100 years after his death, a new look at author Jack London | Books | DW | 22.11.2016
  1. Inhalt
  2. Navigation
  3. Weitere Inhalte
  4. Metanavigation
  5. Suche
  6. Choose from 30 Languages


100 years after his death, a new look at author Jack London

American writer Jack London, who died 100 years ago, was known for "The Call of the Wild" and "White Fang." But he was far more than just an accomplished author of adventure novels.

With more than 20 novels, several autobiographical works and a large collection of plays, essays, reports and short stories, Jack London was a prolific writer.

And, as his German biographer Alfred Hornung points out in a new work on the American author, London is still an immensely current figure today. In his book, Hornung points to the parallels between the crisis and challenges of London's time, at the beginning of the 20th century, and today: "financial crises, the ethnic diversification of society, the clash between rich and poor and the reckless handling of power."

London, of course, is known for his adventure stories - "The Call of the Wild" and "White Fang" being some of his best-known works.But the writer, who died at the age of 40 after a life of excess and half a dozen serious illnesses, was more than just an adventure writer - although he was a master of the genre. On the 100th anniversary of the death, DW takes a closer look at a few of his other accomplishments.

Book cover: Jack London The Cruise of the Snark

London's travels on the Snark inspired many of his stories

'Martin Eden'

To learn about the life of the famous author, check out this semi-autobiographical novel published in 1909.

In "Martin Eden," the eponymous main character begins the book as a rather coarse adventurer who, fascinated by the world of education and books, decides to become a writer. He is inspired by (and falls in love with) Ruth Morse, a young university student from a completely different social background.

The novel is a fine example of London's writing. In the tradition of the great novelists of the 19th century, London precisely describes the feeling of having an alert and interested mind stuck in an unpolished, coarse body. "Martin Eden" shows both sides of London's character: adventure and intellect.

'South Sea Tales'

Like "Martin Eden," this collection of tales set in the South Seas was written onboard his yacht, the Snark. London was able to create authentic and vivid stories because he had previously visited the islands and their inhabitants on his travels. But the South Sea stories aren't just dry, descriptive texts.

In "The House of Mapuhi," for example, London tells the story of native pearl fishers, Europeans with dollar signs in their eyes, and an ominous storm that destroys the dreams for happiness and a better life. It's a breathtaking work, showing off the clash between nature and civilization.

'The Cruise of the Snark'

London bought himself the aforementioned Snark following the success of his early adventure novels. The author, along with a small crew and his wife Charmian Kittredge, planned to go on a seven-year tour around the world.

In the end, the trip only lasted two years, mainly because many things went wrong and London contracted several serious illnesses. Most of the time, almost everyone onboard the ship was sick, he wrote. Added to this was alcoholism, which accompanied London for his entire life. He wrote about all this in his 1911 travel report, and was quite open and unashamed.

Film Mörder GmbH (picture-alliance/Mary Evans Picture Library)

The 1969 thriller "The Assassination Bureau," starring Oliver Reed, was based on an unfinished work by Jack London

'The Assassination Bureau, Ltd'

This thriller came as a surprise to many Jack London fans: An unfinished book, completed by American crime writer Robert L. Fish, was published in 1963 and based on an original idea from Nobel-laureate Sinclair Lewis. London wrote about 200 pages of the book in 1910 before abandoning the project; Fish completed the last 50.

The story, which follows a secret organization that assassinates evildoers, was turned into a 1969 movie starring Diane Rigg, Oliver Reed and Telly Savalas. "The Assassination Bureau, Ltd" is a quick read and full of surprises, shifting between philosophical treatise and chilling spy story.

It cries out for a remake, preferably by British director Guy Ritchie, known for his movies filled with hustlers, oddballs and black humor. London would probably be a big fan of such a film today.

Watch video 04:12

German adventure novelist Karl May

DW recommends

Audios and videos on the topic