The complete short stories of Jack London - synopses and ratings

(actualisé le ) by Ray


Jack London (1876-1916) wrote an almost incredible number of short stories (198) before his premature death at the age of 40, as well as 21 novels and a considerable number of essays, plays, poems, and articles. The sheer volume of his output and the wide variety of his subjects, ranging from the Klondike (42% of his short stories), the South Seas/Hawaii (17%), Sailing, Hobos, Political Fiction and Crime Fiction to Science Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Boxing and others - and, it must be said, the varying quality of his output over time - make it useful to provide for the prospective reader, in chronological order of publication, an outline of each of the stories, with an indication for each story of its setting or genre, and an appreciation of its position on the scale of merit from poor (very few) to average (few) to good (many) and very good (even more) through to the very highest level of literary achievement (quite a few).

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. THE 198 SHORT STORIES: SYNOPSES AND RATINGS

2. ANALYSIS OF THE STORIES BY GENRE

3. REFERENCES

1. THE SHORT STORIES OF JACK LONDON

no. first published __________Title_____________ Later Title Setting/ Genre Synopsis/Comments_______________________________ Rating
1 1893 Typhoon Off the Coast of Japan [1] Sailing A realistic account, no doubt based on personal experience, of a sailor’s-eye view of a very severe windstorm experienced by a seal-hunting sailing ship in the Pacific ocean (the name of the ship, The Sophie Sutherland, and the date of its departure (April 10, 1893) are those of the seal-hunting expedition off the coast of Japan that Jack London had sailed on that year). Full of sailing terms and very descriptive: the wind and the sea are really the central dramatic personae in this simple but effective account of an experience central to mankind’s history throughout the ages: a storm at sea. 7
2 1895 ’Frisco Kid’s Story Hobos Written entirely in the vernacular of down-and-out road-kids – a tribute in itself to its author’s early mastery of language – we follow the investigations of a father searching for his lost young son via the unfolding account by a young vagrant who had in fact met up with him and who describes in his own quite inimitable lingo not only what happened to the missing boy but also and especially the way of life of the gangs of young wayward homeless hobos that swarmed at the time in the depression-ridden California of the mid-1890s. 7
3 1895 Sakaicho, Hona Asi and Hakadaki Far East A young American sailor in Yokohama is invited by his rickshaw driver to visit the latter’s home in a poor quarter of the city, and samples the traditional hospitality of that intriguing and fast-rising nation. Tobacco, tea and rice are duly served to the visitor, followed by a whole series of tasty, steaming dishes that the host and his gracious wife can obviously ill afford. The proud parents present their ten-year-old son, whose education is the unique focus of the sacrifices and efforts of the household; but when the sailor comes back for another visit only a week later, disaster has struck. This tender tale ends with the comment : “And, though five thousand miles of heaving ocean now separate us, never will I forget Sakaicho and Hona Asi, nor the love they bore their son Hakadaki.” 7.5
4 1895 A Night’s Swim in Yeddo Bay Far East a semi-comical account of by a seasoned sailor of an escapade on the waterfront of Yokohama when he discovered after a very boisterous night out on the town that he didn’t have a cent left to pay a Japanese boatman to take him back to his ship anchored two miles off the harbour. The whole town is still talking about what happened next! 7
5 1895 Who Believes in Ghosts! Fantasy George believes “with countless other people in every land throughout the ages” in the soul’s return after death, and proposes to prove their existence to two doubting friends by fixing a rendezvous shortly before midnight at an old abandoned house on the outskirts of town, generally considered to be haunted. The two sceptics penetrate the house, search it carefully from top to bottom, and settle down for a first comfortable game of chess, which passes without incident. But when they try to start a second game they are prevented by an unknown force from making the first move or uttering a single word. Their senses become strangely heightened and they can finally start a new game, but they then realize that they are playing on a vastly higher level than ever, and the tension of this extraordinary game, with its threats and constant traps and threats of checkmate, builds up until the hatred each has built up for the other during the combat breaks out into the most murderous violence: as it turns out, a replay of the terrible scene whereby the owner of the now-abandoned house, a great chess master, had actually murdered a celebrated opponent years previously! For believers in spiritism or ghosts in one form or another, this is a terrific story, but not everyone will be so convinced. 7
6 1895 And ’Frisco Kid Came Back Hobos An interesting and amusing evocation, in the vernacular, of the hobo way of life that the author knew well from his first-hand experiences during his teen days. One of only five of his “hobo” stories, a sort of suite to his slightly earlier Frisco Kid’s Story (1895) [2]. 7
7 1895 One More Unfortunate General Fiction A tired and very disillusioned violinist in a low-dive nightclub thinks back upon his upbringing on a farm, on his youthful discovery of music and the organ and the flute, and on his frustrated dreams of becoming an accomplished musician. In spite of a final display of anguished virtuosity the evening ends on an ever more desperate note than it started. 7
8 1897 Two Gold Bricks General Fiction Two young fellows devise a dastardly scheme to raise badly-needed funds (ten hundred dollars – a gold brick – each) from a group of their acquaintances by using the funeral orations the group of friends had secretly recorded to be used at their own funeral ceremonies, as a reaction against the banality and too-laudatory nature of such ceremonies. Pretty silly all round, really, and not very amusing, in spite of its lighthearted tone. 6
9 1899 To the Man on the Trail Klondike A group of gold miners are preparing punch for the celebration of Christmas Eve when an exhausted but heavily-armed stranger enters their cabin and explains that he is chasing bandits who have stolen his prize dog-team. He is given food and shelter by the men in the cabin, who sympathize with him and give him advice about the trail ahead, but only minutes after he has set off again after a short rest a patrol of the Northwest Territory mounted police enters the cabin, enquiring after the man who turns out to be wanted for a casino holdup. For a brief moment the men, who have identified the fugitive and are all law-abiding, hesitate about helping the police to catch up with him. A very readable little tale, infused with an authentic-feeling Klondike atmosphere. 8
10 1899 The White Silence Klondike Two men, one woman and a team of dogs, all close to starvation, strike out in the white wastes of the north hoping to somehow survive the gruelling two-hundred-mile trek along unbroken snow ahead of them. But “Nature has many tricks wherewith she convinces man of his finity—the ceaseless flow of the tides, the fury of the storm, the shock of the earthquake, the long roll of heaven’s artillery—but the most tremendous, the most stupefying of all, is the passive phase of the White Silence. All movement ceases, the sky clears, the heavens are as brass; the slightest whisper seems sacrilege, and man becomes timid, affrighted at the sound of his own voice. Sole speck of life journeying across the ghostly wastes of a dead world, he trembles at his audacity, realizes that his is a maggot’s life, nothing more.” Extreme suffering and indomitable will are, as often in the Klondike stories, the central theme, with a very large dose of human interest, dog-lore and trapper-native relationships, this one is even more stark and intense than most. 9
11 1899 The Son of the Wolf Klondike The overly lurid quality of the prose of this account of a prospector who penetrates into the camp of a remote Indian tribe in the heartland of Alaska to propose to the chief of the tribe a number of fine presents for the right to take his daughter away may be judged by the following characteristic passage: “He thought of the tender women of his own race and smiled grimy. Yet from the loins of some such tender woman had he sprung with a kingly inheritance, - an inheritance which gave to him and his dominance over the land and sea, over the animals and the peoples of all the zones. Single-handed against fivescore, girt by the Arctic winter, far from his own, he felt the prompting of his heritage, the desire to possess, the wild danger – love, the thrill of battle, the power to conquer or die.” Our man is rejected by the shaman of the tribe – who it so happens also hankers after the chief’s daughter - as the satanic representative of the demon Wolf, the mortal enemy of the tribe’s mentor the Raven, and he encourages the young men of the tribe to fly at the throat of the invader. But our man is made of stern stuff, and he too launches on a fiery tirade, denouncing the shaman as a fraud who had provided no succour to the tribe during the recent famine and he reminds them of the Wolf’s (i.e.- the white man’s) law: “whoso taketh the life of one wolf, the forfeit shall ten of his people pay.”. The brutal and bordering-on-racist behaviour of the prospector and the declamatory style of the prose make this one of the author’s few Klondike stories that have not well weathered the test of time. 6
12 1899 The Men of Forty-Mile Klondike In the middle of winter in the rough settlement town of Forty Miles, sixty miles down the Yukon river from Dawson, an animated discussion about the respective merits of anchor-ice (that freezes first under water) and mush-ice (that freezes first on top) breaks out into an authentic casus belli when one of the men feels that his Indian wife has been made slight of and the other that his Irish honour has been flouted. So a duel to the finish by gunfire is quickly agreed upon, as was the way of the world in those parts in those days before the advent of the mounted police. Although the others are loth to lose one of their comrades, there seems to be no way to prevent the foolish fight, until the hero of the story, the Malemute Kid (who appears in several other Klondike tales) comes along and finds a way to put everything right and save face all around. Told in sometimes-hard-to-understand vernacular, this little narrative does succeed in conveying a convincing image of the conditions in remote mining communities in those pioneer days. 7.5
13 1899 A Thousand Deaths Science Fiction A drowning man is rescued and miraculously resuscitated by a passing ship captained by his own father, a scientist secretly intent on using him to experiment a revolutionary new method of bringing people back from the brink of death. Full of unexpected twists and turns, written in the first person in a dry and very indirectly-droll manner, this striking story is a real gem, one of the first, if not the very first (!?) science-fiction short stories ever written, I do believe! 9
14 1899 An Old Soldier’s Story War story A somewhat comic albeit really quite dramatic tale about war-time recruitment difficulties that apparently had actually been experienced by the author’s own father during the Civil War. 7
15 1899 In a Far Country Klondike A long, intense, deeply moralistic tale of two quite different city men who decide to join the Klondike gold rush, but make the mistake of going there via an unproven inland route starting from Edmonton, where they join a large party of prospectors and voyageurs heading north towards the promised land. The going is hard, especially north of the Great Slave Lake and along the giant Mackenzie River, and our two anti-heroes being natural slackers constantly shirking their fair share of the work are increasingly ostracized from the group, until they finally decide to spend the winter in an isolated cabin rather than pursue the too-arduous journey across virgin territory in the winter season. The account of the slow decline of the physical and moral health of the men until the final paroxysmal climax of the story can leave no reader indifferent. 9
16 1899 The Priestly Prerogative Klondike The very energetic wife of a spoiled loafer has moved heaven and earth to get the both of them up to Dawson and to painstakingly establish a successful claim, but everything is in the husband’s name, as that’s the way things worked in those days, and he grows increasingly brutal to his better half to whom in fact he owes everything. She seeks refuge in the understanding arms of a neighbouring claim-owner, and is about to run off with him when an omnipresent Catholic priest insists on following her into the neighbour’s cabin(!) for a showdown discussion about morality and the marriage covenant. The reader, but unfortunately not the young and deserving woman, grows increasingly annoyed by the priestly meddling in affairs of the heart and his smooth moralizing which, objectively, does much more harm than good, as even he (almost) admits at the end. Perhaps for the Catholic reader this story has a satisfying message (no divorce, please), but for others today and probably even then it is disappointingly flat and unconvincing, we are sorry to say. 6
17 1899 The Handsome Cabin Boy Sailing The narrator has wagered a night out on the town with his brother that he could never be taken in by a girl masquerading as a boy, and shortly thereafter sets out on his schooner on a cruise from San Francisco to Honolulu with a full crew, including a new and very inexperienced cabin boy. A fairly juvenile joke all round. 6
18 1899 The Wife of a King Klondike A prospector has left his wife, a half-Indian mission-educated girl, and baby boy behind in his Alaskan mine to join the flood of gold-seekers in Dawson, and when he fails to return on schedule and word comes back about his dallying with a casino dancer, the plucky woman sets off in the thick of winter alone with the baby and a dog-team along the hundreds of miles of icy trail to see for herself what is going on at Dawson. Where she is poorly received by one and all, sophisticated white women from the South having established a new social hierarchy in the now-civilized town, a hierarchy where native women have little or no place at all. But she is take in hand by several old-timers, notably a certain Malemute Kid, a central character in several Klondike stories of the period, who arranges for her to be taught dancing skills and social graces and to be suitably outfitted and prettified according to the new Dawson standards, in preparation for a surprise confrontation with the erring husband at the city’s big annual masked ball at Thanksgiving. Where the confrontation with the Greek dancer and her foolish husband is even more interesting than the group had thought it would be. An interesting albeit lightly-handled exploration of the theme of the social role of women in general and aboriginal women in particular in the male-dominated Northland society. 8
19 1899 In the Time of Prince Charley Historical Fiction A stalwart British officer escorts the captured Prince Charlie through the highlands to a rendezvous point with a British ship on the coast after the decisive Battle of Culloden, but opposition from fierce Highlanders and the wiles of an innocent-seeming young woman have to be dealt with before his mission can be successfully accomplished – or not. Not quite convincing on strict historical grounds (a reference to Louis Quatorze in 1745?), the story has surprisingly violent and at the same time romantic overtones. Perhaps it is a shame that this was the only historical fiction written by Jack London, with the mock-prehistorical The First Poet (1916). 7.5
20 1899 Old Baldy General Fiction A particularly charming farm yarn about an ox famous throughout the whole county for his stubbornness and how a wily farmer finally got the best of him. 8
21 1899 Pluck and Pertinacity [3] Klondike In the words of the author: “The true story of a man who practically achieved the impossible in his hazardous ice-journey in the dead of the Arctic winter. Happily, success crowned the effort.” And in effect, this account of a particularly determined Dutchman’s determined drive to get to the gold-rush city of Dawson, ice-bound in the throes of a terrible famine, in spite of quite overwhelming obstacles and dangers, does sort of go to show just what man - and a dog! - are capable of when the will will out. 7
22 1899 The Rejuvenation of Major Rathbone Science Fiction Making the rather startling declaration that “Not so very long ago, a ’generation’ represented thirty-three years, the average duration of human existence. To-day, because of the rapid strides of medicine, sanitation, distribution, and so forth, a ’generation’ is reckoned at thirty-four years. By the time of our great-grandchildren, it may have increased to forty years. Qien sabe? And again, we ourselves may see it actually doubled.”, a forward-looking chemist goes on to ask a circle of acquaintances: “If science has prolonged the life of the generation by one year, is it not equally possible that it may prolong that of the individual by many?”. He then shows them a phial of lymph compound that he has developed to prevent the wearing out of cell, nerve and bone tissues, and brings out his ancient sixteen-year-old Newfoundland dog, who, instead of just lying around in everyone’s way as usual, rushes about as lively as a puppy. And when the treatment is meted out to his aged Uncle Max, and then to Max’s ageing lady friend Aunt Debby, well, the town has never been the same since! Good fun, with a nice touch of scientific credibility. 8
23 1899 The King of Mazy May Klondike The rousing adventure of a fourteen-year-old boy guarding all alone his father’s mine, who gets into terrible danger when he tries to thwart the plans of thieves who are planning to jump the claim of an ailing neighbour on the gold-rich Mazy May creek in the Klondike. The story starts off with the following striking description of its fourteen-year-old eponymous central character: “Walt Masters is not a very large boy, but there is manliness in his make-up, and he himself, although he does not know a great deal that most boys know, knows much that other boys do not know. He has never seen a train of cars or an elevator in his life, and for that matter, he has never once looked upon a corn-field, a plow, a cow, or even a chicken. He has never had a pair of shoes on his feet, or gone to a picnic or a party, or talked to a girl. But he has seen the sun at midnight, watched the ice-jams on one of the mightiest of rivers, and played beneath the northern lights, the one white child in thousands of square miles of frozen wilderness.” One of the best boy’s stories ever! 9
24 1899 The Wisdom of the Trail Klondike The tone of this terrible tale of suffering and hunger and death on the white trail in the Far North winter is set at the start with a typically powerful passage “The two Indians fell sullenly to the task of gathering dead branches and underwood. They were weak and paused often, catching themselves, in the act of stooping, with giddy motions, or staggering to the center of operations with their knees shaking like castanets. After each trip they rested for a moment, as though sick and deadly weary. At times their eyes took on the patient stoicism of dumb suffering; and again the ego seemed almost burst forth with its wild cry, ’I, I, I want to exist!’ - the dominant note of the whole living universe.“ We then follow a mixed group of white and Indian travellers through a particularly dangerous and almost-unknown portion of the Northland in the heart of winter, all suffering from the bitter cold and shortage of food, a number of whom are on the very edge of total exhaustion. The Indian leader of the expedition has to insist on the military-like discipline necessary for survival in these conditions, but rebellion is brewing and the survival of the whole group is at stake. Rough and ready justice will be meted out, and the reader will be left reeling with the force of this stunning story. 9
