Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Jack London

I went on a Jack London spree yesterday, because a story I read years and years ago--in high school maybe?--stuck with me, left me frozen, you might say, a story titled "To Build a Fire." What I remembered was the oppressive, naked cold that London created spectacularly in that story, and I wanted to read it again because it's hot and muggy right now and I'm trying to write a scene that takes place on the coldest night of the year in the Yukon of the Great Plains. What better preparation than a Jack London chill.

Amazing story, really--and London is an amazing writer. I'd never read Call of the Wild before, a incredibly famous short novel written from the point of view of a dog. It didn't have me on the edge of the chair like "To Build a Fire," but I had no trouble determining how it is that Jack London still, a century later, has an immense and loyal following.

Maybe I just don't go there anymore, but it seems that the world he chronicles no longer exists with the end of the frontier. Really, in both stories, a major antagonist is nature itself. I can't even remember the last book or story I read (Steinbeck, maybe) in which nature plays the villian or even has a starring role. I suppose it's a sign of the times: even as a nation we don't make things anymore, don't create, don't cut a swath through uncharted territory; we just buy and sell paper, wheel and deal, some say.

London was a strange guy--a socialist who was as much an entrepeneur as anyone in turn-of-the-century San Fran, where he grew up; a avowed racist who deplored the way white people decimated native cultures; a champion of women's rights--and multi-dimensional female characters--who treated those women closest to him like a mysogynist. I suppose one might say he was mightily human.

After reading "To Light a Fire Again," I still feel cheated when I think that London himself never almost died in -75 degree temps somewhere out in the Yukon. I'd swear he did. That he dreamed it all up seems such a lie, a cheat.

But then, most fiction is--a lie, a cheat. Maybe that's why writing novels is hard on the soul and why Plato hated it and many do.

No matter. Saturday night, I loved Julia and Julie--a great film--even though you could count the men in the theater on one hand. Yesterday, however, a Jack London Sunday and the first day of NFL football, I was back in the world where, if you got an itch, you scratch it--man and beast, life and death. Grab me a helping of that testosterone.

All of that from Jack London, a guy known in his day for his rugged American individualism as well as his streetcorner socialist rants.

Ain't we got fun.

1 comment:

Chris said...

Your post brought to mind an experience years ago in Americus, Georgia, reading London's White Fang and being utterly drawn into his world. What a powerful writer. Thanks for reminding me. Peace to you today.