This story was my 40th of the year as part of my annual short story reading “project: deal me in.” I had just re-started my reading of London’s novella, “Before Adam,” this week, but apparently the hand of fate decided I needed even more Jack London, as I drew the eight of clubs from my dwindling deck…
What makes a coward? We all know that there is a fine line between cowardice and discretion (that better part of valor), but how often is one only perceived as a coward when, in reality, he is not – or may even be the opposite. I became aware of this concept at a very young age. One of my earliest memories of watching television was seeing re-runs of the old Chuck Connors western series, Branded. I admit I was probably just attracted to the opening intro and song, but the point was, though thought one, Chuck Connors was definitely NOT a coward. I mean,
look at him! :-).
Anyway, in Jack London’s short story, Negore the Coward, the title character’s thought to be a coward, and from the perspective of others, including the woman he loves, he seems to be nothing but a coward. The setting of the story is in mid-nineteenth century Alaska, where Negore and his native tribe are fleeing a ruthless band of Russians (Alaska was Russian territory until we “bought it” from them, remember?). He has disappeared from the tribe, but returns and catches up to Oona, who he calls “his woman” and her father, the blinded Kinoos, whose bravery from a previous showdown with the Russians is the stuff of legend.
When Negore explains his side of the story, Oona admits she may have misjudged him, but as there were no witnesses to Negore’s version, he still must prove himself to her with an act of bravery equal to that of her father – “Art thou willing to do no less than what Old Kinoos hath done?” Of course he is, which sets up the climax of the story.
I’ve really enjoyed a Jack London “reading renaissance” the past year or so, for which i’d like to thank my blogging colleague, Dale, over at Mirror with Clouds, who through several posts helped me remember how great a writer London is. What about you? Have you read any of Jack London’s short stories?
(“Jay not like a story by Jack London? ‘Impocerous!’”)