24 SEP 16: "Goliah” **
London’s enthusiasm for a socialist society was well known by 1907. His fame gave him name recognition which he used make his case against capitalism. He gave frequent lectures on socialist ideology and the rights of labor. He also ran as a socialist for the mayor of Oakland, California, twice.
Prior to 1907, London published The Iron Heel, which told of the forthcoming fall of American Society to an oligarchy of capitalists. The story was his extrapolation of the end-game of the struggle between labor and capitalist. “Goliah”, written after The Iron Heel, could be considered The Iron Heel's antithesis.
Within “Goliah”, London creates a socialist Iron Heel, named Goliah, who proceeds to terrorize the world in order to transform it. Goliah's goals are to make the world a place where work is rewarded with security and happiness, where government works for the masses, and wars are found to be superfluous in the face of reason. It’s all a bit far-fetched and even at face-value, the behavior of people under such circumstances could not be as London depicts. Greed and deceit are not attributes that can be magically erased from the human psyche. But the story progresses along these lines and London finishes what he starts.
"Goliah” was written in 1907 but it took London nearly three years to find a publisher. Bookman Magazine published the story in February 1910. London received $100 for its acceptance.
23 SEP 16: "Just Meat" **
London's working class stories, when viewed together, compose a picture of living conditions for laborers and their families at the turn of the 20th century. Story by story, clapboard houses filled with single-roomed grungy domiciles gradually come into focus. These depictions are mostly secondary to his stories, but because they repeatedly appear, they can be imagined evermore completely as each story is read. In total, it's a remarkable archive to leave behind and his depictions reinforce photographs of the time. "Just Meat" adds to this archive.
Beyond it setting, however, "Just Meat" is not much more than a rehashed plot centering upon the mantra that there is no honor among thieves. The action is overplayed and the characters are stylized with cliché dialogue. The story is rather long, which adds to the blasé feeling experienced upon reaching the end. There may be a hint of socialist commentary, but this message is easily dismissed due to the mediocrity of the story.
"Just Meat" was written in 1906. It was published in Cosmopolitan in March of 1907. London received $640 for the story.
20 SEP 16: "Finis" *****
The best stories by London are those that seem to convey life straight from the page. They feel as if London is living the story as the words are written and that the end is as much of a mystery as life itself. "Finis" is one of those stories. It's a powerful blend of experience and philosophy both of which tap directly into life in the arctic.
"Finis" was written in 1906. London submitted this brutal story to six magazines before it was accepted by Success in 1907. They paid $750 for the story, which was published in May of that year.
22 JUL 16: "The Wit of Porportuk" **
At the time "The Wit of Porportuk" was written, London was trying to move beyond his typecasting as the writer of Northland stories. However, his past successes with Northland stories and the instant popularity associated with The Call of the Wild kept the publishers asking for more.
"The Wit of Porportuk” reads like a story written during this transitional period. The story is long, as if London was working for a higher word-count and increased sales price. The plot meanders through various scenes without much purpose. The Indian characters are written in a terse “Indian” style that gives them very little humanity. And the abrupt and brutal ending felt like London simply wanted cut the string after too much slack had been released along the way. London’s heart is just not present in this work.
"The Wit of Porportuk” was written in 1906 and was published in the first volume of The Times Magazine in 1907. London received $1,000 for the story.
19 JUL 16: "A Wicked Woman" **
Given London’s support for women’s issues and his prior depictions of strong and willful women in his previous stories, "A Wicked Woman" is a clear departure from these past attitudes. This may be why his writing suffers throughout. The characters are stiff and walk through the story as if tugged by strings. They also unconvincingly over-react to almost every situation. For instance, the tears running down the cheek of the demure, innocent, gullible young woman protagonist are augmented more than once with the words, “boo-hoo”. The only notable aspect of this story is his use of the surname Hemingway for two of the characters.
"A Wicked Woman" was written in 1906 and published in Smart Set Magazine in November of that year. London received $60 for the story.
18 JUL 16: "Created He Them" ****
London’s struggles with alcoholism may not be as well documented as those of Earnest Hemingway, however London was known to be a heavy drinker. London’s novel, John Barleycorn, chronicles his drinking experiences through the various stages of his life, but beyond that, his biographies treat the subject lightly.
"Created He Them" tells the story of an alcoholic that has reached a crisis point in his life. The story explores the damage and anguish that alcoholism brings to those that care about the affected person. It also considers the complexity of addiction by depicting self-loathing, denial, and self-preservation as partners in a dance that are constantly rotating in and out of the alcoholic’s life. London gets this story right and it’s sad that he does so for personal reasons.
"Created He Them" was written in 1906 and published in Pacific Monthly. London received $250 for the story.
17 JUL 16: "The Apostate" *****
History is either something you know, or it's something you know and understand. To understand it, you need to face the facts of history within the context of the human experience. In the absence of personal knowledge, there is at least fiction. While it's a double-edged sword, fictional stories written while history was happening tend to capture life as it was happening.
Written while the practice was prevalent, "The Apostate" captures the life a child that is morally and desperately forced to work at the age of seven. The reader walks one step behind the child as he moves through days that have only a suggestion of a sunrise and no sunsets. The story also alludes to the norms of a society that encouraged child labor for the benefits that child labor provided. It's one thing to know that child labor existed, but to know the damage that it caused to humans, the smallest elements of society, is to understand the historical fact of child labor.
"The Apostate" was written in 1906. London received $767 for the story when it was accepted by Woman's Home Comapnionin April 1906.
16 JUL 16: "When God Laughs" ***
London, being a realist and being head-over-heels in love with Charmian Kittredge at the time, explores the possibility of keeping the passion of love alive indefinitely. Through his narrator, a story is told of one enthusiastic couple that attempts to cheat the feeling of complacency that eventually comes to all passionate love affairs. We are simply human and the chemical/psychological/emotional reaction that is passion cannot be sustained forever. But this fictional couple tries to accomplish just that within the laboratory of London’s mind.
The fault to this story is that London attempts to be too philosophical with the story. There are lofty words and pretentious allusions that attempt to create the feeling of a lesson learned through knowledgeable observation. Had London simply told the story as if it was happening I think the story’s message would have received additional emphasis.
"When God Laughs" was written in 1906. The story was submitted to seven different publications before being published in Smart Set Magazine in October 1906. London received $200 for the story.
13 JUL 16: "Brown Wolf" ****
This story is a sort of convergence of the various experiences at this point in Jack London's life. In this story, he alludes to his love for his new wife and his love for his new home in the Hills of Sonoma. These elements literally meet up with London’s past life where hardships were experienced in the freezing environs of the Northland. And then there is the dog, Brown Wolf. Brown Wolf is representative of both the old and the new and representative of the struggle that exists when moving from one life to the other. Through Brown Wolf, London implies that the only reason why humans are able to change is due to our ability willfully make change happen. Incidentally, Brown Wolf is the mane of London’s dog throughout his years at the ranch.
"Brown Wolf" was written in 1906 and published in Everybody's in March of that year. London received $750 for the story.
11 JUL 16: "Planchette" ***
"Planchette" is one of London's longer short stories. The story takes its two main characters through the place that London loved most, his Valley of the Moon. It's probably no coincidence that London wrote "Planchette" in the same year that he bought his Beauty Ranch in Sonoma, California.
The story also echoes other elements of London's life at the time. It has a forbidden love theme that coincides with his divorce from his estranged first wife, which allowed him to marry his true love, Charmian Kittredge. The story touches on reason and science, which London adopted as a driving force in his life. And then there are horses; London was such a lover of horses that Irvine Stone titled his biography of London, Sailor on Horseback.
The negative aspect to this story is it's paranormal theme; and it's a big negative. A Planchette is a sort of turn-of-the-century Ouija board. And while I get the point of the paranormal element in the plot, London takes his paranormal activity past reality.
Paranormal incidents should be rationally explainable. The ability to find a rational reason for an eerie event makes the event seem real. London, however, gives up on reality and goes so far overboard that his beloved Sonoma Valley becomes marred by a fantasy taking place in its midst.
This less-than-real story was submitted to five magazines before it was accepted by Cosmopolitan in March of 1906. London received $1,573 for the story.
4 JUL 16: "All Gold Canyon" ****
"All Gold Canyon" begins with London creating one of the most beautiful mountain scenes that I've ever read. It's pure naturalism that takes first place above another memorable scene written by Hemingway in "Big Two-Hearted River".
As the story continues it could be argued that naturalism is expanded to include mankind. After all, we are of this earth. London captures the beauty of streams, ponds, flowers, trees and wildlife, and then adds a gold miner to the scene. The miner proceeds to act according to his desires. The miner's impacts to the oasis are severe and unmitigated and there's no denying the truth of his acts. Thus, the natural qualities of the miner are felt. The story then continues to the final pages where man's natural tendencies towards greed and selfishness are expressed and then finally, the oasis is left alone once again (but probably for just while).
"All Gold Canyon" was written in 1905 and published in Century Magazine in November of that year. London received $500 for the story.
3 JUL 16: "The Unexpected" *****
London, on occasion, wrote stories that drilled down into the values and inner workings of society. Within these stories, he works to remove entire populations so that only his characters remain to act out demonstrations of their core beliefs as individuals. In this way, questions can be asked of these individuals and their answers can serve to shed light on the fabric of society itself.
"The Unexpected" drills down into the concept of justice and contrasts that concept with the act of revenge. London demonstrates our preference (even if reluctantly) to adhere to the rules that have been instilled within us as members of society and demonstrates the relief that such rules bring about. London implies that simply killing as an act of revenge destroys a moral good necessary for society to exist, but killing as an act of justice somehow has the opposite effect. It's a thought-provoking story and it's one that has lived with me since first reading it over twenty years ago.
"The Unexpected" was written in 1905. The story was published in McClure's Magazine in August 1906 for which London received $655.
18 JUN 16: "The White Man's Way" ***
While reading London's stories that focus on the interactions between indigenous people of the Northland and white European adventurers, there is always that inevitable cringe that happens when a passage highlights just how ignorant (and thus racist) London was towards these people. He treats them as if they had minds of children while the Europeans are depicted as masters of the Earth.
