Denver Science Fiction & Fantasy Book Club

She 2002 Modern Library cover

She : A History of Adventure (1887)

2002 Modern Library paperback
313 pages (left)
includes notes and reading group guide

1978 Del Rey paperback, 282 pages
cover art by Michael Herring (right)

She 1978 Del Rey cover

From the back cover of the Modern Library paperback:
A runaway bestseller on its publication in 1887, H. Rider Haggard's She is a Victorian thrill ride of a novel, featuring a lost African kingdom ruled by a mysterious, implacable queen; ferocious wildlife and yawning abysses; and an eerie love story that spans two thousand years. She has bewitched readers from Freud and Jung to C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien; in her Introduction to this Modern Library Paperback Classic -- which includes period illustrations by Maurice Greiffenhagen and Charles H. M. Kerr -- Margaret Atwood asserts that the awe-inspiring Ayesha, "She-who-must-be-obeyed," is "a permanent feature of the human imagination."

From the back cover of the Del Rey paperback:
       For two thousand endless years, She had maintained her vigil. She, whose supernal powers could have made emperors her slaves, was only the Witch Queen of the debased and savage Amahagger. Her awesome beauty was veiled from the world in the isolated African valley of Kôr. She waited. For in Kôr lay the mummified body of her lost lover, Kallikrates - killed by her hand when he turned to other women - and She was doomed to tarry until he should come again in mortal flesh.
       Then into Kôr, guided by an ancient manuscript, came two strangers - Holly and his ward, Leo Vincey. Leo Vincey - in every way, her Kallikrates reborn! But with him was Ustane, the other woman, also incredibly reborn.
       Was the goddess Isis still unsatisfied with her vengeance? Must the tragedy be replayed? With all the fury of desperation, She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed drew her terrible powers about her and began to unveil...

From the back cover of the Hodder and Stoughton hardback (cover seen below):
"She" is a story of the strangest love triangle ever chronicled. The man of the triangle is a mortal man. The women are symbols of fiercely opposed emotions. One represents power, passion and beauty. The other, contributive and constructive, represents fireside, home, family, and most important of

Read for group discussion on October 9, 2002

More book covers: She
She the Story Retold She 1965 movie cover Hodder and Stoughton She 1961 cover
She: The Story Retold
retold version by Don Ward, 1949
192 pages (Pulp cover art!)
1965 Lancer Books
Ursula Andress movie cover
256 pages
1949 Hodder and Stoughton yellow jacket edition (UK)
255 pages
1961 Lancer Books
256 pages
cover art uncredited

How we each rated this book
Dan 7 Amy 9 stack of books 10   Wow! Don't miss it
8-9  Highly recommended
7    Recommended
5-6  Mild recommendation
3-4  Take your chances
1-2  Below average; skip it
0    Get out the flamethrower!
U    Unfinishable or unreadable
-    Skipped or no rating given
Cheri - Barb -
Aaron 8 Cynthia -
Jackie - Ron 7
Sara 6

Aaron's Commentary  H. Rider Haggard – She

       Taken only as an adventure story, She is enjoyable but unexceptional, not comparable to, say, Edgar Rice Burroughs for rousing action. The story bogs down at times, particularly when Ayesha launches into her archaically phrased monologues. Haggard makes up for this, however, in other ways.

       For one, he manages to impart a strong feeling of realism. This novel has the texture of science fiction not fantasy. Our narrator Mr. Holly repeatedly stops to describe carefully the foliage around him or the pottery he’s eating from, in a level of detail that at times interrupts the flow of the narrative, but adds much authenticity. More importantly, Haggard has carefully thought through the various aspects of his lost civilization, for instance how the elaborate design of the city of Kôr eventually caused the destruction of its people. This distinguishes this story from other early science fantasy settings, Barsoom for example, which never have a real world feel.

       Haggard also raises a host of thought provoking issues. The story of Ayesha frames intriguing questions about how it would affect someone to live almost forever. She in turn poses many interesting questions of her own, particularly on religious issues, and Holly persistently engages in other random philosophical musings about the human condition. There is much to think about here, at a level removed from the underlying adventure.

       Probably the greatest strength of this book is its depiction of She Who Must Be Obeyed, a very strong female character. While She is not technically the protagonist, She is certainly the most important character, easily overshadowing the two rather bland leading men. She Who Must Be Obeyed apparently epitomizes Haggard’s view of women. She has all the strength and intelligence that women can possess, but is ultimately ruled by her emotions. There is nothing condescending, however, in the way Haggard portrays her. She is certainly flawed, but all the more interesting and believable for it. She would be a notable character in a work of fiction today; that Haggard created her over a century ago is remarkable.

What do you think? Your comments are welcome. Please send them to

Movies of She:
There have been eight (!) movies based on or inspired by H. Rider Haggard's novel She, according to The Internet Movie Data base (IMDb).

She was filmed in 1935, 1965, and 1985. The other five versions were silent movies, filmed in USA unless otherwise noted, made in 1908, 1911, 1916 (UK), 1917, and 1925 (UK/Germany).

She (1925) stars Betty Blythe as Ayesha. The most faithful adaptation of the book.

She (1935) stars Helen Gahagan as She, Randolph Scott as Leo Vincey, Nigel Bruce as Horace Holly, and Helen Mack as Tanya Dugmore. The setting is moved from Africa to the arctic (!), Leo is an American, the character of Ustane is transformed into Tanya, but much of the plot involving She is true to the book.

She (1965) stars Ursula Andress as Ayesha, Peter Cushing as Major Horace Holly, John Richardson as Leo Vincey, Rosenda Monteros as Ustane, and Chistopher Lee as Billali. The story diverges in numerous ways from the book, yet the characters remain fairly intact. (Note - There's also The Vengeance of She (1968))

She (1985) appears to be an odd and very unfaithful adaptation. There were Nazis in a post apocalyptic world. Sandahl Bergman stars as She. Definitely a B movie, if not a turkey.

(Sir) H. Rider Haggard (1856-1925) was a UK writer of fiction and nonfiction. Full name Henry Rider Haggard. He was knighted in 1912.

Haggard wrote science fantasy adventure books about lost worlds, and ancient civilizations. His best known books are She (1887) which features a lost city in Africa, immortality, and reincarnation; and King Solomon's Mines (1885) which tells the African adventures of white hunter Allan Quatermain. Both books have been made into movies multiple times.

Ayesha books (in order of publication):
-- She: A History of Adventure (1887)
-- Ayesha: The Return of She (1905)
-- She and Allan (1921)
-- Wisdom's Daughter: The Life of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed (1923)

Allan Quatermain books (in order of publication, not internal chronology):
-- King Solomon's Mines (1885)
-- Allan Quatermain (1887)
-- Maiwa's Revenge (1888)
-- Allan's Wife (1889)
-- Marie (1912)
-- Child of Storm (1913)
-- The Holy Flower (1915, also titled Allan and the Holy Flower)
-- The Ivory Child (1916)
-- Finished (1917)
-- The Ancient Allan (1920)
-- She and Allan (1921)
-- Heu-Heu, or The Monster (1924)
-- Treasure of the Lake (1926)
-- Allan and the Ice-Gods (1927)

Rider Haggard wrote many more books, and many are set in places other than Africa. This bibliography will be enhanced in the future. I've (finally) added a couple links.

Haggard bibliography at Violet Books

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