Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 773
W. H. Hudson’s story concerns the developing love between Abel and the birdlike Rima. Rima is associated with birds as a part of the natural order of the forest. Abel hears a birdlike warble, but one with some hint of intelligence in it. Following the warble, he searches until, looking through some foliage to an open space, he sees a girl reclining near a tree with one arm outstretched toward a bird, while the bird flitted with its wings and tail, ready to hop onto the girl’s pointing finger. Abel describes the girl as small, with a slim figure and with delicately shaped little hands and feet. Her dress and hair suggest a number of colors, something like the colored plumage of a bird. Elsewhere she is compared to a hummingbird. She eats no meat, only seeds and berries. In a tall tree, she walks along the branches with no fear of falling. Finally, at her murder, she falls from a high tree like a great white bird killed with a hunter’s arrow. Rima is not only in tune with nature, she represents it.
Rima’s charm lies in this closeness to nature. She prevents the native people from hunting in this area, thus protecting the animals. When Abel raises a stone to crush a venomous serpent, Rima appears, forbidding such a killing, and the snake gratefully winds itself about Rima’s ankle. She wears a dress whose fabric has been spun from a spider’s web; a priest baptizes her, not with a saint’s name, but with a natural place name, Riolama, shortened to Rima. She travels without fear of being lost in this rain forest, or of being attacked by beasts, or of being found by hostile tribesmen. The color of her hair, of her skin, of her eyes, and of her blush changes with the shades of light and foliage, reminding the reader of a chameleon’s change or of birds in their many colors.
Rima learns the language of nature from her mother, who has died. She eventually impels Abel and Nuflo, her adopted grandfather, to walk eighteen days to Riolama, searching for the spot where Nuflo found her mother. Once there, Abel convinces Rima that her people of nature no longer exist. No one knows the language of nature but Rima. This is a turning point in the novel. Rima swoons, figuratively dying to her life as a forest sprite. She awakens to Abel’s kiss, as though he were Prince Charming. She now understands human love, and in this scene, the world of nature gives way to the world of humans. The novel exemplifies the romantic theme of rebirth through love as Rima is reborn into a new way of being.
In contrast with the ethereal Rima, Abel must deal with the neighboring native people whom he describes as savages. These natives provide a striking contrast to Rima. She is in union with nature, seen in the way her coloring changes depending on the foliage around her, while the natives are at odds with the natural world. To satisfy their hunger for meat, they hunt birds with blowpipes and slay the coatimundi with arrows. They appear grotesque in drinking to intoxication, in lusting for the death of their enemy, Managa, and in coveting Abel’s ornamental matchbox and pistol. As they aggressively destroy life in the world around them, so they also seek to destroy Rima.
This novel’s prologue and first chapter suggest the realistic frame common in nineteenth century romances. Its setting in Guiana appeals to the love of the distant, of the exotic, of nature in unaltered state. Rima is a fantasy of love, a wisp of the imagination, too good to live for very long, symbolized by the legendary Hata flower, a plant with a single bloom that lives only for one lunar cycle. When the native people burn Rima to death, Abel’s fury brings an emotional frenzy characteristic of romantic novels. On his march toward Georgetown, the delirious Abel feels that he is always accompanied by a snake symbolizing Rima.
This novel opened the area of British Guiana to readers, showing that wonders existed not only along the Nile or in India but also in the mysterious rain forest of the New World. Indeed, eight years after this novel, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle placed The Lost World (1912) on Mount Riolama, a site seen by Abel in his final trek. In 1925, Sir Jacob Epstein created a memorial sculpture in London’s Hyde Park to Rima, the ethereal girl embodying the spirit of the forest and of romantic love.