Yet, these stories are not without some value. They convey descriptions of cold desolate places in nature where people lived in unbelievable hardship. They capture a time when London's ignorance was actually a norm and thus he memorializes a history that should not be forgotten. And even though his treatment is backwards by today's standards, the underlying differences between the cultures of indigenous and European people are put forth for consideration. "The White Man's Way" is all this but certainly nothing more.
The story was written in 1905 and published in Sunday Magazine of the St. Louis Republic on November 4, 1906.
4 MAY 15: "The Sun-Dog Trail" ****
The difference between London's stories of expediency and his stories of truth become clear with "The Sun-Dog Trail." While this story is longer than most, its length serves as a physical link to the plight of the story's characters. The naturalism of the story comes across beautifully even though it depicts the part of nature that is erosive to human life.
The central theme of this story is also thought-provoking in that it relates back to what we see in paintings and pictures as they hang on the wall. As with any piece of art, its physical beauty and meaning stretch only to the edges of the canvas, but a broader more personal meaning is always present in the mind of the beholder.
"The Sun-Dog Trail" was written in 1905. The story was published in Harper's Monthly Magazine in December of that year. London received $500 for the story.
2 MAY 15: "A Nose for the King" **
London spent most of 1904 covering the Russo-Japanese War for the Hearst publishing corporation. And while most of the coverage was highly controlled and censored by the Japanese government, London forged ahead under his own means and wit in order to reach the front lines, often at the risk of his own life. He was arrested and detained on several occasions and eventually needed the assistance of President Roosevelt to gain his release.
These less-than-positive experiences may have, in part, driven the writing of this story of political corruption in the orient. The story is filled with logistical issues, but the main point of corruption, to the point of contempt, is made.
London's name helped to propel this story beyond its worth. Also, a lack of supply in London's short story material in 1904, due to his war coverage and his focus on his novels of that year, probably contributed to its success. London received $350 for the story which was published in The Black Cat.
24 APR 15: "Negore, the Coward" **
At face value, "Negore, the Coward" is a typical formulaic story that's entirely dependent upon action, suspense, and a stereotypical depiction of a man's need for approval from the woman he loves. In fact, London's then new wife, Charmain, stated in her biography of London that this was the first story where London expressed his love for her within the context of one of his stories. While that may be loving gesture, this story is still a piece of hack-work.
But that's what London's readers wanted. Action, adventure, and suspense equated to a true pot-boiler. And it's interesting that four years earlier, at the dawn of London's career he published an essay entitled "On the Writer's Philosophy of Life" in a magazine known as The Editor. In that essay London states:
This is for the writer—no matter how much hack-work he is turning out just now—who cherishes ambitions and ideals, and yearns for the time when agriculture newspapers and home magazines no more may occupy the major portion of his visiting list.
It is this distinction, London's awareness of the difference between literary art and hack-work that keeps me pushing through stories like "Negore, the Coward." In my reading experience, I have found that when a writer knows the difference between art and hack-work, art may indeed reside within the next story.
"Negore, the Coward" was sold to The San Francisco Call for $250 but the story was never published. The story later appeared in London's collection of stories entitled Love of Life & Other Stories.
18 APR 15: "Too Much Gold" **
London demonstrates in this story that having first-hand knowledge of a setting and being able to express that setting beautifully in words will not compensate for a bad story. "Too Much Gold" captures the gold rush spirit of the Northland and even captures some of the gruffness inherent in the miners of the time. However, London never bothers to give any meaningful personality to the main characters. They simply appear to do London's bidding and then proceed to execute the ending of the story.
"Too Much Gold" is an uninspired story. However, it was sold to Ainslee's Magazine for $100 towards the later part of 1903; an indication of the value of blatant entertainment in the absence of literary merit.
11 APR 15: "Love of Life" *****
There are certain stories by London that have lived inside of me since I first read them many years ago. "Love of Life" is one of those stories. I felt this story when I first read it. It grated on my imaginative fears of finding myself in a similar situation while out camping or while driving across the desolate deserts of the west; fears of finding myself alone and starving in some unforgiving landscape with tools that would useless for the preservation of life. The story made real the imagined drudgery of moving on through pain and suffering in the face an obvious state of hopelessness. It humanized a psychotic disregard for reality so that a lie could be lived for one more day. In reading it again I realized that it may not be as powerful as it was back then, but this story is nonetheless still there, serving the needs of the more disagreeable elements of my imagination.
"Love of Life" was written in 1903 and was published inMcClure's Magazine in December 1905. London received $400 for this story.
10 APR 15: "The Banks of the Sacramento" ***
This is another 'youth' story from London that uses the typical formula: boy faces life-threatening problem and sees it through to a successful ending. At the time this story was written, London was still earning his reputation as a writer that could "deliver to the market marketable goods," and London quickly found out that a diversified demographic, youths as well as adults, would result in a larger market. The story, however, is well written even if it is not written with heart.
London wrote "The Banks of the Sacramento" in 1903 and the story was published in The Youth's Companion in March 1904. London received $75 for the story.
8 APR 15: "The Faith of Men" ***
In this story, London pokes fun at the general propensity for men to believe in the worst possible news, especially after they contrive the absence of evidence to the contrary as an affirmation of that news. The story goes on, however, to point out that the male character demands that men live with the consequences of their foolish conclusions. Overall, it's an entertaining story that's not far from the truth of 'us men' in real life.
It's been reported that London received $156 in transport credit from Sunset Magazine in 1903 for this story. Sunset Magazine was started as a promotional publication for the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1898 and took its name from the famous passenger train known as the Sunset Limited.
26 MAR 15: "The Leopard Man's Story" ****
As it sits, "The Leopard Man's Story" reads as a light tragedy. It would be almost comical if it were not for the edgy and rough depictions of life within a turn-of-the-century circus environment. And it would be almost unremarkable if it were not for the evolutionary theme that seems to simmer just below the words. Over the past 7 million years, humans have progressively refined their ability to interject creativity into their acts of merciless killing.
Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly published "The Leopard Man's Story" in August 1903. London received $25 for the story.
24 FEB 15: "Yellow Handkerchief" ***
London's Fish Patrol stories tend merge together into a montage of repetitive cat-n-mouse chase scenes. So much so, that the methods of apprehension can no longer be attributed to specific stories. When taken together, the stories point to the superiority of wit over pluck. However, as a group of stories read in one volume, a.k.a. Tales of the Fish Patorl , they serve to depict a way of life that existed long ago on the surface and shores of the San Francisco Bay. As these stories start to merge together, their points in common become clear.
"Yellow Handkerchief" is the last of the Fish Patrol stories and thus it has its own climatic ending. But even with all its drama, the elements of heroism and bravery are downplayed so that real-life reactions are left to speak for themselves.
The Youth's Companion originally published "Yellow Handkerchief" in May 1905. London received $75 for the story.
23 FEB 15: "Demetrios Contos" ***
This is yet another Fish Patrol story. While generic in composition to the others, the bright spot is the opening where the perceptions of fishermen towards their tormentors are briefly defined. It speaks to the importance of communicating the purpose of laws and regulations rather than dictating them by fiat. And if a reasonable purpose exists for such, then a cooperative approach towards achieving that purpose may be more fruitful that pitting one side against the other. Once again, this is an entertaining story, but it's not much more than that.
"Demetrios Contos" was written in 1903, published in The Youth's Companion in 1905, and London received $75 for the story.
22 FEB 15: "Charley's Coup" ***
"Charley's Coup" is another well written story where the Fish Patrol, through nerve and inventiveness, manages to apprehend a large group of fisherman who were breaking the law. The plot is suspenseful but also practical. Nothing about the story is far fetched, which probably speaks to the truth as experienced by London during his time patrolling the Bay as well as his time spent poaching oysters from it. The purpose of this story is to entertain and entertainment is what it provides.
This story was written in 1903 and published in The Youth's Companion in 1905. London received $75 for the story.
21 FEB 15: "The Marriage of Lit-Lit" ***
As wrong as London was about race, it's a bit surprising that he repeatedly depicts strong willful women in his stories. It could be speculated that he was simply appealing to his key demographic. However, the strong persona embodied in his wife Charmian supports a true desire to see women fulfill their full potential during a time when very few options were open to women beyond acquiescing to hearth and home.
"The Marriage of Lit-Lit" is an example of a story that features a strong woman. Lit-Lit, the new bride of a Northland trade manager, decides to follow her own desires and make her own choices against the will of her father, a scheming Indian chief. One of the results of her independent thinking is "the first new-woman lecture delivered north of Fifty-three." It's a fun story that is well written, but it's not without its irony. As the story is told, the strong-willed Lit-Lit exercises her will to remain bound to the hearth and home of her husband.
This story was written in 1903. The story was published in Frank Leslie's Popular Monthly in September 1903 and London received $75 for the story.
18 FEB 15: "The Siege of the Lancashire Queen" ***
This is a solidly entertaining story based on London's time with the San Francisco Bay Fish Patrol. The entertainment stems from the story's progress from one event to the next without overplaying any single event. London presents the problem of capturing two fugitives that have taken refuge on board a small British ship and he explains his strategy for capturing them in terms that are easy to understand by non-seafaring readers. In the final scene, London puts together an imaginative ending that draws upon the latest in maritime technology.
London wrote this story in February of 1903. It was published in The Youth's Companion in March 1905 for which London received $75. In researching this story it was noted that a short silent movie was made from this story in 1922.
19 NOV 14: "A Raid on the Oyster Pirates" ***
"A Raid on the Oyster Pirates" is very close to a remix of London's previous story, "The King of the Greeks." Both stories involve the planning and the act of apprehending outlaw fishermen on the waters of the San Francisco Bay by deputies of the Fish Patrol, with London himself cast as the youngest of the patrolmen. Both stories offer insights into the illegal methods used by the fishermen to enhance their catch, and both use deception to affect their respective outcomes.
Where the two stories differ is in their use of dialog. "A Raid on the Oyster Pirates" may include the best character dialog used by London at this point in his career. Each character is distinct in the way they talk, which establishes a feeling of individuality for each character.
"A Raid on the Oyster Pirates" was written in 1902 and was sold to The Youth's Companion for $75 during the same week that "The King of the Greeks" was sold to the same magazine for the same price. "A Raid on the Oyster Pirates" was also included London’s book, Tales of the Fish Patrol in 1905. Apparently, the similarity between the two stories was not a problem for the magazine or London's publisher.
