Sunday, May 26, 2013

The Daring Twins

After The Emerald City of Oz, L. Frank Baum did a surprising turn in 1911: alongside The Sea Fairies was a non-fantasy book titled The Daring Twins. Baum had turned out non-fantasy juvenile novels before, but they had been under pseudonyms. The Daring Twins was the first to be released under his own name.

Baum did not want to be known just for Oz, so he decided to expand his output, but his audience preferred his fantasies, especially Oz. The Daring Twins and its sequel Phoebe Daring did not prove popular enough to continue the series for a third volume, despite Baum beginning a third one.

Hungry Tiger Press reprinted The Daring Twins as one of the first entries in its Pawprint Adventure Series. Apparently, interest in the title wasn't high enough to spur the reprint of the sequel. David Maxine plans to do it, eventually, but as a business owner, he does have to give a thought as to what it is selling. As a result, Phoebe Daring is the only published Baum novel I haven't yet read.

Along with a handsome repackaging, the book got a new title: The Secret of the Lost Fortune: A Daring Twins Mystery. The retitling was done to make the title sound more appealing to new readers, and I agree that it does tease the story better. The text also saw a small, very minor revision which was noted on the copyright page. A re-occurrence of "the N-word" (which was regrettably too common in Baum's day) appeared in the original edition when talking about native African tribes. In the Hungry Tiger Press edition, it was replaced by "savages." The statement it is used in is not a pretty one, but now it's just a little more racially sensitive. It is not used by any of the protagonists, but rather secondary characters, particularly a couple who clearly need a lesson in humility, though the story doesn't offer it.

The orphaned Daring children—twins Phoebe and Phil, Don, Sue, and Becky—have a curious living arrangement. They live in the same house as their grandfather Jonathan Eliot, but due to his wishes (he had quarreled with their father), half of the house is sealed off from them and reserved for his use. He is paralyzed and is tended by his longtime servant Elaine Halliday.

The children have no guardian aside from their "black mammy" Aunt Hyacinth, who at first seems like a regrettable stereotype. (Baum has her speak in stereotypical dialect, spelled phonetically.) In the seventh chapter, their cousin Judith Eliot arrives and they mutually adopt each other as "little mother" and children.

The first six chapters find Phil Daring realizing that the family has little to no means of support, and inquiring with his father's lawyer, discovers that their inheritance was long since spent. The lawyer encourages him to finish school, though Phil thinks it better to find a job right away. Inquiring further, he discovers that Aunt Hyacinth has been using her savings from her pay to support the children: she is actually under no obligation to do so aside from the love she has for the children. And then Phil discovers that Phoebe has been renting a typewriter to do copying to earn money. After he graduates, he manages to fill a position at the local bank. By chapter eight, they manage to support the family very well between the three of them.

Judith has to demand an additional room from Elaine, and her grandfather seems aware enough of her presence to allow it. However, Phoebe suggests they exchange rooms, and realizes that her new room is right next to Elaine's room. On certain nights, Phoebe hears odd sounds coming from Elaine's room. What is going on?

At the bank, Phil notices that Eric Spaythe, a superior to him and son of the bank's owner, appears to be altering deposits for customers, apparently embezzling the money. Eric soon realizes that Phil is looking over his shoulder and when he needs to repay some gambling debts, Phil realizes that Eric is scheming to steal some money and pin the blame on him!

And finally, the young Daring children meet the new neighbors, the Randolphs, who have moved into their old house not far from where they live.

And surprisingly, Baum takes all three of these storylines and wraps them into one of his most satisfying conclusions.

Honestly, The Daring Twins is one of Baum's best non-fantasy books. There is plenty of intrigue, though no exactly high adventure and life-threatening stakes. But that's just fine, because we don't need "Our heroes face certain death!" all the time to have a good story. It comes from a great time in Baum's writing career when he wanted to be decidedly different, and this was one case where he definitely rose to the occasion.

Get your copy from Hungry Tiger Press.

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