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|Written by|| L. Frank Baum|
(as "Schuyler Staunton")
|Illustrator|| Harold DeLay|
Thomas Mitchell Pierce
|Publisher||Reilly & Britton|
Daughters of Destiny is a 1906 adventure novel written by L. Frank Baum under his pseudonym Schuyler Staunton — a follow-up to the first Staunton novel of the previous year, The Fate of a Crown. Daughters of Destiny contained eight illustrations by Harold DeLay and Thomas Mitchell Pierce. The two artists worked to their respective strengths: Pierce provided three pictures of the female characters, and DeLay furnished five pictures of male characters.
Baum had originally intended to call the book The Girl in the Harem.
The American Construction Syndicate wants to build a railroad across Baluchistan. The company appoints a commission, headed by Col. Piedmont Moore, to obtain the right of way from the Baluch ruler. Moore chooses his personal friend and physician Dr. Warner as his second in command; he picks his son Allison Moore as the commission's surveyor. Dr. Warner's ebullient daughter Bessie wants to come along, and solicits Moore's daughter Janet to come too; the young women will be chaperoned by Bessie's Aunt Lucy. (Moore is secretly pleased that his daughter Janet will make the trip; she has been melancholy after an unhappy love affair, with a man the Colonel regards as a thief and scoundrel.)
The Americans reach Baluchistan and promptly get embroiled in a succession conflict. The reigning Khan of the country is dying, and two cousins vie for the crown. One, Kasam, is masquerading as their guide. What follows is a complex but tightly-woven plot that involves subterfuge and conspiracy, poisonings and attempted assassinations, sword fights and a pursuit in the desert, a scheming femme fatale, disguises and false identities — all the ingredients of melodrama, skillfully mixed.
In the end, Prince Kasam's rival Ahmed (or Hafiz) inherits the throne of Baluchistan — but yields it to Kasam so that he can return to the United States with the heroine, Janet Moore. It is revealed that Ahmed/Hafiz is actually Howard Osbourne, the man Janet had previously loved — and secretly married, seven years before. Osbourne had nobly but foolishly taken the blame for an embezzlement actually committed by Janet's brother Allison. Once all the secrets are out, the difficulties are resolved and the requisite happy ending is achieved. And Bessie Warner stays behind to marry Prince Kasam and become the Khanum of Baluchistan.
Notably, Ahmed/Hafiz/Osbourne abdicates his throne in part for personal reasons, but also because he thinks it would be bad for his country to be ruled by someone as deeply influenced by American culture as he is. It is better, he thinks, for the people of Baluchistan to maintain their traditional way of life than to be thrust into the frenetic modern world — an interesting rejection, on the author's part, of imperialism and the Western idolatry of progress.
Baum's treatment of Islam in this book is striking. The novel does deliver a bit of stereotypical "dog of an infidel" dialogue, yet for the most part it takes a serious and respectful approach to Islam — something that was far from universal among Americans and Westerners of Baum's generation. The author recognizes the existence of Sunni Islam (he uses the term "Sunnite"), with its Imams ("Imaum"). Significantly, he introduces a Grand Mufti named Salaman, and portrays him as a figure of real and profound spirituality and wisdom.
Perhaps most notably, Baum's hero is a half-Persian, half-American Muslim who marries the American Christian heroine, with no mention of religious conversion.
Conversely, Baum includes a comic character called David the Jew as the Americans' interpreter, an ethnic stereotype that would be offensive to most modern readers.
Daughters of Destiny embodies the contradiction inherent in Baum's books. In his serious, thoughtful, deliberative frame of mind, Baum is against biases and prejudices and in favor of enlightened tolerance — as with his treatment of Islam in his book. Yet when he is writing humorously (or trying to), Baum willingly exploits the ethnic stereotypes common in his era (as he did in Father Goose, Father Goose's Year Book, and other works).