The Story of Keesh by Jack London – selection 3 of #DealMeIn2019

The Card: ♥3♥  Three of Hearts. Playing card image found on Pinterest from the “Undertale Souls” deck of cards. I thought it would be appropriate to have a card featuring snow since the story involves the Inuit People of Alaska. 🙂

The Suit: For #DealMeIn2018, ♥♥♥Hearts♥♥♥ is my Suit for “Stories by favorite authors” and London certainly qualifies. I – and other Deal Me In participants – have written about many London stories over the years.

The Author: Jack London, one of the Titans of American Literature. I’ve posted about several of his works before, including Before Adam, Negore the CowardA Relic of the Pliocene, and Moon Face, to name a few.

The Selection: “The Story of Keesh” which I own as part of my e-copy of The Complete Works of Jack London. The story is in the public domain and may be read for free online in many places, like the link at the bottom of this post.It was first published in 1907.

What is Deal Me In? I’m glad you asked!  Full details may be found here  but generally speaking it’s a reading challenge where participants try to read one short story a week for the year, the reading order being determined by the luck of the draw. See here for the list of stories I’ll be reading in 2019. At the bottom of that post will be the cards I’ve drawn and links to any posts I’ve written on the stories. Also, check the sidebar for links to other book bloggers who are participating in this year’s challenge.

The Story of Keesh

“Keesh lived long ago on the rim of the polar sea, was head man of his village through many and prosperous years, and died full of honors with his name on the lips of men.”

***spoilers follow*** This one was, frankly, a bit of a disappointment. At least compared to other Jack London stories I’ve read. There just wasn’t enough to it for me. It’s basically an old folktale of a young boy (he has only seen “thirteen suns” – after each winter of no sunlight, when the sun returns, that counts as one year, so he is…13) who rises to a place of respect in his “igloo village” due to his crafty method of hunting polar bears.

It all starts out when he speaks up at a council one night, because, since his father has died (in the act of slaying a large bear to provide food for the village) he and his widowed mother’s meat apportioned to them by the tribe is “ofttimes old and tough, this meat, and, moreover, it has an unusual quantity of bones.” The men of the tribe, brave hunters all (just ask them), are neglecting their duty to provide for the rest of the village fair shares of the “community” meat.

The men react harshly to this upstart and Keesh vows never to return to the council but sets out on his own with arrows and his father’s spear. He’s gone a very long time and his mother and her comforters fear the worst, but he shows up with – lo and behold! – a big hunk of bear meat and directs the other hunters in the tribe that the rest of his kill may be found and returned if they take their sleds along the path he has come. Naturally, Keesh makes sure that everyone in the village from “the least old woman and the last old man” receive a fair portion of the meat.

With Keesh being so young, the men of the tribe suspect some trickery and even suggest that “witchcraft” might be involved, and that he “hunts with evil spirits.”  Such is the way with any who are ignorant of how something extraordinary is achieved, isn’t it? Keesh, when questioned, puts them straight and says, “It be headcraft, not witchcraft.” His method of bringing down the bears was quite original, I must say.

So, an easy read, but too short to sate my story hunger for one week. A better story, with more “meat on its bones” if you will, featuring the natives of the far north is London’s tale “Negore the Coward” which I’ve wrote about before and linked to in the header of this post.

What short stories did YOU read this week? What is your favorite of Jack London’s many short stories?

You can read the story online here: https://americanliterature.com/author/jack-london/short-story/the-story-of-keesh

 

Deal Me In – Week 25 Wrap Up

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Week 25 finds me delinquent again, and it was kind of a slow week for us, posting-wise, but below are links to new Deal Me In entries since our last update:

Dale spends time with Jack London again, reading his short story “Negore the Coward.” Read what he thought about it at http://mirrorwithclouds.wordpress.com/2014/06/18/jack-london-negore-the-coward/

Katherine read “The Sepia Postcard” by Steven Millhauser (our group’s most-read author so far this year) and includes a great card trick by David Copperfield featuring a young Jane Seymour http://katenread.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/deal-me-in-week-25-the-sepia-postcard/

I drew a wild card (two of hearts) so decided to indulge my penchant for exploring lesser-known authors with a local connection, reading Joanna Parypinski’s “The Gardenhttps://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/the-garden-by-joanna-parypinski/

Well, that’s it for this week. See you next time for week 26 – the halfway point!

“Before Adam” by Jack London

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Has this happened to you? You’ve settled into bed and have just fallen – or are just about to fall – asleep, but then you suddenly shake yourself fully awake after having the sense you are about to fall. What’s that all about, anyway? Well, it’s a common phenomenon known as a “hypnagogic myoclonic twitch” or “hypnic jerk” for short. While the cause is not completely known, it has to do with the brain misinterpreting “relaxation signals” from the muscles and being tricked into thinking you are falling down. It then takes the appropriate measures to prevent a fall. Many think this is an ancient reflex from when evolutionary ancestors slept in trees to avoid the many predators below.

