Posted in Short Stories

Jack London: An Odyssey of the North

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‘There be things greater than our wisdom, beyond our justice. The right and the wrong of this we cannot say, and it is not for us to judge.’ Naass drew yet closer to the fire. There was a great silence, and in each man’s eyes many pictures came and went.

Just in time for the warm weather finally getting to my part of the country, I pick the Seven of Hearts and read Jack London’s story “An Odyssey of the North”.   The North, with all of its rugged cold and desolate landscape, gets the vintage London treatment.  His stories are great but I think I’ve grown to appreciate London’s ability to describe his settings and characters.


In “An Odyssey of the North”, London’s recurring character The Malamute Kid makes an appearance; however, I wouldn’t call him a central character.  He’s more of a listener.  He and his compatriot of the sled, Prince, encounter a man native to the North with a mysterious air about him.  While ultimately the reader finds out the stranger’s name is Naass, during the first part of the story, he’s known as “He of the Otter Skins”.  As the stranger introduces two of his traveling mates, Axel Gunderson and his wife, Unga, London provides a great description of Gunderson:

As has been noted, in the making of Axel Gunderson the gods had remembered their old- time cunning and cast him after the manner of men who were born when the world was young. Full seven feet he towered in his picturesque costume which marked a king of Eldorado. His chest, neck, and limbs were those of a giant. To bear his three hundred pounds of bone and muscle, his snowshoes were greater by a generous yard than those of other men. Rough-hewn, with rugged brow and massive jaw and unflinching eyes of palest blue, his face told the tale of one who knew but the law of might. Of the yellow of ripe corn silk, his frost-incrusted hair swept like day across the night and fell far down his coat of bearskin.

The second half of the story involves another story and another encounter between The Malamute Kid and Naass.  As Naass explains his life and how he met Gunderson and Unga, London reveals part of the Naass mystery.  London’s usual “humanity vs. nature” conflict gets woven into Naass’ story.  A little “humanity vs. humanity” gets thrown in, also.

My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.







11 thoughts on “Jack London: An Odyssey of the North

  1. “his frost-incrusted hair swept like day across the night”
    Man, I wish I had the courage to write those kinds of similes.

    I’m sadly deficient when it comes to London. I’ll remember him this summer when I need to be transported somewhere cold.

    1. It’s interesting that London has his “cold” stories of Alaska, the Yucon, etc. and then he has his “hot” stories of the South Seas – Hawaii specifically. I’m not sure what the ratio is but my guess is it’s about 50/50.

  2. I love London’s style. I have one of his lesser-known works, The Star Rover (a science fiction that might be about alternate lives/reincarnation or MIGHT be about psychosis) on my soon-to-be-read list. I’ll have to check out this story!

    1. It’s interesting that I am continually hearing about a new (to me) London novel or story. Last year, Jay read “Before Adam” which sounds great. I had never heard of it, before. The Star Rover sounds very intriguing. Thanks for letting me know about it!

    2. My “complete works” of London is over 8,000 e-pages long. I’m continually hearing of “new” London stories too. I hadn’t heard of Star Rover, but sure enough it’s in there. I’ll have to consider it as a future read, although I’m also interested in trying Martin Eden.

      1. According to Earle Labor’s biography, he wrote at least two hours every day. I think I’m remembering that correctly.

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