Monday, March 06, 2006

Jack London

Jack London had a very short, but action packed life; he died in 1916 at the age of 40 after having spent most of his life writing both fiction and non-fiction for a living. Perhaps his best known book is ‘The Call of the Wild’, which is about a dog called Buck, but the story I love best is ‘The Cruise of the Snark’, that tells of Jack’s own adventures sailing the Pacific in a 55 foot yacht built for the cruise and paid for by his prolific writing

Jack was a seasoned sailor, gold prospector and rancher, and while engaged in these occupations he amassed a wide range of knowledge and experience that helped provide detail for his writing. While a seaman on a variety of vessels, both sail and steam, he travelled widely, visiting Japan, Alaska, California, Mexico, Hawaii and England.

Much of ‘The Cruise of the Snark’ is fine literature with vivid description, tempo and deep insight into human nature.

Here’s a short passage to give you the flavour of the book:


That is what it is, a royal sport for the natural kings of earth.
The grass grows right down to the water at Waikiki Beach, and within
fifty feet of the everlasting sea. The trees also grow down to the
salty edge of things, and one sits in their shade and looks seaward
at a majestic surf thundering in on the beach to one's very feet.
Half a mile out, where is the reef, the white-headed combers thrust
suddenly skyward out of the placid turquoise-blue and come rolling
in to shore. One after another they come, a mile long, with smoking
crests, the white battalions of the infinite army of the sea. And
one sits and listens to the perpetual roar, and watches the unending
procession, and feels tiny and fragile before this tremendous force
expressing itself in fury and foam and sound. Indeed, one feels
microscopically small, and the thought that one may wrestle with
this sea raises in one's imagination a thrill of apprehension,
almost of fear. Why, they are a mile long, these bull-mouthed
monsters, and they weigh a thousand tons, and they charge in to
shore faster than a man can run. What chance? No chance at all, is
the verdict of the shrinking ego; and one sits, and looks, and
listens, and thinks the grass and the shade are a pretty good place
in which to be.

And suddenly, out there where a big smoker lifts skyward, rising
like a sea-god from out of the welter of spume and churning white,
on the giddy, toppling, overhanging and downfalling, precarious
crest appears the dark head of a man. Swiftly he rises through the
rushing white. His black shoulders, his chest, his loins, his
limbs--all is abruptly projected on one's vision. Where but the
moment before was only the wide desolation and invincible roar, is
now a man, erect, full-statured, not struggling frantically in that
wild movement, not buried and crushed and buffeted by those mighty
monsters, but standing above them all, calm and superb, poised on
the giddy summit, his feet buried in the churning foam, the salt
smoke rising to his knees, and all the rest of him in the free air
and flashing sunlight, and he is flying through the air, flying
forward, flying fast as the surge on which he stands. He is a
Mercury--a brown Mercury. His heels are winged, and in them is the
swiftness of the sea. In truth, from out of the sea he has leaped
upon the back of the sea, and he is riding the sea that roars and
bellows and cannot shake him from its back. But no frantic
outreaching and balancing is his. He is impassive, motionless as a
statue carved suddenly by some miracle out of the sea's depth from
which he rose. And straight on toward shore he flies on his winged
heels and the white crest of the breaker. There is a wild burst of
foam, a long tumultuous rushing sound as the breaker falls futile
and spent on the beach at your feet; and there, at your feet steps
calmly ashore a Kanaka, burnt, golden and brown by the tropic sun.
Several minutes ago he was a speck a quarter of a mile away. He has
"bitted the bull-mouthed breaker" and ridden it in, and the pride in
the feat shows in the carriage of his magnificent body as he glances
for a moment carelessly at you who sit in the shade of the shore.
He is a Kanaka--and more, he is a man, a member of the kingly
species that has mastered matter and the brutes and lorded it over

And one sits and thinks of Tristram's last wrestle with the sea on
that fatal morning; and one thinks further, to the fact that that
Kanaka has done what Tristram never did, and that he knows a joy of
the sea that Tristram never knew. And still further one thinks. It
is all very well, sitting here in cool shade of the beach, but you
are a man, one of the kingly species, and what that Kanaka can do,
you can do yourself. Go to. Strip off your clothes that are a
nuisance in this mellow clime. Get in and wrestle with the sea;
wing your heels with the skill and power that reside in you; bit the
sea's breakers, master them, and ride upon their backs as a king

And that is how it came about that I tackled surf-riding. And now
that I have tackled it, more than ever do I hold it to be a royal

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