Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Jack London - To Build A Fire

One of the finest short stories I have ever read.  Actually came up in a chat with a work colleague, a field manager for a contractor we work with.  I would never have guessed we had this in common, an appreciation for stories like this.  You just never know.

This simple, harsh story is so well told, so concise and precise, to me it is a joy to read.  It is not pleasant, of course, London could be very grim.  But he is brilliantly descriptive here, in my opinion.

London also seems to "get" animals, and write about them as well as anyone I've ever read, which makes this story, and many others of his, even more enjoyable.

"To Build A Fire"
By Jack London
First published in The Century Magazine, v.76, August, 1908

Or if you want it read to you, here it is on YouTube:
"Jack London - To build a fire (audiobook)"

There are moments of philosophy and reflection in the story.  Maybe a way of thinking that we need to adopt in more aspects of our lives.  Absorb not just the facts but the significance.  For example (italics are mine):
But all this—the mysterious, far-reaching hair-line trail, the absence of sun from the sky, the tremendous cold, and the strangeness and weirdness of it all—made no impression on the man. It was not because he was long used to it. He was a newcomer in the land, a chechaquo, and this was his first winter. The trouble with him was that he was without imagination. He was quick and alert in the things of life, but only in the things, and not in the significances. Fifty degrees below zero meant eighty-odd degrees of frost. Such fact impressed him as being cold and uncomfortable, and that was all. It did not lead him to meditate upon his frailty as a creature of temperature, and upon man's frailty in general, able only to live within certain narrow limits of heat and cold; and from there on it did not lead him to the conjectural field of immortality and man's place in the universe. Fifty degrees below zero stood for a bite of frost that hurt and that must be guarded against by the use of mittens, ear-flaps, warm moccasins, and thick socks. Fifty degrees below zero was to him just precisely fifty degrees below zero. That there should be anything more to it than that was a thought that never entered his head.
Brilliant stuff.