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Sandokan
The Tigers of Mompracem, The Pirates of Malaysia, The Two Tigers
The Mystery of the Black Jungle
Emilio Salgari, Nico Lorenzutti (translator)
ROH Press

Sandokan: The Tigers of Mompracem
Sandokan: The Pirates of Malaysia
Sandokan: The Two Tigers
The Mystery of the Black Jungle
Emilio Salgari
Writer of action adventure swashbucklers and a pioneer of science fiction in Italy, Emilio Salgari was born in Verona on August 21, 1862, to a family of modest merchants. When his dream to captain his own vessel and explore the world was shattered by poor marks at a naval institute in Venice, he turned his passion for exploration and discovery to writing. He wrote more than two hundred adventure stories and novels, many of which are considered classics. Setting his tales in exotic locations, with heroes from a wide variety of cultures, Salgari used his powerful imagination to bring the wonders of the world to the doorstep of generations of readers. The anti-imperialist position of many of his works made him the favourite of many Latin American notables including Che Guevara. Overwhelmed by creditors and family misfortunes, he committed suicide in Turin, on April 25, 1911. In one last act, drawn from his vast research and imagination, he slit his throat and stomach, in the ceremonial suicide of the Japanese samurai. Salgari remains the world's best-selling Italian author.

Biography
A More Extensive Biography
Covers of some early editions of The Tigers of Mompracem: 1900, 1906, 1911
The Emilio Salgari Homepage -- extensive site on Salgari, in Italian
E-TEXTS: many Salgari novels are available in the original Italian, here
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

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Ah... finally some books to keep me up reading until 3 a.m. rather than putting them down -- it sure has been awhile! Emilio Salgari's pirate tale, The Tigers of Mompracem, serialized in the Italian newspaper La Nuova Arena in 1883-4, first published in book form in 1900, and here translated for the first time into English, is so chock full of action that the best cultural equivalent in North America that I could propose would have been the better dime-novel adventures of the late 19th-early 20th century. Or, perhaps think Douglas Fairbanks Sr.'s swashbuckling movies, or, if in a different genre, the Indiana Jones films -- this is the sort of thing Salgari has put to paper. Variously termed the father of heroes, the Italian Verne, the Italian Dumas, the father of Italian adventure fiction and even the grandfather of the Spaghetti Western, by his countrymen, Salgari sure could write a top-notch adventure novel.

Sandokan, aka "The Tiger of Malaysia" is the leader of the Tigers of Mompracem, a band of pirates headquartered in the small island of the same name, just off the west coast of Borneo. Sandokan, having had his royal birthright stripped from him by the British colonialist regime, has become their ruthless enemy. His physical endurance, determination and ability to strategize is without peer. Of a sometimes rash and impulsive nature, he wisely allows himself to be counseled by the much more level-headed Yanez de Gomera, a Portuguese adventurer and friend. Sandokan is blessed with unbounded courage, yet even at his most wrathful, he maintains a sense of fair play and honour, sadly lacking in his enemies. So what could turn this monolith of a driven man into a distracted, barely competent day-dreamer, blindly willing to run any risk to achieve his objectives, to give up piracy and dissolve the Tigers of Mompracem, and to ignore his supposed hatred of all persons British? -- cherchez la femme!, The Pearl of Labuan to be exact.

Are the scenes where Sandokan is raving about his love for the half-Italian half-English Lady Marianna Guillock way, way over the top? Are these scenes far, far beyond anything you'd find in even the most saccharine and melodramatic of Harlequin romances? Sure enough they are, but then Salgari was a native of the same city that gave us Romeo and Juliet. And fortunately, the daring rescues, the numerous hair's breadth escapes, the wonderfully depicted sea battles, and the overall relentless energy of the whole novel, far outweigh the somewhat dated romance elements -- besides every hero needs to have his own brand of kryptonite. This isn't to say that The Tigers of Mompracem doesn't suffer -- if one is so inclined to look back over the story and nit-pick, rather than just enjoy the ride while it lasts -- from incredible coincidences, victory and survival against truly implausible odds, some more or less obvious anachronisms, and at least some unidimensionally nasty enemies to the hero... but then this is also what defines this sort of literature and makes it as entertaining as it was then and is today. And this could be said to apply to the other novels in the series.