25 1899 A Daughter of the Aurora An Alaskan Courtship (1903) Klondike Two expert mushers and prospectors engage - with a pack of other gold-miners - in an epic hundred-mile race to file a claim on a gold-rich stake and above all win the promised hand of a very vivacious young woman. Light but full of good dog- and sled-lore. 8
26 1900 An Odyssey of the North Klondike A long (10,000 words) narrative of a lone Aleutian native’s lifelong quest throughout the continent and elsewhere for the beloved princess that had been stolen from him. Intense suffering and abnegation throughout, with a not very happy end, we might almost say of course. 8
27 1900 A Lesson in Heraldry General Fiction A perfectly angelic young twelve-year-old girl puts her devoted mentor to the torture with innocent-sounding but diabolical questions that just have to be answered to stay in the little darling’s good graces. Very light in tone and in content. 7
28 1900 The End of the Chapter General Fiction A very rich, very blasé and very depressed young man smokes a final Havana before taking his leave of this hellishly-boring and uninteresting world when he realizes that the cigar smoke is taking the shape of a lovely foot that resembles one that he once caressed with much interest indeed ... Short but satisfying. 7
29 1900 Uri Bram’s God • Which Make Men Remember (1901)
• The Dead Horse Trail (1964)
Klondike I’ve half a mind to go back and run amuck, and settle a few of them, the pigs! One gorgeous, glorious fight, and end the whole damn business! It’s a skin game, that’s what life is, and I’m sick of it!” declares a gambler fleeing from a frenzied mob chasing after him after he has slain a man in a casino in the frontier town of Nome, Alaska. But he is offered shelter in a hidden corner of a shack by a stranger who has followed him during his flight, and there he stays undetected for months until the manhunt finally dies down. When the coast is clear, his host accompanies him with a dog-team to the Canadian border on the Yukon, where there is a final settling of accounts, as his saviour was a close friend of the slain man. Marred slightly by the quasi-racist portrayal of the villain of the piece as a (typical?) French-Canadian, this story contains a quite celebrated and particularly dramatic description of the fearful passage over the infamous Dead Horse Trail where thousands of horses died during the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897: “The horses died like mosquitoes in the first frost, and from Skaguay to Bennett they rotted in heaps. They died at the Rocks, they were poisoned at the Summit, and they starved at the Lakes; they fell off the trail, what there was of it, or they went through it; in the river they drowned under their loads, or were smashed to pieces against the boulders; they snapped their legs in the crevices and broke their backs falling backwards with their packs; in the sloughs they sank from sight or smothered in the slime, and they were disemboweled in the bogs where the corduroy logs turned end up in the mud; men shot them, worked them to death, and when they were gone, went back to the beach and bought more. Some did not bother to shoot them, - stripping the saddles off and the shoes and leaving them where they fell. Their hearts turned to stone - those which did not break - and they became beasts, the men on Dead Horse Trail. 8
30 1900 Even Unto Death Klondike A flighty lady swears eternal love to a parting gold-prospector, but lives to regret it, even though the dear departed doesn’t. An early and too-succinct version of the later Flush of Gold (1908). 7
31 1900 Grit of Women Klondike Huddling around a stove during a cold snap in the heart of winter, a group of men exchange stories on the theme of the relative resistance to cold and deprivation of different types of men and women, which leads the one Indian among them to tell the story of how he, his devoted Indian wife, and a big, bulky (and boastful) Yankee had set out one winter with a minimum of food and a dog-team through 700 miles of virgin snow to seek relief from the nearest settlement on the coast for their starving campsite. His narrative of the terrible hardships and suffering that they endured is one of the most dramatic and powerful in the whole Jack London opus. 9
32 1900 Jan, the Unrepentant Klondike Three men are struggling with a fourth in a tent in wintertime in the North, as they are intent on lynching him without delay, in accordance with the rough law of the north, for having just slain a fifth member of their group, whose bloody body is lying on the floor of the tent while the struggle continues. Jan, who is unrepentant about his sudden outburst of rage against the fallen man, does not at all want to die and vociferously expresses his opinion on the matter during the melee, while the others cannot understand why he won’t submit to his fate quietly and let them hang him quickly and without fuss. Sort of funny in a somewhat sick way, at least to our modern, soft southern ears. 7
33 1900 Their Alcove General Fiction A man watches all the letters and mementos of the woman he had loved burn in his fireplace as he muses over the impact that their break-up has made on his life, and tries to picture his new life without her. Waiting for the train that will take him far away he wanders through the various places where they used to go, and where they had shared so many fond memories. Not at all bad, if you like that sort of thing, which a lot of people do, it must be admitted ... 7
34 1900 The Man With the Gash Klondike A profiteer has squatted a log cabin on the route to Dawson City, where he levies a fee on passing gold-rushers for the right to sleep on the floor, a profitable endeavour indeed. But he has nightmares about a man with a gash on his face robbing him of his ill-gotten hoard of gold dust - and one day a burly musher with a huge slash across his face comes by, and vigorously declines to submit to the roadside Shylock’s arbitrary demands. The story turns from farce to high drama as the deluded miser becomes convinced that the traveller has stolen his secret horde of gold dust and prepares to either hang or shoot the dreaded gash-man. Sort of amusing in spite of all the crude violence and superstition. 7.5
35 1900 The Proper “Girlie” General Fiction A young businessman whose wife is showing signs of dissatisfaction with his lack of attention to her writes a half-finished love letter to his mistress, but his wife finds the half-finished missive and thinks it was meant for her ... Written for a ladies’ magazine, this bittersweet romance is really just the sort of thing one expects to find in that sort of publication. 7
36 1900 Bald-Face Klondike A short and rather funny tall tale about bears that just has to be read to be (not) believed. 8
37 1900 Thanksgiving on Slav Creek Klondike A man wakes up his wife at midnight to urge her and their Indian guide to stealthily strike out with him – we are in Dawson at midnight and it is -65° F. outside – to Slav Creek where a gold strike has been made, but at the edge of town they realize that there are hundreds of others already engaged in the race to claim a stake there: a real stampede is on. Throughout the night and most of the next day, through thick snow in the biting cold, they trudge forward in a desperate effort to arrive in time to find an unclaimed stretch along the new Eldorado and fulfil their most treasured dreams. A gripping account of the physical and mental hardships – and the occasional joys - that people lived through in the days of the Klondike gold rush. 8
38 1900 Dutch Courage General Fiction Two boys on a mountain-climbing expedition in Yosemite Park are terribly disappointed when they see that someone has managed to climb the treacherous Half Dome Rock for the first time that very same day. But then they realize that their predecessor is in difficulty up there and that they not only have to get up there too but have to find a way to bring him down. Fortunately (?) one of them has brought along a flask of whisky to boost their courage ... A rather good boy’s adventure story. 7.5
39 1900 Where the Trail Forks Klondike A team of four gold-miners who have struck it rich and are only waiting for spring to leave their isolated camp in the Far North with the fortune that they are in the process of digging up are faced with a terrible quandary when a young maiden from a neighbouring Indian camp is sentenced to be sacrificed by the tribe’s witchdoctor to mollify the evil spirits who have made game so scarce that winter. One of the four refuses to let the girl be sacrificed without putting up what the others see as a fight against hopeless odds. A grim but engrossing tale with a strong moral fibre. 8.5
40 1900 The Great Interrogation Klondike A pretty, charming and wealthy widow pays a whirlwind visit to Dawson and then departs with a team of voyageur guides (whose extensive reports and dialogues are reported in vernacular French-Canadian English) in search of a prospector thereby much envied by her innumerable would-be suitors in Dawson. She does locate him far downriver, settled in with a robust and protective native wife, whose very presence is the main obstacle to the reconciliation that the southern woman had done so much to accomplish. But Dave Payne and Winapie have treasured memories in common too ... The theme of the clash of cultures from a feminine point of view is a good one, but perhaps not an area where JL shines the brightest. 7
41 1900 Semper Idem General Fiction Jack London can be - and usually is – as hardhearted as anyone, or even more so, and this quite brief tale about a master surgeon who is totally concentrated on the technical challenges of his profession is as good an example of that outlook as other of his stories abounding in mayhem and massacres. The good doctor manages against all odds to save the life of an anonymous man who has cut his throat from ear to ear with a razor while contemplating a photo of a woman inscribed “Semper idem; semper fidelis”, but the least one can say is that his post-operational manner is so inadequate that is would be funny if it were not for its tragic consequences. 8
42 1901 A Relic of the Pliocene The Angry Mammoth (1959) Klondike The narrator – no mean long-story-teller himself, who unabashedly tells a stranger about a huge bear he had killed that lived on the side of a mountain and had one pair of legs longer than the other because of the slope he was so used to – recounts how the stranger in question, a certain Thomas Stevens, walked into his isolated camp a thousand miles from nowhere and gave him a pair of snow-boots made from the hide of a mammoth, the last one on earth (!), that he said he had killed in an isolated mountain valley in unexplored territory far away. A good tall tale. 8
43 1901 Siwash Klondike A very high-spirited Yankee girl-prospector berates a couple of men in whose cabin she has taken shelter for being too cowardly to carry on towards Dawson in spite of the storm blowing outside [4], and when they decline to do so sets off petulantly herself. Which prompts the men to talk about women in general and about native (“Siwash”) women in particular while waiting for her inevitable return. In the course of these considerations one of the men recounts how he had won his beloved Indian wife in spite of the opposition of her father and his whole tribe, and remembers how her spirit and devotion had accompanied him so effectively through the good times and bad that they had shared for seven years before her death in childhood. 8
44 1901 The Law of Life Klondike A dying old and blind man, father of the tribal chieftain, listens to the sounds of the tribe as they prepare to move out from their campsite, leaving him behind with a pile of brushwood and a fire to warm his last few hours. He meditates on his past, on the past of his people and on his fate – the law of life – as wolves edge ever closer around the dying flames. A stunning investigation of the mindset of the ancient inhabitants of the Far North. 10
45 1901 The Lost Poacher Sailing An American seal-hunting sailing vessel in waters north of Japan caught in a thick fog-bank in total calm has been carried by strong currents into forbidden Russian waters, where they risk confiscation and imprisonment if captured by patrolling Russian warships. Their worst fears are realized, and a Russian war cruiser takes them in tow – but the young cabin boy who has been brought on board the cruiser finds a daring way to save the ship and his comrades. Certainly no doubt based partially on personal experience, as the author himself went on a months-long seal-fishing expedition off the coasts of Japan at the ripe old age of 16. 7
46 901 At the Rainbow’s End Klondike This starts out on a light tone as we follow various borderline or even over-the-limit escapades of the rather picturesque Montana Kid down the Yukon to Dawson City and beyond, almost always hotly pursued by Mounted Police or irate victims of his misdoings. But as it carries on, as often with London’s Klondike stories, the tone becomes grimmer, the conditions worse, and we are treated to a final cataclysmic sequence which no reader can assuredly ever forget. An odd mix of the light and the dark. 8
47 1901 The Scorn of Women Klondike Floyd Vanderlip has at last struck it very rich on Bonanza Creek in the Klondike and has sent funds for his young sweetheart down south to come up to Dawson for a wedding. But in the meantime Freda the star dancer at the town’s downtown casino has caught his eye; Loraine, a cosmopolitan society figure looking for a (rich) haven in the north, has hit town and begun to snare him with her charms; and Mrs. Eppingwell, the town’s queen of high society, has decided that he needs to be kept on the straight and narrow road to matrimony in spite of the town’s temptations. Add the wife of the local puritanical preacher who gets heavily involved, and you have a snaggle that can only be cleared up in the nick of town thanks to some astute manoeuvring by the defenders of the young fiancée whose arrival in town is imminent. A light and amusing tale of high-and-low jinks in the gold-rush town of Dawson. 7
48 1901 The Minions of Midas Political Fiction A wealthy baron of industry receives a warning letter from an unknown political organization that has declared outright war on capitalism in general and capitalists such as himself in particular, that demands payment of 20 million dollars or else. When the deadline for payment is up another anti-capitalist diatribe announces the forthcoming death of an innocent worker at a given date in Central Park, and more letters arrive at ever-frequent intervals, each one defining the nature and the exact date of the next murder (of a policeman, of a nurse, of a family friend and more). The hatred of big business and of the whole private-enterprise system emanating from each of these long texts is quite mind-numbingly shocking but it must be said almost contemporary in its anti-capitalist animosity, carried here however, it must be said, to extreme not to say criminal extremes. In that context it is perhaps worth mentioning that the passionate politics evidenced by this surprising text are totally absent from the quasi-totality of the pure-fiction narratives of this talented and also very radical-minded author. 6
49 1901 The God of His Fathers Klondike A prospector and his partner are camped beside a large Indian camp in the northern stretches of the Yukon whose chief, Red Baptiste, has refused them permission to advance further northward in search of the gold that they have been told lies to the north, because of the chief’s extreme hostility to the encroachment of white settlers and especially their missionaries, to whom he has developed a violent hatred ever since priests had first refused to marry him with his Indian wife, and then had protected the local VIP responsible for the death of his daughter, as he recounts to the prospector in an initial, dramatic encounter. When a missionary arrives bent on proselytizing the Indian village, the prospector is summoned by Red Baptiste to abandon him to the violent fate that awaits him; but out of solidarity for his fellow (white) man the prospector and his partner elect to stand up for the principle of solidarity. Both sides win, and lose, in the final showdown and what follows. Ambitious and wide-reaching, albeit ultra-violent, food for much thought. 9
50 1901 Chris Farrington, Able Seaman Sailing The eponymous hero is a 17-year-old who has signed on as an able seaman on a seal-hunting sailboat, and wants to be treated as an equal by the other sailors, many of whom are old-timers who consider young sailors to be simple servants to the other men. So Chris has to prove his mettle and his seamanship, which he does with flying colours when raging storms and a totally incompetent captain menace the very existence of the ship and its men. Clearly written for a youthful audience, this rousing tale convincingly gets its message of make-place-for-youth across, with brio. 8
51 1901 A Hyperborean Brew Klondike A long and complicated tale by the (in)famous tall-story-teller Thomas Stevens (see A Relic of the Pliocene, above, about how he and a fellow traveller survived in an large but very isolated native village on the edge of the Arctic sea by bringing there their version of civilization: Church and State and hooch. Somewhat too supercilious about native credulity to be convincing today, though. 7
52 1902 Keesh, the Son of Keesh Klondike Keesh, chief of the Thlunget tribe, is bidding many blankets, dogs, knives and guns for the hand of Su-Su, daughter of the chieftain of the Tana-naws. But he is rejected because he has been practically assimilated by their mortal enemies the white men, who have taught him their Christian morals and notably that it is wrong to kill one’s fellow man. A severe case of conscience for Keesh, who is a devout convert but who has been challenged by Su-Su to bring him proof of his manliness in the form of at least three heads … If London’s vision of the mindset of the aboriginal peoples of the Far North is true to life - at least to the life of those times - which it very well may have been as one is carried along most convincingly by his vivid narrative, then it was a wild world indeed in those faraway days in that far-off land! We note, incidentally, that the wolf-dog White Fang, star of London’s later novel of that name (1906), appears for the first time in this story. 9
53 1902 To Build a Fire (Juvenile Version) Klondike A prospector sets out in very cold weather indeed for a long trek back to his group’s campsite in the Yukon, and lives to regret not having listened to an old-timer’s advice, that he had so lightheartedly ignored, never to go out alone in winter. A shorter and notably less harsh version of one of the author’s best-known stories of the same title (see To Build a Fire, below), often anthologized. 8
54 1902 An Adventure in the Upper Sea General Fiction Parachute-diving out of hot-air balloons at public fairs can be even more dangerous than it sounds, especially when silly young boys decide to participate in the fun. 7
55 1902 Diable – a Dog Bâtard (1904) Klondike Diable (later “Bâtard”) is a very big, very fierce and very bad wolf-dog, and his nasty French-Canadian master is every bit as vicious and given to violence. Life is a continuing battle between the two of them to dominate and if possible kill or at least maim the other. The violence and tension never let up, and it all ends up very badly for both of them, of course. 8
