Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sam Steele's Adventures: The Treasure of Karnak

I've already mentioned how the Sam's Steele's Adventures series was re-branded and reissued in 1908 as The Boy Fortune Hunters series. The third entry to the series, The Boy Fortune Hunters in Egypt, managed to deftly use the first two books as a preliminary for new adventures.

I do have to wonder, were there any readers who wound up with both Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea and The Boy Fortune Hunters in Alaska and be surprised that the books were exactly the same story, just with different titles and different authors' names? And think how curious it might be for a family to have an older brother reading the Boy Fortune Hunters series, a younger sister reading Aunt Jane's Nieces, a younger child reading the Oz books, and the youngest enjoying the fairy stories of Laura Bancroft, with the parents none the wiser that all four series were in fact written by the same man!

The book opens with Sam and his father awaiting freight for the just-completed Seagull, when they are joined by a runaway boy from another ship, Joe Herring. Joe begs to join the Seagull, and Sam acquiesces, though he has to trick his father into keeping the boy aboard, but Captain Steele trusts Sam's judgement.

Yes, we officially have the second boy fortune hunter! And soon, we are joined by the third: Archibald "Archie" Ackley Jr., whose father has hired the Seagull's crew to ship his freight of fake Egyptian relics to Egypt to sell to tourists who will have no idea that they are not getting the real thing.

Ah, Egypt! Of course, this story was inspired by Baum's own trip to Europe and Egypt, and why shouldn't the mysterious land of a famous ancient civilization provide seeds for this author's fertile imagination? For a person of his time, Baum is particularly well-informed (though not entirely accurate) in his knowledge of Egypt.

Baum doesn't cut straight to Egypt, though. He has Sam describe a few adventures at sea, including how Sam and Joe became chums with Archie, who at first looked down on the Seagull crew, but soon regards them as friends. Let me tell you, though, Baum is at top form for humor here!

In Egypt, the crew meets Professor Van Dorn who tells them he has discovered the actual location of the long-lost treasure of Karnak, and will pay them handsomely if they will help him recover and smuggle the treasure out of the country, as the Khedive has made a law stating that no artifacts may leave Egypt.

However, in order to get to the treasure, it is necessary for Sam and his group to deal with many Egyptian citizens (Sam's ethnic superiority complex kicking in often), from elderly guide Gege Merak to Sheik Abdul Hashim. And after they find the treasure, Sam and his friends quickly find that the number of people they can trust is shrinking rapidly. Can they get back to the Seagull—with or without the treasure—alive?

As usual for the series, Baum writes the story with vigor and energy that makes the story very enjoyable! Baum does, of course, turn to his way of conveying native speech in an unflattering manner.

There is also a rather high body count this time for Baum, with a clear number of five and an unknown number at the end. Of course, none of the series regulars are among these, but how many are they responsible for? It just wouldn't be a Sam Steele story without politically correct or moral quandries, would it be? Add on to this that Van Dorn's plan is to break international law...

The edition I have is the Hungry Tiger Press reprint in the Pawprint Adventure Series, in which they retitled the story The Treasure of Karnak with the new series title Sam Steele's Adventures. It was the most lavish of the reprints of the series they'd done, with chapter headings and tailpieces by Eric Shanower, an informative foreword by Baum/Oz scholar/Egyptologist David Moyer, laying down some of the actual history of the story.

Also included in this edition is a large excerpt from Maud Gage Baum's In Other Lands Than Ours, which gives us a rare look at the first hand inspiration for Baum's story, a rare thing indeed! Maud's wonder and enthusiasm about the Egyptian culture and history really shines out and even after a century, is still infectious.

Since the original edition may be difficult for most Oz fans to afford (copies on start at $198), the Hungry Tiger Press reprint is probably your best bet to getting the book.

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