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Pulp Adventures 5: Ada Blackjack, Queen of the Arctic

Welcome once again to Pulp Adventures. In this little series, we take a look at people, places, businesses and things that could be melded into a pulp fiction-style story or role-playing game.

THE REAL STORY: Ada Blackjack was an Inuit woman who was hired on as a cook for a voyage to explore the Arctic oceans north of Russia in 1921. 

The ship she was aboard came to Wrangel Island, one of the most isolated islands on the planet due to its inaccessible location above mainland Russia and the fact that it’s so horrifically cold there.  

In an effort to claim the island for Canada, Ada and four other settlers were sent to the island. Rations soon ran low and hunts of the native wildlife were proving difficult. The team soon decided to give up and head into Russia for assistance in 1923. 

Unfortunately, one of the group grew ill and was unable to make the trip. Ada was left behind to tend to him, and the other three set out to Russia — and were never seen again.

As Ada and her patient fruitlessly waited, he grew sicker and eventually died in April 1923, leaving Ada to her own defenses. She had no supplies. She had little shelter and few weapons. Her only companion was cat named Vic.

And despite those odds, she survived. 

In fact, she survived, completely on her own until the end of August. There were polar bears. There were storms. There was the unrelenting cold.

GOING PULP: First off, let’s admit it. Her accomplishment is pretty bad-ass on its right. 

If you need someone in your pulp story that is an example of perseverance, skill and out-and-out awesomeness, then just tell them her story as is. That will do just fine.

But let’s just say that you want a little more from her. You see, when she came back from Wrangel she became an instant celebrity and just instantly she shunned her fame. The question is “Why?”

In real life, it was obvious. She was a humble person from humble beginnings. Her “only” claim to fame is that she simply survived. She probably felt that wasn’t heroic enough to merit any attention.

But in a pulp story, you have to ask, “Why?” and “What if–?”

What if her success was because …
  • She actually found refuge in the maws of a cave that led to the hollow Earth and vowed to keep it a secret?
  • She was actually a vampire who lived off the blood of her crewmates? Only to be pulled back into the real world when that food supply ran out? What if the blood affliction her son suffered (see the links) wasn’t tuberculosis, but something else all together?
  • She discovered a long lost talisman there that warded off the beasts of winter? Or let her control them? Is that why she moved back into the Arctic after the media frenzy died down?
  • She was able to channel the ancient Wisdom of her people, allowing her to have access to all their skills, memories and secrets?  

INFORMATION: The Heroine of Wrangel Island, Wikipedia entry, a book by Jennifer Niven exploring Blackjack’s life, Wikipedia on Wrangel and National Geographic’s Wrangel article.

THE ADVENTURE: The adventurers need Ada’s help in regard to any of the items above — information on Hollow Earth, clues about other vampires, to borrow her talisman or details of some ancient Inuit ceremony — and she agrees to help them — but only if they help her first.

She wants the adventurers to travel to Wrangel Island and recover another talisman of hers that she left wrapped around the corpse of the ill crew-member. 

Getting there is an adventure on its own right. What happens when they remove the talisman from the corpse — well that’s for you to decide.

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