Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Faith of Men by Jack London

Fourth Time’s the Charm
The Faith of Men was Jack London’s fourth collection of short stories, first published in 1904. It is probably the best collection he published during his lifetime, and certainly the best of his Klondike stories. In these eight superb tales of the North, London augments age-old traditions of storytelling with innovative plots, unique characters, and authentic local color. Reading this book is like eavesdropping on the tales traded by fur trappers, prospectors, and sled-dog mushers over a pot of whiskey-tainted coffee at a long-forgotten arctic trading post.

Though all the stories take place in or around the Yukon, they vary widely in tone. “A Relic of the Pliocene” is a lighthearted yarn in which Thomas Stevens—legendary hunter, drifter, and teller of tall tales—regales the fireside listener with his incredible first-hand account of stalking a woolly mammoth. “The One Thousand Dozen” is an edge-of-your-seat adventure about a San Francisco man who aims to make a small fortune by transporting 12,000 eggs up to famine-stricken Dawson, only to find the journey treacherous and his precious cargo constantly in peril. “Bâtard” is the story of a cruel dog and his cruel master, brought together by fate to make each other’s lives a living hell as they anticipate their inevitable fatal showdown. It is one of the most brutal stories ever written by London, an author renowned for his brutal stories. These three masterpieces, though incredibly different in style, all prove that London was an absolute master of the art of storytelling at this point in his career.

The weakest story in the book is “The Marriage of Lit-Lit,” simply because it’s London’s umpteenth take on the theme of white-hero-bargains-for-Indian-bride, though it’s better written than most of his forays into that topic. In contrast, “The Story of Jees Uck,” about a romance that develops between a trading post operator and a young Native American woman of mixed ancestry, is anything but stereotypical heroic fantasy. It’s London’s most realistic portrayal of a native/white relationship, and a touching tale of love and loyalty, masterfully told with surprising sensitivity and frankness. The other three entries in the book—“A Hyperborean Brew”, “The Faith of Men”, and “Too Much Gold”—are all four-star stories in their own right, and feel right at home in this stellar collection. The Faith of Men is a must read for any fan of London or any lover of classic literature who appreciates the art of the short story.

Stories in this collection:
A Relic of the Pliocene
A Hyperborean Brew
The Faith of Men
Too Much Gold
The One Thousand Dozen
The Marriage of Lit-Lit
The Story of Jees Uck

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