She Who Must be Obeyed

So for those of you about my age or older, who had parents who liked the non-commercial side of TV, that saying surely only has one connotation: Rumpole of the Bailey, discussing his Missus.

I have recently discovered, to my delight, that Leo McKern/Horace Rumpole is not, actually, the originator of that saying. Instead, it is the full title of the titular character in She, by H. Rider Haggard.

I’d heard of the book in passing, and had recently listened to King Solomon’s Mines (more on that in a bit), so I was delighted to find it at Librivox. I got seriously hours of entertainment from listening to She. It’s a glorious adventure tale – very obviously of its time; one of the few difficulties is getting past the “he was a good fellow… for a savage” comments that abound – with handsome young men, ugly old stalwarts, servants who know their place, cannibals, and a supremely beautiful yet terribly flawed woman. I couldn’t figure why I’d never heard of it as a movie – there are some scenes that just seem to have been written for the screen – but I’ve discovered there have actually been two movies. One b&w number from the 1930s, which from IMDb stays faithful, and one starring Ursula Andress as She and Christopher Lee as one of the ‘savages’ (boot polish, anyone??) (and Bernard Cribbins as the servant – that’s Donna Noble’s grandpa!) from the 1960s that is… less so. I don’t think I’ll bother.

Anyway, it’s great. All sorts of interesting questions are raised: are men simply zombified by love? Are all women expected to wait 2000 years for their true love to return after they kill them the first time (oops, slight spoiler)? Are all savages either utterly corrupt or utterly noble? Can hair really go from grey to golden?

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