Jack London may be the greatest author I’ve never read. Well, almost never – I did read Call of the Wild and yes, it is terrific. But I steadfastly refuse to pick up another of London’s books because he fills those books with the most noble of dogs and then terrible cruelty befalls those dogs. I just can’t go there.
For instance, in the Wikipedia synopsis of White Fang, we learn that early on, a pair of men and their team of dogs are devoured by a pack of starving wolves. Please. It’s not as if I ever sleep at night anyway, but I don’t need those kind of nightmares. The pair of men, maybe, but please, not the dogs!
The CE, however, is made of tougher stuff than me. He loves dogs, too, but he reveres Jack London and has read a whopping twenty-five of London’s books. I know this because yesterday morning, finding ourselves in Sonoma, CA at an hour far too early to drink wine, we discovered that we were just a fifteen-minute drive away from Jack London State Historic Park., site of London’s beloved “Beauty Ranch” where he built his doomed dream home, Wolf House, here in the “Valley of the Moon”.
As we entered the park we were cheerily greeted at the kiosk by a staffer who asked if we were London fans. When she heard that the CE was a big fan, cars queued up behind us while the two of them conversed about their favorites. For the CE, The Sea-Wolf is at the top of his list. The Park staffer prefers The People of the Abyss, London’s account of the travails of London’s working-class poor.
Jack London is my husband’s favorite socialist. This is noteworthy because my husband’s politics lean well to the right, and yet he adores Jack London. When I asked him about this seeming anomaly, he pointed out that the conditions London deplored were indeed, absolutely deplorable and that London’s response was appropriate. He also mentioned that London was a notoriously hard worker during his brief life, citing the brutal conditions under which London labored in his early life as described in his autobiographical work, Martin Eden. According to the CE, London sought fairness and opportunity and was contemptuous of anyone who sought to coast on a free ride. London frequently quarreled with other socialists and has actually been described variously as a meritocracist and an individualist, which puts him squarely in the company of the CE.
Politics were, blessedly, the furthest thing from our minds as we stepped out of the car and surveyed the sheer beauty of the retreat where London developed his progressive theories about farming and animal husbandry, many of which are detailed in his book The Little Lady of the Big House. As his literary star soared, London added parcels to the ranch. He died there three years after “Wolf House” burned. He was just forty years old.
During his tragically too-short life, armed with only an eighth-grade education, he had ridden trains as a hobo, pirated oysters, shoveled coal, labored in a laundry, worked on a sealing ship on the Pacific and at an Oakland cannery. Along the way, he wrote some of the most admired books in the canon of American literature.
The highlight of our visit to the Park was the tour of “The House of Happy Walls” museum. London’s widow, Charmian, built the house after London’s death and filled it with artifacts from hers and London’s world travels. It was her intention that the home would become a shrine to London’s genius: “…I am begging you now, with all my heart, not to let the world forget that he laid his hand upon the hills of California with the biggest writing of all his writing and imagination and wisdom…just don’t let all who listen and read and run, forget Jack London’s biggest dream.” ~Charmian London, 1916
The Park is comprised of 1,400 transcendently beautiful acres and boasts twenty-six miles of hiking trails. It was a highlight of our visit and is a marvelous and fitting testament to the author who considered it “a quiet place in the counry to write and loaf in and get out of Nature that something which we all need, only the most of us don’t know it.