18 NOV 14: "The King of the Greeks" ***
"The King of the Greeks" could be considered the typical London story that drew me into his work so long ago. It's typical in that it's a straight forward adventure that succeeds in maintaining its foundation in reality. The main characters are a patrolman with the San Francisco Bay Fish Patrol and his young partner, presumably a personification of London. The villain is an imposing Greek fisherman that uses illegal means to catch his fish and always gets away with it. The story is essentially a little slice of the early days of the 20th century, sailing about on the waters of the San Francisco Bay with a purpose, to do a small bit of good against a relatively small bit of evil.
"The King of the Greeks" was written in 1902 and was sold to The Youth's Companion for $75. The story was included London's book, Tales of the Fish Patrol in 1905.
31 OCT 14: "The League of the Old Men" *****
There are times when the subject matter of a story seems to distract London from the mental efforts of writing. These are the stories where the words are secondary to the plot and the reader feels a vacuum drawing him or her into some mental place between their eyes and the page. With "The League of the Old Men," London tells of a corruption that was perpetrated by the fortune hunters that ventured into lands that were timeless before their arrival. It tells of the people of those lands and of the acts undertaken by a few to try and stem the tide of a vanishing way of life. In the end, the victims are guilty and the accused are innocent, but nobody in the story sees it quite that way.
Jack London was once quoted as saying, "I incline to the opinion that 'The League of the Old Men' is the best short story I have written. . .The voices of millions are in the voice of old Imber, and the tears and sorrows of millions are in his throat as he tells his story; his story epitomizes the whole vast tragedy of the contact of Indian and white man." With this story he gets to the heart of the matter, which is something that I wish he did more often than not.
"The League of the Old Men" was written in 1902 and was sold for $160 to Brandur Magazine. The story was published in October that year.
30 OCT 14: "White and Yellow" ***
With "White and Yellow," London finds a second authentic source of material to draw upon for his stories. Up to this point, deviations from his Klondike Gold Rush stories often lacked a meaningful perspective and often fell short of capturing reality. London joined the California Fish Patrol at age 16 as a deputy patrolman after spending the previous year on the other side of the law as an Oyster Pirate. He was well accustomed to sailing about San Francisco Bay in small boats and using those skills to interact with others on the water. "White and Yellow" draws upon his sailing experiences as well as scenes from his actual raids on immigrant poachers. While contemporaneous themes of racial superiority run through these pages, the story itself is entertaining.
"White and Yellow" was written in 1902 and sold to The Youth's Companion for $75. This story, along with six others of a similar nature, were included in Jack London's collection of short stories entitled Tales of The Fish Patrol , which was published by the Macmillan Co. in 1905 .
29 OCT 14: "In Yeddo Bay" ***
Jack London re-writes a story that he originally wrote seven-years previously for his High School paper, The Aegis. The original story was titled "A Night's Swim in Yeddo Bay", and while the original story showed London's desire to be a writer, it also showed his inexperience. In this updated version, London incorporates some of the lessons that he has learned during the intervening years. London now 'shows' the story to his readers rather than to simply telling it. As a result, the characters now have more depth and their actions are now aligned with their composition. It's still a so-so story, but the improvements in technique warrant an additional star.
"In Yeddo Bay" was written in 1902 and published that year by St. Nicholas Magazine. London received $50 for the story.
04 OCT 14: "The Story of Jees Uck" ***
As one of London's longer stories, the journey is enjoyable. His characters consist of a native Indian woman and a displaced American man of wealth. While London has struggled with depictions of the wealthy class in the past, the displacement of this character to the wild and desolate Northland gives London the edge that he needs to make this wealthy person appear human.
The journey consists of the evolution of these two characters through different states of reality. For the woman, she grows to realize the strength that can be had through sheer determination. For the man, his displacement highlights how perceptions of reality change with one's environment. Both characters live through a series of metamorphoses until they reach the end of the story, which fall a bit flat.
This story was written in 1902 and published that year in The Smart Set. London received $100 for "The Story of Jees Uck".
30 SEP 14: "The Sickness of Lone Chief" **
This is the typical "Hero's Journey" storyline. A sickly Indian boy is sent off to a suicide battle against a neighboring tribe, returns victorious, and is made chief. I always seem to be receptive to this theme probably due to reasons that could best be described by Joseph Campbell. However, this story is a skeleton of the type and is lacking in any sincere creative effort. It's possible that London saw these shortcomings too. While his better works were regularly bringing in payments of $100 or more, London let this one go to Out West Magazine for a mere $10.
This story was written in 1902.
10 SEP 14: "The Death of Ligoun" **
"The Death of Ligoun" is a story with little purpose. It's possible that the story highlights a short tale of native North American culture before the Europeans had a chance to corrupt their way of life. However, it's more likely to be a tale intended to press the perception of European superiority. Whatever its purpose, the story itself consists of a shell of a native warrior telling the story of his youthful past in return for drinks of "Three-Star whisky" rationed out by a curious European. It's really quite pathetic.
London submitted the story to five different publications and all of them rejected it. He then shelved the story, but managed to find a place for it, probably as filler material, in his collection of short stories titled The Children of the Frost. "The Death of Ligoun" was written in 1902.
9 SEP 14: "The Shadow and the Flash" ***
London considered himself a proponent of science and "The Shadow and the Flash" is a science fiction story, true to the genre. London uses two kernels of science, consisting of spectroscopic lines of absorption and the advances in chemical medicines experienced in the early 1900s, to extrapolate an entertaining story about invisibility. But the story is more than that. It makes fun of itself by shrugging off its initial pretense of scientific seriousness with a few lighthearted scenes, and it also maintains an undercurrent of realism. All tolled, I can imagine a grin on London's face upon writing the last word.
"The Shadow and the Flash" was written in 1902. London received $50 for the story from The Bookman. The story was published in June 1903.
14 AUG 14: "Bâtard" ****
When reading stories that are over a century old, I sometimes struggle to keep my mind open to the realities of society at that time. Racial superiority was widespread and another widespread belief was that all lesser creatures held no value beyond their service to mankind. While I certainly do not hold these beliefs today, I am required to imagine that I might have held these beliefs had I been alive a hundred hears ago. Otherwise, the heart of the story may be obscured or lost.
Bâtard represents such a challenge, but move beyond the present and into the past and the story becomes something more eternal. It tells of a struggle between to forces of pure life, and life in its entirety always appears cruel, if not evil.
The story is also London's first attempt at giving life to a dog, and he improves his methods in his subsequent attempts. Bâtard is a sort of inversion of Buck and it may be that before London could write about the true spirit of a dog as humans would understand it to be, he first needed to define the source of that spirit. With a little imagination, Bâtard fulfills that role.
The story was first titled "Diable – A Dog". It was written in 1902 and published in June of that year by The Cosmopolitan. London received $140 for the story.
30 JUL 14: "Moon Face" ****
Taken in chronological order, "Moon Face" represents a departure from London's usual content. Stories previous to "Moon Face" always felt commercial and marketable, in an early 1900's sort of way. Common themes of these previous stories included elements of race superiority, the ingenuity and grit of humankind, and happy endings. Even in stories that ended badly for his characters, the reasons for these tragedies usually centered upon stupidity or the overwhelming force of nature. Under these circumstances, the common reader or more concisely, magazine buyer, could find comfort in the space separating them from the tragedy.
"Moon Face", however, was written to be deliberately evil. It makes no apology for itself and upon completing it you are left somewhat dazed. The story forces you to think about the events that occurred and you find yourself attempting to assert some sort of moral message into it or at least some humor. The story actually includes traces of both (damn you, London). But in the end, it's just evil, which makes it interestingly good.
"Moon Face" was written in 1902 and published in The Argonaut in July of that year. London received a paltry $15 for the story.
29 JUL 14: "Amateur Night" ***
This is a solid story for London considering that it takes place outside of the northern gold rush territories. The plot centers on a subject that he knows: writing and publishing. As such, his characters are convincing and his dialog, which can be painfully bad in some stories, is reserved and true.
"Amateur Night" provides a real-world message that talent will only take you so far and that forming relationships with other sucessful writers is a key element in achieving personal success. It's interesting to note, that once London achieved his own success, he continuously provided feedback to unknown aspiring writers, as his time allowed:
Letter: Jack London to Max Fedder
Some sources place the writing of "Amateur Night" in 1901 while others place it later, in 1903. The quality of the writing would seem to support its later creation and its publication date of November 1903, in The Pilgrim, also supports the later date. London received $75 for this story.
19 JUL 14: "Up the Slide" ****
It's amazing what London can do without the distraction of having to put characters on a stage. This story is a practice in minimalism, where one very young man must survive against all of nature, who, in turn, really doesn't care what happens in the end. There is no dialog. All we have are the protagonist's thoughts, actions, and fears to drive the story and London shows how cheap life can be, even when civilization is in sight. And while this story may end well, the ending does not seem contrived, where probability has been cheated or where reality has been manipulated. Rather, it seems like wits and strength outsmarted and outfought the indifferences of nature.
"Up the Slide" was written in late 1901, but it was not published until 1906 even though the story was purchased by The Youth's Companion in early 1902 for $50.
03 JUL 14: "To Build a Fire" (v1) ****
The natural world possesses a vast yet idle power that can crush anyone who attempts to master it, whether by purpose or by chance. London captures this aspect of life in "To Build a Fire" and creates a truth about what we are capable of in the final moments of such a struggle. In this first of two versions of the same story, however, London takes some liberties. He tames the outcome to be more to the liking of mankind even though the uncaring reality of nature typically takes what it deserves. In the second version of this story, written seven years later, London refrains from meddling and writes an even better story.
This first version was written in 1901 and sold to The Youth's Companionin 1902 for $50.
02 JUL 14: "Local Color" **
This story is tragic, not because of its content but because of its execution. London had before him the stuff needed to craft a story that would have been true to his reputation. Prior to becoming a writer, London spent about a year as a tramp. He started out as a member of a protest march of unemployed workers intending to march from California to Washington, D.C. He then set out on his own, tramping throughout the US and Canada. He finally ended up in Buffalo, New York where he was arrested for vagrancy and was sentenced to 30 days of hard labor.
