Still in the Nile : Emilio Salgari – “The Daughters of the Pharaohs”

Still in the Nile, but this time with a two volume cycle from Emilio Salgari, comprising “”The Daughters of the Pharaohs” and “The Priest of Ptah” (1906). “The Daughters of the Pharaohs” follows the very familiar Salgarian outline of a wronged prince recapturing his rightful throne, and one imagines Verdi’s “Aida” played on the gramophone throughout the novel’s composition, but it is distinguished by a remarkable amount of research (for its author.) Basic knowledge of Egyptology proves most of that “research” wrong, a mad anachronistic jumble of dynasties, but the man must have at least cracked open a book or two on the subject of Ancient Egypt.

ABOVE: “By Osiris, somehow I’ve wound up at the New York Public Library!”

EXOTIC SETTING: Ancient Egypt, Memphis, “3000 years ago.”

HEROES: Mirinri, an aspiring young Pharaoh; TWO sexy princesses fighting over him, (which is why some editions give the title of the book as “The Daughters of the Pharaohs.”)

VILLAINS: Pepi I, the evil Emperor whom you can never take seriously because he’s called Pepi. GIGGLEZ! PEPI!

TOPICS OF INTEREST: Frequent factoids about the cultural and religious life of Ancient Egypt. Many of those factoids are not even made up.

MEAN ANIMALS: We are told that out hero rescues the princess from the jaws of an alligator; it happens “off-screen,” before the novel starts, because even Salgari couldn’t think of a way for a princess to actually be caught in the jaws of an alligator and somehow survive with her prettiness un-mangled. A lion is stabbed to death in the sands. Entire flocks of birds have their tail feathers set on fire as a form of aerial warfare.

BIZARRE MOMENT: Our hero, in a fit of fury, drags a mummy out of a sarcophagus and kicks it into dust. The mummy did nothing to provoke him!

DIALOGUE GEM: “Mirinri, I am your father… your father’s good friend, I mean. I am NOT your father, is what I am trying to say. I love you, my son. I mean, my SUN that rises over Egypt. You know, not like SON son, but SUN, the God in the sky. Ra!”

ACTION SCENE: An epic attack on Memphis is worth wandering through the literary desert that is Salgari’s “style.”

“TWIST”: The dude who kept on saying he wasn’t Mirinri’s father totally turned out to be Mirinri’s father. Very “Star Wars.” A second “twist” was actually surprising to me as a young reader – too young to notice it was spoiled in the TITLE. That  second twist is also very “Star Wars.”

CULTURAL/RACIAL INSENSITIVITY: “The manly, intelligent, advanced Egyptian specimen of the time can hardly be compared to today’s degraded, superstitious cabal of dusky war-seekers.”

RATING: COOL! Above average Salgari

Below, enjoy an evocative gallery of classic covers:

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