She, subtitled A History of Adventure, is a novel by Henry Rider Haggard, first serialised in The Graphic magazine from October 1886 to January 1887. She is one of the classics of imaginative literature, and as of 1965 with over 83 million copies sold in 44 different languages, one of the best-selling books of all time. Extraordinarily popular upon its release, She has never been out of print. According to the literary historian Andrew M. Stauffer, “She has always been Rider Haggard’s most popular and influential novel, challenged only by King Solomon’s Mines in this regard”.
The story is a first-person narrative that follows the journey of Horace Holly and his ward Leo Vincey to a lost kingdom in the African interior. There, they encounter a primitive race of natives and a mysterious white queen, Ayesha, who reigns as the all-powerful “She”, or “She-who-must-be-obeyed”. In this work, Rider Haggard developed the conventions of the Lost World sub-genre, which many later authors emulated.
In the figure of She, the novel notably explored themes of female authority and feminine behaviour. It has received praise and criticism alike for its representation of womanhood.
She is one of the foundational works of fantasy literature, coming around the time of The Princess and the Goblin (1858) by George MacDonald, William Morris’ The Wood Beyond the World and The Well at the World’s End, and the short stories of Lord Dunsany. It is marked by a strong element of “the marvelous” in the figure of Ayesha, a two-thousand year-old sorceress, and the ‘Spirit of the World’, an undying fire that confers immortality.Indeed, Haggard’s story is one of the first in modern literature to feature “a slight intrusion of something unreal” into a very real world – a hallmark of the fantasy genre.