"Local Color" is a story about a tramp. However, rather than being true to the character, London invents a fantasy: a gentleman tramp. Maybe this is how he saw himself among the men he came across in his travels, or maybe this was just an experiment in contrasting realities. In any case, the gentleman tramp fails to be convincing. London struggles, as usual, with depicting the dialogue and behaviors of the supposed gentleman primarily due to his own lack of personal knowledge with this class of people.
Publishers arrived at the same conclusion. London wrote the story in 1901 and sent it out to ten magazines before finally being accepted by Ainslee's Magazine in October 1903. London received $150 for the story, which is probably more reflective of his fame in 1903 than the content of this story.
01 JUL 14: "An Adventure in the Upper Sea" **
This is a case where London was over-reliant on a gimmick. In 1901, flying to great heights by means of a hot air balloon was an act worthy of capturing one's imagination. Add in the act of parachuting from that balloon and you have the ingredients for a sensational story. But including those elements in a story represents a substantial risk for a writer. The underlying sensationalism needs to stand on its own, without hype, in order to allow reality to prevail, but in the absence of hyping the sensational elements you had better have a meaningful story. In "An Adventure in the Upper Sea," London fails on both counts.
London received $20 for this story in 1902 from The Independent after being rejected by two other magazines. The story was written in 1901.
30 JUN 14: "To Repel Boarders" ****
"To Repel Boarders" is a compact short story that captures a small part of being young and the associated feeling of being invincible. The main characters are two teenage boys who are probably accustomed to being guided through life by caring parents, but are also allowed to experience responsibility. On this first/next step towards adulthood they learn the difference between having a heroic imagination and performing a heroic action.
London wrote "To Repel Boarders" in 1901, and sold the story to St. Nicholas Magazinein 1902 for $25.
10 JUN 14: "In the Forests of the North" ***
The beginning of this story is entertaining. It tells of a brave explorer trekking into unexplored realms, making contact with an isolated indigenous tribe, and then being curtly greeted by a fellow explorer who has been living with the tribe for the past five years. The irony of the exchange was readily grasped and gave the story a punchy beginning. From there, however, the story degrades into common themes of race superiority. The resident explorer cannot hope to stay with his young, beautiful, but 'simple' Eskimo wife when he learns of the availability of the society-girl that he left behind. His tribal life, no matter how committed, is something that can be readily discarded in light of the superiority of his kind. The tribe then reacts savagely at his decision to return to his way of life and a typical rifle-verses-arrow ending ensues with the natives suffering heavy losses. The only twist is that both explorers are killed in the fight.
London received $150 for this story from Pearson's Magazine who published it in September 1902.
04 MAY 14: "The Story of Keesh" ***1/2
London was very prolific in his writing. 1,000 words a day was his routine and he seldom performed any material changes to his work prior to publication. Therefore, in reading trough all of his stories in chronological order one gets a sense that, like any of us, London had his good days, bad days, and the occasional great day.
"The Story of Keesh" is a good day. It’s a solid story with a youth theme that demonstrates his control over his work. No single element: dialog, plot, or setting is over-the-top and all elements are well crafted. The final result is a story that is readable while also being believable, and also inspirational for any young person that might desire to change his world for the better through "headcraft and not witchcraft".
This story was written in 1901 and published in the Holiday Magazine for Children in 1904. London received $27.50 for this story.
12 APR 14: "The One Thousand Dozen" ****
Drive and determination are generally seen as positive human attributes. Seeing a thing through to the end is typically admired by our peers. But when one's determination becomes an obsession, a transformation happens. What was once a reason-filled drive towards a pre-conceived goal becomes an unreasoned act that is powered solely by desire. "The One Thousand Dozen" presents a picture of this aspect of life. It explores the details associated with its particular example of this transformation, and the story's ending serves as metaphorical generalization of the act of losing one's humanity.
It's interesting that over the last three stories my ratings have been inversely proportional to the ease of publication; as if to say that the closer a story is to our common faults, the harder it is to publish. "The One Thousand Dozen" was submitted to 21 publications and was finally accepted by National Magazine for which London received $20.
11 APR 14: "The Master of Mystery" ***
In contrast with London’s previous story, "The Sunlanders," "The Master of Mystery" is refreshing. The removal of the Sunlanders' presence from the Indian village results in a bit of entertainment. This story is a mystery with a nice snappy-twist ending. However, it also provides a bit of social commentary on the rituals of religion and possibly some insights into what hunter-gatherer tribes of the anchient world considered to be justice.
This story was written in 1901 and it was not well received (in contrast to "The Sunlanders"). It was submitted to 16 magazines before it was bought by Out West for a paltry $15. The story was ultimately included in Children of the Frost.
10 APR 14: "The Sunlanders" *
"The Sunlanders" is a truly bad story. It's what I would consider to be a hack job. The plot consists of a cyclic game of hide-and-seek where the losers are killed during every round. And the losers are, of course, a village full of bumbling native warriors, and the winners are, of course, a hand-full white 'Sunlanders' armed with a few of those Hollywood guns that never run out of bullets. I understand that racial bigotry was almost a science at the time, but this story goes way beyond what London, a practitioner of naturalistic writing, could have possibly believed to be possible.
With the "Sunlanders" we see a paradox of writing. In his early years as a writer, London's bad stories were a result of his lack of experience. Now, some seven years later, they are a result of his experience. He has learned what sells to his patrons and he has learned how to write what sells.
London received $100 for "Sunlanders" from Ainslee's Magazine and this story was also published in his collection of short stories, Children of the Frost. This story was written in September 1901, and was originally titled, "The Sun Folk."
28 FEB 14: "Li Wan, The Fair" ****
London often stated that he never revised his own stories. He felt that they were complete once the last word was on the page. In his early days as a writer, a completed story would either sell or languish in a series of self-addressed stamped envelopes. Then London became a hit, a writer without mass media competition, which resulted in virtually all of his stories being published.
Including "Li Wan, The Fair", this is the second time in the last four stories that the same central theme has been used by London. And both times, the second story is better than the first.
In "Li Wan, The Fair" London takes a more serious look at the theme of the abandoned child that has been adopted and raised by natives. This is the same theme that he used in his earlier story, "The 'Fuzziness' of Hoockla-Heen." In this case, however, the symptoms associated with the main character's childhood life are more realistically displayed; the setting is more realistically crafted; and the ending is simply more realistic.
It's unfortunate that both stories were published, but for London, having sold both stories in both cases produced better financial results. At the time, he was working to pay back the advance that he received on his first book, which was not a success.
"Li Wan, The Fair" was written in August 1901 and was sold to The Atlantic Monthly for $100. The story was published in August 1902.
27 FEB 14: "Nam-Bok the Unveracious" ****
This is story is similar to "Keesh, the Son of Keesh" in that explores the cultural differences between indigenous tribes and industrialized society. However, "Nam-Bok the Unveracious" takes a calmer, more pragmatic approach to the conflict and consequently comes across as genuine. The story is told from the perspective of a native fisherman that is washed away from his village and spends years within our culture. He then returns to his village and tells of his experiences to those that cannot begin to imagine the reality of the scenes that he describes.
The story creates a reason to think about the native cultures that we were invading during that time period. It also illustrates how those cultures remained unchanged for millennia before our appearance at their door.
"Nam-Bok the Unveracious" was written in August 1901. It was first published in Ainslee's Magazine in August 1902, but titled "Nam-Bok the Liar." London received $100 for this initial publication. The story then made its second appearance, under its original title, in London's book, The Children of the Frost.
25 FEB 14: "Keesh, the Son of Keesh" **
Within its time, the context of "Keesh, the Son of Keesh" must have been well received by the story-reading public. It confirms the perceived savagery of the native tribes of a remote and non-Christian land. The story opens by providing an interesting commentary on the cultural clashes that ensued between the beliefs of Yukon River natives and the beliefs of the prospecting Christian invaders. It then takes a severe turn for the worse, when the desired wife of a converted Christian chief demands "not two heads, but three" to prove his loyalty to his people and his manliness to her. Apparently, Christians do not kill but Indians do. London ends the story with the climatic scene of the delivery of the requisite three heads and the taking of a fourth as a final act of revenge: once and Indian, never a Christian.
Reflective of the contemporary 'literary food' that this story represents, London received $100 for this story form Ainslee's Magazine. The story was written in 1901 and published in January 1902.
24 FEB 14: "The 'Fuzziness' of Hoockla-Heen" ***
This is a fairly good story. The plot is interesting, the characters are real, and of course, the setting is the mythical Northland. More importantly, though, is the fact that this story is not over-written. It shows a certain amount of restraint given its obvious potential to go overboard on any number of its key components. Even the dialogue is greatly improved. Here, London's written dialects serve to support the story, as opposed to standing out and becoming a distraction, which is the case in many of his previous works. Everything comes together as it should, so the only remaining issue is that it's only fairly good.
"The 'Fuzziness' of Hoockla-Heen" was written in 1901. London received $50 for this story on July 13 of that year. The story was not published, however, until July 3, 1902, in Youth's Companion.
13 FEB 14: "Chris Farrington: Able Seaman" *** + *
This story initially appears to be a re-write of London's first story, "Typhoon Off the Coast of Japan", written seven years prior. The action takes place on board the Sophia Southerland, which is the ship that London served on as an Able Seaman at the age of 17. Most of the story takes place during a typhoon that envelops the ship while hunting seals off the coast of Japan.
But that is where the similarities with his first story end. Rather than a re-write, "Farrington" serves as an abstract autobiography of London over the past seven years of his drive and determination to become a writer. The main character is a boy, 17 years of age, who signs on as an Able Seaman and has to prove himself to the older more experienced sailors. Furthermore, the young boy must prove himself in spite of a physical injury inflicted upon him by his sea-going environment; not unlike London's work to become a writer in spite of his lack of education (and other disadvantages).
The story progresses through the events of the typhoon and the young boy indeed proves that he is just as good as his experienced peers. The end shows that his peers do accept the boy as an equal in a manner similar to the acceptance of London as a writer by the literary/publishing community at this point in his career.
This story was written in October 1900. London received $50 from The Youth's Companion for this story. The story was published on May 23,1901.
