“To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music of the words.” Truman Capote
This quote, which I came across the other day, got me to thinking about favorite authors.
I was first introduced to Jack London through a Classics Illustrated of Call of the Wild. I was probably 8 or 9 years old. After reading it I wanted to read more dog stories. My mother got me books like Kazan the Wolf Dog and Baree, Son of Kazan by James Oliver Curwood, and the Silver Chief (dog of the north) series by Jack O’Brien. She also got me White Fang and Call of the Wild.
I think Jack London was one of the first authors whose books I actually looked for. I loved the adventure and the far away places he took me. As a teen I read, collections of his short stories, The Sea Wolf, Burning Daylight, Smoke Bellew, Martin Eden, and The Cruise of the Snark, to name a few.
Somewhere in one of his books I read the word “bucolic” for the first time. It’s a word that doesn’t sound at all like what it means. It sounds like it has something to do with being colicky, being sick. It didn’t make sense to me, how it was used in the sentence. Of course the word sent me to the dictionary. I was amazed to discover its true meaning. I love that it relates to a peaceful, pastoral scene.
One of my favorite quotes of his is, “You can’t wait for inspiration you have to go after it with a club.” I think it says something about him as a writer. Perhaps writing or ideas didn’t come easily for him (he was accused of plagiarism) or maybe he “knew” he didn’t have long to live and that he had to attack his stories, capture and subdue them, and get them down on paper as soon as possible.
He packed a lot of living and adventure into his short life. As a teen he pirated oysters, sailed the Pacific and hoboed around the U. S. At 19 he returned home from his travels to finish high school. He went to college but couldn’t finish because he didn’t have enough money. At 21 he went up to the Yukon during the gold rush. He got sick with scurvy. He lost his front teeth and the disease left scars of his face. But it was his northern adventures that made him the author he became.
He was a Socialist, an advocate of women’s suffrage (he created some of the strongest, most independent, and well-educated female characters in American fiction,) and was against cruelty to animals.
When you think about it, when I think about it, it’s amazing that he wrote and published over 50 volumes of novels, short stories, political essays and even a few plays, in just eleven years.
Jack London died of renal failure at the age of 40 on November 22, 1916.
Below are the last two paragraphs of Call of the Wild. I remember crying the first time I read them. I was probably 12 or 13. I was so moved I memorized them. Buck mourns the loss of his human friend, and yet is gloriously free and happy. They still make me cry. The “music of the words” sings in my ears.
“In the summers there is one visitor, however, to that valley, of which the Yeehats do not know. It is a great, gloriously coated wolf, like, and yet unlike, all other wolves. He crosses alone from the smiling timber land and comes down into an open space among the trees. Here a yellow stream flows from rotted moose-hide sacks and sinks into the ground, with long grasses growing through it and vegetable mold overrunning it and hiding its yellow from the sun; and here he muses for a time, howling once, long and mournfully, ere he departs.
“But he is not always alone. When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is the song of the pack.”