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In essays on the subject of centricity, I've most often used the image of a geometrical circle, which, as I explained here,  owes someth...

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Though neither Rider Haggard's SHE or KING SOLOMON'S MINES are much-read today, they make a convenient example of my combative and subcombative modes.

As far as I can think, the "noncombative" mode doesn't apply to the adventure/romance mythos at all, given the strong emphasis of the mythos upon physical striving. When an author takes a genre with strong adventure-associations, such as the western, and seeks to de-emphasize the "man vs. man" pattern in favor of the "man vs. himself" approach, he's moved from one mythos to another. Peter Fonda's 1971 THE HIRED HAND would be an example of a western that (to the best of my recollection) falls more properly into the category of the drama, for example.

Both SHE and KSM were enormously influential on the development of European and American adventure-fiction, and, being works written in a popular idiom, both are usually given short shrift in the world of literary criticism. To be sure, KSM is a much simpler novel than SHE, and possesses far less mythicity as well, but neither can be understood properly without appreciating how well they capture the spirit of their mythos, for all that their modes are different.

The plot of KSM is clearly the more combative of the two. Allan Quatermain-- who if not for Alan Moore would now be remembered as "Richard Chamberlain's INDIANA JONES" by modern audiences-- is the archetypal great white hunter who leads his employers into the search for a missing white man in Africa and ends up both finding a fabulous treasure and making it possible for a noble black monarch to regain his throne from a usurper. For all the side-action of the missing European and the treasure, the novel builds to the climactic action of the battle, in which the Europeans help the noble African regain his throne.

There are, to be sure, important scenes of combat in SHE. However, there is no particular combat toward which the novel builds, no *agon* which decides the fates of all and sundry. Ayesha, the *She* of the title, is at times frustrated from reaching her goals by meddling fate, but despite her intentions of conquering the modern world once her lost love returns to her-- intentions which make her something of an early "super-villain"-- she is defeated not by any particular opponent but by another twist of fate: stepping into the Fire of Life a second time reverses her gift of immortality (making for a rather graphic illustration of Heraclitus' admonition that one may not step twice into the same river). Still, though there is no definitive battle in SHE, the efforts of the protagonists to survive in her world, as well as to avoid becoming the chattel of Ayesha, still mark SHE as belonging to the mythos of adventure, albeit in a subcombative mode.

Interestingly, for all that Alan Moore did an atrocious job realizing his version of She in BLACK DOSSIER, his method often reminds one more of the Haggard of SHE than that of KING SOLOMON'S MINES, as DOSSIER in particular is devoted less to perilous adventures and more toward windy woolgathering. But that's another essay.

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