The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Although She and Ayesha were published nearly twenty years apart, H. Rider Haggard asserted that Ayesha was a conclusion to a two-part book, not a sequel. There is also a “prequel,” She and Allan (1921). In both books, a fictitious editor presents a manuscript narration by Ludwig Horace Holly. Holly, a Cambridge don, becomes the guardian of Leo Vincey, the five-year-old son of his deceased friend. They make an unusual pair: Holly is short, dark, ugly, and especially hairy; Leo is tall and blond, and he is nicknamed “the Greek God” for his stunning looks.

When Leo reaches the age of twenty-five, the pair are permitted to open a chest left to Leo by his father. The chest contains a message written by Leo’s ancient ancestor, Amenartas, an Egyptian princess, who persuaded Kallikrates, a priest, to break his vows and flee with her. They were wrecked in a boat off the coast of Libya and carried to the interior of Africa, where they met a white queen, She. She loved Kallikrates and wanted him to bathe in the rolling pillar of life with her to achieve near immortality, but he shrank from her and clung to Amenartas. Enraged, She slew Kallikrates. Amenartas returned to Egypt, gave birth, and swore through her offspring to get revenge on She.

The message and other documents convince Leo to undertake the quest of finding She, and he persuades Holly to accompany him. After being shipwrecked and captured by natives, crossing trackless swamps, and escaping native attack, Holly, Leo, and Job, their servant, arrive at She’s “castle,” a honeycomb of caves in an extinct volcano. They discover that Leo is virtually a reincarnation of Kallikrates, and She has waited two thousand years to be reunited with him. She slays Ustane, a native wife Leo acquired en route, but Leo, overcome by her beauty and charm, is ready to unite with She regardless. She leads the trio past the ruins of ancient Kôr, to a cave containing the rolling pillar of life. There she bathes in the flames as an encouragement to Leo to do the same. As the flame passes, she shrivels up and dies, but not before promising to return. The editor informs readers that after a time back in England,...

(The entire section is 903 words.)