The call of Jack London, adventurer and traveler of the last century
1 March 2021
Jack London is one of those writers who meet as a child, with novels such as “The Call of the Wild” (1904) or “White Fang” (White Fang, 1906). I remember that I read them both in elementary and middle school, on the advice of teachers and on the occasion of an exchange of books with other students, and that they kidnapped me not only for the splendid prose or the sympathy I felt for the protagonists, but also because able to create a clear world in my head, of which I could perceive smells and fresh wind on the skin even while I devoured the book in the safety of my covers.
Those landscapes the writer, journalist, first of all eclectic handyman (among the many tasks: newsboy, clandestine oyster fisherman, washerman, seal hunter, insurance agent, farmer, etc.), and then an exceptional photographer had explored and recorded them in the his mind – along with several of the adventures he recounts – once he escaped from the California where he was born in 1876 and grew up with an adoptive father and many tricks, from the studies he could no longer afford and the poverty that preceded his success. Like the autobiographical protagonist of his masterpiece Martin Eden, published in installments between 1908 and 1909 – and as he is portrayed in an episode of the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation – it takes time for London to discover his talent and then succeed to make it a source of livelihood. Spoiler: will recover with interest.
From his experiences as a young sailor in Japan to the Klondike Gold Rush or as a war reporter in Korea, the travels were fundamental inspiration for the works of Jack London. In 1907, he crossed the Pacific Ocean on a sailboat with his second wife, some friends and a small crew, setting sail from San Francisco and touching the islands of Hawaii, Marquesas, Solomons, Tahiti, between encounters with the natives, afternoons of surfing and jungles to explore. All this converges in “The cruise of the Snark”, published in 1911 and defined as one of his most successful works.
In just 40 years of life – he died young, consumed by the many adventures around the world and by alcoholism – London wrote 40 books of fiction, 7 plays, 12 books of nonfiction and reportage and several journalistic articles, without forgetting the more 12 thousand photographs that he took with his Kodak from 1906 to 1916. From the homeless in the East End of London, with whom he spent more than 80 days disguised to make a faithful reportage told in “The People of the Abyss” , to the images of his San Francisco after the earthquake that devastated it in 1906, London proved to be an excellent reporter, who was able to focus his gaze on those who were victims of injustices without judgment and with great sensitivity, perhaps precisely because he had experienced that misery himself. Not surprisingly, he called the photographs of his reports “human documents”.
“My place in this society was in the abyss, where life offered only squalor and misfortune, there, at the bottom, flesh and spirit were equally hungry and tormented,” he wrote in “The Meaning of Life (in my opinion)”, published pamphlet for the first time in 1905 in which the author tells of his efforts to get out of the condition of belonging to the working class. Efforts, sacrifices and attempts that later made him one of the most famous, prolific and best paid writers of his time. In the pamphlet his socialist inspiration was outlined for the first time, not only in the guise of a motivated political faith, but also of a trust in the human spirit. It is not surprising that Ernesto “Che” Guevara was his avid reader .
Jack London is a man who has not only looked closely at everything he has told, but who has always experienced it firsthand, understanding it and putting it to the test, while at the same time managing to distance himself to share everything with whom he would read the works and look at the photographs. While you go in search of his novels, hidden somewhere in the bookstore, since thanks to podcasts and Clubhouse we have rediscovered listening and audio books, you can find “The Call of the Wild” together with Rai3.