56 1902 To Repel Boarders Sailing Two boys in a sailboat off the coast of Oakland chat about how adventurous life must have been in the days of the pirates, when they are accosted by fierce-looking fishermen armed with knives who are furious with them for having run through their nets. These men are seriously trying to board their sailing boat to get back at the boys for their misdeed, and in the fight to repel them the boys quite lose their nostalgia for the excitement of piratical times gone past. 7
57 1902 The “Fuzziness” of Hoockla-Heen Klondike The hero of the title is a twelve-year-old Indian boy who comes with the rest of his isolated Yukon tribe for the first time to sell furs in Dawson City, where he is recognized as the lost son of a rich prospector who had been thought lost as a baby during an ill-fated winter crossing many years previously. Told from the boy’s point of view, the initial passages where he succeeds in catching a beaver are particularly impressive; and the whole story reflects almost surprisingly quite favourably on the native way of life in the wilds. 8
58 1902 Moon-Face Crime Fiction The (very creepy) narrator just can’t stand his neighbour because he is always smiling and happy and openly enjoys life in general, so he undertakes increasingly drastic and ultimately explosive measures to put a stop to this disagreeable (to him) state of affairs. Told quite effectively from the (sick-of-mind) narrator’s point of view, this must have been quite a novelty at the time, several decades before Faulkner (The Sound and the Fury) and Camus (l’Etranger) applied this same stream-of-consciousness approach to other oddball mindsets. 8
59 1902 Nam-Bok, the Liar Nam-Bok, the Unveracious (1902) Klondike A man arrives by canoe on the shore of a very remote, very poor and very primitive Arctic fishing village: he says he is Nam-Bok who had been lost at sea fishing many years before, but the village people, who have never had any exposure to the outside world, just cannot believe his incredible tales of giant sailing boats, steamships, railways, huge houses and uncountable numbers of people living far away to the south. He is either the biggest liar in the world or a spirit, and is therefore sent back to the Arctic sea by the village council. An interesting but, one cannot help feeling, overdone and over-simplified investigation into the mindset of aboriginal people. 7
60 1902 Li Wan, the Fair Klondike Li-Wan is a young Indian woman of mysterious origins who has never seen a white man, so she is in for a big culture shock when she arrives on the Klondike and sees the frenzied gold-mining activity there. She tries to fraternize with a couple of wealthy American women who are visiting the diggings and who are interested in her native finery, but her very domineering native husband is very much to be reckoned with, as the only law either of them knows is that man is the master of woman. An interesting if not always convincing exploration of a native woman’s psyche and of the feminine condition in the Far North before the irruption of European civilization there. 7.5
61 1902 The Master of Mystery Klondike A set of very precious blankets have disappeared – obviously stolen by someone – from a poor remote Indian fishing village in northern Alaska. Two shamans do their best to resolve the mystery with their traditionally mystic methods, despite the scornful quips of a cynical young tribesman. And the culprit is indeed, somewhat to our surprise, discovered by the wily village shaman – and appropriately punished in the traditional manner by the villagers. What starts out as a lark takes on dark overtones indeed in this quite violent denunciation of the downside of the traditional way of life of aboriginal peoples. 8
62 1902 In the Forests of the North Klondike A party of explorers entering an unmapped region of the Far North discovers an unknown Eskimo settlement amongst whose inhabitants is another white explorer who had mysteriously disappeared five years previously. Happily adjusted to the simple but authentic life of the villagers, to whom he has taught much medical and organizational lore, he is nevertheless sorely tempted to return with the newcomers to the softer life in the South – but his Eskimo-Indian wife, daughter of the tribe’s chief, has other thoughts, and the clash of cultures inevitably explodes into ultra-violence. 9
63 1902 The Sunlanders Klondike Mandell is an obscure village on the rim of the polar sea, peopled mostly by women and a few very meek and necessarily polygamous men. The violent events that led up to this state of affairs is described through the eyes of one of the few male survivors of the clash between the then-populous and normally-aggressive villagers and a small party of white sailors. The villagers have learned the hard way to accept the continued presence of white miners on their land. Once again ultra-violence has characterized the incursion of the white man into aboriginal territory. Told, most effectively, from the native point of view. 8
64 1902 The Death of Ligoun Klondike “Blood for blood, rank for rank” was the honour code of the fierce Tlinket people, as a very old and run-down survivor of the blood feuds of a bygone age recounts - in between sips of fire-water - the story of a giant potlatch (a big party where everyone receives gifts) where a dozen chiefs of warring tribes met to discuss possible peace arrangements. But good intentions are not sufficient, and as their honour code says that one should not kill one below one’s rank, revenge then has to be sought as high up the ladder of hierarchy as necessary. Did things as bad and sad as this really happen in those parts in those days? Probably, one regrets to conclude ... 9
65 1902 The Story of Jees Uck Klondike Jees Uck is a young and very beautiful Toyaat woman of very varied ancestry from all over the Far North, not to mention Siberia and San Francisco. Neil Bonner has been sent for five years to serve the PC Company in the northern wilderness, and has currently been exiled to a small outpost on the Yukon River after a quarrel with a hierarchical superior. This is the story of their encounter and how she saved his life and loved him and bore him a son and waited in vain for him to come back North after he had inherited his father’s riches, and of how an inevitable story of betrayal and renunciation and cultural incompatibility somehow worked itself out in the end. 8
66 1902 The Sickness of Lone Chief Klondike Lone Chief, who has fallen on evil days and is quite without honour or place in the new order of things along the Yukon, remembers the glorious days of his youth when, weakened and dishonoured by a severe head injury that he had suffered in a lone combat with a giant bear, he had been sent into battle on a suicide mission against an enemy tribe and had unexpectedly won a historic - and very bloody - victory that had made him undisputed leader of his people. That is, until the steamboats came ... 8
67 1902 The League of the Old Men The League of Old Men Klondike A very old Indian comes to Dawson and tells the police that he has killed a large number of white men over the years - all those who passed through or near the territory of his tribe. During the trial he recounts, through an interpreter who is one of the very few survivors of his once-proud nation, why and how he and other old men of the tribe (the young ones having all gone to find work in the mining camps) had set out on an all-out war of extermination of the white men whose presence was having such a catastrophic impact on their centuries-old way of life. Very bitter, very strong and very sad. 9
68 1903 In Yeddo Bay Far East An American sailor in a restaurant finds out when it is time to pay the bill that he has no money left and not only has to somehow get out of the restaurant but also hire a sampan to bring him out to his ship moored off Yokohama harbour. Which he manages to do in spite of pay-now-or-else demands by one and all. Written with a certain outdated (even then?) air of condescending towards the Japanese (”the dark-skinned peoples, the world over, have learned to respect the white man’s fist ... 7
69 1903 The One Thousand Dozen Klondike A speculator hearing about the Klondike gold rush decides to mortgage his house in order to to buy a thousand dozen eggs which, when brought to Dawson City, will be worth a small fortune in view of the extreme shortage of food in that extremely isolated but rapidly-getting-wealthy settlement. He is absolutely determined to get there at any price with his precious cargo in spite of the seemingly-insurmountable obstacles and lack of available transport, of food, and of adequate clothing, and especially the atrocious weather conditions throughout the whole voyage. One knows by the somewhat mocking tone used from the start that his incredible efforts and quite extraordinary suffering will turn out to have been in vain, but one is nevertheless awed by the vividness of this gripping account of the incredible hardships that he and many thousands of other gold-rushers had to go through just get up to the promised land in the Yukon in those terribly tough times. 8
70 1903 The Shadow and the Flash Science Fiction Paul and Lloyd are very similar, although one is dark and the other is blond. They have been lifelong friends but also determined rivals in just about everything, and when Dora comes along the competition to outdo the other in everything starts getting really out of hand, as both have become expert chemists and are each working on a revolutionary new chemical inventions that will definitively outdo the other. It all finishes badly of course, as bad and mad scientists mostly do [5], although their amazing inventions – paints for making people and things invisible and transparent (!!) - unfortunately or rather thank goodness died out with them too. Pretty darned original science-fiction, and long before the genre became fashionable. 8
71 1903 The Faith of Men Klondike Two young but millionaire miners who have struck it very rich on the Klondike shake dice to decide which one will return home while the other stays on another year to look after their joint mining operations. Lifelong and very trusted friends, they decide that the winner will bring the other’s fiancée back to the Yukon with him, but fate, false news and an Indian maiden interfere with the planned-for wedding celebration. 7
72 1903 The Leopard Man’s Story Crime Fiction A leopard-tamer recounts the terrible revenge wreaked by a jealous circus performer (a Frenchman, one might almost say of course) on a lion-tamer who had been eyeing his vivacious young wife too freely. Good but grim. 8
73 1903 The Marriage of Lit-lit Klondike The Factor of an important but remote Hudson Bay Company trading outpost would like to take Lit-Lit, daughter if the local chieftain, for his wife, but the chief not only demands an extravagant price (five hundred blankets!) but is planning to renege on the deal anyway. However, John Fox, born and reared on the frontier fringe of the United States, is not as simple or as easy to trifle with as the chief or the reader might suppose. Full of wit and frontier lore, this charming tale is particularly successful. The description of the marriage negotiation with the wily chief is a veritable morceau de bravoure. 9
74 1903 Local Colour Hobos An erudite, charming, and very talkative tramp tells the narrator, to whose comfortable home, where he is always welcome and treated like a good friend, he has returned once again after yet another long and mysterious absence spent wandering all over the country, about his one and only venture into journalism. We learn much about journalism and much more about the world of hobos (a word which, according to our brilliant and extremely knowledgeable hobo hero, originated with the French haut bois and then was converted to ho-boys=>hobos because of the disreputable ways of wandering musicians in former days (!)) – and we get an interesting insight into the mindset of our author, an expert on the subject as he himself had tramped around the whole of North America for more than a year when he was a young and unemployed worker at the ripe old age of 17. 8
75 1903 Too Much Gold Klondike Two sourdoughs (old-timers) drop into the town of Forty Miles to find it completely emptied of its inhabitants, as news of the fabulous gold strike at Dawson City further upriver has just hit town and every last person has left on a stampede to get there asap and stake a claim themselves. Our old-timers decide to join in the rush when a stream of gold-rushers start coming up from further down-river, and this is the story of how they both hit and missed the big time too. Perhaps because of the miner’s vernacular in which the tale is related, this interesting theme takes on a somewhat too simplistic tone for our current tastes, though. 7
76 1903 Amateur Night General Fiction An eager young woman and would-be reporter finds out just how hard it is to break into that very sought-after profession. 7
77 1903 Keesh, the Bear Hunter The Story of Keesh (1907) Klondike To paraphrase the words of the author: This is the story of Keesh, who lived long ago on the rim of the polar sea, and how he used headcraft and not witchcraft to become a famous bear-killer and the head man of his village. Brain not brawn wins the day, as we others say. 8
78 1904 On the Banks of the Sacramento The Banks of the Sacramento General Fiction A young boy is left in charge of a cable-rig across the Sacrameto River and is faced with an emergency seemingly impossible to resolve. 8
79 1905 White and Yellow Sailing A rousing and possibly-autobiographical account, told in the first person, of a raid by the Fish Patrol on a fleet of shrimp-boats illegally scooping up shrimps in San Francisco Bay. The surprise attack on the sampans of a well-organized band of Chinese-speaking fishermen works well, but our youthful narrator finds himself trying to take almost single-handedly – and unarmed – a boatload of uncooperative prisoners back to shore while his damaged sloop is sinking ever lower and the captives are getting ever more aggressive. A good adventure story particularly aimed at younger readers, with a good deal of expert-sounding sailing lore artfully interwoven with the plot. 7
80 1905 The King of the Greeks Sailing Big Alex is the king of the illegal fishermen in the San Francisco Bay, and his willingness to shoot his way out of trouble or to keep patrol boats at bay has made him immune from arrest and the hero of his outlaw tribe. But the youthful crew of the Fish Patrol just know there must be a way using brains rather than brawn to bring him to justice if only they could find it, which they do. For young people and sailing enthusiasts, particularly. 7
81 1905 A Raid on the Oyster Pirates Sailing Raiding oyster beds in San Francisco Bay is a highly profitable enterprise that has attracted some of the most hardened and dangerous criminals in the Bay area. When the wealthy proprietor of a major oyster bed offers a big reward to whoever can catch them red-handed and bring them to justice, the youthful heroes of this story put their heads together and come up with a risky but not impossible scheme for doing just that. 7
82 1905 The Siege of the “Lancashire Queen” Sailing Two illegal fishermen who have been caught red-handed have managed to escape arrest by holing up on a British ship anchored in international waters offshore. There seems too be no way to get at them or stop them from trying to sneak ashore, but even in those days California was the high-tech mecca, and the refugees from justice don’t have a chance when an engineering marvel is put to good use by their patrolmen pursuers. The slowest and one of the longest of the Fish Patrol series of stories. 7
83 1905 Charley’s Coup Sailing A resourceful pair of youngsters on the San Francisco Fish Patrol have to try to enforce the local law against salmon-netting on Sundays, but what to do when you are up against a well-organized band of fish pirates all armed with modern rifles and more than willing to use them? However, where there’s a will and lots of youthful enterprise not to mention sailing savvy, there’s a way ... 8
84 1905 Demetrios Contos Sailing Demetrios is an expert sailor who has built the fastest boat in the San Francisco Bay area and he openly dares the Fish Patrol to try to catch him illegally netting salmon on Sundays right at the harbour-front. The young narrator and his partner, both expert sailors themselves with what they thought was the fastest boat around to boot, try as hard as they can to catch him, but to no avail – so a way has to be found to outwit this over-confident fish pirate and bring him to justice. But the best-laid plans can go dangerously awry … A rollicking chase story quite impregnated with the author’s evident love of small-boat sailing and the sea scene. 8
85 1905 Yellow Handkerchief Sailing The young narrator of the the series Tales of the Fish Patrol has finished his two-year stint and is leaving for Oakland where he will take up his studies again. But on the way there – by boat of course – they run into an illegal shrimp-fishing boat, and he has to escort the (dangerous) fish-pirates – led by his mortal enemy, a very vicious Chinaman who is dying for revenge for having been imprisoned previously by our guys – to shore. This last trip turns out to be the worst and scariest of them all. A good story for boys and everyone a bit young-at-heart too. 8
86 1905 All Gold Canyon Klondike A solitary prospector carefully inspects an isolated valley for traces of gold and finds more than he bargained for. Long and lyrical with a hard-nosed touch, a quintessential Klondike story. 9
87 1905 The Sun-Dog Trail Piece of Life (1954) Klondike A slice-of-life vignette in the Far North whereby a seemingly-frail but extraordinarily determined young couple set out on a man-hunt in the middle of winter through the most rugged conditions in the world, and, at the price of immense suffering from the bitter cold and lack of food and adequate rest, draw ever nearer to their quarry in a state of quite unbelievable exhaustion but as fanatically determined to arrive for a final show-down as ever. Starkly related by an Indian guide who had accompanied them on their savage quest, this is yet another intense exploration of the extreme limits to which some (exceptional) men and women can push themselves to, especially in the Far North. 10
88 1905 Love of Life Klondike Two very hungry and exhausted men stumble along a desolate trail in a desperate search for a way out of their white-winter prison in the Far North. No sacrifice or effort or suffering is too great to interfere with their fierce and fearsome will to pull through, which one of them somehow manages to do. A long and intense story about the extreme lengths that men are capable of going to in order to survive, that can leave no one indifferent. 9
89 1906 A Nose For the King Far East A fable about a condemned Korean politician who has been too greedy in his grafting and who talks his way out of prison and into great favour with the government by means of a wily ploy involving a realistic drawing of a most peculiar nose. With a dose of humour and a large dose of exaggeration, this is a light tongue-in-cheek parable, that with its curious conception of Eastern mores and social conditions has not well passed the test of time. 7
90 1906 Planchette General Fiction A long (15,800-word) and apparently ambitious novella that intertwines an extensive and intense love-dialogue, a series of bizarre near-death horse-riding incidents, an Ouija-board (the “Planchette” of the title) session involving ominous messages from beyond the grave by the girl’s dead but revengeful parents, and a final horseback outing where Planchette’s ominous declarations are more than fulfilled. The horseback-riding scenes are quite marvellously well done, but the (excessively-long) unrequited-love scene is distinctly less so, and the central spiritualist theme incarnated by Planchette has quite lost any impact it might have had over a century ago when this uneven novella was written. 7
