Adventures in Reading

Story of a Typhoon Off the Coast of Japan by Jack London
“In the sun’s path they wandered, where every ripple, great or small, every little spit or spray looked like molten silver, where the water lost its dark green color and became a dazzling, silvery flood, only to vanish and become a wild waste of sullen turbulence, each dark foreboding sea rising and breaking, then rolling on again. The dash, the sparkle, the silvery light soon vanished with the sun which became obscured by black clouds that were rolling swiftly in from the west, northwest; apt heralds of the coming storm” from “Story of a Typhoon Off the Coast of Japan” from the Short Stories of Jack London.

The other morning I went through my books to pull all of the short story books and collections I had. Originally I thought that I was going to be limited in my reading ambition only to pull more than fifty volumes. For my next short story, I asked my partner to select the book and he handed me the Short Stories of Jack London. Best known for his elemantal man versus nature novels of the “Northlands,” London wrote more than 200 short stories in his life time.

The first story in this collection is “Story of a Typhoon Off the Coast of Japan,” which was London’s first “short story” at 17 won him first place and $25, or a month’s wages, in a San Francisco competition. London remarked “Once … I won a prize essay of twenty-five dollars from a San Francisco paper over the heads of Stanford and California Universities, both of which were represented by second and third place through their undergraduates. This gave me hope for achieving something ultimately.”

The introduction to the collection refers to “Typhoon” as a “‘short story.'” It was written for an essay contest after all, but I cannot aptly define what a short story is and thus won’t reject “Typhoon” as not being a short story. I did struggle with it, however. Typhoon is filled with technical nautical terms and a linear narrative style that encouraged me to scan. It wasn’t a gripping tale by any means (“Typhoon” seems a bit of an exaggeration) and it took some self-persuading to reread the story.

Keeping in mind the early date of “Typhoon” (November 12, 1893), London’s inexperience as a writer, and that it is based on real life happenings of the teenage London from the summer before, the story also has its successes. Like the introduction quote to this post, London delivers a few gripping detailed scenes that are adventurously beautiful and charge the reader’s senses. A remark from Alfred Kazin describes “the greatest story Jack London ever wrote was the story he lived” and “Typhoon” allows a sweeping view of what is to come in London’s life time.

As well, the concluding scene where the “‘bricklayer'” is sewn into a canvas coffin and thrown overboard after dying of consumption brings some effect to the story. In some ways the scene is unnecessary and disconnected from the actual typhoon but it does create complexity for the story. As a child I read London’s novels and loved the stories of the super men and dogs of the north, and it was intriguing to read about the teenage London and his first step into writing.


Jack London is disturbingly foxy.

There, I said it.

Comment by Mary

Mary: I love finding pictures of authors being entirely “unwriterly.” I think this picture hits the nail on the head with Jack London, but you are right – he is quite the attractive person.

Comment by bookchronicle

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