Saturday, May 24, 2008


Yes, it's a pronoun. It's also a very entertaining Victorian adventure novel by Sir Henry Rider Haggard, first published in 1886. This new Penguin Classics edition all but jumped off the shelf at me at Easons a few weeks ago. (It's also available on Project Gutenberg.) The title drew me first, and I was sold as soon as I read the tagline:

A silver box. A sorceress. A secret buried for centuries...

Leo Vincey--blonde, Adonis-like, reasonably intelligent and a decent fellow--opens a mysterious box left to him by his father on his twenty-fifth birthday. Inside he finds a sherd of ancient pottery which details the story of Amenartas, an Egyptian princess who lost her Greek husband to an enchantress-queen of a lost civilization somewhere along the east coast of Africa more than two thousand years before. Amenartas challenges her son, or her son's son, or any future descendant, to avenge her husband (whom the enchantress had taken as a lover, though she eventually killed him because he didn't want to leave his wife). Unlikely, and convenient, that the Vincey family could trace its roots without interruption back to Egypt and Greece in the 4th-century B.C., but who cares? Of course, the immortal enchantress has been waiting for two thousand years for the return of her reincarnated lover, and when Leo decides to go to Africa with his guardian, Horace Holly (the narrator), it looks like he might be the one
She-who-must-be-obeyed has been waiting for.

The story is fast-paced and delightfully spooky. Even the (very likable) narrator's occasional bouts of florid philosophizing are a pleasure to read.
But if it were possible that a woman could exist for two thousand years, this might be possible also--anything might be possible. I myself might, for aught I knew, be a reincarnation of some other forgotten self, or perhaps the last of a long line of ancestral selves. Well, vive la guerre! why not? Only, unfortunately, I had no recollection of these previous conditions. The idea was so absurd to me that I burst out laughing, and, addressing the sculptured picture of a grim-looking warrior on the cave wall, called out to him aloud, "Who knows, old fellow?-- perhaps I was your contemporary. By Jove! perhaps I was you and you are I," and then I laughed again at my own folly, and the sound of my laughter rang dismally along the vaulted roof, as though the ghost of the warrior had echoed the ghost of a laugh.
There are a couple of sequels, but it seems the original novel is the best-known. I'd never heard of She before I found it at Eason's, but I'm so glad I did.

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