To Alaska for Gold by Edward Stratemeyer

May 19, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): To Alaska for Gold was written in 1899 as part of the Bound to Succeed Series, which apparently contained a bunch of adventure stories aimed at boys. The reason I wanted to read this book is that I proofread about 100 pages of it for Project Gutenberg, and couldn’t help but be curious about the story as a whole from the bits and pieces I read.

The story centers on two teenagers named Earl and Randy Portney, who work in the timber industry in Maine. Things are not going well for the orphaned boys, and they are about to be evicted from their ranch for not paying the rent. That’s when they get a letter from Uncle Foster Portney, inviting them to go to Alaska with him in search of gold. Uncle Foster has been there before and had some success, and he thought it would be just the thing for the boys. He’ll pay their expenses, including travel from Boston to San Francisco to meet up with him.

Earl and Randy immediately agree to go, so they sell off all their possessions in order to make it to Boston. Once there, they are to meet Uncle Foster’s bankers to receive $300 for travel expenses. But upon arriving at the bankers’ office, Earl and Randy discover that the money has been paid out already — to two other young men in possession of the original letter written by Uncle Foster to the boys. Earl and Randy figure the thieves are Tom Roland and his companion Guardley, both of whom had been around when Earl lost the letter. The boys then find someone else to vouch for their identity, get the money, and make it to San Francisco.

From there, the boys and Uncle Foster load up on provisions and make the long journey to Alaska, where they must then travel an additional 500 miles across dangerous terrain to get to the gold fields. Along the way, they hook up with Captain Zoss, an old friend of Uncle Foster’s, and Dr. Barwaithe, another man looking to strike it rich. Fred Dobson, a sickly stowaway from back home, also joins the company later on.

The rest of the novel then details the daily hunt for gold, and also gives an account of the harsh, harrowing Alaska winter that nearly devastates the makeshift shelter the company has constructed and pushes them all to the brink of starvation. By the end of the year-long adventure, everyone emerges thousands of dollars richer because of the gold, and Earl and Randy can’t wait to do it again.

Liked:

  • This is a simple, straightforward book geared towards young adults, and reads as you’d expect of something published in 1899. Totally uncomplicated.
  • Earl and Randy were likable enough protagonists. The brothers’ names reminded me of the pair on the sitcom My Name is Earl, but obviously the characters were nothing alike!
  • I enjoyed the gold-digging scenes and the description of the Alaskan winter. Those are clearly not subjects that modern books pick up on very often.

Disliked:

  • Character development is practically nonexistent. It’s hard to distinguish Earl from Randy (besides the fact that one is older), and I never had a clear picture of what any of the other men were like.
  • I would have preferred having the group come upon a major gold bonanza while in Alaska. The captain and doctor only earned $9,000 each for all their toil, while Uncle Foster did much better at $53,000. But that still didn’t seem like reward enough. I was hoping they’d all end up millionaires or something!
  • The story of Tom and Guardley never really went anywhere. I had a feeling that was supposed to be a “teaching moment” on the author’s part, but Guardley simply disappeared after his whipping and Tom’s body was found after the long winter. Kind of anticlimactic, especially since the author specifically said that the reader would do well to remember those two.

Rating:

To Alaska for Gold seems like a rather average old-time adventure story for young readers. I enjoyed it because I had a direct hand in getting the work onto Project Gutenberg, but I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a page-turner or anything like that. I give it 3 stars out of 5.

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