“In Desert and Wilderness” is a teen novel by a famous Poland writer and Nobel award-winner Henryk Sienkiewicz. It was written in 1912.
The plot is set in the 19th century and it’s about two friends, a 14 years old Polish boy Stanislaw and his 8 years old friend Nel for England. She was kidnapped in Sudan by the insurgents of the Muslim priest Mahdi. The insurgents kidnap the kids and then go on a dangerous path through the desert to take them to Mahdi. Once they get there Mahdi declines them and they are left to live in a city torn down by war.
After some time the journey continues but it soon gets interrupted by a lion attack. Since the insurgents didn’t want to use firearms they gave the gun to Stanislaw who kills the lion and a few insurgents. Then the kids keep on running through the African jungle that is no less dangerous that the desert. With the help of their new friends, they become free again.
This extremely interesting story is about the courage of two young people that try to survive in hard circumstances. First, they fight the desert, then the animals and the worst enemy – thirst. The hard journey took it’s tool on Nel’s health and showed Stanislaw’s protective side because he did everything he could to protect his little friend. When they start running through the jungle they are exposed to many dangers, diseases, and other threats.
The book shows the deep friendship between two people that no obstacle can stop. They are the reflection of courage and wisdom. They are kindhearted but also determined to survive at any cause. The boy didn’t hesitate in killing the insurgents in order to protect his friend.
The dramatic story had two movie adaptations. The first one was a Poland one in 1973 and the other one was American in 2001. It also had some sequels written by other writers that used the theme and the character to make their own vision of the story. The novel is a masterpiece and will leave everyone breathless as they follow the journey of two brave characters through the desert and the jungle.
The Suez Canal links the Mediterranean with the Red Sea and it shortens the journey from Europe to India. A British company led by Rowlinson takes care of the canal.
Engineer Vladyslaw Tarkowski works with Rowlinson and he has a son named Stanislaw. Rowlinson had a daughter named Nella. Stanislaw whose nickname was Stas had 14 and Nella whose nickname was Nel had 8 years. Their father worked together and respected each other so it was no wonder that their kids got closer.
Nella had long, blond hair and she was cheerful while Stas was a bit serious and stuck up. Stas was very protective of Nel and he always kept an eye on her.
Both of them lived in Port Said that was situated in the southeast part of Egypt. As their fathers had to travel a lot Nella had a nanny and a teacher Mrs. Oliver. A bit before the Christmas holidays their fathers were told to check and value the works on the south of Egypt. Stanislaw’s break didn’t start yet so the fathers went away and Oliver was supposed to bring the kids later.
Mrs. Oliver wasn’t thrilled about having to drive the kids due to the conflicts in Sudan. The insurgent’s leader Mahdi banished and killed many Christians from Sudan. The father’s tried to convince Mrs. Oliver that he was no way near the capital of Sudan. The Egyptian government had sent Smain to negotiate the Christians liberation but since he was Mahdi’s follower he joined him. Because of his actions his wife Fatma was held captive by the government with their children and the government refused to let them go until Smain returns.
When Stanislaw’s school ended him and Nel headed to Cairo but they were accompanied by their servant because Mrs. Oliver goes ill. They met with English officers on the train and they were amused by Nel’s charm. In the end, one of them, Clary, turned out to be Nel’s cousin. The other gentleman’s name was Glen.
When the kids came their fathers were free and they took them on many field trips. Nel got a dog who provoked fear due to his height. She named him Sab which meant lion. Stanislaw got an English gun and when they went hunting he proved himself to be an excellent shooter. Their fathers were out of town because of work and a young Arab named Chamis helped them stay in touch. He was always accompanied by Idris and Gebhr who took care of the camels and got close to the kids.
One day Chamis brought them a message from their fathers saying that they should join them. When they came to the train station Idris and Gebhr made them get on the camels and they started going the opposite direction than expected. They were kidnapped so that they could be exchanged for Smain’s children.
A heard journey was ahead of them. During the day they suffered extreme heat and during the night extreme coldness. Nel was running out of strength and Stanislaw helped as much as he could. Gebhr turned out to be cruel when he hit Nel and Stanislaw, who barely survived. They took his gun away but didn’t know how to use it because it was too modern.
After a longer journey, the kidnappers were supposed to meet with Smain but instead they encountered Mahdi. Stanislaw refused to change his religion and everyone was surprised when Mahdi didn’t kill him. A salesman helped the kids when he got a cure for Nel. In the meantime Idris got ill and Gebhr was told to bring the kids to Smain alive and untouched.
When Gebhr couldn’t express his rage on the kids he did it on his slave Kali. Nel also had a slave, Mea because her servant died on the journey. A lion appeared all of the sudden and the terrified Arabs gave the gun to Stanislaw that shot the lion and the kidnappers. Stanislaw was in charge and, after the exhausting journey, they sheltered themselves under a tree, feed an elephant trapped by a rock and called him King.
In their struggle for survival, they caught fishes and also met a wounded hunter from Switzerland named Linde. He left them a lot of food and medication. They stayed on a mountain for a while and made peace between tribes in conflict. Later they found themselves in the desert again and they nearly died of thirst. They were saved by Glen and Clary who were leading an expedition to Kilimanjaro.
In the end, everything was well and the kids were back with their parents. After ten years Stanislaw and Nel got married and their friend from the journey Kali because of the king of a tribe. Sab was still with them and the elephant King lived under the protection of England.
Time: the end of the 19th century
Place: Port Said, Egypt
Characters: Nel, Stanislaw, Idris, Geber, Glen, Clary
Henryk Sienkiewicz Biography
Henryk Sienkiewicz was a Polish writer, born in 1846 in a poor noble family. Due to his poverty, he struggled in getting an education. After high school, he studied medicine and then went to study philology in Warszawa.
Soon after finishing his studied he went to Germany, France, and England and he sent his travelogue to a Polish newspaper under the pseudonym Litwos. He traveled through America and in 1891 he visited Africa which was his inspiration for “In Desert and Wilderness”. His big frame was acquired by this novel that even had movie adaptations. It was his only novel for a younger audience.
When he returned to Poland he started studying history and he focused his passion on writing and he wrote a trilogy about Poland. The books of the trilogy are “With Fire and Sword”, “The Deluge” and “Sir Michael”. In 1895 he published “Quo Vadis”, one of his most famous worked that earned him the Nobel Prize in 1905.
He was so popular in Poland that, because of the donations of his citizens, he managed to buy a family castle in which his ancestors lived.
Except for the previously mentioned novels he also wrote: “The Teutonic Knights”, “On the Field of Glory”, “Whirpool”…
He died in Switzerland in 1916.