell to H. Rider Haggard. The genre he started with the provocative novel with the provocative three-letter title She (it does have a subtitle: A History of Adventure) was the lost-race story.

The success, the very existence, of this unusual novel 15 years before the end of the Victorian era raises questions: Why should a period noted for its decorum and its male supremacy take to a novel whose very title implies its concern with the feminine? And why should a period in which women were repressed along with displays of public affection of any kind produce a novel about a dominant and sensual woman of great power?

The answers to questions like these, and others, may lie within the questions themselves. She allowed repressed Victorians, perhaps even Haggard himself, to release within the safe con fines of a Victorian study, the emotions and the desires that polite society demanded be bottled up. Thomas D. Clareson has suggested that part of the reason for the popularity of the lost-race novels that followed She in such abundance was the emotional repressiveness of Victorian society. The novels allowed their readers to indulge their less civilized instincts and to find, at the end of their perilous journey, "a pagan princess of their very own."

Africa was waiting - still a continent of mystery and unexplored tropical forest-but there were other unknown places that Haggard successors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs and A. Merritt would exploit: South Sea islands; the Arctic and the Antarctic; the vast Asian deserts and frozen tundras; the Himalayas; Central and South American remotenesses. There might be found a civilization that had survived the ages, perhaps one of the lost tribes of Israel, a forgotten outpost of the Egyptian dynasties or of ancient Greece or Rome, or a race that was powerful before recorded history such as Atlantis.

In a setting such as this the courageous hero from western civilization could assume his proper role as a leader, defeat his enemies, win the love of a princess who was passionate and unashamed but pure in spirit, and settle down with her to found a noble line. Occasionally the hero would lose his princess through accident or because she threw herself between him and death, and the hero had to return to England (or the U.S.), often with the ancient civilization destroyed behind him.

Other variations were played upon the formula that started with She: sometimes the hero had to leave behind him the girl he loved and he would have to fight to return to her, some times against his baser instincts; the discovery might be of pre historic animals rather than an ancient civilization, or of noble savages; in later times, after the surface of the earth was more completely explored, the journey would end in another world (often through astral projection), or the interior of the earth, or an atom, or another dimension, or in the past, in which case the civilization usually was Atlantis and the novel ended with its destruction by earthquake and volcano.

But it all began with Haggard and She, which was not only the first, but also the best of them, and the portrait the author drew of that beautiful, imperious, glorious woman who is the eponymous heroine - "She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed" - has ensured immortality to herself and to the book that introduced her. Since its publication in 1886, it has never been out of print.

Readers who want more information about She and its author are urged to read the introduction specially commissioned for this edition by Easton Press. Everett F. Bleiler is one of the world's leading experts on science fiction and fantasy. The compiler of the earliest bibliography of SF and a long-time editor of reprint editions, Bleiler (with the late Ted Dikty) became an editor of early best-of-the-year anthologies. Since his retirement, he has edited several substantial reference works and contributed to others. His most recent reference work (1999) is the massive, comprehensive Science Fiction: The Gernsback Years.