12 FEB 14: "A Northland Miracle" **
"A Northland Miracle" is a far-fetched tale of redemption by means of a final act of atonement. While the events described by London could have happened, my observations of humans with dark souls indicate that evil perseveres in those that are predisposed to evil deeds. Spontaneous conversions to good are seldom spawned by guilt, given that feelings of guilt are typically unavailable to those so inclined. So while this story may be true to the miracle promised by its title, it is not true to the realism that I enjoy in London's writing.
The story was written in October 1900, and introduced John Thornton, who would later be featured in The Call of the Wild. However, while the story was purchased soon after its creation, it was not published until 10 years after London's death. London received $50 for this story from Youth's Companion, but John Thornton remained unknown for the time being.
29 DEC 13: "Thanksgiving on Slav Creek" ***
When we think of history, it's not unusual to think big. We think of wars, movements, and events, and then use deductive reasoning in order to understand their meaning within the context of our present-day lives. But history, as it happens, is also small and personal. "Thanksgiving on Slav Creek" is a small and personal story that, when aggregated together with other such stories, comprises the historical event known as the Klondike Gold Rush.
"Thanksgiving on Slav Creek" was written in September 1900. The story was published in Harper's Bazar in November 1900 for which London received $50.
28 DEC 13: "The Great Interrogation" ***
This story speaks to an era that has long since past. The details of the plot belong to Victorian customs and to a period now known as New Imperialism. Within this era, marriages of convenience and scientific racism were commonly accepted and London explicitly memorializes these institutions within this story. For this reason, there is some value here in that this former reality has been preserved and the past can continue to be evaluated against the present. Beyond the antiquated customs, the story is well written and moves through its plot expeditiously. Also, the story of a love that was once forsaken and then sought after years later is indeed timeless.
This story was written in August of 1900 and published in Ainslee's Magazine in December 1900. London received $125 for this story. This story was also transformed into a play that was performed throughout the US between 1905 and 1911. This is a link to an excerpt from the 6 October 1905 edition of the Los Angeles Herald that mentions the play.
27 DEC 13: "Where the Trail Forks" ****
I like stories that can be sifted away to reveal layer upon layer of underlying themes. Within this story, the cultural conflict that existed between the invading southern prospectors and the isolated indigenous people of the north is up front and drives the plot. Beneath this theme, the story explores two different approaches to the same problem. The first being a practical approach and the second being a principled approach. As the story progresses to its end, a moral is thrown at the reader in no uncertain terms. And finally, if you consider London's socialist beliefs, an underlying commentary on the consequences of greed and the virtues of working together for a common cause also appear. All of this is presented in a concise package that is filled with the realism of the remote Klondike northlands.
"Where the Trail Forks" was written in June of 1900 and published in Outing in December 1900. London received about $60 for this work.
26 DEC 13: "A Hyperborean Brew" **1/2
London wrote several short stories that are critical of capitalism and mock its institutions. "A Hyperborean Brew" is likely the first published version of this type of story. However, in London's attempt to demonize the virtues of capitalism, the story becomes over-played and far-fetched. Additionally, London tells this story by means of an after-the-fact first-person narrative that alternates between past and present events. Overall, there is just too much going on with this story for anything meaningful or entertaining to be communicated.
"A Hyperborean Brew" was written in June of 1900 and published in Metropolitan Magazine in July 1901. London received $43 for this work.
08 DEC 13: "A Relic of the Pliocene" ***1/2
This is a typical campfire story. It's filled with the wonders and possibilities that exist in the open wilderness, which is never far away from any campsite. Add in the imagination of a ten-year-old, tell the story with a serious voice (as London does), and there is more than enough here to conjure up a genuine belief out of the firelight.
The story was written in 1900 and published in Collier's Weekly on January 12, 1901. London received a bit over $100 for this work.
22 NOV 13: "Which Make Men Remember" **
The best part about this story is how talented writing can make a bad story readable. The actions of the characters, their words, and the scenes are convincingly real, but the decisions that drive the plot are unbelievable. Honor is not a common virtue of murders and gamblers.
This story was originally titled "Uri Bram's God." London received $40 for this story from the San Francisco Examiner, Sunday Examiner Magazine who published the story on June 24, 1900. The title was later changed to "Which Make Men Remember" for inclusion in the book, The God of His Fathers & Other Stories. Also of note is that the story was again re-titled to "The Dead Horse Trail" and published in June 1964 in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.
21 NOV 13: "Jan, the Unrepentant" ***
This is a character-driven story that takes place in the barren snow-covered plains around Nome, Alaska. Jan, accused of murder, must face Judge Lynch and from there several scenes ensue up to the ending, which is just another scene.
The best part of the story is the vein of comedy that runs through its entirety. The worst part is the dialogue. While I can understand how men from various parts of the world would be thrown together in its remote corners, I do not believe that many men from Kentucky say "suh" within the context of everything they say, as in…
"Corruption may wear the robe of magistracy, suh, but Judge Lynch can always be relied upon to give justice without court fees. I repeat, suh, without court fees."
"Corruption may wear the robe of magistracy, suh, but Judge Lynch can always be relied upon to give justice without court fees. I repeat, suh, without court fees."
However, there is that vein of comedy and this does add something to the fun entertainment value of the work.
"Jan, the Unrepentant" was written in May of 1900, sold to Outing Magazine for $25, and published in their August 1900 edition.
19 NOV 13: "Grit of Women" ****
"Grit of Women" is, more-or-less, the seventh Northland man-on-the-trail story written by Jack London, and by comparing the progressive quality of these stories it becomes apparent that he has learned a lot about writing in just under three years of dedicated study. This tale describes a harsh reality without resorting to drama and he ends the tale in a heartfelt way without being sappy. In between, the characters make tough decisions that are right at the time but also warrant reflection after the fact. The overall result is convincing and solid.
"Grit of Women" was written in May of 1900, and was published in McClure’s Magazine in August of that year. London was paid $40 for the story.
17 NOV 13: "Dutch Courage" ****
It's odd that I have lived in California all my life and have only once, and only for a few minutes at that, visited Yosemite National Park. We were on our way to a small town in the Sierra Nevada foothills for Thanksgiving Dinner and we were already late, but the road passed through the entrance to the park and the detour into the valley was too tempting to pass up.
"Dutch Courage" takes place in Yosemite and while the story may not capture the beauty of the place, it does capture the grandeur of that first impression: descriptions of crystal clear lakes, oak and pine forests, and meadows that are towered over by sheer rock faces. He also captures that initial human desire to reach the top of these mountains, including the most impressive of them all, Half Dome.
Given the youth-focused themes of adventure and temperance, "Dutch Courage" was appropriately published in Youth's Companion Magazine in November 1900. London received $50 for the story.
15 NOV 13: "The Law of Life" ***** + *
Of all the Jack London stories I've read in my life, this one continues to be my all-time favorite. London unravels the world, exposes the hard-dark-wrinkled pit at the center, and leaves it on the table as-is. The story covers the truth of life without distraction, without an elaborate plot, without elaborate characters.
In previous story reviews, I have implied that London's true talent becomes apparent when he (as the writer) fades back into life itself. As such, this story is the yardstick with which all other Jack London stories should be measured.
London received $55 from McClure's Magazine on June 11, 1900 for this relatively short story. It was published in March 1901.
20 OCT 13: "The Minions of Midas" ****
This is an interesting story in that London opens with a first-person narrative, keeps the story suspenseful by using a series of third-person letters, which are inserted as clippings within a first-person letter to the narrator. Yes, it sounds confusing, but it works. Furthermore, London manages to successfully incorporate the subject of wealth and his views on socialism without using a soapbox or over-playing (or role-playing) his wealthy characters. Rather, he confidently weaves the story-elements together and lets the plot unfold on its own. In a way, I think that the story's complexity helped to keep London focused and helped to create a good tale.
"The Minions of Midas" was published in Pearson's in May 1901 for which London received $100. And lastly, Arthur Calder-Marshall, a London biographer, indicated that this story is as an example of London's pioneering of the "political fable" in America.
19 OCT 13: "The Scorn of Women" **1/2
This is an exceeding long 'short' story. While the story's final objective is clear and concise, the path to that objective involves five main characters and two accomplices. The plot is a love-pentagon, and it gets bogged down in character development. Furthermore, the actions of the four women and the rich eligible bachelor seem a bit contrived. However, the scorn of the women depicted by London is timeless.
This story was written in March 1900 and published in the Overland Monthly in May, 1901. Over a century later, ABC would remodel this story into that popular TV show known as The Bachelor (not really, but telling).
17 OCT 13: "The Lost Poacher" ***1/2
London writes a solid sea story and in comparison with some of his earlier works, exercises restraint with respect to his characters. He sets events in motion and brings the story to an adequate ending primarily with his narrative. The characters are there to emphasize, enhance, and bring compassion to the events surrounding the ship, Mary Thomas.
With his relatively new approach to writing, as developed over the previous year of his life, "The Lost Poacher" is a remarkable improvement over "The Plague Ship" and "the Handsome Cabin Boy." Both of these previous sea stories get lost in their characters, and especially in the dialogue. This new approach lets London's philosophy on life take a front seat to the action.
Where this story falls short, however, is towards the end. London fails to develop a strong endgame and finds himself cornered into a somewhat mundane political commentary for an ending. This story could have been more, but London's distaste for rewriting leaves this story with an obvious first-draft feel.
The story was published in Youth's Companion, on March 14, 1901 and included in the short story collection Dutch Courage & Other Stories published by The Macmillan Co. in 1922.
18 SEP 13: "The God of His Fathers" *****
"The God of His Fathers" rates as being among the best of London's works. In a word, this story is brutal. It's brutal in terms of its nature, brutal in terms of its treatment of religion, and brutal in terms of human convictions. The end of the story brings about contemplations on a variety of human beliefs and also highlights the effects of civilization on the indigenous people of the wilderness.
As for its weaknesses, it's noted that London was a student of the then-common racial superiority beliefs of the nineteenth century. His views on race often appeared in his writing and they also influenced his life. He often uses the words "stock" and "breed" in referring to the ancestry of his characters, and London himself was always careful in covering up (and enhancing) his own past. His given name at birth was John Griffith Chaney.
The story was written in 1900 and published in the May 1901 issue of McClure's Magazine. He received $120 for the story.
