Jack London, “To Build a Fire”

To-Build-a-Fire-and-Other-Stories-London-Jack-9780553213355A man and his Husky are traveling the Yukon Trail on a very cold day.

(from To Build a Fire)

As he turned to go on, he spat speculatively. There was a sharp, explosive crackle that startled him. He spat again. And again, in the air, before it could fall to the snow, the spittle crackled. He knew that at fifty below spittle crackled on the snow, but this spittle had crackled in the air. Undoubtedly it was colder than fifty below—how much colder he did not know. But the temperature did not matter. He was bound for the old claim on the left fork of Henderson Creek, where the boys were already.

I’m sure I read Jack London in high school, though I don’t think I would have appreciated this story then. I’m sure I wouldn’t have. There’s a lot of repetition and it builds really slowly. I also don’t like the way he treats his dog, though I understand that the dog wasn’t a pet or a companion to him.

The man, who is nameless, is walking on a trail that hasn’t been traveled in quite some time. He is fairly new to the country and doesn’t heed the advice of the “old-timers.” I can’t say much more than that without giving something away. This site has all 197 Jack London stories online, apparently, which is pretty cool. You can also find “To Start a Fire” at Bedtime Stories: Classic Tales for Sleepy Grownups, which I love.


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