Monday, July 15, 2013

The Red One by Jack London

Three out of four ain’t bad
The Red One is a collection of four stories by Jack London, most of which are very good. The collection is named after the first story, “The Red One,” an excellent piece of old school science fiction along the lines of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. It tells the story of a naturalist lost on the island of Guadalcanal, searching for a mysterious red object worshipped by the island’s natives. It’s incredibly inventive, years ahead of its time, suspenseful, brilliantly told, and one of London’s best stories.

Another great adventure story is “Like Argus of the Ancient Times,” about a former California ’49er who, in his seventies, decides to set out for the Klondike for one more chance at striking it rich. While “The Red One” probably deserves a place in London’s top ten stories, “Argus” just might make the top twenty. “The Princess” is about three aged hobos who cross paths and trade stories about their youthful adventures in the South Pacific. It’s another well-told yarn, though it suffers a bit from an anticlimactic ending. The weakest story in the collection is “The Hussy” about a railroad worker’s quest for gold in Ecuador. It’s nothing special.

While this is a solid collection of London stories, I have to dock him a point for some of his descriptive passages of the South Sea island “savages.” There’s been much debate about London’s views on race. I usually give him the benefit of the doubt on that subject, as it may be too much to expect political correctness from century-old stories. However, when you compare “The Red One” to Herman Melville’s Typee, for example, the latter proves that even 100 years ago it was possible to write about the natives with a great deal more respect and tact than London displays here.

Stories in this collection:
The Red One
The Hussy
Like Argus of the Ancient Times
The Princess

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