When a man journeys into a far country, he must be prepared to forget many of the things he has learned, and to acquire such customs as are inherent with existence in the new land; he must abandon the old ideals and the old gods, and oftentimes he must reverse the very codes by which his conduct has hitherto been shaped. To those who have the protean faculty of adaptability, the novelty of such change may even be a source of pleasure; but to those who happen to be hardened to the ruts in which they were created, the pressure of the altered environment is unbearable, and they chafe in body and in spirit under the new restrictions which they do not understand. This chafing is bound to act and react, producing divers evils and leading to various misfortunes. It were better for the man who cannot fit himself to the new groove to return to his own country; if he delay too long, he will surely die.
This first paragraph of Jack London’s short story, “In A Far Country”, has become one of my favorites. It wonderfully describes the story that follows. Two men, Carter Weatherbee and Percy Cuthfert, take up with a company of men bound for the Yukon in search of gold. While the other men either have had experience on this type of expedition or just plain have the adaptability London speaks of in this first paragraph, Weatherbee and Cuthfert have neither.
London dubs these two guys, the Incapables, and at a point where they feel they can no longer continue with the group, they arrogantly decide to stay put in a cabin along the way. As their hatred for each other grows, so does the scurvy, frostbite, paranoia and the number of severed toes scattered on the cabin’s floor. As with the other London stories, I’ve read, one doesn’t have to guess what is going to eventually happen. Especially when the story starts out with such an incredible paragraph.
I have also just finished reading The Sea Wolf. I need to take some time in writing a post about Wolf Larsen. He’s a character that takes some pondering – more so than many characters. The novel, in some ways, turns this first “In A Far Country” paragraph, upside down.