Thank you, Robert Roper, for your review of the latest reissue of Jack London’s stories (Dec. 2): I always welcome a good word for this great writer. Laudatory though you were, however, I think you still missed the major reason for London’s appeal.
I agree when you say his best work reads like the product of “a lonely, word-crazed boy of about 12, who . . . finds himself possessed of verbal resources of an authentic narrative genius.” And that London appeals to us because we all have in us that 12-year-old who “can get solidly behind the idea of life as (a) harsh and thrilling test.”
But you need to carry your idea one step further. The heart of the reason that Jack London evokes in us the memory of a 12-year-old’s view of the world is because that is the world we associate with life that is unfettered and lived day-to-day. And I would argue that the magnetism of London’s writing is rooted in the instinctual pull we all feel to a natural world where actions are directly and ineluctably linked to survival.
I think today many dismiss London for the very reason you laud him: They see him as somehow juvenile, as dealing with issues like starvation and freezing to death--issues that have, as these detractors would have us believe, no currency in our modern lives. But when our modern lives measure danger as sitting in the front row of the Shamu performance at Sea World, and adventure as girding our loins to ride Splash Mountain at Disneyland, I would lobby it’s time to give Mr. London top billing. For he is the real thing: the only major literary figure in the outdoor genre since Herman Melville (and I am including Hemingway) who lived what he wrote.