17 SEP 13: "Chased by the Trail" ***
This story is interesting due its supporting natural event, which is described in detail. The event is the annual spring breakup of the frozen Yukon River. Within the story, London describes mile-wide slabs of ice being fractured with great sound and then rushing down-river towards the sea. Once fractured and freed, these giant ice slabs take out everything in their path and move at random based on the movements of the pieces that preceded them. It must be an amazing event to see firsthand.
The plot appears to be intended for a youthful audience. A couple of teenage boys with a fast boat (for the place and time) find that they have been handed a quest that their fledgling senses of manhood cannot refuse. The story depicts determination, struggle, and the risk of life for the benefit of others. It's all very classic and thus, it's all very common.
This story was written in 1900.
16 SEP 13: "Semper Idem" ****
A story that reaches many levels of human nature, but the underlying theme is that power corrupts. This adage is true whether it's power bestowed by political means or power gained through specialized knowledge. In this case, a gifted surgeon is so enchanted by his own skills and knowledge that he neglects the fact that his patients are human. Rather, they are 'cases' to be treated and the healed are merely testaments to his skills. The best part of this story, however, is that there are no lessons learned. Arrogance and power persevere and they grow in magnitude as the story ends.
Written in 1899 and published in The Black Cat, in December 1900. London received $50 for the story.
15 SEP 13: "Siwash" ***
"Siwash" represents a growing complexity in London's writing in that he embeds a story of the past within a story of the present. The plot focuses on the heartiness (or grit) of women and the characteristics required of women to breed men that can handle the harshness of the Northland. Needless to say, London writes a story that will foever belong to the late nineteenth century. However, he does embody the main female character with a strength-of-will that is uncharacteristic of the Victorian stereotypes of his day. Thus, London appears to be progressive, but this act of his progressiveness emphasizes just how sexist his views (and society’s views) towards women actually were.
Written in 1899 and published in Ainslee's Magazine, in March 1901.
13 SEP 13: "The End of the Chapter" ***
"The End of the Chapter" depicts realism on a more personal note. The story tells of one man's disillusion with life and his plans to put an end to the pointlessness of living. He's been there, done that, and at his advanced age (in spite of great wealth) he finds that the rewards of the present have very little to do with the fleeting joys of an adventurous past. But London continues with the story and depicts the mental workings of our instinctual desire for life and how even the smallest of desires can keep life afloat. As with all London stories, thus far, that deal with the wealthy and affluent, the writing is a bit grandiose. London knows the reality of the Northland and a lot about human nature, but the upper class is a world that he has never experienced. And it shows.
Written in 1899 and published in the Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser on June 9, 1900. London received $5 for the story.
12 SEP 13: “The Proper 'Girlie'" ***1/2
London's time in the Yukon Territory served to develop a harsh and real outlook on life. This experience showed London firsthand how humans would comprise their souls in order to stay alive and that these compromises, when called for, would seldom succeed. "The Proper 'Girlie'", is a light-hearted story of a relationship gone stale. There is potential here for London to take this story in many fanciful directions, but he uses the lessons learned in the Northland to guide his story to a realistic ending. His rules for writing are beginning to work outside of their origins.
"The Proper 'Girlie'" was written in 1899 and published in Smart Set in their October-Nov 1900 issue. London received $14 for the story.
08 SEP 13: "At the Rainbow's End" ***
This is a Northland story of a loner and wild cowboy that turns to Yukon prospecting as the open west begins closes in on him in the late 1890’s. The story is relatively long in comparison to London’s other works of 1899 and consequently there is a sense of 'drive' in the plot. The main character goes from one place to the next, does one wild thing after another, and finally ends up at the 'end of his rainbow' with nowhere left to go. This is probably a two-star read, but the ending is truly remarkable. In fact, had this story been a half as long it would have been twice as good.
The story was published in the Pittsburgh Leader, on March 24, 1901. The story was again published in a book of short stories entitled The God of his Fathers & Other Stories by McClure, Phillips & Co.
04 SEP 13: "Bald-Face" **
This is a typical campfire story or equally concise:
The other day, I met a bear, Out in the woods, Oh way out there
He looked at me, I looked at him, He sized up me, I sized up him
He said to me, Why don't you run, I see you ain't, Got any gun
I said to him, That's a good idea, So come on feet, Away from here
And so I ran, Away from there, But right behind, Me was that bear
And then I see, Ahead of me, A great big tree, Oh, glory be!
The lowest branch, Was ten feet up, I'd have to jump, And trust my luck!
And so I jumped, Into the air, But I missed that branch, A way up there
Now don't you fret, Now don't you frown, 'Cause I caught that branch, On the way back down
This is the end, There ain't no more, Until I meet, That bear once more
Written in 1899 (the story, not the song).
03 SEP 13: "Old Baldy" **1/2
This could be London's first attempt to personify an animal. In this case it's Old Baldy, an ox with a mind of his own and consequently the bane of all his owners. As a result, Old Baldy is sold repeatedly until the latest victim and main (human) character of the story arrives on scene. His name is Deacon Barnes and he proceeds to show Old Baldy that too much of a good thing will indeed turn bad. A nicely told story but not much else.
Conflicting sources place the writing of this story in either 1894 or 1899. However, given London's eloquent use of the English language and the concise organization of the story, it appears that 1899 is the correct date. There is no indication that "Old Baldy" was ever published.
02 SEP 13: "A Daughter of the Aurora" **1/2
"A Daughter of the Aurora" resembles a story written by London a few months earlier in his life entitled "The King of Mazy May" (see 20 AUG 13 below). They both tell the story of a dogsled race between a mining claim and the nearest government office, where claims were recorded. Within "A Daughter of the Aurora," however, London adds complexity to the tale and reaches for more sophistication. He includes a parallel competition for the hand of a French fur trader’s daughter who concedes to marry the winner of the race. London then gives the daughter a devious mind (and somewhat hard to understand accent) and tells how she has already chosen the winner of the race before it ever happens. The final result is too much meddling by London and a "gotcha" twist at the end of the story.
The story was written in 1899 and published in the 1899 Christmas issue of The [San Francisco] Wave. After repeated requests for payment he finally received $10 for the story.
22 AUG 13: "The Grilling of Loren Ellery" ****
This is an entertaining story that derives its amusement from the reactions of it's characters. This is a love triangle set-up between two sisters and a traveling rogue, Loren Ellery, so the plot could have gone any number of ways into the depths of the melodramatic. But London shows restraint and chooses to focus on reality. There are no hysterics, no killings, no duels, but there is a grilling of the rogue by the two sisters. The result is an ironically dry and humorous ending that's told by London with both of his feet on the ground.
This story was written in 1899 but was not published until 1912. It made its debut in the Northern Weekly Gazette of Middlesborough, England.
20 AUG 13: "The King of Mazy May" ****
London writes the classic horse race story of the Northland, so substitute dogsleds for hoses. This format works well for London in that the storyline is fairly well defined. After all, it’s point A to point B with a few twists and turns along the way. The result is fast-paced sleigh ride at forty-below-zero along the Mazy May Creek and the Yukon River. Dogs are at the pull and claim jumpers are shooting from the rear. London could have gone overboard with twists and turns, but his experience with the harshness of the Northland served him well in creating a realistic and exciting story without need for anything more.
This story was written in 1899 but not published until 1905. Fittingly, it made its debut in Youth’s Companion Magazine which was a publication for young boys that specialized in uplifting moralistic stories.
19 AUG 13: "The Man with the Gash" ***
While well written, it's obvious that London cooks up this story for the mass market. London started with a few sheets of paper, turned up the heat to a thousand words a day, and then added the popular ingredients. The story is comprised of a dash of greed, a bit of the macabre, a pinch of paranoia, and a good helping of fatalism. The end result is a story that readily separates back into its component ingredients once its words are consumed by the reader.
"The Man with the Gash" was published by McClure's Magazine in September, 1900 for which London received $80.
18 AUG 13: "The Wisdom of the Trail" *****
This story is a rarity (or a beginning) at this point in his career in that the story is secondary to the plot. London simply presents his perspective on life in the sub-zero north and in doing so, reaches something real and universal. His themes of human suffering and justice are not told in words intended to cuddle his readers nor are they intended to be shocking. Rather, he simply presents life as it happens.
There are also themes of racism and sexism within this story and they serve to offer interesting perspectives on the changes that have taken place over the past 100 years. While London's views on the –isms are consistent with his day, he does illuminate paths that will eventually be followed to affect progress towards equal rights for all.
"The Wisdom of the Trail" was published in the Overland Monthly in December 1899.
17 AUG 13: "Even Unto Death" ***1/2
This story is like a bit of cocktail napkin art from an artist that you admire. A small squiggle and yet their talent as an artist shines through. Not the best of work, but the elements of what makes London a writer, especially in the few years that are still ahead of him at this time, are illuminated in this little yarn.
The story was rejected by six magazines(Criterion, Argonaut, Outing, Boston Globe, Nickel Magazine, and Woman's Home Companio) and two syndicates, before the San Francisco Evening Post Magazine paid $6 for the story in 1899. (*)
23 MAR 13: "The Wife of a King" ***
"The Wife of a King" represents the gradual blending of lessons learned by London and the use of future lessons yet unlearned. The setting is the Yukon Northland and intertwined within the story are vividly descriptive passages of men struggling against a beautiful and deadly environment. Then we have the characters, which are shallow comic-book figures born out London's imagination with the intention of appealing to the casual and hopefully numerous magazine readers.
The story brings to mind the complicated task of writing good fiction (from my completely amateurish point of view). In his early stories, London shows how disinteresting the "imaginative but unreal" can be. Then, at this point in his development (late 1899), he seems to have found how marketable the "real but imaginative" can be. Then finally, at times that are either by chance or by will, London discovers how beautiful the "real" can be all on its own.
Once this path is walked, London becomes extremely successful. He is able to draw upon the various points in this spectrum of writing in order to meet his needs. After all, in his relatively brief career, London never stopped writing for his livelihood; but he did, on occasion, produce some beautifully real works of fiction.
"The Wife of a King" was published in Overland Monthly in August, 1899.
