Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Secret Is Out

There is no legend more popular at our storytelling sessions than that of The Wendigo.  Listeners lean in and draw closer, one to the other, as the tale of an evil, cannibalistic, supernatural being craving human flesh unfolds.  Whether giving voice to the classic Algernon Blackwood tale, the version collected as part of  Alvin Schwartz's Scary Stories To Tell in the Dark or a variation, The Night of the Sasquatch (author unknown), listeners are spellbound. 

Authors, Christoper Golden and Tim Lebbon , combine their award winning writing talents to bring this new title, The Secret Journeys of Jack London: Book 1:  The Wild, a first in a series, to readers yearning for an adventure unlike any before taken.

A two page conversational prologue spoken by an old man, a friend of London's, opens up endless possibilities for this tale and those to come.  Readers step through time to find Jack London seventeen years old aboard the steamer, Umatilla, with his brother-in-law, James Shepard.  The two are bound, as are thousands of others, for the Yukon Territory to claim their portion of the gold.

For Jack it is not only about the gold but the hunger he has for the wild; for seeking to find himself within those places that few men have ventured or tamed.  Who is Jack London?  he wondered, certain that this journey would bring him the answer.

This journey does indeed bring Jack more than most could survive or believe.  Losing Shepard to health concerns early on, two other good men, hope filling their hearts, join Jack as they battle desperation, white water rapids, ice, near death in the forest and the cloak of a treacherous winter as they make their way to Dawson, gateway to treasure.

Reaching Dawson the trio believe that the tide will turn as indeed it does; not in the way any of them could have possibly foreseen.  Terror in the form of human kidnappers, spirits of the forest and the legend of the North, that becomes larger than life, stalk them at every turn.  As the plot moves forward the tension is palpable as each new chapter begins and ends in another; all tied together without flaw.

This book is outstanding on numerous levels.  First and foremost it is a story of pure, no-holds-barred adventure in the old, classic style set within the boundaries of the Yukon during the Gold Rush.  The language employed by Golden and Lebbon brings the harshness of the land and the endeavours of the men and women during that time clearly and concisely within the grasp of readers.  What follows are only three examples.  My copy of this book was peppered by sticky notes by the time I finished.

The sky had been a crystalline blue when the Umatilla dropped anchor, but on the shore a light mist seemed to hang permanently above Dyea, and the plumes of chimney smoke from the settlement only added to the gauzy veil that obscured the eastward view. 

The thundering water formed a violently foaming, snaking ridge along the base of the canyon.  It was monstrous.  The ground shook, the air was heavy with the roar, and spray cooled Jack's skin like the touch of ghostly fingers. 

Like a predator stalking its tender prey, the storm broke silently over the head of the hillside and started shedding its load into the valley.

Secondly, as stated in the authors' note, due to research the history presented within these pages is just as it was with the exception of Jack London's age aligning with the time of the Gold Rush in the Yukon.  I have read other accounts of the Chilkoot Trail and the city of Dawson; the inhumanity that arose out of greed and hopelessness is stark in its realism and was portrayed so here.

Another aspect that I found engaging, as I believe my students will too, is Jack's musings about his life, how he responds to the wilderness in which he travels and the changes in personality that evolve as a result of the events that ensue.  One of my favorite passages that reflect these authors' takes on young Jack is:

He was thrilled to his primal core, and terrified as well, a blend of sensations that he had experienced before and would likely know again. His soul cried in exultation at the adventure ahead. One day, he knew, such yearning could be the death of him.

In this journey the authors have given Jack a spirit guide in the form of a wolf.  At times it is just a presence howling in the distance or the wisp of a shadow flashing through the trees.  When death stalks Jack, it is a living breathing protector. 

The illustrations of artist, Greg Roth, throughout this story enhance the feel of a classic read, historical adventure and the terror that lurks in the backdrop of northern realms.  Knowing that one should not judge a book by its cover, please feel free in the case of this tale, as the cover is truly a window into a breathtaking journey soon not forgotten.

Readers will be pleased to note that the movie rights have been purchased by Twentieth Century Fox.  Book Two: The Sea Wolves is to be released in February 2012.

I highly recommend The Secret Adventures of Jack London:  Book 1:  The Wild for upper middle school age and above.  It would be my hope that if they are not already familiar with books authored by Jack London that this will set them on the right track.

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