|Written by|| L. Frank Baum|
(as "Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald")
|Publisher||Reilly & Britton|
Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea is a juvenile adventure novel written by L. Frank Baum, and published in 1906 under the pseudonym "Capt. Hugh Fitzgerald." The book was reprinted two years later, in 1908, with the alternative title The Boy Fortune Hunters in Alaska.
Sam Steele, sixteen years old, 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, Sam meets his maternal uncle, Naboth Perkins, another sea captain and ship-owner; together, the two set sail in the Pacific trade. From San Francisco, Sam and his uncle embark on Naboth's ship the Flipper, carrying provisions north to 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 traders work out a co-operative deal with the miners, supplying needed transport and labor for a share in the gold. 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.
Unusually for Baum, the novel is told in the first person. The character of Uncle Naboth is a type of avuncular figure, comical in some respects but also resourceful and effective, that Baum creates in Uncle John Merrick in the Aunt Jane's Nieces books and in Cap'n Bill in The Sea Fairies, and subsequent works. Baum's plot was influenced by Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island and H. Rider Haggard's She.
Baum spent the best part of a decade, around the turn of the twentieth century, in becoming a successful children's book author. In the middle of the new century's first decade, he expanded to address new markets. His first two novels for adults, The Fate of a Crown and Daughters of Destiny, were published in 1905 and 1906; the latter year also saw his first juvenile novels for girls, Annabel and Aunt Jane's Nieces. The first Sam Steele novel was intended as the opening volume of a series; a follow-up, Sam Steele's Adventures in Panama, appeared in 1907.
Sales of the Sam Steele books were disappointing, however; publisher Reilly & Britton took the unusual step of re-launching the series under new titles and a new pen name — the Boy Fortune Hunters series by "Floyd Akers." (Baum scholar Raylyn Moore has suggested that "F. Akers" may derive from "faker.") The two "Sam Steele" books were re-issued with new titles, and a third book, The Boy Fortune Hunters in Eqypt, was added. The series was more successful in this new form, and extended to six books in total. Later books in the series are more faithful to the title; in the first book, The Boy Fortune Hunters in Alaska, there is only one boy, and he never actually reaches Alaska. The later books add more boys, and of course more fortune hunting.
One segment of the plot touches upon the question of race and race bias in Baum's work. Two key supporting characters in the plot are men of color from the Sulu Archipelago, nicknamed Nux and Bryonia. The gruffer characters refer to them as "niggers." The two become friends and companions of Sam Steele, and are presented as unflinchingly courageous, loyal, reliable, caring, strong, and resourceful. After one crisis in their adventures, Sam remarks, "I realized that, with a grateful heart, that I owed all my good fortune and narrow escapes to the faithful Sulu men..." (Chapter 14). Uncle Naboth expresses his satisfaction that the two men accompany Sam, for "Those two men are as faithful and honest as any men of earth..." (Chapter 15).
For a comparable affirmative portrayal of South Sea islanders, see Baum's short story "The Tiger's Eye."
Sam Steele's Adventures on Land and Sea was reprinted in the first issue of the annual Oz-story Magazine in 1995. There, the original illustrations by Howard Heath were replaced with pictures from the pen of John R. Neill.