Whatever the cause, author Jack London uses the latter idea brilliantly to explain the phenomenon that the narrator of his unique novella, “Before Adam,” is experiencing. You see, the narrator, since childhood, has spent night after night dreaming of a time long ago, recalling an earlier life of an ancient hominid progenitor. He believes this phenomenon is a freakish amplification of the type of “racial memory” (like the sensation of falling) everyone experiences, and that he is seeing a kind of replay of an actual life lived long ago.

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(my guess is that Big Tooth would fall somewhere between the third & fourth of this line-up) 🙂

All of this is explained in the first couple chapters, and the remainder of the novella is a narrative of the adventures of this ancestor, known as “Big-Tooth,” who begins his life living in the treetops of a primeval forest with his “species” and flees when the abuse of a step-parent (to apply the modern terminology) becomes more than he can endure. He next lives with “the horde” – a clan of cave people who spend time dodging saber-toothed tigers and also the clan leader, a oversized brute called “Red-Eye.” Other dangers include a new “race” of hominids called the “Fire-People” who have alone tamed fire and have even invented a rudimentary bow and arrow. They hunt the people of the horde, to whom a bow is a shocking development.

I found it remarkable that London’s imagination could run so far with this concept, especially in an age when the science of the day knew relatively little of the early ancestors of man. Perhaps, though, this is also why this is a novella rather than a longer work. London ran as far as he could with it. In an age where it is becoming harder and harder to find anything new under the sun to read, I found this work of just over one hundred years ago a refreshing change of pace.

Have you read “Before Adam?” What did you think about it? Is there other “prehistoric genre” literature that you can recall or recommend?

(Other cinematic interpretations of early and proto-humans: Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” and Raquel Welch as Luana being brought home to “meet the family” by Tumak in One Million Years B.C.)

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Read-a-thon post #2

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A quick update. 10 a.m. – I’ve read a total of 1 hour and 56 minutes thus far, and I was able to finish Jack London’s unique novel, Before Adam. I won’t post about it in depth at this time, but maybe later. For my short story reading project, I drew the five of spades, which I had assigned to the Charles Beaumont short story, “The Howling Man,” which I have just completed. (You may be familiar with this story from the Twilight Zone episode of the same title.) What’s next? I think I may get started on Kevin Helmick’s “noir novel” Driving Alone: A Love Story.

How’s your read-a-thon coming along?

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Negore the Coward by Jack London

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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…

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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! :-).

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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.

Read it for yourself for free online here.

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!'”)

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October Reading – The Month Ahead

I’ve been a bit of a reading slacker this year compared to the last three years. I’ll probably even end up a few books short of my unofficial “par score” of fifty books in 2013. Part of this is because my blog’s focus seems to keep slanting more toward short stories, which, honestly, was not my original intent. As a fairly busy person, though, it’s a logical practical decision to read more shorter works. We’ll see if the trend continues into 2014, when I hope to take my annual short story reading project “public” and make it a reading challenge that hopefully other bloggers or readers will participate in. Anyway, back to October 🙂

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I am going to revisit Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried,” as it is the October reading selection of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library’s  book club. What’s more, I’m supposed to lead the discussion, so I’d better be prepared. It’s an awesome book, though. I could probably just ask one question and let everyone talk for the next hour, but I’ll try to add a little more value than that.

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I’m also currently reading a great non-fiction book called “Osman’s Dream.” It’s by Caroline Finkel and is a history of the Ottoman Empire (Osman being the first Sultan of that mysterious – to me, anyway – entity). I’ve learned a lot so far in just the first eighty pages, but look forward to becoming a little more conversant with that corner of world history, which I’ve hitherto neglected.

Bookmama’s bookstore is having a discussion of Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” next week. I’ve read it before, but may revisit in time to drop by and attend. As a kid, I always loved the movie version with James Mason and Pat Boone(!)

(below: James Mason leads his intrepid group of explorers deeper into Carlsbad Caverns… oops, er, I mean The Centre of the Earth!)

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I also plan to read Jack London’s novella, “Before Adam.” Recommended by an old college/H.S. classmate of mine, I tried a few pages a couple of weeks ago and the premise is fascinating…

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Since it’s October, I’m sure I’ll also squeeze in some ghost or horror stories (I bought a new anthology recently!) and hopefully blog about a few for the R.I.P. Challenge, to which I’ve already contributed a couple posts.

Let’s see, what else… I’ll continue reading stories for my “Project: Deal Me In” annual short story challenge, and there are a couple other books that I’ve read a few pages into but haven’t really officially “started” yet, those being Ruth Ozeki’s “A Tale for the Time Being” (which I got far enough into to appreciate that that title doesn’t quite mean what you would think… & It’s also a finalist for the coveted Mann-Booker prize!).

