Literature / She
She is an adventure novel by H. Rider Haggard, first published in serial form in 1886. Cambridge don Horace Holly and his handsome ward Leo Vincey are guided by a Vincey heirloom to a lost African kingdom ruled by the immortal queen Ayesha, whose subjects call her "She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed". Ayesha believes Vincey to be the reincarnation of a man she loved and lost centuries ago, and becomes vengeful when he becomes romantically attached to a local girl, Ustane.

She was Haggard's second big success after King Solomon's Mines, and was followed by a sequel and two prequels, one the story of Ayesha's early life and the other an Inevitable Crossover in which the protagonist of King Solomon's Mines visits the hidden valley. It has been filmed multiple times, including a 1965 Hammer Film Productions movie starring Ursula Andress as Ayesha, Peter Cushing as Holly, and Christopher Lee as Bilali (one of the tribesmen who worship She).

She provides examples of:

  • Advanced Ancient Acropolis: Ayesha's quarters are located within the catacombs of Kor, a sophisticated ancient civilization that had already been abandoned when she found it two thousand years ago, and had existed for at least four thousand years before that. Later she leads Leo, Holly, and Job through the ruins of the ancient city of Kor.
  • Black Dude Dies First: The party investigating the story left behind by Leo's father consists of Leo, Holly, Holly's white Oxford servant Job, and their African servant Mahomed. Guess which one is killed in the fight with the cannibals?
  • Being Evil Sucks: Especially when it means spending two thousand years living in cave and queening it over cannibals while you wait for your true love to reincarnate.
  • Blood from the Mouth / Incurable Cough of Death: Leo's father is in the end stages of tuberculosis when he gets Holly to promise to be Leo's guardian.
  • Chick Magnet: Leo is so damn handsome that "every young woman who came across him... would insist on falling in love with him." After they get to Africa, the women of the Amahagger tribe are similarly drawn to him.
    Holly: On the whole, he behaved fairly well.
  • Clarke's Third Law: She seems to have magical powers, but she explains that it's just science and technology that the rest of the world doesn't understand.
  • Darkest Africa
  • Death by Childbirth: Leo's mother.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The book is framed as a manuscript given to H. Rider Haggard by Horace Holly, the narrator.
  • Evil Is Not Well Lit: She lives in catacombs lit by oil lamps.
  • The Faceless: She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed usually appears draped from head to foot in gauzy, mummy-like wrappings because, according to her, her beauty drives men mad.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Holly's reaction when Ayesha unveils herself and he gazes on her face.
    Holly: ...this beauty, with all its loveliness and purity, was evil....
  • Flowery Elizabethan English: When the protagonists first meet the followers of she-who-must-be-obeyed, they speak a language described as "some dialect into which Arabic entered very largely." The English translation of this dialect is rendered in an Elizabethan style, e.g. "art thou awake, stranger?"
  • Genius Bruiser: Horace Holly is a Cambridge don who can also crush two cannibals to death in his arms.
  • Godiva Hair: Ayesha's hair is long enough and thick enough to cover everything. When it comes time to walk into the fire of immortality, She strips out of her robe, fastens a belt around her hair and wears it like a dress.
  • Gold Digger: Poor ugly Holly once had a girlfriend, but when an inheritance he was anticipating doesn't come through, she dumps him.
  • Greedy Jew: Holly gives She a little update of the last two thousand years or so of Western civilization, which includes an unpleasant passage blaming Jews for killing Jesus. She then describes Jews as "greedy of gain" and "greedy of aught that brought them wealth and power", which is pretty much pot calling the kettle names.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: After Leo kills one of the cannibals his party is brawling with, he picks the cannibal's body up and chucks it at the other cannibals.
  • He-Man Woman Hater: Horace Holly is this, after being rejected by women for most of his life and having his heart broken once (see Gold Digger above).
    Holly: I, a fellow of my college, noted for what most of my acquaintances are pleased to call my misogyny...
  • How the Mighty Have Fallen: Oh poor She! Payback truly bites.