91 1906 The Unexpected Klondike Total drama: in the middle of winter a miner bursts into the cabin where his four partners are having breakfast and shoots down two of them in cold blood; but thanks to the almost-split-second reaction of Edith, the wife of the other survivor, who leaps on the killer to prevent him reloading his shotgun, the killer is overpowered and tied up. The problem remains of what to do with him, as the cabin will be snowed in for months more. Contrary to the urging of her husband, Edith firmly refuses to shoot him out of hand in spite of the danger he represents. A grim tale with an unusual concentration on the punishment side of the universal Crime and Punishment quandary in a small close-knit and isolated community. 8
92 1906 Brown Wolf Klondike Brown is an odd and very fierce kind of Alaskan dog in sunny California who keeps going off on mysterious escapades somewhere northwards until one day a man from the Klondike comes by, names him Wolf and claims him for his own. In the end the decision is up to Brown Wolf: stay with his caring masters in sunny California or go back to the harsh and hungry life in the wilds of the North. One thing is for sure – Jack London knows a lot and writes very well indeed about dogs! 9
93 1906 The Apostate General Fiction A certainly heartfelt account of what it was like growing up very poor in depression days in the late 19th Century in a run-down industrial environment on the West Coast. The suffering and deprivation of the boy-hero who finally refuses to fit in makes Dickens’s Hard Times seem like easy times indeed. Lacks coherence and punch though, somehow. 7
94 1906 Up the Slide Klondike An enterprising youth goes out in wintertime near Dawson in the Yukon to collect firewood, in the form of an aged pine that he has spotted hidden in a gully high up on a cliff, and barely escapes with his life. But when wood is selling in Dawson at forty dollars a cord and you are seventeen and you have assured your partner that you will return with a sled-load of firewood, perhaps you are more reckless or at least willing to take risks than most. An excellent tale for younger people. 8
95 1906 A Wicked Woman General Fiction Loretta is a budding young woman visiting family friends to get over her broken love affair with her former fiancé. But although she has a lot going for her - looks, piano-playing and much youthful charm - she has a shameful secret that, so she has been told by her former lover, prevents her from marrying anyone else. The kernel of this sketch is the dialogue whereby the silly creature confides her secret to a man who would ever so much like to play a large role in her future. Sort of amusing in a very minor way, this was later transformed into a (titillating, but still silly) and quite commercially-successful little play. 6
96 1906 The White Man’s Way Klondike An old, very decrepit and very hungry Indian and his wife explain to a lonely white traveller, who is staying with them for the night in their deserted village, how they had lost each of their sons in turn because of the white man and his incomprehensible ways and inconsistent behaviour, and thus have no one to take care of them in their old age. A moving albeit somewhat simplistic reflection on the cultural impact of the representatives of modern civilization on the Northland aboriginal peoples. 8
97 1906 The Wit of Porportuk Klondike El-Soo is the splendid 20-year-old daughter of the chief of a big tribe in the Upper Yukon who has lived life up to the hilt, feasting and entertaining and being generous to one and all all his life. But he has had to sell or mortgage all his properties and has run up a huge debt with the village money-lender Porportuk, who hankers after El-Soo who has been educated by missionaries and who is clever and capable as well as being the most desirable young maiden in the Yukon. To escape the clutches of the old usurer, El-Soo organizes an auction to sell herself to the highest bidder at the gathering of tribes at the yearly salmon run, attended by one and all and by many wealthy white prospectors and traders come for the occasion. The miser Porportuk who is immensely wealthy is determined to outbid everyone, but the stalwart Akoon, her suitor, openly threatens to shoot anyone who tries to buy his loved one. The outcome of this conflict not only of generations but of the traditional free-spending, devil-may-care old ways and the hard-nosed materialism of the new age is resolved, after the extravagant auction has been concluded, in an unexpected – and of course violent, this being the Klondike of Jack London – manner that the reader will not forget in a hurry. 8
98 1907 When God Laughs General Fiction In the story-within-the-story, a couple of beautiful people have maintained the intensity and elation of their passionate love-affair years after their marriage, and everyone wonders how they have kept the flame so visibly alive. Well, they do have a secret and, innocent as it is, it rather spoils the splendour of the model that they had become for the pair of dear friends who have started the story off with a discussion of just what goes into the making of a perfect existence over a glass or two of golden California wine. The over-lyrical tone and language of the dialogues, both inner and outer alike, reinforce the impression of an interesting subject not quite successfully treated. 7
99 1907 Just Meat Pals (1908) Crime Fiction We follow the thoughts of a lookout-man who is participating in a house robbery as he goes down the almost-inevitable path of perdition and discovers that his partner has actually murdered his victim, that he is now wanted for murder too, and that his partner has plans to keep the loot all for himself. The basic idea is interesting – later on Georges Simenon would do this kind of story fuller and more subtler justice – but the execution is rather too bleak and straightforward, and the characters just too one-dimensional for the story to be as interesting as it perhaps could have been, or maybe would have been if the author had set it in a more exotic setting ... 6
100 1907 Created He Them General Fiction A showdown between two brothers, one of whom (the steady and successful one) has come to take the other (whose addiction to whiskey has ruined the life of his wife and children as well as his own) away for good to an institution for alcoholics. Slow but solid and insightful about a major social phenomena indeed. 7
101 1907 Morganson’s Finish • Finis (1916)
• The Death Trail (1959)
Klondike A starving and half-frozen miner down to his last few biscuits, without money or dogs and weakened by scurvy, lies in wait for days on end behind a snow bank in the midst of a severe winter in the Klondike, waiting for a suitable victim to pass by. We see him deal first with a big moose and then with a pack of wolves that momentarily disrupt his plans, and follow in stunning detail his dramatic and bloody - and final - encounter with three victims who finally appear on the trail. A tale of crime in the frozen north that will chill your blood. 9
102 1907 A Day’s Lodging Klondike A bitter and intense confrontation in a remote cabin in the Far North on an impossibly-cold (-60°C) day between two men who have gone North to get away from it all, and from each other. 8
103 1907 Negore, the Coward Klondike In the earlier part of the 19th Century when Alaska was Russian and open war had been declared upon rebellious native tribes, Negore, to prove his valour to his beloved Oona, volunteers to guide a troop of Russians, bent on the extermination of the tribe in reprisal for an earlier attack on one of their forts, into a trap. As hostile to the ultra-violence and cruelty of the Russian occupation of Alaska as London’s one other story set in Russian Alaska, the masterful Lost Face, but somewhat less successful, possibly because of being narrated through the perhaps somewhat simplified mindset of the Indian Negore, this well-told tale of terror and sacrifice and revenge and very bloody warfare is not one that the reader will easily, if ever, forget. 8
104 1907 Chased by the Trail Klondike Two boys try desperately to cross the half-frozen Yukon river to carry an urgent message to a prospector on the other side, but have the scare of their lives when an enormous ice-jam higher up the river breaks and they have to paddle with all their might downriver ahead of the oncoming ice floes. 8
105 1908 The Passing of Marcus O’Brien Klondike Red Cow is a tiny mining settlement of forty souls in the days before the Klondike gold stampede, and its isolated denizens maintain law and order by rough frontier methods, in particular by punishing murder with exile with a minimum of food - or none if the misdemeanour is a severe one - on a canoe to float downriver, the equivalent of a death sentence as the mouth of the Yukon in the Bering Sea is over two thousand miles away through the most barren and inhospitable territory imaginable. The story opens with the passing of such a sentence by the ad hoc judge of the title, and we follow the same judge’s adventures that very day as he not only strikes pay dirt but embarks upon a monumental whisky-fuelled negotiation with the town’s bar-owner who wants to buy up his claim. The next morning not only does the judge wake up with a skull-boggling headache, but finds himself in a canoe floating down the Yukon, with no grub at all, his drinking companions’ idea of a joke. In spite of its initially almost farcical tone, there is meat and constancy to this highly enjoyable tale, one of the author’s rare ventures into the comedy vein and a most successful one at that. 8
106 1908 Trust Klondike Frank Churchill, who is leaving Dawson City to catch the last boat for Seattle farther downriver before the winter freeze-up of the Yukon River, is asked by a close friend at the last minute to deliver a precious knapsack for him back home in Seattle. There are unforeseen delays though, and a desperate dash needs to be made to catch the last relay boat before it is too late. This is the almost incredible odyssey of a man driving forward against all odds and in spite of the most terrible conditions and obstacles imaginable to catch up with the relay boat at all costs, always carrying the heavy knapsack that he dares not consign to anyone else. Although the combination of pitfalls and difficulties that our man has to face to win through may seem a tad contrived on the whole, this is a fascinating condensate of the extraordinary hardships experienced by so many travellers in the gold-rush era of the Yukon. 8
107 1908 That Spot Klondike Spot is a magnificent husky dog, bigger and stronger and fiercer and more dominant than any of the others, but he has a most regrettable failing: he just doesn’t want to work. This is the narrative of one of his owners, told in a quite irresistibly wry, tongue-in-cheek manner, describing the desperate efforts he and his gold-mining partner had exerted to train, tame, trade, sell or otherwise dispose of this unusual – and highly intelligent – animal that has just about the strongest personalty of any dog I have ever read about. By Gawd, Jack London sure knew how to write about dawgs!! 9
108 1908 Flush of Gold Klondike A prospector and his guide seek shelter in an isolated cabin in the wilderness where they are made welcome by a beautiful but very strange woman whose story of love, betrayal, tragedy and insanity is later recounted by the guide. Strong atmosphere and typically “Londonian” overtones of impending doom, even though the story veers at the end towards the tall tale and perhaps loses thereby a certain element of the universality that characterizes many of London’s other Klondike stories of the same period. 8
109 1908 Make Westing Sailing The Mary Rogers is a big three-master that has been trying for seven weeks to round Cape Horn in the face of impossibly-contrary winds. Conditions are not good on board and the captain is determined at all costs to break through westwards. When at long last a favourable wind comes up and they are finally on their way to “make westing” successfully, a man falls overboard. Will the captain stop the run to go back to pick him up? You’ve got to be kidding! 7
110 1908 To Build a Fire Klondike A prospector who has ignored advice never to go out in winter alone has set out on a long trek on an unusually cold day to join his group’s campsite further along he frozen Yukon. But it is colder than he thought, there are dangerous pitfalls along the way, and he has seriously underestimated the dangers and difficulties of simply surviving in such extreme conditions. A stark and chilling (!) story that has generally considered as one of Jack London’s finest. And so it is, in spite of the barrenness of its setting of snow and ice and yet more snow and ice and its solitary central character somewhat foolishly stumbling towards his doom. Quite perfect for younger readers in spite of its theme of suffering in the face of the awesome power of the elements. And a special focus of interest is a most admirable wolf-dog accompanying the prospector, who is a lot craftier and in tune with his environment than his master. 9
111 1908 The Enemy of All the World Science Fiction A malformed and maltreated genius had launched an extremely murderous campaign to dominate the world between 1933 and 1941 (!!) and this is an account of his neglected and unhappy youth, of his astounding capabilities for learning and scientific achievement, and the early misfortunes and miscarriages of justice that definitively turned his resentment into hatred of the rest of the human race. And which set him off on his murderous campaign to revenge himself on the world, culminating in the German-American War of 1939 (!) that cost 800,000 lives and the systematic destruction of coastal defence installations in both America and Europe. But all good things must come to an end... Sort of original really – a mad scientist bent on destroying the world is not as far-fetched as it may have seemed to readers at the time! 7
112 1908 Aloha Oe Hawaii A subtly powerful evocation of the race-based social divide between the Hawaiian native-born or half-casts, no matter how beautiful or handsome or talented or wealthy, and the white upper crust of Hawaiian society of the time. 8
113 1908 Goliah Political Fiction Walter Basset, a captain of industry, “one of the small group that controlled the nation in everything but name”, receives a curious letter from a certain Goliah inviting him, with nine fellow-captains of industry, to visit the writer of the letter on his little-known Pacific island “for the purpose of considering plans for the reconstruction of society upon a more rational basis.” The letter goes on to explain that the penalty for non-observance of this summons is the death penalty. Only Walter Basset accepts the invitation on the appointed day – and the nine others are all found dead of a mysterious disintegration of their cell tissues. Follows a similar invitation to ten political leaders, all of whom ignore the summons and who equally suffer a sudden and violent demise, which causes the US navy to launch an all-out assault on the island retreat, with disastrous consequences to the (ex-)fleet. Goliah proceeds to destroy the Japanese fleet, to order worldwide disarmament and disbandment of the world’s armies, to outlaw child labour and the employment of women in factories (!), and to do away with private property, with the stock market and with commerce in general. By 1925 royalty worldwide had been abolished, by 1938 the working day reduced to two hours, the maximum working age to forty-eight, and prosperity and happiness has flourished all over the world. And in later epochs, Goliah, the genial inventor of the “Energon” that harnesses the power of solar rays, was honoured by the world as the greatest benefactor of mankind of all time. A truly amazing albeit delirious socialist dream. 7
114 1908 A Curious Fragment Political Fiction A fragment of a 29th-Century document, discovered centuries later, records the militant speech of a wandering labourer in the 26th Century encouraging his fellow workers – who are themselves all illiterate, it being a capital crime then to teach a worker to read and write or even learn the alphabet (!!) - to revolt against the slave-labour conditions imposed by a hated oligarchy of hereditary factory owners. A very violent political diatribe that extends the violence and class conflict of London’s novel Martin Eden far into a very bleak and terrifying future indeed. Definitely too pessimistic by far at the time of writing, this is just so negative about the capability of the capitalist system to evolve towards a more humane and enlightened fate for the mass of the population that is is almost unreadable today. But it certainly provides insight into the political mindset of the articulate far-left of the early 20th Century. As purely science-fiction it is sort of passable, albeit too wrapped up in the hateful aspects of class struggle to be anything more than that. 6
115 1908 Lost Face Klondike This is how this great story starts: "It was the end. Subienkow had travelled a long trail of bitterness and horror, homing like a dove for the capitals of Europe, and here, farther away than ever, in Russian America, the trail ceased. He sat in the snow, arms tied behind him, waiting the torture. He stared curiously before him at a huge Cossack, prone in the snow, moaning in his pain. The men had finished handling the giant and turned him over to the women. That they exceeded the fiendishness of the men, the man’s cries attested."
Strong stuff indeed, but just so artfully told, with frequent fast-paced flashbacks to the circumstances that had led up to the final drama and to the wide-open expansionist spirit of those adventurous times. This quite unforgettable drama manages to integrate that something special which, above and beyond the story line, talks to us of the universal essence of the life experience, and elevates it to the rarefied level of an eternal literary masterpiece.
10
116 1909 The Dream of Debs Political Fiction Debs was a labour leader of thirty years beforehand who had always dreamed of being able to organize a general strike, and the narrator awakes to find that the explanation for the unusual quiet on the streets is that Debs’s dream has now come true. Extensive discussions ensue about open shops, closed shops, strike-breaking and police and employer violence which have somewhat lost their sting today but which must certainly have been hot topics at the time of writing. And the chaotic issue of the general strike is quite different from what the armchair reader of today would have expected ... 7
117 1909 The House of Mapuhi South Seas A long but action-packed tale describing the circuitous fate of a fabulous pearl found off a remote but populous atoll in the Paumotu Islands in the South Seas, first battled over by traders reluctant to pay the price demanded by its discoverer, Mapuhi – a complete house of his dreams – and then lost along with the majority of the atoll’s inhabitants when a phenomenally violent hurricane practically destroys the atoll. Extreme violence and carnage and intense suffering by all concerned - London trademarks - but a surprisingly satisfying outcome. And the most hair-raising, eyewitness-like description of just what a strong hurricane is like that you will ever read ... 9
118 1909 The Seed of McCoy South Seas A cargo ship with a great fire raging below decks puts in at Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific where the captain and crew learn to their dismay that there is nowhere on that very remote island where they can beach the ship, so they have no alternative but to go on to the nearest island with a suitable lagoon, which is several hundred miles away. Guided by the governor of Pitcairn Island, they set out on on this desperate dash for safety, but fog, wayward currents, a hurricane wind and plain bad luck combine to make their chances of coming to safety ever more remote. A cracking good story of the sea and sailing, of seamanship and the struggle to remain calm in the face of extreme danger in a very hostile environment. 8
