Friday, July 23, 2010

On "The Son of the Wolf" by Jack London **

This collection of linked stories tells of settlers, mushers, and gold seekers in the Yukon. As with many of the writers of the time, London uses dialogue dialects to full effect here, though unlike Charles Chesnutt, who mimics black and lower-class dialects, London mimics Irish and, more often, Indian dialects. Think, "Me go to store," as in the old movie portrayals, and you've about got it. A lot of the stories focus on why the white man is so great and come off pretty much as racist, though at times it's hard to know how serious London is, as the story itself doesn't always support the narrative point of view. The title story is a case in point, the tale of a white man who decides to marry the prettiest woman in a tribe and who puts all the Indians who try to fight him down; the introduction to this collection, however, makes some tangent points regarding the white man's faith in himself--and how at some level it deconstructs itself.

"An Odyssey of the North" retells the ancient Greek tale in a rather ironic sense. An Indian prince displaced by white men and separated from his espoused lady sets off on a journey into foreign lands. Years later, he returns, a richer man, and sets about to get his lady back. But she has married a white man, and his eventual killing of his competitor and reuniting with his one-time wife proves fruitless. She loves another. Last of their respective tribes, they cannot come together to save them. She has no desire to return to tribal life, and neither, the Indian man realizes, does he. It's a sad and interesting take on Native American life in the face of European aggression.

Still, I don't think this collection on the whole--London's first--has aged well. The fact that I can't recall most of the stories says something about how little I was drawn to them.

The version of the book that I read, published by Oxford, however, contains also a selection of other tales by London involving the same area. These on the whole seem much more accomplished and interesting. Many of them are tragic . The last tale, for instance, recounts the story of an old man who decides to go look for gold in far north frontier. It's a story about confidence, about faith, and about perseverance. It's also a bit tongue in cheek, an all around adventure tale.

Read The Son of the Wolf collection here.

No comments: