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The Call of the Wild, White Fang & to Build a Fireby E.L. Doctorow
Synopses & Reviews
To this day Jack London is the most widely read American writer in the world," E. L. Doctorow wrote in The New York Times Book Review. Generally considered to be London's greatest achievement, The Call of the Wild brought him international acclaim when it was published in 1903. His story of the dog Buck, who learns to survive in the bleak Yukon wilderness, is viewed by many as his symbolic autobiography. "No other popular writer of his time did any better writing than you will find in The Call of the Wild," said H. L. Mencken. "Here, indeed, are all the elements of sound fiction."
White Fang (1906), which London conceived as a "complete antithesis and companion piece to The Call of the Wild," is the tale of an abused wolf-dog tamed by exposure to civilization. Also included in this volume is "To Build a Fire," a marvelously desolate short story set in the Klondike, but containing all the elements of a classic Greek tragedy.
"The quintessential Jack London is in the on-rushing compulsive-ness of his northern stories," noted James Dickey. "Few men have more convincingly examined the connection between the creative powers of the individual writer and the unconscious drive to breed and to survive, found in the natural world. . . . London is in and committed to his creations to a degree very nearly unparalleled in the composition of fiction."
London's 1903 novel about the dog Buck, who is forced to confront the harsh realities of survival in the brutal Arctic, is accompanied by the novel White Fang and a short story, "To Build a Fire." Reprint.
The call of the wild — White Fang — To build a fire.
About the Author
John Griffith London, the novelist, short story writer, essayist, and journalist whose own life proved as dramatic as his fiction, was born in San Francisco on January 12, 1876. He was the illegitimate son of Flora Wellman, a spiritualist and music teacher, and William Henry Chaney, an astrologer and itinerant lecturer. Renamed for his stepfather, Civil War veteran John London, he endured an impoverished childhood on various California farms and a succession of poorhouses in Oakland, where the family moved in 1886. London left school at the age of fourteen to work in a cannery. After a brief, dangerous stint as an oyster pirate on San Francisco Bay, he became a deputy for the California Fish Patrol, having adventures he later recalled in The Cruise of the Dazzler (1902) and Tales of the Fish Patrol (1905). In 1893 he boarded a sealing schooner headed for the Bering Sea. The seven-month voyage inspired 'Story of a Typhoon Off the Coast of Japan' (1893), which was awarded first prize in a writing contest sponsored by a San Francisco newspaper, and The Sea-Wolf (1904), perhaps his best novel about the struggle of man against nature.
The following year London headed east by rail with other young hobos. He roamed across America as far as Niagara Falls, New York, where he was arrested for vagrancy. 'I have often thought that to this training of my tramp days is due much of my success as a story writer,' he reflected. 'In order to get the food whereby I lived, I was compelled to tell tales that rang true. At the back door, out of inexorable necessity, is developed the convincingness and sincerity laid down by all authorities on the art of the short story.' The Road (1907), a forerunner of the work of Dos Passos and Kerouac, recounts his experiences as a 'road kid.' Upon returning to California, London resumed his education by studying the works of Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and Friedrich Nietzsche. He attended Oakland High School for a year and spent one semester at the University of California at Berkeley. During this time he became interested in Marxism and joined the Socialist Labor Party, gaining notoriety as the 'Boy Socialist' of Oakland. The semi-autobiographical novel Martin Eden (1909) chronicles his dreams of literary fame that date from this period.
In the summer of 1897, London joined the Klondike gold rush, little realizing the wealth of material it would provide him as a writer. 'It was in the Klondike I found myself,' he later attested. 'There you get your perspective. I got mine.' He sold his first story, 'To the Man on the Trail,' to the Overland Monthly in 1899, and the Atlantic Monthly published 'An Odyssey of the North' in January 1900. London's first book, The Son of the Wolf (1900), was a collection of Klondike tales that proved enormously popular. He quickly capitalized on its success with The God of His Fathers (1901) and Children of the Frost (1902). His other volumes of Klondike stories include The Faith of Men (1904), Love of Life and Other Stories (1907), Lost Face (1910), and Smoke Bellew (1912).
The Call of the Wild brought London international acclaim when it was published in 1903. Viewed by many as his symbolic autobiography, it recounts the story of the dog Buck, who learns to survive in the brutal Yukon wilderness. 'No other popular writer of his time did any better writing than you will find in The Call of the Wild,' noted H. L. Mencken. 'Here, indeed, are all the elements of sound fiction.' White Fang, which was conceived by London as 'a complete antithesis and companion piece to The Call of the Wild,' appeared in 1906. 'The quintessential Jack London is in the on-rushing compulsiveness of his northern stories,' noted James Dickey. 'Few men have more convincingly examined the connection between the creative powers of the individual writer and the unconscious drive to breed and to survive, found in the natural world.'
London next focused on social and political issues. He journeyed to England in 1902 to research The People of the Abyss (1903), a study of the appalling slum conditions in the East End of London. In 1904 he traveled to Korea and Manchuria to report on the Russo-Japanese War for the Hearst newspaper syndicate. The Russian Revolution of 1905 prompted London to give a series of socialist lectures subsequently compiled in War of the Classes (1905) and Revolution and Other Essays (1910). And in The Iron Heel (1908), an astonishing political fantasy judged by Leon Trotsky to be a work of genius, he imagined the rise of fascism in America.
In 1907 London sailed for the South Pacific. The Cruise of the 'Snark' (1911) recounts the writer's grueling two-year journey through the islands of Polynesia and Melanesia in search of untouched civilizations. Forced to abandon his travels in Australia owing to illness, he returned to California in shattered health. Yet London soon produced South Sea Tales (1911), The House of Pride and Other Tales of Hawaii (1912), and A Son of the Sun (1912), works that attempt to reconcile his dream of an unfallen world with the harsh reality of twentieth-century materialism.
By 1913 London was the highest-paid writer in the world. In that year alone he published The Night-Born, a collection of stories; The Valley of the Moon, a novel of California ranch life; The Abysmal Brute, a fictional expose of professional boxing; and John Barleycorn, a memoir about his struggles with alcoholism. In 1914 he traveled to Vera Cruz to cover the Mexican Revolution for Collier's magazine. Jack London's final years were spent at his ranch in the Sonoma Valley, where he died of uremic poisoning on November 22, 1916. His last works of fiction include The Mutiny of the 'Elsinore' (1914), The Strength of the Strong (1914), The Scarlet Plague (1915), The Star Rover (1915), The Little Lady of the Big House (1916), The Turtles of Tasman (1916), The Red One (1918), and Island Tales (1920).
'Jack London was an instinctive artist of a high order,' said H. L. Mencken. 'There was in him a vast delicacy of perception, a high feeling, a sensitiveness to beauty. And there was in him, too, under all his blatancies, a poignant sense of the infinite romance and mystery of human life.' James Dickey wrote: 'The key to London's effectiveness is to be found in his complete absorption in the world he evokes. The author is in and committed to his creations to a degree very nearly unparalleled in the composition of fiction.' As E. L. Doctorow remarked on the front page of The New York Times Book Review: 'To this day Jack London is the most widely read American writer in the world.'
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