119 1909 The Madness of John Harned Latin America Lovers of bull-fighting abstain – this is a detailed account of the cruelty of that “sport” in one of the third-class arenas that abound in Latin America, and of the increasingly-animated conversation between the local sophisticated and blasé afficionados and a visiting Yankee spectator, clearly representing the author’s own views on this controversial confrontation between man and animal. It finishes badly and bloodily, of course [6]. 8
120 1909 South of the Slot Political Fiction The Slot was the geographical and social dividing line of San Francisco before the Great Earthquake there: north of this distinctive tram-line were the shopping district and the respectable business houses, south of it were the factories and the working-class district. The central character in this militant tale of working-class struggle, strife and strikes lives in both worlds: he is a reputed sociology professor at the University of California, renowned for his classic, conservative and very moralistic study of the great labour-ghetto on the other side, who has lived and worked there for so long while gaining material for his books, that he has taken on a new, more outgoing and much less straight-jacketed personality and habits when over there, drinking beer with the buddies and boisterously living it up after work, most notably. He had become two different men with two different personalities, one a class-conscious and militant union man actively participating in the struggles around him, the other a detached and ratiocinating professor aloofly observing and analyzing the outside world. But things come to a boil when each of his separate personalities finds an ideal mate of its own kind, each on separate sides of the social divide. Marriage if not polygamy is on the cards, and things come to a crunch when both sides of his personality get swept up in a violent city-wide Meat Strike. A fable providing interesting insight into the tense and often violent social and labour relations that were prevalent in sunny California then and for long afterwards too. 8
121 1909 Good-Bye, Jack Hawaii One of the richest and most eligible bachelors in Hawaii, a paragon of courage and fortitude, discovers that his lady love is on the point of being interned on the island of Molokai where lepers from all the Hawaiian islands are compounded for life with no hope of ever returning. Above and beyond the question of the treatment of leprosy in those (un)enlightened days, the critical tone of this seemingly-straightforward social fable is established from the start by the following semi-sarcastic and bitingly bitter remarks about the history of the American colonization of those islands : “Hawaii is a queer place ... The humble New Englanders who came out in the third decade of the nineteenth century, came for the lofty purpose of teaching the kanakas the true religion, the worship of the one and only genuine and undeniable God. So well did they succeed in this, and also in civilizing the kanaka, that by the second or third generation he was practically extinct. This being the fruit of the seed of the Gospel, the fruit of the seed of the missionaries (the sons and the grandsons) was the possession of the islands themselves – of the land, the ports, the town sites and the sugar plantations. The missionary who came to give the bread of life remained to gobble up the whole heathen feast. 7.5
122 1909 The Chinago South Seas Ah Cho is an indentured Chinese “coolie” (“slave” would be even more accurate description of his condition) on a French plantation in Polynesia who has been arrested and condemned to prison for twenty years after the slaying of the (criminally-brutal) foreman by another coolie, and we follow his thought processes as he wonders at the stupidity of the French judge and policemen who are incapable of discovering the identity of the murderer and who have nevertheless condemned another of the group, a certain Ah Chow, to death, simply because he was present at the slaying, to set an example. But name confusion arises and Ah Cho is guillotined in place of Ah Chow, as the white devils don’t really care as long as one of the Chinagos goes under the knife. Related by Ah Cho in rudimentary language, the account is a tad too simplistic to be quite satisfying, but it impresses nevertheless. 7
123 1909 The Sheriff of Kona Hawaii Kona is a “lotus land where every day is like every day, and every day is a paradise of days”, where it is always calm thanks to the special geography which shelters it from the violent winds that perpetually rage around the other Hawaiian islands nearby, and leaves only refreshing breezes and the cool mountain air that blow down from its magnificent mountains. Yet the Sheriff of Kona, an athlete and a giant, left this island paradise with all his family, and this sad story of disease (leprosy, that curse of Hawaii) and despair tells why and how. 7.5
124 1909 The Heathen South Seas The narrator recounts how he first met Otoo, a native of Bora Bora, the only non-Christian on that island (!), on a heavily overladen tramp ship that sank when hit by a a horrific hurricane and of which he and Otoo – who mutually saved each other’s lives that day – were the only survivors. They became blood brothers, a sacred bond in those parts involving notably the exchange of names, and were inseparable from there on. This very moving tale details the workings of that unbreakable bond for the rest of their existences. Reader beware: once you have read this story, you will never be able to forget Otoo (pronounced o-to-o), the most wonderful blood brother any man ever had. In the moving closing words of the author: “If Jehovah be from His high place watching every sparrow fall, not least in His kingdom shall be Otoo, the one heathen of Bora Bora. 10
125 1909 A Piece of Steak Boxing An aging boxer in the Australian outlands prepares for a big fight that he desperately needs to win to provide for his undernourished family. But times are hard, very hard, and he just cannot have the good piece of steak that he knows from experience his body needs to meet the challenge of the up-and-coming upstart he is about to confront. The account of his struggle to nevertheless dominate his opponent through fifteen long and bitter rounds, interspersed with flashbacks to to his days of glory and to scenes illustrating the dramatic social conditions of the time, is expertly told – the author must surely have been a practitioner of the noble art himself – and is as tense and dramatic and full of emotional impact and social import as any sports story that I have ever read. 10
126 1909 Koolau the Leper Hawaii Koolau is the leader of a group of natives on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, all severely stricken with leprosy, who have gathered in a impregnable mountain fortress to resist internment by the authorities on the prison-island of Molokai from which there is no return. This is the story of their struggle to remain free, heightened in intensity from start to finish by the fiery anti-missionary and anti-governmental diatribes of their determined but doomed leader. Were race relations really that bad in the bad old days of the early 20th Century in Hawaii? Wow! 9
127 1909 Mauki South Seas Mauki is a coal-black young Solomon Islander who has been forced into a long-term slavish contract as a plantation labourer under the most severest discipline imaginable. This is the story of the hardships he endured, of his numerous and often bloody and always-severely-punished attempts to escape, and in general of what it was like in the early days of the 20th Century to be what can safely be described as a basically very savage stone-age head-hunting Melanesian islander trying to come to terms with the encroachments of the white man and his all-conquering civilization. Stark and brutal but dramatically compelling, this tell-it-like-it-really-is/was approach to race relations in the South Pacific at the time is most effective. 9
128 1909 The Mission of John Starhurst The Whale Tooth (1910) South Seas Eat or be eaten was the law of the land among the head-hunters of the Fiji Islands, and John Starhurst has been sent on a mission there to Christianize the tribes and put a stop to this barbaric tradition. He courageously proceeds inland to the mountains where no white man had ever penetrated before, but unfortunately for him one of his converts, who secretly resents the new morals, has sent a messenger before him with a magnificent whale-tooth as present for the chief of the mountain stronghold he is set on visiting - a present which obliges the receiver to accede to whatever request is made by the giver. The reader’s admiration for the courage displayed by the missionary just has to be tempered by a certain astonishment at the man’s foolish temerity. It ends badly, of course, except for the headhunters, that is. 7
129 1910 Chun Ah Chun Hawaii Ah Chun had served from his sixth to his twenty-fourth year as a slave on his uncle’s farm near Canton, until he managed to escape by contracting to work for three years on a sugar plantation in Hawaii. Hard-working, very astute and doted with a second sight for investment opportunities, he has acquired not only an immense fortune and a position of great social importance in Hawaii, but also a wife of mixed European origins and a family of fifteen magnificent children, all educated in the finest universities in the West. Key problems remain to be solved however: the culture gap which prevents the potentially-suitable scions of the Hawaiian upper class from marrying his half-Chinese daughters, how to ensure a peaceable old age for himself in face of the inevitable squabbling among his offspring for control of his empire, and above all how to satisfy his longing to return to the beloved China of his youth while there is still time. It will come as no surprise to know that Ah Chun rises to the challenge and finds a most satisfactory solution to all of these conundrums. 9
130 1910 The Terrible Solomons South Seas A half-serious, half tongue-in-cheek account of an innocent young tourist’s discovery of the everyday violence rampant both on the ships that navigate around the Solomon Islands and on land in and around the trading posts and European-run plantations in those parts. Although we know that race relations were very different when this story was written from what they are today, nevertheless the racist terminology and the casual callousness by which blacks are murdered out-of-hand throughout this long and extraordinarily-bloody farce are just too much for the modern reader. True, the natives are head-hunters and man-eaters and just as bent on murder and mayhem as any of the white sailors and settlers in the story, but no, in spite of the subjacent humour and the liveliness of the action, this story is more a testimonial to the misguided white-superiority ideology of so many Europeans (and Americans, including the author one has to admit) of those times than an acceptable work of literature for our hopefully-more-enlightened days. 5
131 1910 The Inevitable White Man South Seas This cruel sailor’s tale about ultra-violence and conflict not to say outright warfare with savage head-hunters in the South Seas starts off with the following off-putting declaration: “The black will never understand the white, nor the white black, as long as black is black and white is white” just to set the tone, and carries on to describe the exploits of a useless sailor who could do absolutely nothing right except one thing – shoot like you wouldn’t believe. So we read on about how this crack sharpshooter succeeds in warding off masses of attacking head-hunting savages during a recruitment drive for hired labour among the Solomon Islands. It finishes in about the same ugly vein as it started, I’m sorry to say. Most distasteful. 5
132 1910 The Unparalleled Invasion Political Fiction The logical - or at least possible - consequences of the entry of Japan into the concert of nations by their stunning victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 is extrapolated throughout the rest of the century, as Japan first expands into Manchuria, Korea and then China, which it utterly modernizes on its own model, and opens up vast new resources and capabilities for China itself. With the end of traditional famines, the population of China explodes until they outnumber the Japanese by tenfold and begin to overflow into neighbouring regions. The Japanese are politely sent back to their tiny islands to cultivate their culture, the French in Indochina are swallowed up by a million well-armed troops and their families, and the flood of industrious and ever-more-numerous Chinese migrants continues into the rest of Asia and beyond. The West is terrified and powerless – if the amazing expansion of the Chinese population continues they will number a billion and a half by the end of the 20th century! Invasion of China is impossible, as an abortive attempt by the French, who lost an entire army of 250,000 men in trying to do just that, had shown. The new modern and ever-impenetrable China seemed irresistible – but in 1974 a scientist in New York has a (very nasty) idea that just might work ... A pessimistic and antagonistic perception of East-West relations, a quite amazing reflection of the widespread Yellow Peril mentality of the time. 7
133 1910 Winged Blackmail Crime Fiction A high-flying financier receives polite but uncouth and menacing letters by carrier pigeon (!) demanding large sums of money by return pigeon or else. When the “else” turns out to be a series of increasingly-destructive bombings he just has to find a way to follow the pigeon back to its owner, not an easy challenge. But his family gathers round and justice will be done. 7
134 1910 When the World Was Young Fantasy A burglar clandestinely entering the grounds of a mansion near San Francisco stumbles upon a strange sleeping wild man who seems to be a throwback from primitive times thousands of years ago. And this is the story of that wild man, in fact the owner of the mansion who is a successful businessman by day and a primitive Teuton of the Stone Age by night. Strange indeed – one of Jack London’s quite rare forays into the realm of fantasy [7]. 7
135 1910 The Benefit of the Doubt General Fiction A man returns to the town of his youth to find it rougher and tougher and unfairer than when he had grown up there. The police and the judges are even worse than the (very) rough men in the low dive he wanders into, but our man manages to get his own back in the end. A story certainly inspired by a somewhat similar true-life experience of the author. 7
136 1910 Under the Deck Awnings South Seas A group of fellows on an ocean liner are debating whether or not a gentleman could ever call a woman a pig (!), and to illustrate his opinion to the affirmative one of them describes a crossing he had made when a certain elegant, athletic and very sought-after high-bred young woman who had everyone on board so much under her sway that she practically ran the ship - but was called that very name after a tragic happening which would never have occurred had she not been such an overweening self-centred little p—. Grim! 7.5
137 1910 “Yah! Yah! Yah!” South Seas The narrator cannot understand how a whisky-guzzling scrawny old Scotchman, never sober from 6 o’clock in the morning onwards and the only European on the isolated island of Oolong, could so effortlessly lord it over the whole island and its six thousand warlike inhabitants who so uncomplainingly submit to his slightest whim. Then one evening one of the natives tells him how some twenty years previously they had, in keeping with a centuries-long tradition, launched a surprise attack on a schooner that had unsuspectingly entered their lagoon, and how in spite of their overwhelming superiority one of the crew members, armed with a repeater rifle, had managed to escape the massacre with a few other crewmen, taunting the attackers all the time with the strange cry of the title. The islander goes on to detail the terrible consequences of that bloody battle, and we come away, with the narrator, wiser – and a lot sadder – about just how Western civilization spread to that particular part of the world. 9
138 1910 The House of Pride Hawaii Percival Ford is a very straight-laced multimillionaire on Hawaii, son of a puritan missionary who had made a fortune buying up native lands on the cheap. He is approaching middle age now and is as prurient - and convinced of his inner moral superiority - as ever, and particularly ill at ease with the loose Hawaiian morals he sees flourishing all around him. When he discovers that one of the objects of is moral opprobrium and intolerance is in fact an illegitimate son of his idealized father, his stern moral outlook begins to crumble. But people of his ilk do not change their world outlook on the spur of the moment ... 7
139 1910 To Kill a Man Crime Fiction A woman hears a noise in the dead of night and discovers a burglar in her living room. Although he is armed with a revolver and just wants to leave now that she has come, he is soft-spoken and clearly not too dangerous, so she engages him in conversation to better understand his motives. She and we learn that he in fact is out to take revenge on her father after having been unfairly deprived by him of his job at the father’s factory. The more they talk, the more the roles become reversed, and we discover that the lady is not as beautiful a person as we had thought at the beginning of the story ... 7
140 1910 Bunches of Knuckles South Seas A couple on a long cruise in the South Seas try unsuccessfully to cope with the first mate of the ship, an ex-convict whom they have tried to help in spite of misgivings about his past. Things go from bad to tragic until fate lends a helping hand. 8
141 1911 The “Francis Spaight” Sailing The Francis Spaight is a lumber-laden cargo ship that has capsized in a North Atlantic gale because of the carelessness of its inexperienced crew and particularly because of the incompetence of the steersman. It drifts demasted for days without sighting another ship, with no shelter and above all practically no food for the survivors. The sailors finally decide to sacrifice one of theirs to replenish their food supplies, and this story, sub-titled “A True Tale Retold” which it no doubt is, recounts in dreadful detail the tragic events that follow. Too grim for words. 7
142 1911 The Hobo and the Fairy Hobos A dirty, dishevelled, down-and-out tramp is sleeping under a tree and a little girl walking by stops to protect him with her umbrella from the sun. She engages him in conversation when he wakes up, and the tramp, a hardened ex-convict, relives the terrible things he has seen and done as he contemplates her innocence and purity. Something that soothes his savage soul emanates from the little girl though, and as we follow their conversation and learn more about the two of them, the full effect of this rare and hard-to-forget story builds up to a suitably emotional climax. 10
143 1911 The Strength of the Strong Political Fiction An elderly and very hairy cave-man recounts to his three grown grandsons the history of their people: how they, the Fish-Eaters, used to be numerous and constantly at war with the neighbouring Meat-Eaters, and how they evolved from a period of incessant wife-stealing and individualism to a co-operative system of government with the progressive introduction of a tribal council, of a hereditary chieftain, of currency, of farming, of a priesthood, of police and of the systematic repression of dissenters. But how continued wife-stealing and the growth of inequalities resulted in the dispersion and destruction of the once-prosperous tribe so that their little group was now all that was left. A parable of man’s social evolution as seen from the left, written in answer to Kipling’s anti-socialist parable of the benefits of Empire Melissa, introduced with the following sarcastic and passably aggressive epigraph to make the point clear: “Parables don’t lie, but liars will parable. - Lip-King”. 7
