Looking for Alaska : Emilio Salgari – “The Miners of Alaska”

A true adventure is plotless. You may set out with a map but the fates will soon pee all over it. This the nicest way of explaining there is no plot in Emilio Salgari’s “The Miners of Alaska,” just action scenes.


EXOTIC SETTING: Alaska! It’s in the title. Late 1880s.

HEROES: Bennie, a Canadian; Armand and Falcone, two Italians; Back (?) a Mexican. How these characters collided in their common quest for gold, or how they even communicate between each other, is for fruitier writers to worry about. There are grizzly bears and Injuns to kill, damn it!

MASCOTS: None, unless you count Pablo Correa, another Mexican who joins the hopeful miners two-thirds of the way in.

VILLAINS: James Korthan, a Californian gambler and thief, who falsely accuses Correa of cheatin’ at cards and engages in a knife fight with him.

TOPICS OF INTEREST: An article on gold mining is clearly copied and pasted right off the Enciclopedia Italiana.

MEAN ANIMALS: Wolverines and grizzlies, of course. Rabid wolves make some impression too. But the most bizarre “mean animals” moment involves a salmon trying to eat an unsuspecting swan and choking on the swan’s head.

ABOVE: I love old covers.

BIZARRE MOMENT: Come on! Salmon choking on a swan? That’s pretty bizarre! Bet you’ve never read that in your fancy “literary fiction.”

DIALOGUE GEM: “Ah, yes, us Mexicans prefer to use switchblades!”

ACTION SCENE: The knife fight in the saloon is pretty cool, packing every Western movie cliche ever, before Western movies had even been invented. ( Salgari is an incontestable ancestor of the Spaghetti-Western.)

“TWIST”: It looks like a “mysterious bandit” has been sabotaging our miners. The “twist” is that it takes forever for them to figure out who it is. Could it BE that James Korthan guy they’ve had a knife fight with? The one who ran away saying: “You haven’t heard the last of me! I will sabotage you!”

CULTURAL/RACIAL INSENSITIVITY: Canadian character to Mexican character: “The local Injuns are not the usual treacherous sort, and they always know to show proper respect to white people, like you and I.”
The Mexican character is like: “I’m considered white here?!? That would never have happened in a Louis L’Amour novel!”



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