Posted in Fiction

Before Adam by Jack London


And so it is with much that I narrate of the events of that far-off time.  There is a duality about my impressions that is too confusing to inflict upon my readers.  I shall merely pause here in my narrative to indicate this duality, this perplexing mixing of personality.  It is I, the modern, who look back across the centuries and weigh and analyze the emotions and motives of Big-Tooth, my other self.  He did not bother to weigh and analyze.  He was simplicity itself.  He just lived events, without ever pondering why he lived them in his particular and often erratic way.

I’ve posted before about how much I enjoy Jack London’s descriptions of the wild North.  His ability to capture a certain rugged, individualistic mindset among the bitter cold and snowy wilderness never ceases to amaze me.  I discovered his lesser known novel Before Adam via Jay’s post at Bibliophilopolis. 

London’s unnamed narrator describes a series of dreams he has during the novel’s present day (early Twentieth century) that takes him back to the Mid-Pleistocene era.  The dreams are so vivid that the narrator believes he is living out the adventures of his pre-historic ancestor whom he calls “Big-Tooth”.

While the present-day narrator pops in every once in a while, the bulk of the novel is Big-Tooth’s story.  The plot is not complicated and London’s writing is different in style.  At first,  I was disappointed that his writing did not include more of his great descriptions of the environment.  I felt like the writing was choppier, more immature; however, as I continued reading, I concluded that London still brought forth the same themes of his better known writings and that the writing style he used in this novel could be described as primitive – as was the time period about which he wrote.

One of the more fascinating scenes comes as Big-Tooth and his friend, Lop-Ear, steal a glance at the fire used by the Fire People (called so because they were the only ones who had fire).  They watch it with the same wonder as anybody who has watched and used new technology.  Fire, landing on the moon, the internet – as the reader, London allows me to put the same emotions and questions to fire as I could to any of the technological advances in my lifetime or London’s.

In the brutal man vs. nature story of Big-Tooth and his people, London quite realistically gives them a sense of humor.  While Big-Tooth and Lop-Ear are not as developed mentally to get sarcasm or the finer details of wit, they enjoy playing games with each other, playing jokes, and laughing:

In spite of the reign of fear under which we lived, the Folk were always great laughers.  We had the sense of humor.  Our merriment was Gargantuan.  It was never restrained.  There was nothing half way about it.  When a thing was funny we were convulsed with appreciation of it, and the simplest, crudest things were funny to us.  Oh, we were great laughers, I can tell you.

As far as favorites go, I probably don’t rank Before Adam up there with other London novels such as The Sea Wolf and The Call of the Wild but it added more dimension to an already favorite author.

3 thoughts on “Before Adam by Jack London

  1. Great post, Dale, and thanks to linking to my own Before Adam post. I enjoyed this book and found London’s speculation about the “science” behind the dreaming phenomenon.

    I’d forgotten about the “capacity for merriment” declaration too. Thanks for reminding me of tat element. 🙂

    1. As I made my way through the novel, I appreciated his ability to change his style to suit his setting. It ended up being a very good novel.

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