This Library of America volume of Jack London’s best-known work is filled with thrilling action, an intuitive feeling for animal life, and a sense of justice that often works itself out through violence. London enjoyed phenomenal popularity in his own time (which included the depressions of the 1890s and the beginnings of World War One), and he remains one of the most widely read of all American writers.
The Call of the Wild (1903), perhaps the best novel ever written about animals, traces a dog’s sudden entry into the wild and the education necessary for his survival in the ways of the wolf pack. Like many of London’s stories, this one is inspired by the early deprivations of his own pathetically short life: the primitive conditions of life as an oyster pirate in San Francisco; the restless existence of a hobo; the isolation of a prison inmate; the exertion of a laborer in the Oakland slums; and the frustration of a failed prospector for gold in the Alaskan Klondike.
White Fang (1906), in which a wolf-dog becomes domesticated out of love for a man, is apparently the reverse side of the process found in The Call of the Wild, yet for many readers its moments of greatest authenticity are those which suggest that, in actual practice, civilization is pretty much a dog’s life for everyone, of “hunting and being hunted, eating and being eaten, all in blindness and confusion, with violence and disorder, a chaos of gluttony.”
Though London was a reader of Marx and Nietzsche and an avowed socialist, he doubted that socialism could ever be put into practice and was convinced of the necessity for a brutal individualism. He thought of The Sea-Wolf (1904), the story of Wolf Larsen and his crew of outcasts on the lawless Alaskan seas, as “an attack upon the superman philosophy,” but the Captain is far more memorable than any of the book’s civilized characters. London is an immensely exciting writer partly because the conflicts in his thinking tend to enhance rather than hinder the romantic and thrilling turns of his plots.
The stories of the Klondike, which are based on his personal experiences and the stories of California, Mexico, and the South Seas, span the whole of London’s career as a writer. He is one of the great storytellers in American literature, and his politics, with all their passion and contradiction, come to life through the vigor and red-blooded energy of his prose.
LIBRARY OF AMERICA is an independent nonprofit cultural organization founded in 1979 to preserve our nation’s literary heritage by publishing, and keeping permanently in print, America’s best and most significant writing. The Library of America series includes more than 300 volumes to date, authoritative editions that average 1,000 pages in length, feature cloth covers, sewn bindings, and ribbon markers, and are printed on premium acid-free paper that will last for centuries.
About the Author
John Griffith "Jack" London (1876–1916) is an American author, journalist, and social activist. Some of his most famous works include The Call of the Wild and White Fang, as well as the short stories "To Build a Fire", "An Odyssey of the North", and "Love of Life".
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Many consider The Sea-Wolf by Jack London to be among the best sea stories ever written. I found it a moving and epic tale. Not only did it achieve great popular and literary success, but it also was effectively realized in several cinematic versions (most recently as a TV mini-series). The story ranks in the great tradition of one of London's literary influences, Herman Melville, while I saw similarities to another story of a life changed by sea voyage, captured by Rudyard Kipling in Captains Courageous.Drawing upon his experiences seal hunting in the North Pacific, London created a story with a lot of realism. He put himself and his contradictory nature into the two opposing characters, the captain Wolf Larsen, a ruthless and rugged individualist, the superman, and Humphrey van Weyden, a weak, but highly cultivated and virtuous gentleman. It is in the clash of these two forces that London gives vent to his innermost struggles: idealism versus materialism, conscience versus instinct, desire versus soul. Humphrey joins Larsen's crew when a ferry he is on sinks. Later in the story he and the captain are joined by a young woman, Maude Brewster who, like Humphrey, is well-educated and literate. During one of their discussions Brewster and Larsen take opposite positions on the importance of desire versus soul. The argument is concluded when Humphrey says:The man's soul is his desires. . . There lies the temptation. It is the wind that fans the desire until it leaps up to mastery. That's temptation. It may not fan sufficiently to make the desire overmastering , but in so far as fans at all, that far is it temptation. And, as you say, it may tempt for good as well as for evil. (pp. 674-75)But the main philosophy demonstrated in the novel is a form of Social Darwinism. It is this that is the philosophy espoused by Wolf Larsen as justification for his tyrannical domination of others. Larsen's library is noted to contain works by Darwin, Malthus and Spencer - all seminal theorists of the concept. Darwin himself rejected the concepts of Social Darwinism even though his biological theories were generally used to support and inform the sociological concept that social inequality is the inexorable result of meritocratic division of available resources. Larsen summarizes the concepts of Social Darwinism in his extended analogy of a yeasty ferment of existence.The novel's drama proceeds to a resolution of this elemental conflict through van Weyden's struggle toward fulfillment and mastery of life's forces and Larsen's ultimate deterioration. Ironically, the majority of the critics and the public misunderstood the work, thinking it a glorification of the superhuman and individualism, and London later wrote, ". . . I attacked Nietzsche and his super-man idea ... no one discovered that it was an attack upon the super-man philosophy. " In the death of Wolf Larsen and the survival of Van Weyden and Maude Brewster we see the confirmation of London's claim.