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Also there’s James Alexander Thom’s “St. Patrick’s Batallion,” which is much shorter than his other books that I’ve read, so I should be able to knock it out in a few days, right? 🙂

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That’s it for my plans, but what about YOU? What are you planning to read this month?

“A Relic of the Pliocene” – a short story by Jack London

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I drew the Ace of Spades this morning for my short story reading project. This meant I was to read Jack London’s story, “A Relic of the Pliocene.” The first order of business was for me to learn/re-learn just when the Pliocene was. (I remember once, on a road trip, recruiting my Mom and my brother – both geologists – to help me learn the geologic eras and their order. Today I only remember them incompletely. Time for a refresher course!) Here’s a summary. There’ll be a quiz next week.

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Turns out it’s in the Cenozoic Era just before the most recent period (the Pleistocene). It doesn’t help that those two words are very similar, does it? Anyway, the Pliocene was home to prehistoric man and some giant creatures, including the Saber-toothed Tiger and the Great Wooly Mammoth. It is about the latter that London’s story deals with.

The story’s narrator is camping “in the far north” where he surprisingly plays host to a campfire visitor, a fellow human with the most curious mukluk boots. The visitor tells our narrator that they are made from Mammoth hide, which our narrator scoffs at. Mammoths have long vanished from the earth, after all. Not long vanished, explains the visitor. Only recently so, for he killed the last one with his own hand…

When asked where this singular event occurred, the visitor “waved his hand vaguely in direction of the northeast, where stretched a terra incognita into which vastness few men strayed and fewer emerged.” He then tells the narrator the tale of his hunt – “…a hunt such as might have happened in the youth of the world.”

The strange visitor finishes the tale and afterward, in exchange for some tobacco the narrator has given him, leaves him the mukluks as a gift and disappears into the night. Though the narrator’s rational side tries to convince himself of the impossibility of such an encounter, chalking it up to the fevered imagination of isolation or a dream, but the physical evidence of the mukluks and his missing half a pouch of tobacco confirms that he didn’t dream it all.

Another interesting tale of the north from a master storyteller. Of course, we already knew from the poetry of Robert W. Service, that “there are strange things done in the midnight sun…”

Have you read this story, or others by London? What are your favorites and recommendations for further reading?

(Below: Jack London. This is the picture that graces the cover of my volume of his “complete works.”)

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What is to be Done About “Moon-Face?”

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“We all experience such things at some period in our lives. For the first time we see a certain individual, one who the very instant before we did not dream existed; and yet, at the first moment of meeting, we say: ’I do not like that man.’ Why do we not like him? Ah, we do not know; we only know that we do not. We have taken a dislike, that is all. And so I with John Claverhouse.”

The above paragraph provides insufficiently just cause for the actions contained in the darkly comic story that follows. The narrator of London’s story, “Moon-Face,” has an unfounded dislike – no, that word in insufficient; lets try “hatred” – for the hapless John Claverhouse. There is not a good reason. It is likely because the narrator himself is a bitter man, and cannot stand to see another of his species meet misfortune with an unflappably cheerful attitude. It also has something to do with Claverhouse’s physical appearance (leading to his Moon-Face moniker), which is described unkindly by his enemy:

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“…cheekbones wide apart, chin and forehead melting into the cheeks to complete the perfect round, and the nose, broad and pudgy, equidistant from the circumference, flattened against the very centre of the face like a dough-ball upon the ceiling.”

The narrator admits physical appearance may have sparked his hatred, saying that Claverhouse had become “an offense to his eyes.” He also speculates that it is Claverhouse’s attitude: “What right had such a man to be happy? … Ah, how it grated on my soul that he should be so happy!”

A man of action, he begins to wage a campaign of evil against Claverhouse, releasing his livestock, burning his barn and haystacks, and other cruelties I don’t care to repeat. Finally, he decides that “the earth should be quit of him” and he “bends his intellect” to plotting the demise of Moon-Face (see the final picture in this post for a hint of a spoiler…). The manner in which he carries out his plans is as humorous as it is effective. I found myself laughing in spite of the fact that such violence is certainly no laughing matter. Perhaps that is the challenge that London set for himself when writing this one – to make his reader laugh despite the inappropriate-ness of such a reaction. If so, congratulations, Mr. London. In my case you succeeded.

(below: London – one of my favorite authors)

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This story is very short and can be found online in many places. Here’s one. I own it as part of an eBook of “The Complete Works of Jack London.” Quite a bargain, purchased for just a couple dollars.

Have you read Jack London? What are you favorite books or stories?

(Below: Wile E Coyote – Hmmm… makes me wonder if he ever read London’s “Moon-Face”)

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Memories of “Discovering Gold!”

