Friday, February 26, 2010


Jack London (1876–1916)
From Jack London: Novels and Stories

This selection has been reposted here with a newly researched introduction chronicling Jack London's experience as a correspondent during the Russo-Japanese War.

John Griffith Chaney—or, to use the name by which he was known after his mother’s marriage, Jack London—is primarily remembered as the author of adventure tales set in the Klondike (Call of the Wild, “To Build a Fire”) and of proletarian fiction (Martin Eden, The Iron Heel). But the nearly two hundred stories he published during his lifetime are impossible to pigeonhole into such tidy categories; London often blended genres from naturalism to science fiction to create unprecedented hybrids for an international readership.

Set during an unspecified conflict in an unspecified land, “War” (1911) uses deceptively quiet, sparse prose to describe a young, voiceless man who suddenly confronts an enemy soldier “with several weeks’ growth of ginger-colored beard.” The story is a masterpiece of brevity; in London's best work, H. L. Mencken noted, “are all the elements of sound fiction: clear thinking, a sense of character, the dramatic instinct, and, above all, the adept putting together of words.”

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He was a young man, not more than twenty-four or five, and he might have sat his horse with the careless grace of his youth had he not been so catlike and tense. His black eyes roved everywhere, catching the movements of twigs and branches where small birds hopped, questing ever onward through the changing vistas of trees and brush, and returning always to the clumps of undergrowth on either side. . . . If you don't see the full selection below, click here (PDF) or click here (Google Docs) to read it—free!

This selection may be photocopied and distributed for classroom or educational use.