Happy Birthday Jack London

Jack_London_young325pxToday is the birthday of novelist Jack London, who was born in San Francisco in 1876. He is best known as the author of over fifty books, including “The Call of the Wild” (1903) and “White Fang” (1906).

From The Writer’s Almanac:

London was mostly self-educated. He worked on a sealing schooner off the coast of Japan in 1893, and when he returned to America there were no jobs and he became a vagrant. In his memoir “The Road” (1907), London wrote about those days, including the tricks he used to evade train crews when he stowed away, and how he convinced strangers to buy meals for him. He even spent thirty days in jail in Buffalo, New York, before returning to California.

London graduated from high school in Oakland and then spent a year at the University of California before poverty forced him again to seek his living through adventure. He sailed to Alaska to join the Klondike Gold Rush, and when this did not make him rich, London turned to writing and began seriously to seek publication for his stories.

He came close to abandoning a career in writing when The Overland Monthly was slow to pay for a story they had accepted. But he was saved, both “literally and literarily,” when The Black Cat accepted his story “A Thousand Deaths” and paid him forty dollars to publish it. In 1900, London’s short story “An Odyssey of the North” appeared in The Atlantic Monthly.

I think the first “real” novel (stepping up from Tom Swift, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books, which were more like novellas) I ever read, sometime around the age of 8 or 9, was “The Call of the Wild” by Jack London.

call_of_the_wildMy mom was a voracious reader (a desire that was passed along to me from an early age) and she made sure our home was filled with books. She had an interesting set of hardback books known as “The Companion Library.” They were classics and modern classics that had one story on one side and then when you flipped the book over and turned it around there was a second story on that side, usually by the same author. I remember “Little Women” and “Little Men” by Louisa May Alcott, “Tarzan” and “The Return of Tarzan” by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the Jack London book with “White Fang” on the other side, but I know there were 2 or 3 others that I can’t recall at the moment.

It was probably my love of dogs (something typical for most young boys AND I watched “Lassie” and “Rin Tin Tin” on TV every week, lol) and the paintings of a dog on each of the “flip flop” covers caused those to be the first book in that set that I asked my mother if I could read. After cautioning me that they might be a little too intense and grown up, she gave me permission with the understanding that I could stop if they upset me.

I read “Call of the Wild” first, entranced and saddened by the story of Buck and all the different (sometimes painful) experiences he had to go through under different, uncaring owners in Alaska after he was stolen from his easy life as a judge’s dog in California. My mom was right. She knew after watching me cry when Lassie or Rinnie (as Rin Tin Tin was nicknamed) were hurt or injured on TV that what I would read in London’s book might be upsetting to me. But I read it anyway and made sure I finished the story, just to show that I could do it. Then I put it back on the shelf and didn’t read “White Fang” until a few years later.

London passed away on November 22, 1916 at the too-young age of 40.


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