Pale Queen of a Dark Continent
In order to make one’s fantasy kingdom believable, it helps if it is located in an unexplored part of the globe. The romantic mystery of the distant unknown land of Kôr with its swamps cannibals and caves could have been located nowhere else but in the dark unexplored heart of Africa.
In 1878, just nine years before the publication of H. Rider Haggard’s She, Sir Henry Morton Stanley made the following statement about the status of European knowledge of African geography: “Now look at this, the latest chart which Europeans have drawn of this region. It is perfectly white.”(Stanley 1763). This quote from the famed explorer exemplifies the abject nature of contemporary knowledge of Africa at the time Haggard was writing. This unknown land was the perfect place to hide his huge empire of Kôr, ripe for discovery by Holly and Vincey.
In chapter eleven of She, after Holly and Vincey make it through the marshes, Haggard describes a landscape so fantastic it is only made imaginable by the historical enigmatic nature of Africa. Haggard’s character Holly gives the following account of the plain of Kôr:”Beneath us was a rich stretch of country…In the background, at a distance, so far as I could judge, some eighteen miles from where we stood, a huge and extraordinary mountain rose abruptly from the plain.” (Haggard 129). A valley containing a mountain such as this would not be easy to hide anywhere other than unknown Africa. Had the territory been thoroughly mapped and explored, it would not have been possible for Haggard to populate it with such landscapes and still maintain the frame story at the beginning of the novel which initiates the story as a true tale, thus aiding the reader in their willing suspension of disbelief.
The desire of Haggard to dream up this land and its inhabitants both ancient and modern was an impulse shared by his contemporaries. Sir Henry Morton Stanley, upon surveying the blank map of the region, said the following: “…I have already mentally peopled it, filled it with most wonderful pictures of towns, villages, rivers, countries, and tribes- all in the imagination-and I am burning to see whether I am correct or not.” (Stanley 1763). The creative impulse Stanley experienced when he pictured all the sorts of people that could be living along the Congo was the same creative impulse Haggard tapped into for his creation of the mythical peoples of She.
The historical fascination and mystery surrounding Africa affected Haggard’s writing of his adventure novel She. Haggard used the incomplete maps of the continent to his advantage as he, like others, dreamed up his own version of what could lie in the blank spaces on the maps.
Haggard, H. Rider. She. London: Penguin Group, 1886. Print. 129.
Stanley, Sir Henry Morton. “Through the Dark Continent” The Longman Anthology of British Literature. 4th ed. Damrosch, David, and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson Education Inc., 2010.1763. Print.