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Review and Analysis: "Love of Life" by Jack London

I am an avid reader and like to share my opinions on books and stories that have left strong impressions on me.

A review of the short story "Love of Life" by Jack London.

A review of the short story "Love of Life" by Jack London.

Jack London's "Love of Life"

Wow, wow, wow! That is how I would sum up this story by Jack London. What an incredibly gripping tale of survival this short story turned out to be. Right from the very first sentence, you are trapped and can't help reading the rest of this compelling story.

Plot Summary (With No Spoilers!)

The story is simple and immediately understandable; two gold prospectors are suffering from starvation as they trudge wearily across the frozen tundra of Canada to find food. One of the men is called Bill, and the other—our protagonist—remains unnamed for the entirety of the story.

Unfortunately for our man, starvation and exposure to the harsh elements are actually better than what is to come. He soon sprains an ankle, then his dear friend Bill abandons him and leaves him to fate. Without bullets for his rifle, he marches onward towards uncertainty.

Two men trudge up a mountainside during a harsh Canadian winter.

Two men trudge up a mountainside during a harsh Canadian winter.

A Real Page Turner

One of the most laudable aspects of this short story is that it is supremely economical. By that, I mean, at the moment you comprehend these poor gent's predicament, you urgently want to know how they got themselves into this mess in the first place. You are given the gift of an endless possibility of back stories by London's restraint in not providing you with one himself.

In other words, unlike a less seasoned author might have, he didn't over-write the story. London show's his skill in "Love of Life" by only providing exactly what we need to make the tale compelling. Screenwriters and directors call this getting into the scene late and getting out early. I would love to have seen what London could have done with a movie!

But this lack of an explanation is also a bit crafty, and I wonder if it's a device London employs to keep you anticipating the reveal? We'll never know for sure, but it is a lot of fun to speculate over. Employing such a tactic exposes the author to the danger of the reader being disappointed if the reveal never comes, but there is nothing at all disappointing about this adventure.

Awaiting an Outcome

The brilliance of the piece is that it compels you to want to know how the saga ends and what happens to our poor prospector. Your own fear of his situation and your empathy for his plight will not allow you to stop reading until you know the outcome. The prospector is sure that his old pal, Bill, will wait for him at the rendezvous point, and we hope along with him. We hope all the while, secretly thinking to ourselves that Bill—that scurvy dog—will certainly not wait.

This, again, is a clear demonstration of London's writing genius. If he had not created that situation and just left it all at Bill leaving his friend behind, we would not anticipate the future disaster. It's like Alfred Hitchcock's famous 'Bomb Theory' where tension is created by showing us what will potentially go wrong. He shows us the bomb under the table, we anticipate its detonation, and that anticipation is what effectively creates tension.

A surprise would be if the bomb went off, but we were never clued into its presence. London understands the difference as well and creates tension in the reader by introducing the specter of Bill's callousness.

Early gold prospector in the American west.

Early gold prospector in the American west.

Hungry Like a Wolf

This poor man is beset by obstacles that might even deter old Job (from the Bible's Book of Job) himself, including a close encounter with a bear. But, in the end, it is a lone wolf endlessly stalking him that creates the most anxiety. Sick and starving himself, the wolf slowly walks behind the hapless prospector. Like a chase in slow motion, they both stumble across the tundra, each waiting for the other to die first.

A more gruesome fate, however, hangs over the prospector because he knows that, should he lay down, too weak to fight, then the wolf would set about feasting and devouring him alive. Several times, in fact, the wolf creeps forward to lick his face while he sleeps, testing his strength and his ability to fight off an attack. And each time he scampers back, waiting with the patience of the starved and desperate.

The pursuit goes on, day after endless day, until our prospector can no longer walk. His feet are bloody ribbons, and so he continues on his hands and knees, all the while looking for something, anything to eat. Why won't that wolf die? And when he looks back, he finds that the wolf has found something to eat. It limps along behind him, licking up the trail of blood left by the prospector's own bleeding knees.

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Few writers could create so much terror out of a nearly dead wolf, but London keeps revealing his expertise at manipulating us when he introduces the possibility of salvation in the form of a whaling ship. Rescue at last!

Well, London is not going to let us relax quite so easily. At the moment the prospector spots the ship, London makes us believe that he does not possess the physical strength to make his way to it. Our prospector's titanic will to live doesn't fail him, but his body is close to its end, and he grows ever weaker, ever closer to the ripping jaws of the death-wolf that follows.

Does our poor prospector make it? Does he live? In the final and savage confrontation with his nemesis, the wolf, is he victorious? Or is he overcome and eaten by the beast within sight of deliverance?

The starving wolf

The starving wolf

The Ending (Beware—Small Spoiler!)

Although I won't tell you if the embattled prospector lives or is eaten by the wolf, I will say that, believe it or not, this story has a somewhat humorous ending. I only mention it to again draw attention to how skillful London's writing is.

After horrifying us with a journey of unthinkable and nightmarish obstacles, he makes us laugh. Reward yourself by reading this story. It typically comes printed in a collection of other great stories, each one a testimony to great writing and the genius of London.

More on "Love of Life"

I keep books like the collection Love of Life and Other Stories with me at all times. I stash them in several places; that way, I am never short of something to read. When traveling on a plane, on a road trip, or even just relaxing, a book of short stories like this is perfect. Starting a short story doesn't require you to pledge as big a commitment yet still offers you the full enjoyment of reading a complete tale.

Film Adaptation

Watch the trailer for the 2012 film adaptation of "Love of Life" if you are interested in spending more time absorbing the story in other formats. It's directed by Kevin Swigert and stars Pete Ammel and Phebe Horschel.

Audio Recordings

You can also find multiple free versions of the audiobook. Over the years, I have learned to love audiobooks. I have traveled a lot via cars, buses, trains, planes, and boats, and audiobooks have given me great joy. I don't have to waste space packing heavy books and can enjoy them while walking around or while queuing in lines. Audiobooks can truly be enjoyed at any time, any place.

Check out the YouTube video for a full version of the story. You can also listen to the LibriVox recording of the story as well. They have several of his stories and novels available for audible consumption.


Dale Anderson (author) from The High Seas on May 28, 2019:

Peggy I am seriously overjoyed that you will now read and / or listen to this story. I'm a tough guy, "tough as woodpecker lips" my friends say, but this story is haunting. It unsettles you but you can't stop reading it. It really is a masterpiece.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 25, 2019:

What a horrendous predicament our prospector has encountered! You certainly made me want to read this short story by Jack London or listen to the audiobook. When I have a spare 53 minutes I will have to come back and listen to the audiobook you have so nicely included in this post.

Dale Anderson (author) from The High Seas on January 03, 2019:

Thank you. I am a big fan of audio books myself and listen to them while I am working on the boat or walking. When I find good reader I try to find more things that they have read to listen to.

Meredith on January 02, 2019:

Oh I LOVE the audio book recording being included here. That is both smart and thoughtful. I like books on tape because it means that I can do other things while I listen to the book that I want to read. I listen to them a lot in the car as well so great job! I hope you other articles have the same thing so I can listen to other books you review as well.

keyla on April 15, 2017:

why does the protagonist not have a name?

Dale Anderson (author) from The High Seas on December 05, 2013:

I just read this again a few nights ago and it's even better than I remember.

Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on December 04, 2013:

This is another Jack London work I've never read. The premise sounds right down his alley...survival under bleak conditions. Sounds very interesting! Thanks for this review.

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