Little Shootdown in the Prairie : Emilio Salgari – “The Prairie King”

One more: “The Prairie King” (Il Re della Prateria) by Emilio Salgari.

EXOTIC SETTINGS: Brazil, the Gulf Stream, 1840s; Monterey, Sierra Nevada, 1850s.

HEROES: The Marquis de Almeida, who is kidnapped from his Brazilian ranch and spends 98% of the novel unconscious or “off-screen”; his uncle, also called the Marquis de Almeida, who sets out to look for his kidnapped nephew in the Prairies and Sierras of the “Far-West”… a decade later. (Like many South Americans, the Brazilians in this novel seem to be pretty relaxed about kidnappings.)

SIDEKICKS: Nunez, a Spanish slave-trader who’s a pretty solid fellow, otherwise; “Garcia Sanchez,” a Mexican adventurer and guide.

MASCOTS: None, unless you count Casper, a loyally silent Brazilian servant.

VILLAINS: The kidnapping “Baron Le Chivry”- who is either Mexican or Yankee, but, curiously, not French; The “Prairie Eagle”- who is dead by the time we meet him; and a mean Injun called “Jumper” who betrays our heroes even after the peace pipe is shared.

“TWIST”: The evil kidnappers of the young Marquis de Almeida are actually nice, just trying to reunite him with his stranged step-brother.

TOPICS OF INTEREST: Lenghty explanations of how the Gulf Stream works; frequent references to the gold-mining craze of ’49.

MEAN ANIMALS: A horse-ride against the tide of a bison stampede. A very exciting scene in which our heroes form a stony barricade against six black bears.

ACTION SCENE: A lightning-lit battle between a slave-ship and those stick-in-the mud British ships who are trying to embargo the slave trade.

TORTURE SCENE: Tied to the “torture stake,” an Apache brave delivers these insults to his torturers: “I took out your brother’s eyes out and shoved two pieces of burning coal in the sockets! I took your son’s tongue, ate it, and then put molten lead in his mouth! I put sulphur in your dad’s rear hole! I sliced the nipples off your mother’s breasts! You’re all squaws!”

CULTURAL/RACIAL INSENSITIVITY: “The North Americans are insane. It has been extensively studied. You would think it’s because they represent the refuse of Europe, that’s why they’re all intellectually averse, violent, and either licentiously deviant or inordinately religious. But that’s not the reason. It’s been scientifically measured there is simply too much ELECTRICITY in the air of the United States. It drives men insane- that’s why they’re all stressed, work too hard, and are always greedy and unhappy, prone to superstition and irrationality. But this is what makes them so great, in a way. They will do anything, even the maddest of eccentricities, and as long as they can extract some money out of it, not one of their countrymen will complain.”

BIZARRE MOMENT: Halfway through the novel, most of the characters die, and the whole thing is re-booted ten years later.

RATING: GOOD ENOUGH

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