The Mystery of the Black Jungle serialized as Gli strangolatori del Gange in Il Telefono di Livorno (1887), and in book form as I misteri della jungla nera (1895), occurs in the Black Jungle of India's Sundarbans, two years after the action described in The Tigers of Mompracem (i.e., 1851), though neither Sandokan nor his pirates appear in it. In this vast jungle lives the intrepid hunter Tremal-Naik, his faithful servant Kammamuri, and a few servants. When Tremal-Naik comes across a beautiful young European woman, he, like Sandokan, falls head over heels for her. However, she's not exactly 'available' since she, under duress, performs the role of priestess of Kali for local Thug headquarters. Tremal-Naik, driven to distraction by his love for her, is for rushing in to save her single-handed, while Kammamuri, like Sandokan's steadying influence Yankez de Gomera, counsels Tremal-Naik to wait for the right moment. Barely escaping with his life from the hands of the powerful and ruthless Thug leader Suyodhana, aka the Tiger of India, upon recovering Tremal-Naik begins his relentless campaign to save the young women and destroy the Thugs, even if it means joining them!

Thus, overall, The Mystery of the Black Jungle has the same general plot outline as The Tigers of Mompracem, though in very different locales, and very different antagonists. The romance aspects aren't quite as prominent in the former, but, the pacing is again what carries the book and makes it so entertaining. Certainly the description of the Thugs' vast underground lair, and of their ritual sacrifices to Kali, could have easily inspired such scenes in Gunga Din (1939), Indian Jones and the Temple of Doom, Young Sherlock Holmes (1985). Another interesting plot element is the use of a lemonade-like truth-serum.

Perhaps you wonder how, in the series' next volume The Pirates of Malaysia (I pirati della Malesia, 1896), events in India in 1852 tie-in with Sandokan and his pirates in Malaysia? Well -- we find that Tremal-Naik, having married the British girl and ex-Kali priestess Ada Corishant, has been entangled in a web of deceit by the escaped Thug leader, and been condemned by the Indian authorities to a British prison camp in Malaysia. Ada has lost her mind, and with Tremal-Naik's devoted servant Kammamuri, they have set off to Sarawak, home of Sandokan's arch-enemy, governor James Brooke -- there to attempt to break Tremal-Naik out of prison. The ship Kammamuri is on falls victim to the pirates of Mompracem, and his bravery earns him an audience with Sandokan, who agrees to bust out Tremal-Naik, while defeating James Brooke. Wild adventure, fights against incredible odds, nefarious enemies and courageous, brawny allies make this another wonderful read -- and virtually no sappy romance!

Finally, in The Two Tigers (Le due tigri, 1904), we skip forward five years to 1857. Tremal-Naik, has returned to India and is raising his daughter Darma, his wife Ada having died. But Suyodhana and his Thugs haven't forgotten how Tremal-Naik stole their priestess and nearly destroyed them. They need a new priestess-trainee to perform sacrifices to Kali, and Darma is their choice. Upon her disappearance, Tremal-Naik is devastated, but calls on his friend Sandokan to help him find her. He, also having lost a wife he fought for, sympathizes with Tremal-Naik's plight, and comes to India. There follows a battle to the death between the forces of the two tigers in the marshy jungles of the Sundarbans, the one of Mompracem and the one of India. This, after numerous frantic adventures, culminates in their ultimate confrontation amidst the chaos of the Sepoy rebellion. As with the other titles, it's wall to wall action, and here only a mere smidgen of romance.

The Sandokan Series comprises eleven novels in which Salgari set his pirates of Malaysia 'universe.' Of these, the ones mentioned here are currently available from ROH Press, with another to come in the fall of 2008. The colloquial tone of the writing and the extreme pacing, even compared to contemporaneous American dime novels, is a bit off-putting at times; however it is more than made up for by the breadth of threatening situations and quasi-miraculous escapes. So if you're partial to some excellent no-holds-barred adventure fiction, swashbuckling pirate tales, grisly cults, hair's breadth escapes, exotic locations and the like, The Tigers of Mompracem and his 'mates' are certainly items to add to your 'to read' list.

Copyright © 2008 by Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist whose interests lie predominantly in both English and French pre-1950 imaginative fiction. Besides reviews and articles at SFSite and in fanzines such as Argentus, Pulpdom and WARP, he has published peer-reviewed articles in fields ranging from folklore to water resource management. He is the creator and co-curator of The Ape-Man, His Kith and Kin a website exploring thematic precursors of Tarzan of the Apes, as well as works having possibly served as Edgar Rice Burroughs' documentary sources. The close to 100 e-texts include a number of first time translations from the French by himself and others. Georges is also the creator and curator of a website dedicated to William Murray Graydon (1864-1946), a prolific American-born author of boys' adventures. The website houses biographical, and bibliographical materials, as well as a score of novels, and over 100 short stories.


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