The Last Egyptian: A Romance of the Nile is a novel for adult readers, written by L. Frank Baum and published anonymously on 1 May 1908. It was the third and last of the novels Baum wrote for mature readers; it followed The Fate of a Crown (1905) and Daughters of Destiny (1906). It is a rare Baum book not published by his standard firm, Reilly & Britton.
Gerald Winston is an English Egyptologist of wide experience. While sailing the Nile, he meets a local man named Kara, who appears to be a Copt rather than a Muslim Arab. Kara displays deep and recondite knowledge of the Egyptian past; Winston enters into business with him. Returning to his village, Kara encounters Tadros, a local dragoman (a guide and translator); the two have a dispute over Nephthys, a local beauty.
Kara goes home, where his grandmother, Hatatcha, is dying; she tells him of their family past, and explains that he is the grandson of an English aristocrat, Lord Roane. Roane had impregnated and abandoned Hatatcha when both were young; Hatacha demands that Kara work her revenge on Roane and his family. Hatatcha has already prepared her grandson for this task, teaching him fluent English; on her deathbed, she instructs him in a body of secrets and plots. After her death, Kara opens a hidden passageway at the back of their hovel, which leads through subterranean passages and caves to a family treasure house. Hatatcha and Kara are the last descendants of an ancient Egyptian family; during the reign of Rameses the Great, their ancestor Ahtka-Ra was treasurer and power behind the throne. His descendants have accumulated a vast store of wealth, heaps of gold and gems of the rarest quality.
Kara uses his new riches to assume a wealthy lifestyle; he takes up Nephthys, but then abandons her to poverty again. He travels to England, and conspires with Lord Roane's rival to appoint the man to an official post in Cairo. There, Kara can pursue his plans against his enemy. Kara is aided in this by Tadros, who he has hired as a servant; neither man trusts the other, and both are deep manipulators. Kara finds it easy to destroy the reputation of Roane's son the Viscount Cosinor, by exposing him as a cheating gambler; he also learns of a crooked business deal that has brought Roane thousands of pounds of profit.
Kara also pursues Roane's granddaughter Aneth Consinor — he theatens to expose her grandfather if she does not marry him. Yet here he encounters a complication: Gerald Winston is also interested in the young woman, and the two men inevitably head for a confrontation. The story becomes a complex triple conflict in manipulation and scheming, among Kara, Winston, and Tadros the dragoman.
Tadros, realizing the full lethal danger he courts by working for Kara, switches sides to help Winston rescue Aneth and Lord Roane. Despite this, Kara captures the English party, and seems close to victory in his plot. Tadros manipulates the disgraced Viscount Consinor to follow Kara when he goes to retrieve more treasure from his family cavern; Consinor locks Kara in the cave, where he is left to starve. Emerging, Consinor is stabbed to death by Nephthys, who has mistaken him for Kara — her revenge goes awry, but provides a measure of poetic justice. With Kara's removal, Lord Roane is protected from exposure for his crime, and Winston and Aneth can marry.
Though his time in Egypt was relatively brief — five weeks in early 1906 — Baum managed to absorb a wealth of local color and detail, with which he enriches his narrative. He constructs a clever cognitive structure for his tale, by weaving a vivid picture of Kara's outlook and worldview. Kara is dedicated to the ancient values of his family and culture — yet his vanity and ambition lead him to violate those values in one crucial respect, which magically and symbolically explains and justifies his fall.
The book was dedicated or "inscribed" to the publisher, Edward Stern, by the anonymous author, "A fellow traveler in the wilds of Egypt..." Baum had in fact met Stern on the trip to Egypt and the Mediterranean that he and his wife had taken in 1906; and Stern had asked him for a book.
A modern edition of the novel was issued by Freedonia Books in 2002, the first time the book was published under Baum's name. The Last Egyptian has been called Baum's best adult novel.
- ↑ Katharine M. Rogers, L. Frank Baum, Creator of Oz: A Biography, New York, St. Martin's Press, 2002; p. 152.