Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea
|Author||L. Frank Baum
(as "Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald")
young adult fiction
|Publisher||Reilly & Britton|
|Media type||Print (hardcover)|
Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea is a juvenile adventure novel written by L. Frank Baum, famous as the creator of the Land of Oz. The book was Baum's first effort at writing specifically for an audience of adolescent boys, a market he would pursue in the coming years of his career. The novel was first published in 1906, under the pen name "Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald," one of Baum's multiple pseudonyms.
Audiences and markets
In the years around the turn of the twentieth century (1897–1905), Baum had succeeded in establishing himself as a popular author of children's books, most notably with The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). By the middle of the twentieth century's first decade, he was working diligently to branch out into other markets. In 1905 he released his first adult novel, The Fate of a Crown (as the work of "Schuyler Staunton"); in 1906 he issued his first books for adolescent girls, Annabel (as by "Suzanne Metcalf") and Aunt Jane's Nieces (by "Edith Van Dyne"), as well as his first book for boys. The 1906 Sam Steele title was the first book in a projected series; "Capt. Fitzgerald" followed up with Sam Steele's Adventures in Panama in 1907.
Unusually for Baum, the tale of Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea is told in the first person, by the title character. Sam Steele is the son of a sea captain; his father is reported killed in a shipwreck, and Sam is quickly cheated of his inheritance. Now an orphan, he meets his maternal uncle, Naboth Perkins, another sea captain and ship-owner; together the two set sail in the Pacific trade. Sam Steele "is a stereotyped ideal: a capable, brave, enterprising, likable, manly sixteen-year-old American."
From San Francisco, Sam and his uncle embark on Naboth's ship the Flipper, carrying provisions north for the miners of the Alaska Gold Rush. A storm casts them onto a remote island, occupied by stranded and desperate miners who have struck a rich goldfield. The crew of the Flipper have to cope with thieves and the hazards of nature before they can return with ample rewards for their trouble.
At home again, Sam and Naboth discover that Sam's father Captain Steele has survived shipwreck (with the loss of a leg). Re-united with his father, Sam regains his lost patrimony.
Baum's plot was influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and by H. Rider Haggard's She. In turn, Baum borrowed elements from his first Sam Steele book when he came to write The Sea Fairies five years later. He turned his character Naboth Perkins into Cap'n Bill in the later book.
The bias question
As with other traditional authors and their books (Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn being probably the most famous example), the role of racism and other prejudices in Baum's books has been a focus of attention from critics and readers. Baum repeatedly displays a resistance to, and rejection of, prejudice and xenophobia in his works – but he also exploits the stereotypes common in his era, usually for comic effect. (See: Sky Island; Daughters of Destiny; Father Goose: His Book; Father Goose's Year Book.)
Material in the first Sam Steele book bears upon this subject. Two key supporting characters are men from the Sulu Archipelago nicknamed "Nux" and "Bryonia;" the gruffer characters in the book refer to them as "niggers." The two become friends and companions of Sam Steele, and are presented as unflinchingly loyal, reliable, courageous, caring, strong, and resourceful. After one crisis in their adventures, Sam remarks, "I realized, with a grateful heart, that I owed all my good fortune and narrow escapes to the faithful Sulu men...;" Uncle Naboth expresses his satisfaction that the two men accompany Sam, for "Those men are as faithful and honest as any men on earth...."
(For a comparable affirmative portrayal of South Sea islanders, see Baum's short story "The Tiger's Eye.")
The two Sam Steele books of 1906 and 1907 did not sell as well as their author and publisher had hoped they would. Reilly & Britton did not give up on the project, however; they re-issued both books with new titles in 1908, under yet another pen name, "Floyd Akers." (A possible derivation: "F. Akers" from "fakers.") The first book, Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea, was re-titled The Boy Fortune Hunters in Alaska (though there is only one boy fortune hunter in it); its sequel was re-titled The Boy Fortune Hunters in Panama. Baum wrote a third volume in the series, The Boy Fortune Hunters in Egypt, also published in 1908; he added three more titles to the series in the next three years, with more boys, and of course more fortune hunting.
Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea was reprinted in the first issue of the annual Oz-story Magazine in 1995. There, Howard Heath's original illustrations were replaced with pictures culled from the large output of veteran Baum illustrator John R. Neill.
- Katharine M. Rogers, L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography, New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002; pp. 134-401.
- Rogers, pp. 140-1.
- David Maxine, "Fat Babies for Dinner," Oz-story Magazine No. 1 (June 1995), p. 3.
- Rogers, p. 141.
- James S. Leonard et al., Satire of Evasion?: Black Perspectives on "Huckleberry Finn", Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 1992.
- Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea, Chapters 14 and 15.
- Raylyn Moore, Wonderful Wizard, Marvelous Land, Bowling Green, OH, Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1974; p. 70.
- Rogers, pp. 153-7.
- Oz-story Magazine No. 1, pp. 78-127.