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A couple weekends ago, my short story reading project led me to read Jack London’s short story “All Gold Canyon.” I own an ebook of London’s complete works and added this tale to my 52-story roster for 2013 reading. I chose it because of its tantalizing title and because it was one I hadn’t read before. I was not disappointed.

***Mild Spoiler Alert*** (this story is in the public domain and may be read/found for free online in many places – like this one.)

The story begins with the protagonist, a solitary prospector, coming upon a pristine canyon in the Southwestern U.S. The canyon is singular in its unspoiled natural beauty, and London’s description of it is a real tour de force. The prospector takes out a pan and begins testing the dirt for traces of gold. As  you could imagine by the story’s title, he is not disappointed either. Things go well and eventually he finds the source of the gold deposit. Extracting the gold won’t be that easy, though, as he must deal with natural obstacles as well as a nefarious “claim-jumper” before the story ends.

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All Gold Canyon struck a chord with me because it invoked some fond memories. The story includes a pretty lengthy description of the panning for gold, maybe more than I’d ever heard or read about that practice before. At that point in the story, a recollection from childhood hit me and for several minutes I became lost in “the realm of memory“…

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When I was growing up, my family had some LP records from a series called “My First Golden Record Library” that my two brothers and I listened to often, and of these our undisputed favorite was one titled “Adventures that Built America.” (album jacket pictured above) This record sounds somewhat cheesy when listened to today (a few years ago my Mom burned a copy to CD for me), but at the time it was high, “adventure” – for lack of a better word. It contained five individual tracks where the listener would ‘actively participate’ (there were quiet spots on the record where we were supposed to respond. The breathless narrator would urge us with “Say, ’yes,’ adventurer!” – or whatever the situation called for.) There were five separate adventures on the record, starting with Christopher Columbus discovering America (“You’ve sighted land, Adventurer!”) and moving on to Paul Revere’s ride, The Pony Express, and the Wright Brothers’ first flight in Kitty Hawk. There was also one about the California Gold Rush that started with its discovery at Sutter’s Mill (pictured below) in 1848.

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The sound effects were great, and in the Gold Rush “episode” the listener is part of a wagon-riding, claim-grabbing rush. Even as I’m typing this, I can hear the water swishing as the listener is panning for gold (“You’ve discovered gold, Adventurer!”). Re-listening to this record today – some ’drive-by’ research indicates it was produced in 1962 – it sounds pretty corny and campy. Complete with its often breathless narrator, over the top songs and music, it’s a wonder I didn’t grow up and become a great patriot of some kind…

(below: panning for gold)

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Have you read any of Jack London’s shorter works?  You’re missing out if you haven’t.  Which are your favorites or which do you recommend?  Are you a member of the generation that grew up listening to records like “Adventures that Built America?” Do you enjoy it when your reading opens a portal backward in time and into your own “realm of memory?”  I’d love to hear about it…

(Below: author Jack London)

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“It was the worst of times. It was the worst of times…”

Jack London’s short story, “The Chinago.”

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My short story reading project for 2012 is winding down, with just a few stories to go. The latest I read was The Chinago. It takes place on a plantation in Tahiti, which is worked by some 500 Chinese laborers, who are called by their French overseers “Chinagos.” A murder has been committed on this plantation, and the French have rounded up five suspects (I don’t know if they were the usual ones or not – I am hearing the voice of Casablanca’s Major Renault in the back of my head as I’m typing these words), none of whom are guilty. The story’s protagonist, named Ah Cho, on top of the fact that he and his fellow accused men know who really did commit the murder, marvels at how five men can be accused of murder when the victim was stabbed twice (“at most this was the work of two men”).

The story illustrates how the French colonists barely thought of the Chinese laborers as human, and we repeatedly hear the phrase “just a Chinago” as if they mattered less than other people. The story also involves a case of mistaken identity with tragic consequences, and yet another execution (so much of my reading this year has involved executions, not by design but rather coincidence) this time by guillotine. I don’t want to write any more about the detail of the plot – I want this post to remain spoiler-free. 🙂

A copy of the story may be read for free online

I do have a copy of this story “somewhere” in my library in one of my many short story anthologies, but when it came time to read it, I wasn’t home, but at one of my favorite coffee shops so I searched for it on line and found it. This set me thinking about how wonderful it is to live in such an age of easily accessible information as we do. I remember reading one of my all-time favorite books, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, and how, when Franklin was young, he was so desperate for books and reading material. How much easier it is for us today. Even if this story wasn’t available for free in the public domain, I could surely have bought and downloaded it in a couple minutes as well. I wonder what Franklin, with his hungry intellect, would think of that?

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Jack London.  What have you read by him?

(below: The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.  This is the same cover as the edition I have.  Mine has nearly disintegrated from being read so many times)

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