144 1911 The Eternity of Forms The Dead Do Not Come Back (1961) Crime Fiction Two brothers have endless arguments about the metaphysics of the title, and here we have extracts from the diary of the surviving one, the positivist-materialist - and very deluded - proponent of the thesis of the later title, who not only leads a double life but sees his double doing things. You have to be smarter than I am to figure out exactly what is going on, though. 6
145 1911 A Son of the Sun South Seas A shifty schooner-owner tries to sneak out on a big debt owed to the hero of this and other stories in the series originally published under the general title of this lead tale, the redoubtable adventurer and multimillionaire wheeler-dealer-businessman David Grief. Grief catches up with him at a remote island in the Solomons, but the polite discussion that ensues rapidly escalates and bullets soon start flying. David Grief, whose exploits and love of excitement and “fun” are recounted at considerable length, does not at all like to be cheated and sets out to make sure that the defaulter-robber’s crime does not pay. Unfortunately the story is quite spoiled for us today because of the off-handed racist slants against the native islanders that abound from the beginning, which may have seemed at the time to be appropriate language for the rough men who utter them, but which are quite simply intolerable to us today. 6
146 1911 The Taste of the Meat Klondike Kit Bellew is a 27-year-old journalist who has spent the last five years dabbling at various mostly artistic occupations and whose uncle and cousins are setting off the next day to join in the gold rush to the Klondike. Out of shape and rather lazy by temperament, he is nevertheless determined to live up to his uncle’s strenuous expectations, and this is the story of how the soft city boy becomes a hardened sourdough wily in the ways of the wild, and manages while he is at it to meet a most interesting young woman “whose walk he would recognize after a thousand years.” A lighthearted account, in keeping with the character of its quite charming central character, of the difficulties and hardships awaiting those many thousands who set out from the sunny south on that fabled gold-rush trail. 7
147 1911 The Proud Goat of Aloysius Pankburn South Seas Ship-owner and wily adventurer David Grief makes a man out of a wealthy but broken-down young fellow totally addicted to alcohol, when they set out on a treasure hunt and the young man has no choice but to shape up on the long trip across the Pacific, or else. 7
148 1911 The Meat Klondike In this sequel to The Taste of the Meat (see above), Kit (now nicknamed “Smoke”) Bellew is working his way along the long Klondike trail as a packer, and has to manage a double workload on the half-rations doled out by his two very wealthy, very well-fed and very miserly not to mention slothful and cowardly would-be mining-entrepreneurs who have hired him. The meat of the title is bear-meat, the gauge of a fire-eating all-out tough guy who can do anything and come through any difficulty according to Shorty, his fellow hired packer, and boy, do they both earn that honoured title before they finally manage to somehow make it through rapids and ice-jams and dangers galore all the way to Dawson. Somehow almost oddly lighthearted in tone, perhaps because of the twangy-western kind of vernacular used throughout the extensive dialogues. 8
149 1911 The Night-Born Klondike A wealthy but burnt-out man in a San Francisco clubhouse tells how twelve years previously when he was prospecting virgin country in the Far North he discovered an Indian tribe that had never seen a white man before, but which was ruled by a very forceful blue-eyed (and very sunburned) white woman, who recounted – yes we are three story levels down now – the rough path through life she had travelled on her way to this wild wilderness. The jaded and alcohol-fuelled regrets of the former adventurer for what might have been conclude this strong and almost moving story, quite infused with a Thoreau-esque [8] love of nature, on a fittingly melancholic note. 8
150 1911 War War story A minute-by-minute description of the findings and feelings of a cavalry soldier on a reconnaissance mission in an unspecified war zone (reminiscent of the American Civil War, but with the difference that the enemy troops speak a “hated alien tongue” - could that possibly refer to the southern drawl or to the Yankee way of speech?) as he advances through woods and prairies and comes upon a battle zone and sees and hears enemy troops approaching. Short but very gripping, most impressive. 9
151 1911 The Goat Man of Fuatino The Devils of Fuatino (1912) South Seas David Grief’s prize schooner arrives at the idyllic island of Fuatino only to be informed by David’s blood-brother there that a shipload of pitiless (French, one might almost add: of course) pirates had occupied the island, killed many of the men and captured many of the women. David and his crew ship arms in the middle of the night to the surviving natives, and launch an all-out campaign to exterminate the invaders. But the heavily-armed pirates recoil at nothing and use their many hostages for protection, so the struggle is uncertain at best. A long but well-paced and credible tale of strife and mayhem in those not-so-idyllic-after-all parts. 8
152 1911 The Stampede to Squaw Creek Klondike ”Smoke” Bellew and his partner Shorty are tipped off in the middle of the night that gold has been found nearby, and they sneak out to stake a claim on the new Eldorado Creek before the news gets abroad. While still on the outskirts of town they discover that there are a thousand men ahead of them with the same idea in mind, and a further ten thousand coming along fast behind - a typical Dawson stampede is under way! As they have been hardened by a year on the trail, when they pick up the pace to a near-run in spite of the ice and the deep snowdrifts and the -55° C. temperature, they rapidly start catching up to the leaders, most of whom are tenderfoot novices unused to the extreme conditions of the Yukon. But some of them are stronger and wilier - and luckier - than it would appear, as they find out the hard way. An interesting insight into the gold-rush mentality of those heroic days. 7.5
153 1911 The Little Man Klondike Smoke Bellew partners up with a likeable fellow prospector to investigate an incredibly rich gold lode that they have stumbled across, but as they cross a dangerous ice bridge cracks start appearing and this is the story of their desperate inch-by-inch struggle to avoid sliding hundreds of feet down to an icy grave below. Tense reading on the whole, quite perfect for the young audience that the author was probably writing for when he penned this “Smoke Bellew” series of stories. 8
154 1911 The Mexican Boxing An undercover member of the Junta of the Mexican Revolution which is preparing to overthrow the dictatorship of Porfiro Diaz has secretly been earning money for the Revolution by boxing after work hours in southern California, and engages, unknown to his revolutionary comrades, in the biggest fight of his career in the hope of bringing to the Junta the winner-take-all stake of $5000, just the sum which they desperately need to launch their uprising. His opponent is an experienced, very tough and very arrogant local hero who is almost certain to beat the unknown upstart, but he and his entourage do not understand the fierceness of young Mexican’s dedication to the Cause, nor his visceral hatred of gringos in general and of his opponent in particular. The long and dramatic, round-by-round description of the epic struggle on which the fate of the Revolution is at stake will have you on the edge of your chair throughout. What a match, and what a writer! 9
155 1911 Shorty Dreams Shorty Has a Dream (1911) Klondike ”Smoke” Bellew’s partner Shorty has a hunch that he is about to get lucky at the roulette tables in Dawson, but has to concede defeat after losing a pile of gold dust. “Smoke”, though, after careful observation of the proceedings, declares that he believes that he has found a system to beat the roulette and really clean up, and soon starts applying his new method most successfully - so much so that the syndicate of casino-owners offers him a big prize to stop their torture and reveal his secret method to them. Which he does most convincingly, to their relief - and to their chagrin when they realize just what he has been up to. A light sketch of the dark side of the night life in the brief heyday of the gold capital of the world. 7
156 1911 A Little Account with Swithin Hall South Seas David Grief’s sturdiest schooner makes it through a big hurricane intact, but their chronometer has slipped a clog and they don’t know where they are when they come across an uncharted island where three men are driving a gang of native labourers to extract thousands of dollars worth of precious pearls from the seabed. Detective work and some clever manoeuvring by David Grief enable him and his shipmates to resolve the mystery of who these men are, how they came to be in such a remote location, and how they have been able to build such a well-equipped mansion. And how to settle a sizable old debt. 7
157 1911 A Goboto Night South Seas The essential character of life on this little South Sea island is summed up in the following phrase: “Life at Goboto is heated, unhealthy, and lurid, and for its size it asserts the distinction of more cases of acute alcoholism in the world. Guvutu, over in the Solomons, claims that it drinks between drinks. Goboto does not deny this. It merely states, in passing, that in the Goboton chronology no such interval of time is known.” Spoiled somewhat by regular racist cracks, the account of an evening’s quarrelling and gambling – and of course drinking – and of how a particularly overbearing and arrogant visitor not only gets his comeuppance from but is quite turned around by David Grief, is not without interest. 7
158 1911 The Man on the Other Bank Klondike A rather extravagant adventure in the “Smoke Bellew” series where Smoke sets off alone across uncharted territory in search of a mythical lost gold-rich lake and actually manages by sheer chance to find it. Only to be shot at on his way back by an unknown assailant in hiding and then arrested manu militari by a large group of isolated and very irate prospectors who promptly put him on trial for murder, in true frontier-justice style prevalent in those parts, as the unknown shooter had also shot down one of theirs while leaving no trace of his presence. Although the story lacks somewhat in credibility, the roughness of the frontier life and above all the splendours of the wild, savage and often very beautiful outdoors are admirably portrayed. 7.5
159 1911 The Pearls of Parlay South Seas Parlay is a wizened old Frenchman who has become the ruler of the atoll of Hikihoho in the Paumotan Islands after marrying the queen there. Embittered by the suicide of his beloved – and beautiful and highly-educated - half-caste daughter fifteen years earlier because of the rigid colour bar practised by the high society of the islands, he has built up a fabulous hoard of exceptional pearls and summons the leading traders of the South Seas to his atoll for an auction of the whole lot, at precisely 10 a.m. on a given day. But Parlay is considered by the natives to be a sort of witch-doctor who masters the elements, and that day is precisely at the peak of the hurricane season. David Grief, millionaire trader and adventurer, along with a number of other traders, cannot resist the temptation to participate at the auction, but when their ships have gathered in the atoll’s lagoon the barometer starts going through the floor, and by the appointed time on the day of the auction, the mother of all hurricanes is on the verge of destroying not only all the ships but the island as well. The essence of this gripping story is the struggle of one and all just to survive, both on ship and on land, in face of the awesome force of the hurricane winds, Parlay’s revenge on the cruel world beyond his little kingdom. 8
160 1911 The Race for Number Three Klondike The Dawson Gold Commissioner has organized a race from the Number Three stake on the rich Mono Creek, whose original but unconfirmed claim will expire at midnight, to the registrar’s office in Dawson a hundred and ten miles further down the frozen Yukon. The entrants must plant a new four-post stake under tight police surveillance, but not before midnight on the day that the original claim expires, and then set off by dogsled as best and as fast as they can through the inevitable dogsled-jam down the treacherously frozen river. Smoke Bellew is challenged to enter the race by the lady adventurer he had previously met and admired, and he has spent days hunting up the strongest and fastest dog teams available in the whole territory to be used as relays all the way downriver from the bonanza creek to Dawson. But the competition – the best mushers in the whole of the Far North – is fierce and unscrupulous and determined, and the stakes – the claim is worth at least a million dollars – are very high. Was there ever a dog-sled race like this one, and so dramatically recounted? 8
161 1911 The End of the Story Klondike A doctor playing cards in a cozy cabin on the Yukon is summoned by an insistent newcomer to rush away with him at all speed on a hundred-mile trip through difficult territory to operate a man who has been desperately wounded by a cougar. Reluctantly he does so, although there is little chance that anyone could possibly survive the terrible mauling the man has received. After three days of almost non-stop intense effort they arrive at the isolated campsite, where the doctor recognizes the woman who is tending to the desperately-wounded man: she is his wife (!), and the wounded man is the one who had stolen her away from him. The doctor, a renowned surgeon who had come up to the Far North to get away from it all after the loss of his wife, struggles with his conscience and finally strikes a deal with her – he will move heaven and earth to save her lover, if she will come back to him if and when he has been saved. The deal is struck, and the saga of how the surgeon brings the man back from the brink of death and closes the deal with his wife is the heart of this long, complex and intense story. 8
162 1911 The Jokers of New Gibbon South Seas A plantation has been established with great difficult on the island of New Gibbon in face of violent opposition by hostile headhunting natives, and an uneasy peace has reigned for some time when the natives’ ageing chief comes to the German-managed settlement there and unsuccessfully tries to cadge some alcohol, strictly forbidden for the native (the white sailors and administrators in the story use another n-word frequently to describe them) by the regulations in force. Two of the administrators play a joke on the native chief by tricking him into drinking what were in fact other foul mixtures – horse liniment and essence of mustard – with disastrous results indeed. Not a nice tale by any stretch of the imagination. Ugh! 6
163 1911 By the Turtles of Tasman General Fiction A very wealthy and straight-laced land-owner and industrialist, a probable future Governor of California, shelters his prodigal and penniless younger brother, who has spent the past twenty years or more wandering all over the world, particularly in the Klondike and the South Seas, sowing his wild oats and living life to the hilt, accompanied by his flashy but very articulate young wife. The shock of lifestyles and values that ensues clearly reflect the author’s own world outlook on what makes a life worth having been lived. 8
164 1911 The Unmasking of a Cad General Fiction Percy has a thick veneer of good manners and conventional conduct, and although deep down he is quite the opposite of a true gentleman, his good looks and smooth charm have won the day with his fiancée, a very nice, very refined, and very pretty soft touch for gentlemanly gallantry. But Percy slips up when he behaves normally, in front of perfect strangers at a restaurant one day, and the truth will out. Glib and a bit too facile for our taste, but no doubt quite suited for the posh-magazine audience for which it was intended. 7
165 1912 The Hanging of Cultus George Klondike Cultus George is an Indian who has long lived and traded and worked for and done business with white men, but when asked to participate in a desperate rush to save a starving tribe of Indians who are dying of hunger he will only say “How much?” Outraged at this insensibility, the others, led by our very own “Smoke Bellew”, threaten to hang him and, when he persists, proceed to carry out the act. The stark themes of cultural divide (Cultus George is motivated by his deep bitterness at not being able to be served alcohol like everyone else), of the tragic fragility of the native tribe (75 of whom have already died of starvation when Smoky and Shorty come across them in the snowy wilderness, leading as they do such a fragile nomadic existence entirely dependant on sufficiently abundant supply of fish and game) and the grim violence of rough-and-ready frontier “justice” strike an unusually sombre note, in sharp contrast with the generally light and almost flippant tone of the “Smoke” series of stories. 7.5
166 1912 The Mistake of Creation Klondike The prospectors Smoke Bellew and Shorty Jack discover an isolated settlement of neophyte prospectors in dire straits indeed: all are suffering from acute scurvy and several have already died of the dread disease [9]. The pair do their best to help the hundred-odd members of this rapidly-declining colony by applying homemade recipes – hard work and vast quantities of spruce tea – but to little avail until they finally discover why one member of the group has remained healthy and scurvy-free all the while. An enlightening evocation of the ravages caused by the age-old scourge of scurvy. 8
167 1912 A Flutter in Eggs Klondike Eggs are going for two dollars each retail in Dawson, and Smoke Bellew and his partner Shorty calculate that if they buy up every one in the whole area they can make a killing by selling them to eager egg-lovers at ten dollars apiece. But they are not the only sharp operators in town, as they learn to from bitter experience. 7
168 1912 The Sea Farmer Ireland Captain MacElrath has been at sea for two and a half years, and his ship is at long last entering Dublin harbour, from where he will go as fast as he can to his beloved McGill Island in the north of Ireland. There are seven thousand people on that island and only so much land, so that while the elder sons stay on the farms the others have to go to sea, a necessary evil which they consider to be just another kind of farming which they have to exercise in the intervals before going back to their island. Like all the other members of this community, MacElrath, the best and most experienced captain in the whole Company fleet of eighty ships, marvels that any man not under compulsion should leave a farm to go to sea. On the long train ride up north from Dublin with his wife and two-year-old son whom he had never yet seen, he recounts to her the innumerable dangers and mishaps of his latest long voyage, the accidents and loss of life almost routinely suffered, and the awfulness of the various places they stopped over at. Told all the time in northern-Irish vernacular, a surprisingly sensitive portrayal of a farmer’s perception of life at sea. 8
