Jack London was a prolific writer; over the period from 1899 until his death in
1916, he wrote 50 books and over 1,000 articles. Though he was made most famous by
his stories of the Klondike, he wrote on subjects ranging from boxing to romance, from
survival in the Arctic to labour strife in Australia. He led a harsh, erratic life; born
illegitimate, raised as a poor “work beast”, constantly questing after every adventure and
all the knowledge the world might offer, he died young as a result.
Jack London, whose life symbolized the power of will as the most successful
writer in America in the early 20th Century. His vigorous stories of men and animals
against the environment, and survival against hardships were drawn mainly from his own
experience. An illegitimate child, London passed his childhood in poverty in the Oakland
slums. At the age of 17, he ventured to sea on a sealing ship. The turning point of his life
was a thirty-day imprisonment that showed him the hardships in life of that era.
By the spring of 1897, London had decided that society would not drag him down
and force him to spend his life slaving as a “work beast”; he would become a writer. He
later said of that period: “never was there a creative fever such as mine from which the
patient escaped fatal results.” He wrote fifteen hours a day, composing everything from
“ponderous essays and … short stories, … to elephantine epics in Spenserian stanzas”.
In July 1897, only twelve days after the Excelsior landed with the first word from
the gold-laden Klondike he and his brother-in-law joined the mad exodus to “the frozen
North”; he was about to find his literary niche.
Jack London had a talent for rapid, intimate perception of his physical
surroundings. The scenes in his stories of the Klondike were developed from what he saw
and heard during his one winter at Split-Up Island, at the mouth of the Stewart River. His
story plots came from rumours, bar-room tales, newspaper clippings, story plots
purchased from other writers, and self-admitted “modification” of other writers’ works.
Including those of Rudyard Kipling and Joseph Conrad In London’s stories, the Klondike
became “not only a real country, but a territory of the mind” (in which his characters
lived or died because of what they had inside them .
There in Klondike he wrote some of his best short stories; among them, The Call
of the Wild, and White Fang. His best novel, The Sea-Wolf, was based on his
experiences at sea. His work embraced the concepts of unconfined individualism and
Darwinism in its exploration of the laws of nature. He retired to his ranch near Sonoma,
where he died at age 40 of various diseases and drug treatments. Though he is no longer
living in body, his legacy lives on as one of the most profolic writers of modern day