It’s Bad Book Cover O’Clock!
I know I promised in my last post to do The Count of Monte Cristo, The Jungle Book, and The Hound of the Baskervilles (and I still will), but I found some hysterical covers for H. Rider Haggard’s 1887 adventure novel She.
This book was enormously popular in its time, but has since been kind of forgotten and upstaged by his other adventure stories, like King Solomon’s Mines. However, in the late Victorian era and through the 1930s there were a ton of film adaptations (including an 1899 Georges Méliès short, and later a 1960s Hammer Horror film).
The most (in)famous version is the 1935 box office bomb (which moves the action from Africa to the Arctic), which was almost eradicated from history, as the woman who starred as She later ran for politics, hated her one early film, and attempted to have all the copies destroyed. The film was only preserved because somebody found a copy in Buster Keaton’s garage.
If you would like to know the plot in a more entertaining way than I can tell it, then watch my all-time favorite Youtube show, Welcome to the Basement, where two comedians/actors watch the 1935 version of She and riff on it (the film starts around minute 4).
If, however, you’d rather that I tell it to you drunkenly, as always, please see below:
This Cambridge professor named Horace Holly is visited by this old dude, his friend Vincey. Vincey’s like, “Hey, buddy, I’m dying, please raise my estranged son, Leo. Also, we have some super fucked-up family history, here, please take this mysterious locked box and give it to Leo when he turns 25, oh crap, I’m dead now.”
Holly raises Leo and gives him the Mysterious Box of Mysterious Mysteries when he turns 25. Inside is an ancient African article fact that corroborates Vincey’s story that his ancestor once discovered this lost African kingdom run by this powerful ruler named She Who Must Be Obeyed. Which isn’t ominous or anything.
They trek to Africa to try to find this lost kingdom and have many exciting adventures on the way. They run into natives, but thankfully Deux Ex Professor Holly is able to speak the exact same sort of ancient African dialect that these natives speak, and discovers that they must be near a lost kingdom because the natives’ language has remained untouched throughout the millennia.
The natives aren’t surprised to see Holly and Leo, because their all-powerful white queen (of course), She, predicted the arrival of other white people, and the natives have been expecting them for centuries. As they are being brought back to She’s volcano palace (yeah, she has a volcano palace, this book is dope), a native woman named Ustane falls in love with Leo and claims him as her husband.
Leo gets badly wounded in a kerfuffle with the natives who want to cannibalize a dude (okay, this book isn’t always dope–in fact, it’s pretty racist at times), so Ustane wraps his mangled ass up in some bandages and tends to him until they get to She’s Secret Volcano Lair.
They have an audience with She, who is rockin’ hot, and also immortal, and also has supernatural powers, like the ability to read minds. She has been waiting in her lair for 2,000 years for the reincarnation of her former lover (and Leo Vincey’s ancestor) Kallikrates, whom she killed in a jealous rage.
She visits the unconscious Leo, who is–OF COURSE–a perfect genetic facsimile of Kallikrates, despite 2,000 years of input from other gene pools. Look, this book has a lot to say about history and evolution, some of which is . . . less than plausible.
Of course She instantly falls in love with Leo, and gets hella jealous at his wife-person, Ustane, because She never fucking learns lessons about jealousy and possessiveness. She strikes Ustane dead with magic (because, come on, the British dude is not SERIOUSLY going to be allowed a non-white, non-British wife in a major piece of Victorian popular fiction).
Leo . . . doesn’t really seem to care that much, largely because She is hot. She then shows Leo Kallikrates’s perfectly preserved body, which she’s been lusting over for 2,000 years. She then says, “You know what? Now that you’re alive again, I’m going to dissolve Kallikrates’s nasty old mummy-body in a vat of acid, because I don’t need it anymore–I have you! Hooray!”
Finally, She takes Leo and Holly to the Pillar of Fire, where she gets her immortal powers. She is determined that Leo should bathe in the flame to make him immortal, too. Leo’s a bit like, “Uhhh, a pillar of fire? Are you sure this isn’t an idiot test?” And She’s like, “No, I’ll show you!” Only when she steps back into the flame, it apparently sets her immortality switch to “reverse”, because she starts aging super fast like the Nazi who drank from the wrong cup in The Last Crusade, and then she turns to dust, screaming that she promises to return one day.
Leo and Holly presumably return to England with some serious psychoses, The End.
Right, on to the covers!
