The Lost Tribe has a lot to offer the Choose Your Own Adventure series. It’s a pretty taut, engaging adventure story, it’s extremely well-written, and it showcases one of the most exotic locales the CYOA series has ever visited. It’s a little uneven in places and doesn’t quite vault over the bar into truly classic territory, but it’s a very solid book with a lot to commend it.
The Lost Tribe by Louise Munro Foley (illustrated by Paul Granger)
Published: August 1983
Number in the CYOA Series: 23
Louise Munro Foley, a Canadian-American freelance writer, made her first entry into CYOA-land in The Lost Tribe, published in the summer of 1983. She would go on to pen eight more books in the series. CYOA was getting “lost” a lot in 1983, as R.A. Montgomery’s middling adventure story Lost on the Amazon, which also featured an exotic locale, came out the next month.
The setting here is New Zealand, and Ms. Foley vaults us into the plot with the tried-and-true CYOA plot device, the Adventurous Uncle. In this incarnation it’s Charlie, an archaeologist at the University of Dunedin, who wants you to help him dig up artifacts from a vanished tribe of Maoris called the Ngatimamoe who made their home on Lake Te Anau about 200 years ago. Of course, there are legends that the Ngatimamoe still exist, and of course you decide to find them.
Your Adventurous Uncle is a forgetful sort, and just as you’re about to take off across the lake, it turns out he forgot his shovels in the trunk of the car. Your first choice is: do you go set up camp while you wait for him, or do you go off exploring on your own while he’s gone?
This is an interesting branch. Setting up camp, the “responsible” choice, leads you to a self-contained subplot which does not involve the Lost Tribe at all, but rather a tough shirtless bandit called Babyface Tioko, who takes you, and, in one version of the subplot your uncle and his assistant, hostage. There are various short adventures with Babyface Tioko, including one I rather like where you poison him with roach powder–an uncommonly cruel act by “you” in one of these books, but it fits the situation perfectly. You never find the Lost Tribe and it’s clear the Babyface subplot is not the main story Ms. Foley wished to tell, but it’s amusing.
The “irresponsible” choice leads you into the forest where you see a young Maori boy who may be a member of the Lost Tribe. The adventures leading off from this branch bring you into contact with the Ngatimamoe in fairly short order; at least you don’t have to spend a lot of time looking for them. The plot gets pretty intricate, usually involving the various legends surrounding the tribe, including a Cave of Rushing Waters, a House of Gold and other set-pieces. All are described very vividly, and the vision of New Zealand that comes across from the pages of the book is of a beautiful, exotic and sometimes dangerous place, filled with mystery and opportunity–exactly the way the locale in an adventure book should be.
This, I think, is the true strength of the book. The adventures themselves are nothing really special. Some of them veer pretty directly into “exotic natives” and “romantic disappeared peoples” narratives, and the portrayal of the Maori here has a lot in common with portrayals of various other first peoples in literature and movies. (There’s a bit, right out of a Republic serial, where the tribe mistakes you for a savior when your arrival comes in conjunction with a falling star, one of their prophecies). Yet on the other hand there’s at least a fair attempt to portray the Maori positively and to immerse the reader in their culture–one thing I really liked was the glossary of Maori terms that opens the book. But it’s the locale that’s really the star of the show here.
Locale tends to be a double-edged sword in the CYOA series. In some books it’s used very well, and other books it’s not utilized to its full extent. Here, Louise Munro Foley goes the extra mile to write vividly about New Zealand, and when you put the book down it really does come off like a trip to this exotic land. That makes up for the rather paint-by-numbers quality of the plot itself.
On the whole, this is one of the better books in the “twenties” (the books numbered 20 to 30). It’s a sleeper in the series, but well worth reading and owning.
Grade: A minus
The next book to be reviewed is the most infamous book in the series, the Evil Dead of the Choose Your Own Adventure universe–The Horror of High Ridge. That one’s going to be quite special!