169 1912 The Feathers of the Sun South Seas Fulualea (“Feathers of the Sun” in Fijian) is a white man and a scoundrel who has managed to get himself appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer and Chief Justice of the island of Fitu-Iva by supplying the king of the island with an endless supply of alcohol, and who has successfully instituted there a new (and completely bogus) currency as well as imposing severe taxes on all of the island’s traders. Trade is at a standstill and the new regime has confiscated all the ships and goods that have come into port, so David Grief will need all his wits and understanding of the islanders’ psyche to thwart the unscrupulous swindler. Light but entertaining. 7
170 1912 The Grilling of Loren Ellery General Fiction A charming and very smooth young man sweet-talks two sisters in turn, but when the girls get together and compare notes, he will get his comeuppance. Very flighty. 6
171 1912 The Town-Site of Tra-Lee Klondike Prospectors Smoke Bellew and Shorty Jack launch a massive real-estate speculation-cum-swindle that has the whole of Dawson queueing up for a piece of the action at whatever price. 7
172 1912 Wonder of Woman Klondike The prospectors Smokey Bellew and Shorty Jack are taken prisoner by an unknown tribe of Indians in an unexplored region of the Far North. This tribe, whose chief is a renegade and very ferocious white man, is determined to avoid any contact whatsoever with the outside world and to maintain their absolute independence, so any attempt on the part of our two heroes to escape would be punished more than severely. But the chief’s daughter has taken a liking to Smokey against her father’s wishes, so sparks are bound to fly, and they do, for better and especially for worse. By far the most realistic and serious of all the Smoke Bellew stories. 8
173 1912 The Prodigal Father General Fiction Josiah Childs has left his home and his nagging wife in the East to start a new life in Oakland, California, where he has become a new man and a very prosperous merchant. After twelve years absence he decides to go back East to see just how his wife and (now) twelve-year-old son are coming along, and he is in for a major culture shock indeed when he arrives in the cold climate of that small and conservative town of his upbringing, quite the contrast to the dynamic forward-looking Califonian atmosphere he has grown to know and love. The wife is even more of a shrew than ever, but the boy is really something. What to do? The author’s California patriotism shines forth throughout this rather slight fable, and why not? 7
174 1912 The Captain of the Susan Drew South Seas A family of survivors of the shipwreck of their schooner, adrift on the Pacific in a lifeboat, are taken aboard a tramp ship run by a very hairy, very uncouth and very unpleasant semi-pirate captain. Things go from bad to worse but you will never guess how it all works out in the end. 8
175 1913 Samuel Ireland On the island of McGill in northern Ireland a sturdy seventy-two-year old woman works her farm alone, abandoned by her children and estranged from all her neighbours. The narrator, visiting the island as a special favour as they do not suffer strangers easily in that special place that no islander ever wants to leave that we have already learnt about in an earlier story, The Sea Farmer (see above), learns from one of her neighbours the sad story of the tragic nemesis that had always plagued her: all four of her sons, all named Samuel after a beloved youngest brother who had committed suicide after a tragic misunderstanding, had died accidentally or at sea. She had persisted in giving them that ill-fated name in spite of the fierce opposition of her family and friends and neighbours – and one by one they had died in an escalating series of accidents and calamities and eventually even murder. Long and very Irish, with an appropriate touch of superstition. 7.5
176 1914 Told in the Drooling Ward General Fiction According to the narrator, who is not a “drooler” but an assistant, droolers, of whom there are fifty-five in his ward, are low-grade people who have something wrong with their arms and legs and can’t talk. Whereas the narrator, who has been in the Institution a long time and wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, can both walk and talk – he is a “feeb” (feeble-minded) like everyone in the Institute, but a high-grade one, according to him anyway. For example he’s thinking about getting married, even though feebs aren’t allowed to, as he says to himself after observing the married life of the doctors and nurses that when one’s learned to put up with droolers a wife wouldn’t be much worse. He carries on in that vein about life in the Institution and about the time he was adopted and had escaped back to the Institute, and about the time he ran away and how happy everyone was when he came back, and more. An interesting experiment in penetrating the mindset of a disturbed outsider thirty years or so before similar and much more famous experiments along the same line by Faulkner and Camus in the forties. 8
177 1916 The Hussy Latin America An almost-believable tall tale of adventure and hunt for the biggest gold nugget in the history of the world in the disease-ridden and poverty-stricken interior mountains of Ecuador. 7
178 1916 The First Poet Historical Fiction A playlet, consisting uniquely of dialogues in which a group of prehistoric cave-men debate about their life in general and women in particular. One of them talks about his new idea of singing songs and telling stories about the stars whispering and coming down in the morning to make the dew and suchlike, thereby seriously antagonizing the virile leader of the group who prefers the traditional kind of talk. Violence settles the debate, naturally. An original sociological exploration of the prehistorical mindset. 7
179 1917 Man of Mine The Kanaka Surf (1919) Hawaii Ida and Lee Barton are both lithe and athletic, remarkable swimmers and surfers, as handsome as can be, the envy of all Hawaii. They are the centre of a very lively social whirl, but there is a “but” in the form of a dashing Harvard-educated forty-year-old scientist and scion of Hawaiian society who has become a favourite dancing partner of Ida’s. Will this be her first affair, wonders her bemused husband? When he sees her in the arms of the other man, he contrives a cathartic and very dangerous confrontation to test her feelings to the limit and almost beyond. 7
180 1917 Like Argus of the Ancient Times Klondike The title was the rallying song of the hero of this story when he had set out at the age of twenty-two for the California Gold Rush of 1849, and he chants it again in 1897 when he sets out at seventy, much to the opposition of his numerous offspring, to participate in the Klondike Gold Rush craze to try to recuperate the three hundred thousand dollars he needs to buy back the splendid properties he had squandered over the years. Although he doesn’t have any funds to speak of, he does have an infinite supply of grit and determination, and a willingness to work that gets him there in spite of innumerable obstacles that deter many much younger men. What happens when he gets there, and when he comes back to his family in California after making it big up in the snow country, is the subject of this tongue-in-cheek pro-old-folks fable. 8
181 1918 When Alice Told Her Soul Hawaii Alice had spent her youth so wildly and intensely that she is the best-informed person in Hawaii about the doings and above all the ill-doings of just about every notable citizen on the islands. So when at fifty she joins the Pentecostal crusade of a visiting revivalist and decides that it is her moral duty to cleanse her soul by denouncing in a public prayer meeting the wrongs and acts of moral turpitude that are burdening her newly religious soul, there is grave consternation in high places. Magistrates, business magnates, notables of all persuasions and also friends and relatives start showering her with gifts in the hope that she would omit them from her forthcoming public penitence. But all the gory details come out anyway, and they are very interesting indeed. 7
182 1918 The Princess Hobos Three very down-and-out one-armed tramps talk about their once-glorious and healthy past around a roadside campfire, and with the help of a large number of sips of the hobo’s standard refreshment alki (drugstore alcohol mixed with water) tell the others in turn the story of their once-distinguished past, in each case involving wild living in the South Seas and the love of a Polynesian princess (!). More than the idealized tone of their narratives of former glories in the idyllic isles of the South Seas, this long and quite elaborate narrative with its striking portraits of the idiosyncratic personalities of the three distinctive (and well-educated and articulate!) hobos is a remarkably interesting insight into the life of the myriad of tramps on the move that proliferated in those times, that the author knew well from his own year-long stint on the road in his youth. 8
183 1918 The Tears of Ah Kim Hawaii Ah Kim is a wealthy merchant in Honolulu’s Chinatown who submits uncomplainingly to the beatings which are regularly meted out to him in public by his aged mother, especially for having been seen talking to a certain lady who seems to have her sights set on him. He had always been treated so by his revered parent, ever since his youthful days on the banks of the Yangtse river in China. Through his story we learn the story of the rise to social status and prosperity of the hard-working Chinese imported originally into the Hawaiian islands as coolie labour. There is substance and food for thought behind the light tone of this sociological parable. 8
184 1918 The Water Baby Hawaii A tall tale is told by an aged Hawaiian fisherman about the fabled exploit of a young boy who understood the language of sharks and used his wits and skills to trick a school of forty sharks that tried to prevent him from diving for lobsters to prepare for a feast for the king. A fable with an undeniable folklorish charm, it was Jack London’s last written story. 7
185 1918 The Red One Science Fiction An enormous peal of cosmic proportions rings out at regular intervals from the unexplored mountainous interior of Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, reputed by the bushmen to be an emanation of the devil. An exploring geologist who hears the strange sound on the coast penetrates into the interior to investigate, where he is ambushed by head-hunters and forced to flee ever further away from the coast until he is found, weakened by his injuries and fever, by another tribe of head-hunters deep in the mountains. Where he is held captive, learns their language and mores, and discovers their worship of a mysterious and very sacred huge red sphere known as the Red One, and also The Star-Born. from where the strange sounds emanate and to where they bring sacrificial victims. Our explorer is determined to investigate and what he discovers puts this strange story into the science-fiction genre. An interesting evocation of life in the jungle regions of the South Seas practically untouched by modern civilization (that exist even nowadays in areas of Papua and New Guinea), only spoiled somewhat by the author’s unpleasant – to our modern ears – denigration of the jungle natives with phrases like “Head-hunting, cannibal beast of a human that was as much ape as human, nevertheless Old Ngurn had, according to his lights, played squarer than square. 8
186 1918 In the Cave of the Dead Shin-Bones (1919) Hawaii A Hawaiian prince recounts how his aged mother had reverted towards the end to her traditional ways, notably to the ancient practice of collecting as many of the bones of her dead relatives as possible, and how she had sent him, with her trusted sorcerer-servant, on a mission to a secret cache in the interior of a once-inhabited atoll, where her ancestors had systematically accumulated a priceless treasure-trove of precious and incredibly ancient artifacts, including the precious bones of her ancient lineage. Highly charged with rather hard-to-relate-to Hawaiian folklore and ancestor-worship. 7
187 1919 On the Makaloa Mat Hawaii Two wealthy sisters in their sixties of partly Hawaiian descent talk about the golden days of their youth, and the eldest reveals to her sister an intense love affair she had had at nineteen which determined her thereafter loveless and childless life. Too much insistence on the genetic qualities of the Hawaiian race for my taste, but a good read for those who like to read about romance in high and wealthy places. 7
188 1919 The Bones of Kahekili Hawaii An ancient Hawaiian servant recounts to his ranch-owner master a quite terrifying story of pagan bone-worship and ritual murder in the far-away days before the arrival of Western missionaries changed Hawaiian society forever. 8
189 1922 Whose Business Is To Live Latin America A group of Americans engineers in Mexico at the height of the Mexican Revolution escape from an armed anti-American mob out for blood after the American occupation of Vera Cruz – we are in 1914 – embark on a dangerous voyage in the midst of social and military pandemonium to rescue a group of isolated Americans, including the lady love of two (!) of the engineers, fifty miles up-river in an isolated mining camp. Extremely patriotic and not very respectful of the Mexican population (apart from the native Indians, who are OK, the others are “half-breeds” beneath contempt), to put it mildly. Written in the framework of the author’s stint as a war reporter during this episode of the Mexican Revolution, this violent adventure casts a sort-of-interesting light on a little-known episode of Mexican history, but has not dated well. 6
190 1926 (written in 1900) A Northland Miracle Klondike A very rough, tough, low-minded, unscrupulous bad boy has gone from awful to worse and after roughing it all over the world has ended up in the Far North after deserting the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Where he joins a group of like-minded men headed across virgin land towards the gold strike on the Klondike. They do find gold, but they are practically lost in the immense wilderness, their food and supplies are running out and only a miracle can save them ... A story infused with the author’s trademark leitmotif of the hardships and suffering that men can and have endured in the Far North, without frills or idealism about the human material that was largely attracted there by the lure of lucre. 8
191 1976 (written in 1898) The Devil’s Dice Box Klondike This very dramatic and violent tale starts off with the discovery of the frozen body of an Indian woman, clearly dead from starvation, in the middle of winter in a remote area of the Yukon Valley, and goes on to describe a bloody firefight, a wild race into the unknown wilds of the Rocky Mountains to locate at all costs (namely more deaths) a truly fabulous lode of golden nuggets. Pace, action, drama, extreme suffering, the violence of man and the unchained elements – the very essence of Jack London’s art. Not for the weak-hearted reader, though. 9
192 1976 (written in 1898) A Klondike Christmas Klondike Two brothers are writing home at Christmas describing their life on a mining claim in the Yukon, but are somewhat embarrassed to have to reveal that all they have for Xmas dinner are the miners’ standard fare of the three b’s - beans, bread and bacon. But then one of them finds a big tin of rich mock-turtle soup in the tool-shed; travellers arrive with a sled full of moose steaks who have been dreaming of the three b’s to make a change of diet; a hunter chasing dog-thieves passes through with a precious store of milk and sugar to contribute to the feast; and to top the splendid evening off the post arrives with a packet of letters from home. A simple but frankly heart-warming tale oozing with the aura of the adventurous life of Klondike gold-rushers. 7.5
193 1983 (written in 1898) The Test: a Clondyke Wooing Klondyke Wooing (1983) Klondike Lucky Jack has struck it rich in the Klondike and has also gotten lucky with Lucille, the prettiest girl in Dawson. Lucille loves music too and begs Jack to teach her the violin which he plays marvellously – so he puts her true feelings for him to the test by giving everything away and holing up with her in a primitive cabin for the winter where he ends up destroying his beloved instrument. Will she pass the test with flying colours? 7
194 1993 (written in 1897) O Haru Far East Introduced to the world of geishas in the Japan of the turn of the century by the following dubious declaration “The geishas or dancing-girls are the brightest, most intelligent and most accomplished of Japanese women” we follow this lyrical but somewhat too emphatic story of the rise and fall of the most renowned and talented of them all, the eponymous Haru, whose private life – like no doubt many of her current-day Western counterparts in the cinema – is far removed indeed from her idealized public image. 7
195 1993 (written in 1897) The Mahatma’s Little Joke Fantasy A debate between two friends as to the scientific possibility of the disintegration and reintegration of material form by psychic impulses is arbitrated by a mysterious student of the tenets of Buddhism who has become a full-fledged Mahatma and who proceeds to subject them to an intense psychic treatment that not only leaves them unconscious but with switched consciousnesses. When they awake discovering that their souls had switched bodies, they are left to struggle with what to do with the other’s clothes, habits, relationships, etc. A sort-of-neat idea that comes to a surprisingly flat conclusion. 6
196 1993 (written in 1897) The Misogynist The Strange Experience of a Misogynist (1993) Fantasy an almost-thirty confirmed bachelor with a reputation for misogyny wakes up one morning to find that the strange dream he has just had has come to be: all females the world over - of all species! - have suddenly disappeared and the world is now a purely masculine one! Things start rapidly going to pot as men who can’t cook or wash or iron become increasingly drunk and disorderly until the whole economy breaks down and uncontrolled anarchy and violence reigns as everyone, including our hero, desperately tries to survive and find food. What a nightmare – bring back the women! 7
197 1993 (written in 1897) Plague Ship Sailing A harrowing tale of a grossly-overcrowded passenger ship on which a deadly epidemic of the yellow fever breaks out which decimates passengers, officers and crewmen alike so severely that mutineers take over the officer-less ship and uncontrolled violence breaks out, leaving the surviving passengers to drift aimlessly around the Pacific as dictated by the winds and currents of the Pacific. In spite of everything some survive, and the budding romance between two of the doctors aboard somehow weathers the storm. Strong stuff! 8
no. first published __________Title____________________ Later_____ Title Setting/Genre__ Synopsis/Comments_________________________________________________ Rating
198 1993 (written in 1898) A Dream Image General Fiction A romance between a young woman, Doctor of Philosophy and author of well-reviewed books and still in her twenties, and the brilliant and extremely charming youngest son of a very wealthy but extremely arrogant, idiosyncratic and reclusive neighbour, who has just returned to this Californian seaside village after a long and somewhat mysterious absence. She is wooed and almost won but a chance encounter with a young boy casts new light on her mysterious wooer’s background, and threatens her very existence. A somewhat surprising and not completely convincing foray into the realm of romantic fiction, but some of the author’s favourite themes, notably sailing and horseback riding, about which he writes so well, are very much present. 7.5