Previous posts in this series include: Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, The Moonstone, Dracula, East Lynne, Lady Audley’s Secret, Wuthering Heights, The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Scarlet Letter, Frankenstein, A Christmas Carol, Little Women, Jekyll and Hyde, Pamela, Ivanhoe, Anne of Green Gables, Vanity Fair, and Turn of the Screw.
1.) These are all professional book covers instead of fan or amateur artwork (or at least I hope so). I’m more than happy to pick on marketing boards who thought these were good ideas, but I don’t want to pick on fans trying to express their love of books. If a fan cover made it in to this collection, then I’m very sorry and you are clearly a good enough artist to make me assume it was professionally done.
2.) I’m ridiculing the covers, not the book itself.
3.) I’m going to swear. A lot. If this isn’t your thing, then don’t read it.
Let’s start with some Good Covers, shall we?
These two are . . . perfectly fine. They capture the adventurous spirit without making it too Orientalist, but lose a couple of points because She is nowhere to be seen. B+
I really like this one because She is unruly, powerful, and slightly terrifying, but isn’t represented as a monster or overly sexualized.
It kind of gives away the ending, but at least it’s an interesting and unusual cover.
She is mysterious and beautiful, again without being monstrous or overly sexy. I am fine with this one.
You know me. I’m 100% sold on any cover depicting a terrifyingly majestic volcano palace of vaginal authority. SOLD, I SAY.
Right, those were the good covers. Let’s get to some of the . . . less good covers. We’ll start with the most obnoxiously prevalent trope for She book covers: Trying Really Hard to be Sexy
The ’80s called and it wants its Whitesnake music video actress back. And then the early 2000s called and it wants its trend for hard nipples back.
She: Tits and Shade and Shade and Tits.
You know what? This is a Britney VMA performance that I would actually watch.
She: Tasteful Side-Boob
Could she not go into the Pillar of Flame with clothes on?
TAKE YOUR METAL BRA OFF BEFORE YOU GO INTO THE PILLAR OF FLAME
HAVE YOU NO COMMON SENSE, WOMAN?
You know what
I take it back
Maybe the cover above this one was right
Maybe she can’t go into the Pillar of Flame with clothes on
I didn’t realize Linda Carter started her own sleepwear line! Fun!
She promised to return!
She just didn’t specify that she would materialize again all coked out at a disco in the ’70s.
Do you guys remember music videos from the late ’90s and early 2000s that had lots and lots of bad CGI?
This could be a still from literally every single one of them.
Not going to lie, she is completely fierce.
She also looks like she’s been rummaging around Jennifer Lopez’s closet.
Now we get to a category I’ve never had the pleasure to introduce on this blog before: She’s Not Fucking Egyptian, in which art departments have clearly thought, “Ancient queen . . . in Africa . . . Libya is kinda like Egypt? Fuck it, make her look like Hollywood’s representations of Cleopatra”.
Except this is doubly confusing, because two years after She, Haggard wrote a book called Cleopatra, which has NOTHING TO DO with She.
So now not only are you just assuming that “any ancient African culture” = “ancient Egypt”, but you’re also completely confusing two totally separate books. Good work, guys.
Angelica Houston-Cleopatra is unimpressed.
Then there’s a category called What the Actual, because the covers are SO confusing that it caused me to stare at them in all-consuming befuddlement for at least 30 seconds apiece.
Be . . . cause . . .
. . . lamp?
She is a seventeenth-century Dutch merchant, and also I honestly can’t even think of a joke because I am so confused.
From the creators of every poorly-written, paint-by-numbers fantasy you’ve ever read, comes:
She: The Story of a Medieval(ish) Preteen and Her Awkward-Looking Phallus
She, rendered in Art Nouveau, covered in leaves, carrying a cornucopia.
Because . . . um . . .
This one had me laughing for about five minutes.
She: The Story of a Drapery Enthusiast and Some Nasty Hot Denim Daddies
Then, of course, there is a softer, more general category called WTF, in which things are confusing, but not that confusing.
VOTES FOR WOMEN
DIE, BITCH, DIE
That’ll teach you to come to my party wearing a similar outfit
“Leo, I’ll say it again. I’m really uncomfortable making out with you in front of the Great and Powerful Oz.”
I would actually pay a lot of money for this superhero graphic novel.
If only they didn’t put the real title in sad parentheses at the bottom.
This season on Game of Thrones, the faceless men give Arya a chicer wardrobe.
That’s all from me today! Another Bad Book Covers post coming up next month. Suggestions always welcome.