19 MAR 13: "The Rejuvenation of Major Rathbone" **
London returns to a science fiction theme in this story but, like every previous attempt to write outside of his own experiences, the story falls dreadfully flat. But his youthful interest in science, and especially biology, continued throughout his life.
London was constantly experimenting with the effects of biological science on crops and livestock through the management of his Sonoma, California ranch. While previously reading a collection of his letters, it seemed that he wanted to be a rancher more than a writer. His apparent ineptitude at ranching and at science, however, made writing the only viable way to support his ranching interests.
"The Rejuvenation of Major Rathbone" was published in Conkey's Home Journal in November, 1899.
18 MAR 13: "Pluck and Pertinacity" ***
In the biographies that I’ve read, London is characterized as having a maniacal drive to become a writer. He had experienced the industrial world as an unskilled laborer and knew that working with his mind would be far more rewarding. To this end, he limited his sleep to four hours per night and read everything that would further his goal. As a part of this self-training, he studied the literary magazines of the day to evaluate his stories against those of published writers.
With "Pluck and Pertinacity," London seems to have arrived upon a formula for a sellable short story. The story is very short, it’s adventurous without being grueling or gory, and it serves up a moral ending that would be appealing to magazine owners (with capital) as well as to the common reader.
In this case, the formula paid off. London received $25 for this story, which was published in Youth's Companion in September, 1899.
02 MAR 13: "The Unmasking of a Cad" **
London attempts (once again) to create a story about affluent people and (once again) proceeds to fail. When considering the stories I've read to date on the subject, his image of wealthy people is too idealized and as a consequence his characters seem unreal and unbelievable. This weakness is in direct contrast to the strength of his Yukon characters and illustrates how important direct experience is to good writing.
Of note, the lead female character's name is once again, Maud. The use of this name exemplifies the idealism that lies behind his more affluent characters. In "The Plague Ship," Maud is the female doctor of class and in his novel, The Sea Wolf, Maud is the lady of refinement that is thrust into the captive hell of Wolf Larson and his seal-hunting schooner, the Ghost. In both cases, however, Maud fails to transcend the words that London used to define her.
The story was written in 1899 and published overseas in England.
26 FEB 13: "Their Alcove" ****
"Their Alcove" is the kind of story that I enjoy; where the mind of the main character is more central to the plot than the character's actions. In this story London explores how duplicitous the mind can be when exploring emotional matters. The story illustrates how multiple sets of thoughts occur in our mind, presenting options that do not necessarily enter our consciousness but, nonetheless, influence our actions.
A gentleman has just ended his relationship with his lady-friend (this is the 19th century) and proceeds to justify his actions within his own thoughts. The gentleman then ventures forth to enjoy the life of a single man, but his thoughts subtly guide him back to the place, a library alcove, where their relationship continuously grew during their time together.
The ending was a bit 'soft' for my taste, but the management of the main character showed that London was in control of the story that he wanted to tell.
The story was written in 1899 and published by the Woman's Home Companion in September of 1900. London received $20 for the story.
29 JAN 13: "An Odyssey of the North" ***1/2
It should be apparent that when the title of a story includes the word "Odyssey" that it's going to be a long story and "An Odyssey of the North" is a very long story. To its credit, the adventure of the main character is entertaining and varied enough in its settings that it is interesting. But to its detriment, it’s long. So long in fact, that I have to wonder if London was not purposely stretching its length in order to gain a publishing system that generally paid less than 5 cents per word. Whatever the case may be, London writes from the point-of-view of his own experiences as a seaman, laborer, and gold prospector and produces a very readable story.
"An Odyssey of the North" was written in 1899 and published by the Atlantic Monthly in January 1900, for which London received $120. However, information provided by Dale L. Walker indicates that London was asked to cut out 3,000 words from the 12,250-word story, and was only able to work it down to 10,000 words prior to publication.
26 JAN 13: "A Lesson in Heraldry" **
A thankfully-short short story that reminds us of the consequences of not “writing what you know.” London attempts to define the character of Mabel Armitage, a 12-year-old pretentious little girl that goes on a quest to prove that her old family friend is a teller of lies. Mabel is perfection in every way except for the fact that she is too smart for her own good. Unfortunately, London so over-develops Mabel that when her evil side is introduced the reader is already convinced that no girl of such vast and admirable virtue could ever exist in the first place.
London was lucky enough to sell the story for $5 to the National Magazine, who then published it in March of 1900. This is the story as it was published in the National Magazine.
21 DEC 12: "In a Far Country" ****
London shows an early glimpse of his talent for creating great short stories under minimalist settings. The removal of jovial comrades, large social interactions, and complex environments allows London to focus on his characters. In this instance, it's two men of different backgrounds, a long dark winter, and a one room cabin. London then writes in his own, not dissimilar, experiences with the Northland and ends up with a serious tale of acute cabin fever. Ultimately, this strength is developed to create some of his most memorable characters, such as Wolf Larson, Martin Eden, and Buck.
Written in 1899 and first published in the Overland Monthly magazine in June 1899, and he was paid $7.50 for the story.
4 NOV 12: "The Son of the Wolf" ***
The story starts out well. London’s sensitivity to the natural surrounding of the wintery northland is captured in words, and for the first time, London shows a certain sensitivity to the ways and customs of the people belonging to the indigenous tribes of the area. The first half of the story creates a sense of place with a unique set of characters.
From there, however, the story nosedives into a Sunday afternoon matinee at the silent movie theater. Stereotypical Indian behavior is introduced and then the story continues to a climatic old-fashioned knife fight for an Indian maiden prize.
In reading these stories in the order in which they were written, something that I've noticed about London's development as a writer is that he learns from his previous writing experiences. After three years of writing in 1899, I think that London has learned how to write and knows what sells, but I also think that his writing experience has revealed to London the aspects of his work that meet a developing personal definition of literature. With respect to this story and his treatment of indigenous people and their tribes, London continues this growth. About a year later he publishes "The Law of Life," a truly remarkable story.
The story was written in 1899.
1 NOV 12: "The Priestly Prerogative" ****
This was an interesting and nicely written story that centers upon the promises that we make when we decide to get married. The vow that promises steadfastness under all conditions, for better or for worse, is explored by London in a land where "worse" is the norm. But more than that, the story also explores the strength of women during an era when Victorian modes (and traditional modes) of behavior were enforced by society and societies enforcers, hence the priest. The ending may be a result of caving to these societal pressures (possibly due to London’s monetary needs). However, he also leaves room for his own dissatisfaction with the outcome to be known by the reader.
The story was published in July 1899 in The Overland Monthly.
19 OCT 12: "In the Time of Prince Charley" ***1/2
Sometimes a genuine talent for writing is combined with a truly sappy plot to create a story that is unique unto itself. In the case of "In the Time of Prince Charley," London applies his ever-strengthening abilities to create a solid short story with a romance-laced historical plot (which were popular and marketable at the time). The result is a bad story that is told well. It’s a combination that I found to be entertaining in that many times the exact opposite is true.
The story was published in Conkey's Home Journal in September 1899.
17 OCT 12: "The Handsome Cabin Boy" **
I thought that this story was technically sound. All the basic elements of a story seemed to be present and in the order that they should appear. The characters were introduced and developed quickly, the plot progressed expeditiously, a couple of plot twists were included to keep the reader engaged, and there was a humorous ending.
The story draped over this framework, however, was lacking. London never lived the lifestyle that he was trying to depict in his main characters. Rather than creating main characters of affluence, he instead created haughty men that tended to speak with over-exaggerated gestures. His failures here are consistent with those of his story, “Dream Image,” which was written a year earlier.
Surprisingly, London found a publisher. The Owl printed the story in July 1899 for which he received $1.50.
16 OCT 12: “To the Man on Trail” ***1/2
An entertaining story that touches upon justice as experienced in a land devoid of any significant presence of law enforcement. Prospectors are shown to be hardened in their approach to living life, but they are also shown to acquiesce to a fundamental moral code in matters of justice. The protagonist of the story is taken through a series of plot twists where he is initially shown to be the victim of a theft. He is then identified as being a thief, but is actions are ultimately justified by the circumstances surrounding his crime. The message being that isolated cultures may act in straight-forward ways that are difficult to explain to the outside world.
The story was written in 1898.
15 OCT 12: “A Klondike Christmas” ***
I always feel a bit disappointed with the holiday episodes of modern day TV series. They seem a bit too contrived and they often bend long-running character themes into the niceties of the holiday season.
“A Klondike Christmas” may be among the first of these holiday episodes. Ever-present are the harsh realities of a sub-zero winter in a land where the December sun never rises over the horizon. However, nice things happen in this story that are contrary to reality, all in the name of Christmas. As a result, a general sense of disbelief in the events that are foretold ensues.
Ultimately, London may have felt the same way. According to Dale L. Walker, “The story remained unpublished until long after London's death in 1916. He submitted it to Round Table and Youth and Age and the latter magazine accepted it in March, 1899, offering to pay upon publication. But after ten months passed with the story yet to appear, London retrieved it and in September, 1900, shelved it. It appeared for the first time in Boy's Life in December, 1976.”
The story was written in 1898.
8 AUG 12: "The White Silence" *****
London hones his focus on the Northland wilderness in this story. The wilderness simply exists and it takes human life not through any kind of malice but simply because of its existence. The characters are aptly developed into those that have to accept the consequence of their environment. The things needed for life are there, in their packs and sleds, and their quantities foretell their future. And time for the injured or lame, of any species, is something that heads in only one direction.
Written in October 1898 and published in Overland in February 1899 for $5. The story was included in London’s first book, The Son of the Wolf, in 1900.
20 JUL 12: "The Men of Forty Mile" ****
When taken in the order in which they were written, "The Men of Forty Mile" is the first time that London achieves a balance between setting, characters, and plot. Present in just the right amounts are the unforgiving environment of the Canadian northland, the temperament of men who were alive because of their tolerance for suffering the pains of nature, and a philosophy of living life as an individual who is undeniably anchored to his community. The story is deadly serious but also has a bit of serious humor worked in. As a whole, London manages to illuminate a small part of a harsh reality in a convincing way.
While this may not be his best story, it certainly represents an achievement in his drive to become a writer. "The Men of Forty Mile" was published in the Overland Monthly in May 1899 and was ultimately included in London’s first book of short stories, which was also his first book, The Son of the Wolf, published by Houghton Mifflin and Company of New York in April 1900.
