Category: Explorer or adventurer
John Griffith "Jack" London (1876 – 1916) is classified on Wikipedia as “an American author, journalist, and social activist”. But personally he seems to me more of an adventurer who earned his living writing about his adventures.
It is not known definitively who Jack London's father was. His mother, Flora, was living with the astrologer William Chaney in San Francisco when she became pregnant. According to Flora's account, Chaney demanded that she have an abortion. When she refused, he disclaimed responsibility for the child. In desperation, she shot herself. She was not seriously wounded, but she was temporarily deranged. After she gave birth, Flora turned the baby over to ex-slave Virginia Prentiss, who remained a major maternal figure throughout London's life. Late in 1876, Flora Wellman married John London, a partially disabled Civil War veteran, and brought her baby John, later known as Jack, to live with them. Hence his name.
London lived his life to the full. He was part of the Klondike Gold Rush and wrote about it in The Call of the Wild and White Fang. After grueling jobs in a jute mill and a street-railway power plant, he joined Kelly's Army and began his career as a tramp. In 1889, London began working 12 to 18 hours a day at Hickmott's Cannery and incorporated tales from these experiences in his books. Seeking a way out, he borrowed money, bought the sloop Razzle-Dazzle from an oyster pirate named French Frank, and became an oyster pirate, this is described in his book John Barleycorn. In 1893, he signed on to the sealing schooner Sophie Sutherland, bound for the coast of Japan. He wrote of the South Pacific in such stories as "The Pearls of Parlay" and "The Heathen", His first published work was "Typhoon off the Coast of Japan", an account of his sailing experiences. He wrote about the San Francisco Bay area in The Sea Wolf.
He even spent 30 days for vagrancy in the Erie County Penitentiary at Buffalo. In The Road, he wrote:
Man-handling was merely one of the very minor unprintable horrors of the Erie County Pen. I say 'unprintable'; and in justice I must also say undescribable. They were unthinkable to me until I saw them, and I was no spring chicken in the ways of the world and the awful abysses of human degradation. It would take a deep plummet to reach bottom in the Erie County Pen, and I do but skim lightly and facetiously the surface of things as I there saw them.
Ultimately he wrote about what he knew and had experienced, but made it fiction and wove it into a story.
He was capable of writing very powerful non fiction books too. London was a passionate advocate of unionization, socialism, and the rights of workers and wrote several works dealing with these topics such as The Iron Heel, The People of the Abyss, and The War of the Classes.
There is little directly spiritual in his books, but behind the scenes London was a great believer in the existence of the spiritual world. Jack London's mother, Flora Wellman, worked as a music teacher and spiritualist claiming to 'channel the spirit of an Indian chief'. Occasionally therefore a little bit of this does seep through. I have one observation for him directly, but perhaps of more interest is the observation that relates to his book The Star Rover published in 1915 [see 001260]. It is fiction but based on a series of interviews that Jack London had with a prisoner in San Quentin – so based on fact.
And no one who was not spirituality inclined could have written that book because they would not have understood what was being described – a whole series of out of body experiences. I have a slight suspicion that some of those experiences are London's, but this we will never know. He was not averse incidentally to trying unusual things - like Opium.
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