2. BREAKDOWN BY SETTING/GENRE

2.1 Short Stories

Setting/GenreNumber of Stories%
Klondike 83 42
South Seas/Hawaii 33 17
General Fiction 24 12
Sailing 15 7
Political Fiction 7 3
Crime Fiction 6 3
Science Fiction 5 3
Hobos 5 3
Far East 5 3
Fantasy 4 2
Latin America 3 1
Historical Fiction 2 1
Boxing 2 1
War Stories 2 1
Ireland 2 1
TOTAL 198 100

2.2 Other entries identified in the The Collected Stories of Jack London, Kindle Edition

GenreNumber of EntriesTitles
Memoirs 6 Jack London, by Himself (1900)
Housekeeping in the Klondike (1912)
Four Horses and a Sailor (1917)
Nothing That Ever Came to Anything (1917)
Small-Boat Sailing (1917)
That Dead Men Rise Up Never (1917)
Theatrical Sketches 2 A Wicked Woman (1917)
The Birth Mark (1917)
Literary Essays 1 A Classic of the Sea (1917)
Political Essays 1 The Human Drift (1917)
TOTAL 10

2.3 Other entries identified in the currently-inaccessible website The World of Jack London

GenreTitle
Novel Extract (unfinished) Eyes of Asia (1924)

3. REFERENCES

3.1. WEBSITES:

Project Gutenberg – downloadable Jack London stories

Jack London on Wikipedia

3.2. ANTHOLOGIES

• The Complete Short Stories of Jack London (Kindle Edition, 2557 pages)

• Delphi Complete Works of Jack London (Kindle Edition, 21812 KB)


CLICK ON A NOTE NUMBER TO RETURN TO THE PREVIOUS POSITION IN THE TEXT


Footnotes

[1Typhoon Off the Coast of Japan is not considered a short story by the (currently-inaccessible) site The World of Jack London, perhaps because of its purely descriptive nature. We prefer to follow the author’s lead on the question, as he (and his wife) always referred to it as his first published story – and it was included in the latest edition of his short stories, The Complete Short Stories of Jack London (Kindle, 2010), and in other anthologies.

[2Jack London’s other hobo stories are Local Color (1903), The Hobo and the Fairy (1911) and The Princess (1918).

[3Pluck and Pertinacity is not included in the numbered census of Jack London’s short stories by the (currently-inaccessible) site The World of Jack London, perhaps because of the author’s introduction declaring it to be based on a true story. It was published as a story by Jack London in the Youth’s Companion issue of Sept. 22, 1899, so we prefer to include it here as a Klondike tall tale along with all of his other short stories, particularly as it obviously integrates a considerable dash of artistic leeway. And have not many works rightly considered as fiction been based on true stories?

[4in the following curious passage: “"When we get to Dawson!" The scorn had come back to her throat with a sudden surge. "You’ll rot on the way, first. You’ll drown in a mudhole. You—you—Britishers!" The last word, explosive, intensive, had strained the limits of her vituperation. If that would not stir these men, what could? Tommy’s neck ran red again, but he kept his tongue between his teeth. Dick’s eyes mellowed. He had the advantage over Tommy, for he had once had a white woman for a wife.
The blood of five American-born generations is, under certain circumstances, an uncomfortable heritage; and among these circumstances might be enumerated that of being quartered with next of kin. These men were Britons. On sea and land her ancestry and the generations thereof had thrashed them and theirs. On sea and land they would continue to do so. The traditions of her race clamoured for vindication. She was but a woman of the present, but in her bubbled the whole mighty past. It was not alone Molly Travis who pulled on gum boots, mackintosh, and straps; for the phantom hands of ten thousand forbears drew tight the buckles, just so as they squared her jaw and set her eyes with determination. She, Molly Travis, intended to shame these Britishers; they, the innumerable shades, were asserting the dominance of the common race.

[5but not always, unfortunately: we think of the criminal medical and chemical experimenters in the Nazi death-camps whose way to the West was paved with gold after WW2.

[6It would have been fascinating to have had an account of a discussion on bull-fighting between our author and his almost-contemporary Ernest Hemingway (who was 18 when Jack London died at the age of 40), author of Death in the Afternoon and the spectacular bull-fighting chapters in The Sun Also Rises, although that confrontation would no doubt have ended in bloodshed too, so it’s just as well that it never did happen.

[7The other fantasy stories by Jack London are Who Believes in Ghosts? (1895), The Mahatma’s Little Joke (1897), The Strange Experience of a Misogynist (1897), and The Eternity of Forms (1911).

[8The title of the story The Night-Born is a reference to the following fine quotation from Thoreau: “The young pines springing up, in the corn field from year to year are a refreshing fact. We talk of civilizing the Indian, but that is not the name for his improvement. By the wary independence and aloofness of his dim forest life he preserves his intercourse with his native gods and is admitted from time to time to a rare and peculiar society with nature. He has glances of starry recognition, to which our saloons are strangers. The steady illumination of his genius, dim only because distant, is like the faint but satisfying light of the stars compared with the dazzling but ineffectual and short-lived blaze of candles. The Society Islanders had their day-born gods, but they were not supposed to be of equal antiquity with the.... night-born gods.”

[9Jack London himself contracted scurvy when in the Klondike, which resulted in the loss of four front teeth and the curtailment of his stay in the Far North, less than a year after his arrival there.