18 JUL 12: "The Test: A Clondyke Wooing" ***
A short story of a love shared between a rich prospector and a woman with a questionable past that was lived among prospectors. The age-old question of love-for-money versus or love-for-soul is explored as the prospector throws his riches away to test the woman. However, in his absence of wealth, the prospector still possesses a rich talent for music that is also beloved by the woman, and the prospector remains unconvinced. In the end, the inevitable conclusion is reached that the reasons for love are not as important as the fact that love truly exists, especially in the wintry reaches of the Northland.
The story was written in September 1898 and was submitted to Cosmopolitan and Overland Monthly. Both magazines rejected the story.
17 JUL 12: "The Devil's Dice Box" ***1/2
One of London's earliest works to be set in the Klondike, along the Yukon River, east of Alaska. London spent about a year in that wilderness and judging from his stories, it was probably a year that brought London closer to death than any of his other post-childhood experiences. Not only did he not find gold, but he was also forced to "hibernate" for the winter in a small wood cabin against temperatures that reached -70 degrees below zero. During these months, he survived on bread made from flour and water, and ate whatever game could be hunted from the snow and ice covered landscape. By the final weeks of winter, London was emaciated and was suffering from scurvy. London made it back to civilization that spring by floating for 21 days on a self-made raft down the Yukon River to a small commercial port on the Bering Sea.
It is from this experience that London "writes what he knows" and his talent for writing becomes greatly improved. "The Devil's Dice Box" still draws from some of London's earlier ideas about what a successful story should include and, as a consequence, over-hypes the action. However, his depictions of landscapes that are covered in white and interspersed with spans of evergreen pine are silently real and beautiful. And the suffering that was endured by the characters of "The Devil's Dice Box" had to have been something that London witnessed himself.
The "The Devil's Dice Box" was sent to McClure's and to Munsey's magazines in 1898 and was returned unpublished. The story was shelved and did not appear in print until sixty years after the author's death in The Saturday Evening Post, December 1976.
16 JUN 12: "An Old Soldier's Story" ***
Another early example of London’s strength in depicting the struggle of an individual against a force that’s larger than any one person. In this instance, the unforgiving force is the letter of the law as enforced by a provost marshal that profits by arresting Civil War soldiers that overstay their furloughs for reasons that have no malice of intent. Unfortunately, London’s commentary on the philosophical struggle is overshadowed by a chase scene on horseback that spans most of the story.
The American Agriculturist paid London $5 for the story and published it on May 20, 1899.
14 JUN 12: "Dream Image" **
Unfortunately, London’s attempt at depicting the lives of the affluent comes across as a fantasy piece. The wealthy all-male family ride through the streets as privileged royalty and act as if thy own everything. They are all well versed in yachting and sail the world for their rewards, and the youngest brother, our hero, sails into the story with flash and grandeur. While the heroine of the story is depicted as a strong and educated woman, she nonetheless reverts to the submissive Victorian stereotype at the end of the story.
The story was written in 1898 after his failed attempts at prospecting in the Klondike gold rush. It was submitted to McClure's, Atlantic, and Fireside Companion without publication. It’s been reported that London’s personal notes regarding this story stated "If published, let it be under the nom de plume of Jack Lansing."
04 JUN 12: "The Plague Ship" **
About the only commendable aspect of this story resides in a female character named Maud Appleton, who is portrayed as a female physician of equal qualifications to her male counterpart. I found this to be a fairly progressive depiction for the late 1800’s. (By the way, the main female character in his well-know sea story, The Sea Wolf, was also named Maud.) Beyond that, however, the story degrades into all kinds of class and race distinctions that ultimate go to war with one another as the good ship Casper flounders under burdens of Yellow Fever and extensive mechanical failures.
This is possibly a good example of how London was able to achieve his success by focusing his stories on the individual as opposed to a grand set of players. His close-to-follow stories drew upon on his Klondike experiences where the individual and his force-of-will were set against the powers of an unforgiving wilderness.
This story was written in 1897 and submitted to McClure's and the Bacheller Syndicate, but it was never published during London’s lifetime.
12 MAY 12: "A Thousand Deaths" ***
This is a nineteenth century si-fi story, possibly influenced by the speed in which scientific discoveries were taking place at the time. The primary focus is on the chemical processes that separate life from death and on the contemporaneous possibility that the reversal of death might become as simple as a documented scientific procedure.
London’s writing seems to be much improved in this story. His preceding works either overplay linguistic gimmicks or have a formal English tone to them. However, in this work his words start to blend into the voice of a storyteller. Written in 1897 and published in The Black Cat in May 1899 for which London received $40. It was his second story to be published.
5 MAY 12: "The Strange Experiences of a Misogynist" **
Written nearly a century prior to Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic novel, this is Jack London’s version of The Road. However, in this instance London fully describes the apocalyptic event as the complete removal of all females of every species from the entire planet. What are men-folk to do in Victorian times without women? Well, it turns out that we initially suffer from missing buttons on our shirts and the chaos quickly progresses to gastrointestinal distress within a couple weeks. From there, the story progresses to a state of society that is succinctly described by this passage… There lay no nuance between me and a hungry lion in an African wilderness. And yet, such was the inevitable result of the loss of womankind.
The story is entertaining from an anthropological point of view and is somewhat enlightening as to how far writers need to stretch their imaginations in order to arrive at an original story. The story it self, however, falls flat; almost as if London realized how “B” movie this story was after writing the first few pages. Written in 1897 and reportedly submitted to Harper & Brothers, Century Magazine, and Scribner's without acceptance.
1 MAY 12: "Two Gold Bricks" **
A slightly entertaining sketch that explores the incorporation of Thomas Edison’s invention of the cylinder phonograph recorder and its expanding availability in the late 1800’s. The story is possibly a good example of what can happen when an idea for a story overshadows the story itself. Written in 1897, Published in Boston Owl Magazine, September 1897.
30 APR 12: “The Mahatma's Little Joke” *
I’d characterize this story as an exercise or sketch that simply failed. I briefly researched it’s origins and found that it was most likely based on London’s experiences as a child when his spiritualist mother, Flora Wellman, conducted séances in their home. On a speculative note, this may be one of the earliest know stories to dabble in the trading places genre. Written in 1897, never published contemporaneously.
17 MAR 12: “O Haru” ****
I find this to be a unique story for its day; that of a 19th century Japanese geisha and the corruption of the Japanese culture by the western world. For it’s brevity, a great number of themes are covered including the oppression of women,love, greed, moral corruption, and the Japanese perspective of western, white-devil people (albeit, as told by a westernwriter). One of the best lines was O Haru describing a western custom that was brought back to her by her voyaging love, Toyotomi…“Toyotomi called it kissing and he had tried to teach her. Ach! How could it be!” – I think London achieved a balance between themes with this story that he had not achieved in his preceding works. Possibly a bit over-the-top in descriptive prose, but overall his best story so far from a chronological perspective. Written in 1897, never published contemporaneously.
13 NOV 11: “One More Unfortunate” ***1/2
It's interesting to read London's early works. His early stories all seem to depict a different experiment in writing. In “One More Unfortunate,” London attempts to create an interplay between an ongoing orchestral piece of music and the life of the first chair violinist, whose story is being told while he's playing his part. London uses the cadence and composition of his words to set a tone that changes as the story progresses towards its quiet ending. Overall, a remarkable story for someone that enjoys exploring the art of writing, even if it is a bit "overplayed." Published 1895 The Aegis (High School Paper)
16 OCT 11: “And ‘Frisco Kid Came Back” ***
1895 Aegis high school paper: a second installment of his earlier rendition of ‘Frisco Kid. While still heavily steeped in thick tramp dialect, the repeat of a former character provides for a greater focus on the story. In this addition, the Kid is adopted by a married couple that have good intentions but unrealistic expectations. Conflict ensues between demands for civilized behaviors and the Kid’s habits from the road. In the end, the Kid makes a decision between the personal cost of creature comforts and the personal freedom afforded to tramps.
15 OCT 11: "Who Believes in Ghosts!" **
Another 1895 Aegis publication that tells the tried and true haunted mansion tale. While the story is nothing special, it does manage to work in the game of chess as the setting for the final climatic and haunting ending. Overall, it’s a great story for a high school chess club while gathered in a candlelit dorm room on All Hallows' Eve.
14 OCT 11: "A Night's Swim in Yeddo Bay" **
Published in 1895, "A Night's Swim in Yeddo Bay" tells a genuine sea yarn. It’s an entertaining story that focuses more on dialogue than on content. When viewed alongside London’s previous stories it complements his collective, untrained and unmentored, efforts to become a successful writer.
13 OCT 11: "Sakaicho, Hona Asi, and Hakadaki" ***
Published in 1895, "Sakaicho, Hona Asi, and Hakadaki" reads like a pencil sketch of tragedy. The story is presumably based on London's first-hand observations while serving aboard a sealing ship that anchored in Japan. I admire his honesty about the integrity and humanity of the Japanese people, as depicted through the main characters of the story. This opinion is especially strong given that the story was written during a time when Americans viewed themselves as the de facto rulers of the world. (I mean then, not now ;)
25 SEP 11: "Frisco Kid's Story" **
"Frisco Kid’s Story" was published in the Aegis on 15 February 1895. The Aegis was Jack London’s high school magazine in which he published stories while attending Oakland High School. He started attending high school at the age of 19 and then crammed for the entrance exams for UC Berkley. He was admitted to UC Berkley at the age of 20.
"Frisco Kid’s Story" is actually not that bad given that it’s a story intended for consumption by high school students. It has everything a high school student would want including adventure, parental alienation, and an overzealous use of dialect as spoken by the tramps of the time (which London knew from his time tramping across the US prior to his high school attendance). However, the story also alludes to the larger social issues that would eventually become the central themes of Jack London’s later works.
19 SEP 11: "Typhoon Off the Coast of Japan" **
London’s first story publication at age 17 after serving 7 months on the ship Sophia Southerland. The story was entered into a writing contest that resulted in a first place prize of $25 (one month’s pay for the average laborer in 1893). The story is a bit abstract in that London manages to capture the key elements of the event while omitting most of the "fluff."