  • Hypnotize the Princess: Gender-reversed. Ayesha's unworldly beauty has this effect on Leo (and Holly, but Leo is the one she cares about.)
    Holly: I saw him struggle... but her eyes drew him more strongly than iron bonds, and the magic of her beauty and concentrated will and passion entered into him and overpowered him....
  • Identical Grandson: Leo Vincey bears a striking physical resemblance to the man he's supposed to be the reincarnation of.
  • If I Can't Have You: How Kallikrates died 2000 years ago. Ayesha killed him after he rejected her.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Some of the Amahagger tribe try to eat Mahomed, Leo and Holly's African servant.
  • Impossible Hourglass Figure: Holly does not go into detail about how busty She is, though it is safe to assume that 'most gracious form' is Victorian-speak for 'stacked'. But She does demonstrate to Holly that he can encircle her waist with his hands.
  • Jungle Opera
  • Locked into Strangeness: The shock of seeing She age 2000 years in a minute or two causes Leo's hair to instantly go white.
  • Lost World: The kingdom ruled by She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. Haggard was one of the trope makers.
  • Love Is A Drug: A non-musical example of this trope. Holly says that he and Leo "were like confirmed opium-eaters" after falling under the spell of Ayesha's beauty.
  • Love Redeems: In their last scene together Ayesha says that her love for Leo will lead her on the path to goodness, and She seems to mean it.
  • Magic Mirror: She has a basin of water that when you look in it, can show you anything in the past or present, but not the future.
  • Maternal Death? Blame the Child: Why five-year-old Leo's father had nothing to do with him. In his final letter he apologizes to his now grown son for that, and assures him that had he, the father, lived he would have gotten over it.
  • Mighty Whitey: She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, immortal ruler of a primitive African tribe, is white, and the book implies that white people made up the oldest civilizations. Ayesha has nothing but contempt for her subjects.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: Poor Ustane.
  • National Geographic Nudity: The women of the Amahagger tribe.
    "These women were... exceedingly good-looking... very few of them wore a yellowish linen garment... their appearance was not quite so terrifying as that of the men."
  • No Immortal Inertia: Ayesha dies at the end, and shrivels as all her centuries catch up with her.
  • Parental Substitute: Holly is surprised when Leo is foisted upon him, but he grows to love the boy.
  • Reincarnation / Reincarnation Romance: Leo Vincey is apparently the reincarnation of Kallikrates, a man Ayesha loved and lost centuries ago. Ayesha for her part is determined to claim Leo as her lover after spending two thousand years hanging out with the corpse of Kallikrates.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Holly can't say enough about She's white complexion and masses of black hair falling to the ground.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Two thousand years of ruling as an absolute monarch has led She to reject all moral codes and the notion of right and wrong.
  • Sequel Hook: The book ends with Holly anticipating that the queen for whom Kallikrates forsook Ayesha 2000 years ago will play some part in the story.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: According to Ayesha, her beauty drives men mad. Like She cares.
  • Sole Survivor: Ayesha reveals to Holly a stone carving from the last survivor of Kor, which reveals how a great plague wiped out their civilization.
  • Together in Death: In the catacombs of Kor Holly finds the preserved bodies of a pair of young lovers, each with a stab wound through the heart, under the inscription "Wedded in Death". He then has a vision of the young man interrupting a forced wedding and getting stabbed to death by the guards, and the woman killing herself after.
  • We Are as Mayflies: Or everybody else is as mayflies, according to She, who is pretty enthusiastic about living forever.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Holly, reflecting on the legends that She is immortal, thinks that he has had enough "worries and disappointments" in his life that he wouldn't want to live forever, even though his life "has been, comparatively speaking, a happy one." Later, he rejects immortality when She explicitly offers it to him, but he admits it's because he would spend eternity in unrequited love for her. When the chance presents itself he eagerly accepts, but by this time he has been bewitched by Ayesha's beauty.

