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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

SHE-WHO-MUST-BE-REREAD PART II (Spoilers)

Continuing with the chapter "The Feast, and After!"--

One comment Etherington makes here concerns a minor female character whose purpose is to provoke the cannibal feast as indirect revenge on Holly's party after she has been snubbed by Holly's comic manservant Job. Etherington comments that during the violent melee that results from the attempted hot-potting, it's surprising that the first person Holly shoots is not either of the men attempting the execution, but the unnamed female cannibal. Etherington comments on how unchivalrous it would be thought in Haggard's time for an Englishman to shoot any woman, even a cannibalistic one, but does not comment on the fact that prior to the attempted sacrifice, the lady cannibal tries to deceitfully sooth the sacrificial victim with sweet words and caresses. This, more than the victim's fate, is more likely what motivates Holly's death-dealing reaction: that the native woman has proven herself a Delilah-like temptress, not unlike the one love of Holly's life who callously rejected him with the "Beauty and Beast" comparison.

The violent melee contains a strange episode, as well. As Leo and Holly combat the rest of the cannibal band, Haggard has an interval where he needs Holly, his viewpoint-character, to be off to the side so that he can witness the splendor of Leo's Herculean battle against several foes. Most writers would have achieved this by simpling having Holly get clubbed and knocked to one side, so that he could get clear of the battle but still be a witness. Instead, Haggard has Holly grapple with not one but two men, hugging them both like the ape Holly resembles, albeit again off to the side in some way, so that none of the two cannibals' friends come to their aid. This strange stalemate, in which Holly keeps trying to crush the two men for fear that they will recover if he lets up, is certainly one of the stranger scenes in SHE. Eventually Leo is borne down, but is saved from slaughter by one of She's servants, at which point Holly collapses. Later, in recovery, Holly is told that he did indeed succeed in killing both men gorilla-style. It's hard to say why Haggard chose to construct his scene in this singular manner, but it probably relates to a desire to distinguish the fighting-style of Leo, who fights like a noble man, with that of Holly, who fights more like the beast of which he seems to be an atavism.

PAGE 83 has an interesting poetic motif: when Holly dives into a swampy pool to rescue the elderly Amahagger patriarch Billali-- whose sons ignore their father's plight -- Holly thinks to himself that the sodden patriarch looks like "a yellowish Bacchus with ivy leaves." Since Dionysus-Bacchus is usually one of the least patriarchal Greek gods, this might almost be seen as a regenerative image, though of course Billali is not literally made younger. Still, in a novel concerned with a woman who stays young for thousands of years, the comparison's hardly a stretch. Narratively speaking, Holly's rescue serves to bond him to the older man in a son-father relationship so that Billali's aid in later chapters seems well-motivated.

I stated earlier that Haggard's *She* doesn't actually rule any black Africans, as did the majority of her literary epigoni, but it's still pretty clear that Haggard does equate blackness with savagery in many instances. However, he saves his most overt attacks for the Jews on page 99, where Ayesha characterizes the Jews of her original pre-Christian era as followers of "many gods." It's true that many Old Testament books characterize the Jewish people of this or that time as fickle to the One God, but Haggard's presentation ignores any countervailing cultural tendencies. Oddly, much later, even after Holly has told her about how her modern-day descendants have become monotheistic Muslims (*She* is Arabic by heritage), Ayesha also speaks of her own people as innately polytheistic. Most likely this was in Haggard's mind another mark of unredeemable savagery, not much more evolved than the cannibalistic tendencies of Negroid (or part-Negroid) peoples.

Oddly, though, *She* also seems to have desired the high regard of the Jews for some unstated reason, and centuries later is still peeved at having been reviled as a witch by them for trying to show them her mystic secrets. Possibly this is because she recognized the Jews as a kindred people, though one would think that she would have valued her own Arab kindred more.

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