Saturday, September 27, 2014


The 1920 novel SHE AND ALLAN, as I've mentioned in earlier posts, was one of the earliest examples of a tale in which an author chose to cross over two popular characters, both of whom were the "stars" of their respective shows -- in contrast, say, to Jules Verne providing crossovers between both major and minor characters in THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND.

Rider Haggard created his two seminal characters, Allan Quatermain and She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed, within about a year of one another. Not surprisingly, there are a number of similarities of plot and theme between KING SOLOMON'S MINES (1885) and SHE (1886). However, the biggest dissimilarity between the universes of the characters is that Quatermain dwelled in an Africa that some would call "quasi-realistic"-- though I prefer my own term, "uncanny." SHE, however, takes place in an Africa that allows for causality-defying marvels, such as a woman who lives for hundreds of years thanks to a magical flame, and who can wield a sort of preternatural force-- even though Haggard suggests that this may also belong to some form of "science" that men no longer recognize.

Haggard clearly realized the conceptual gulf between the two characters. As a result, the author begins the novel by having the practical-minded Quatermain haunted by the spectres of lost loves. He conceives the desire to know something about the world after death, and a crafty witch-doctor named Zikali chooses to help him do so. Zikali gives Quatermain a magical totem-- albeit one whose power the hero never believes in-- and sends him to find a certain mysterious white queen, who may be able to answer the great white hunter's questions. On the way Haggard picks up Umslopogaas, the huge axe-wielding Zulu warrior who teams up with Quatermain in the 1887 novel ALLAN QUATERMAIN. Since Quatermain perishes in that novel, SHE AND ALLAN is one of many prequels Haggard wrote of his hero's early adventures, as well as the novel that depicts the first meeting of Quatermain and Umslopogaas.

SHE AND ALLAN is a great read. Haggard doesn't stint on the thrills, for when Quatermain's party arrives in the domain of She, the hunter finds himself and his friends drafted in a war with Rezu, a man who has undergone an immortality-transformation parallel to She's own.  A final battle between Umslopogaas and Rezu, both gigantic warriors, reads just as well as it did in 1920. At the same time, Haggard gets some dramatic mileage out of the mental outlooks of She and Quatermain, since the latter cannot place any faith in the marvels he beholds, and must constantly rationalize them out of existence. The queen does deliver on her side of the bargain, granting Quatermain a look at the World Beyond, with bittersweet results.

The novel can't very well surpass the seminal books that introduced these characters, so much-imitated over the years. But it deserves to be better known among readers of great fantasy.

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