The sequels and prequels provide examples of:

  • Ambition Is Evil: Ayesha has always wanted it ALL, beauty, power and transcendent knowledge, as she makes clear in Wisdom's Daughter.
  • Decadent Court: The royal court of Kaloon. The king is a psychopath and the queen is a sociopath and their counselors and associates are about what you'd expect.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: There have been maybe three or four people in her extremely long life that Ayesha has genuinely cared about. And there's Leo Vincey.
  • Inevitable Crossover: She and Allan
  • Kiss of Death: Immortals and mortals cannot get it on.
  • Morality Pet: Leo becomes this for Ayesha. He can't control her of course but he can keep the body-count down.
  • Pride: Ayesha is practically the poster child for this particular mortal sin.
  • Reincarnation: Although Ayesha dies, she's reincarnated in time for the sequel.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Leo refuses to give up his religious convictions. He's willing to tolerate Ayesha's mysticism and personality cult but refuses to take part in it himself. "I don't understand your religion, but I understand my own. I will not take part in what I believe to be idolatary."
  • Reincarnation Romance: The original novel is ambiguous about whether there's really one going on between Leo and Ayesha, but the sequels and prequels embrace the idea.
  • Start of Darkness: Wisdom's Daughter: The Life and Love Story of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed details the origins of Ayesha.
  • Stop Worshipping Me: Leo again. He flatly refuses to accept the veneration of She's worshippers as her consort.
  • Take a Level in Badass: Still Leo. He goes from She's helpless boy toy to a man capable of reducing Ayesha to typical woman's tricks like tears to get her own way.
  • Together in Death: Leo and Ayesha, and in due course Holly joins them after leaving a record of their adventures. It's probably the happiest ending they could have.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Both Leo and Holly have their doubts about Immortality but if that's the price of staying with She they'll accept it - reluctantly.

Various adaptations of the novel provide examples of:

  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Horace Holly is described as being hopelessly ugly, even ape-like in appearance. He's never that bad in the films (in which he's been played by Nigel Bruce and Peter Cushing, among others).
  • Adaptational Villainy: Bilali, a leader of the Amahaggers who in the novel is a friend and helper to Holly and Leo, is evil in the 1965 film, kidnapping Leo on Ayesha's orders and trying to kill Leo in order to gain immortality in the fire.
  • Bar Brawl: Holly and Job get into one in the 1965 film, which prevents them from noticing that Leo has been lured off to meet She.
  • Bedlah Babe / Fanservice Extra: The opening scene of the 1965 film finds Leo, Holly, and Job in a Cairo bar taking in some belly dancers. One of the dancers apparently decided to up the Fanservice factor by going with pasties over her nipples rather than any kind of bra. (In 1965!)
  • Contrived Coincidence: Created in the 1965 film by the Pragmatic Adaptation. In the novel, it was logical enough for Leo's father to leave the boy with his old friend who was a professor of antiquities. In the movie, the fact that Leo's army buddy Holly just happens to be a professor of antiquities comes in pretty handy when Leo gets an invite to find a lost world.
  • Crossing the Desert: The first part of Leo, Holly, and Job's trek to the lost city in the 1965 film. Made more difficult by tribesmen who steal their camels and water.
  • Death by Adaptation: Bilali, as a result of his Adaptational Villainy.
  • Downer Ending: The 1965 film. In this version, Leo goes into the flame along with She, unlike the novel where she enters first to show him it's safe. So he's left immortal while She shrivels up and dies. The film ends with Leo saying that he's going to wait for who knows how long (millenia?) for the blue flame to come again.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Bilali wants to become immortal too.
  • Honey Trap/ Love at First Sight / Minion with an F in Evil: In the 1965 film, Ustane leads Leo into a kidnapping—but she falls in love with him immediately and tries to warn him off at the last second.
  • In the Back: How Ayesha dispatches Bilali while he is struggling with Leo.
  • Mysterious Antarctica: The 1935 film adaptation changes the setting from Africa to the Arctic.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The 1965 film dumps all of the first part of the novel—Leo's dying father turns five-year-old Leo over to Holly, Holly raises Leo to adulthood, Leo and Holly later examine the ring and potsherd left behind by Leo's father, Leo and Holly set off for Africa. In this version Leo and Holly are war buddies who find themselves in Cairo in 1918 after the Armistice. Bilali and Ustane kidnap Leo on behalf of She, who pops up fifteen minutes in, much earlier than her first appearance in the book. And then it's She who gives Leo the ring and the map and sends Leo off on his quest.
  • Setting Update: In the 1935 film, the Arctic. The 1965 film keeps the Africa locale but moves the time frame up from latter-19th century to 1918.