Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad

Well, I'm done with the second Aunt Jane's Nieces book.

Oh, the worries of the rich! Uncle John bought a business out of mercy, as it was failing and the eventual failure wouldn't ruin him, and somehow it flourished again. So, he has a lot of money to get rid of suddenly. So, what does he do? Go to Europe with the nieces!

Patsy and Beth are glad to get the trip, but Louise's mother has an ulterior motive: a young man is courting Louise, but he has been disinherited. Louise loves him, but as her mother wants her to marry into wealth, this is disapproved of.

On their way to Italy, they witness Mount Vesuvius erupting and meet the young Count Ferralti. During their travels in Italy, Uncle John and Ferralti are kidnapped by a brigand named Il Duca who wants them to buy ancient jewelery from him at exorbitant prices, or they will be killed. Ferralti is revealed to be Arthur Weldon, the young man who was courting Louise.

While Uncle John is kidnapped, he discovers that Arthur is of Sicilian descent by his mother, and his father has recently been killed in a railway accident before his son could be removed from the will. In fact, Arthur's mother was the sister of Il Duca, who is keeping them hostage, and Il Duca's mother is Arthur's grandmother, and Il Duca's little daughter Tato is his cousin.

When Uncle John understands the money for the jewelery is to be used to raise Tato, he would prefer to donate it instead. This suggestion is not approved of. The brigand's mother tries to throw Tato into a pit, but falls in herself and dies.

Finally, Uncle John and Arthur arrange for the money to be sent to them, but the nieces (who have been joined by Kenneth and Silas Watson) arrange it so they can rescue Uncle John and Arthur without turning over the money.

Arthur makes his case plain to the nieces, and it is revealed that Louise knew who he was the whole time. Il Duca and Tato come out of hiding and apologize and Il Duca announces he's turning over a new leaf and wants to get a new, honest home set up for him and his daughter. So he asks if Tato may accompany them on their travels until he sends for her. This, they agree to.

One day, after traveling other countries, Tato vanishes. She leaves a note stating it was a trick to get the ransom money. She had stolen the key to Uncle John's trunk where he kept his money and waited until he gave it up for lost, and found where Arthur had his money hidden. She writes that they will never see her again, she and her father will change names and live off their stolen money until she marries.

Although they are dismayed that their friend betrayed them, they write the money off as a loss and conclude their travels.

What I find a little off about Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad is that the most exciting part of the story doesn't involve the nieces. We have a travelogue, then an exciting visit to the hidden valley where Il Duca keeps hostages. But this mainly focuses on Uncle John and Arthur. The nieces do get to be heroines by scheming with Kenneth and Silas on how to rescue Uncle John without turning over the money, but in the end, they get tricked most wickedly.

Baum is often at his best when he has his characters' lives hanging in the balance, and this spurs on the part of the book where Uncle John and Arthur are held hostage. He didn't do this in the Oz books, or at least, not for a long period of time. (An exception is in Glinda of Oz, in which a similar plot, not involving death, is explored in how to rescue the people from the submerged Skeezer Island.) These types of plots also drive plots in books like The Flying Girl and Her Chum, The Boy Fortune Hunters series, and some scenes in The Last Egyptian and Daughters of Destiny.

Also, Baum turns to a favorite theme of deception. It comes up quite often in his work, whether the deceiver's intent is malicious or not. The Wizard has successfully deceived the entire land of Oz in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and later tricks the Mangaboos in Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz. The Nome King in Ozma of Oz traps Ozma's rescue party under a guise of good nature and later lies to Kiki Aru to win his help. Queen Zixi of Ix finds the titular character hiding her age in a magical manner, while Prince Marvel in The Enchanted Island of Yew hides his true identity from almost the entire island. In Daughters of Destiny, the Khan of Baluchistan dies and as the rightful heir doesn't want the throne, someone else assumes his identity. And, as my final example (but by no means the last in Baum), Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea (or The Boy Fortune Hunters in Alaska) and Annabel both involve a would-be benefactor hiding a fortune from the rightful owners.

Finally, Baum exhibits his fascination with other cultures. While he was a proud American, he had to respect other gorgeous countries, even though many times the characters encountered are dishonest and not completely good-natured. Baum reassures us that not everyone abroad is bad, and in his defense, if there weren't disagreeable characters in the lands his main characters visit, it would be a rather dull story. Baum's international characters also sound different, even though sometimes his depiction of their dialect isn't flattering. That doesn't really happen here, though.

However, a lot of Aunt Jane's Nieces Abroad is just travelogue. Better examples of Baum's plots may be found elsewhere. Still, as a work of Baum, the first Royal Historian of Oz, it shouldn't be passed up.

I'm rotating my reading between my Baum Bugle backlog and also started reading Oziana from the beginning, so I'm not jumping into Aunt Jane's Nieces at Millville quite yet. And I also have The Fate of a Crown and some Thompson works as well. So, these Aunt Jane's Nieces blogs might not quite be so regular. Keep reading, folks!

No comments: