Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Sam Steele's Adventures: The Pearls of Faytan

And here is the final book in the Boy Fortune Hunters series. Never again did Baum write any more adventures for Sam Steele. Or anyone else. This is the shortest long-running series Baum wrote. Oz practically didn't end, Aunt Jane's Nieces went until the publishers and author felt it had reached a logical conclusion, and Mary Louise was even continued after Baum's death.

Let's take into consideration when The Boy Fortune Hunters in the South Seas was published: 1911. This is when Baum had attempted to practically start over fresh without Oz. He started three new series that year and decided to continue with Aunt Jane's Nieces. Probably because that series had a very wide scope. For whatever reason, Baum decided to conclude The Boy Fortune Hunters in 1911 as well.

I begin to suspect that Baum just didn't like writing specifically for boys. You'll notice that all of his fantasy work, despite whether or not a boy or girl led the story, really isn't gender-specific in its audience. Aunt Jane's Nieces, The Flying Girl, The Daring Twins, Annabel, and his adult novels (I haven't yet read Mary Louise) often feature male and female protagonists, making them accessible to all readers. Here, Baum is attempting to reach out to a specifically male audience, and while he does admirably and the stories are very enjoyable, I can't help but think his heart wasn't in it. That may also explain why this was also the shortest in the series.

The Boy Fortune Hunters in the South Seas starts with the Seagull crew in Australia when they are propositioned to sell the Seagull to Senor de Jiminez. Senor has a shipment of weapons to take home to Colombia to aid the revolution he is playing a lead role in. It's illegal for Americans to ship weapons to other countries, which is why the Seagull can't just be hired.

However, the crew doesn't want to part with the ship, since they've invested so much in it. So, Sam makes an offer. They sell it to Senor, sail with him to Colombia, and buy back the Seagull once they drop off the weapons. This way, they are not breaking the law.

Senor has a few extra guests. His wife, his mother, and his son and daughter, the latter of which (to Sam's amazement) Joe becomes smitten with.

... Sam, why do you care so much that Joe is in love with a girl?

A storm at sea breaks the Seagull's rudder and gets it wedged between two rocks near an island. However, Nux and Bryonia recognize the island as Faytan, and realize their own home island of Tuamotu isn't far away. (Huh... In Book Two, they said their island was named Takayoo...) The natives are not friendly, Nux and Bry warn, and will kill any invaders. In fact, this is what happens when Ned Britton and some other men venture to the island.

However, Nux and Bryonia stir Sam's greedy side and tell him of the Faytan pearls and their amazing city. Sam wishes he could see it, when Senor's son Alfonso tells him he can with a biplane he's purchased. Sam and Joe use it to fly over Faytan, but they are forced to land it on the island and before they can launch again, they are captured and brought to the recently-crowned boy king of Faytan, Atterro.

It is, of course, the law in Faytan that all strangers must die, but Sam takes a page from Chick the Cherub and tries to delay the execution by telling Atterro of the outside world to buy time. But will it work? Can Sam and Joe leave Faytan alive? Will the Seagull ever sail again? This is the last book after all...

Sam gets to be his worst when it comes to his ignorance of foreign affairs. The Jiminez family are sure they are famous and their revolution will be talked about all over the world, but Sam blatantly says to their faces that really, Americans don't care. If this revolution is mentioned in an American newspaper, he says, it'll get about an inch of type when it's all over.

Nux and Bryonia's story gets to have a full conclusion here, even though it is a bit off with what they told about their home in the second book in the series. Their story is finally told in full, and these two excellent characters are none the worse for it.

What really gets odd here is the fact that Archie has vanished. We can only assume he's back home with his family after their adventure in Yucatan. However, Baum gets to play up the relationship between Joe and Sam. It's grown so close over the past three books that when Sam realizes Joe likes Lucia de Jiminez and is even being chummy with her, he's surprised and doesn't see why Joe likes her. (Later, she does help out and I suppose Sam will think better of her.) And I suppose it's time to bring up a fan theory that's going around.

Sam Steele might very well be gay and in love with Joe. Joe, however, loves Sam in a completely non-homosexual fashion. Of course, considering the culture, Sam probably doesn't realize this himself. He often remarks about the looks of the men he encounters, often noting when they are handsome. However, he has little to no attraction to any women he encounters, even if he thinks they're pretty. And, in The Boy Fortune Hunters in Yucatan, Sam almost says it in his narration when Ama reveals that she has helped save the day: "I felt like kissing everybody all around—even including Ama and her maidens."

Even Ama and her handmaidens? All the other people besides them are the men and boys Sam's been traveling with. I doubt Baum intended this, but it is a subtext that works very well in the series.

You do have to wonder how Sam ended his days. He appears to be very rich, so I'm sure he could retire on land and live comfortably. But regardless of whether or not Sam was gay, would he ever find someone to spend the rest of his life with? Lucia seems to knock Joe off the table, so, what's that leave Sam with? He's a rich snob with high standards. I find it more likely that Sam remained a bachelor. (The Aunt Jane's Nieces series, on the other hand, assured us that they had all married by the end of the revised last book.)

So, the series overall? It's a series of tales of high adventure and treasure seeking, told from the perspective of an enterprising young American man. Baum writes as well as he can. Early on the series is excellent, but as Baum tried to make the series sell better, his own interest in the series dwindled, though the stories are no less exciting. Definitely check them out.

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