To Build a Fire by Jack
London is a short story. Read to completion on Friday 8/5/16 finishing at 01:11AM. Repeated Librovox audiobook listening(s) between 8/5 and 9/13 by Bob Neufeld(taking 46:38 minutes) and Betsie Bush (40:03 minutes).
I really liked it (4 stars) and recommend it to all readers.
The story is told from an omnipresence 3rd person point of view so in addition to knowing the protagonist’s sights, sounds, feelings, you also know what he is thinking and not thinking as he takes or does not take actions throughout the story.
A man in the Klondike, Yukon has taken a side trip to check on some money making opportunities for the coming spring and is now heading to meet his boys. He has apparently been told that when the weather gets below minus 50 degrees he ought to have a traveling companion. While the man is not intimately familiar with the specific area he’s a man’s manly man and believes he knows how to make a short trip through some cold weather.
At this point I’d like to interject some personal experience. I’ve never been in extreme cold weather like -50 degrees Fahrenheit, but I recall being in the US Army and having to take a short trip to a helicopter to check its condition in some “below zero” weather. I was well prepared by the military to perform mymission…. Meaning the Army generally dresses its soldiers appropriately. I stepped out of the flight room into the windy, below zero weather… It was as painful as a serious slap and it literally made my nose run immediately. That fluid also immediately froze in my mustache. I had maybe 150 yards until I could get myself inside the helicopter, but with the cold, I was not going to be able to perform any tasks. I stayed long enough inside the helicopter to partially defrost, which included wiping my forearm across my face and breaking my mustache off where the snot had frozen.
I tell this story as I have this reference in my mind as I’m reading about this man’s trip of several miles in minus 50 degree weather. At one point our protagonist notices his spit freezes and cracks before hitting the ground which meant to him it was minus 60 or even minus 70 degrees.
People accustomed to extreme cold know the precautions to take and preparations necessary to make such a trip only dangerous, not deadly. In this story there are hints our hero may not be as familiar with extreme cold as he lets on. Still, as you read, you connect with our heroic character and soon start feeling the minor frustrations he keeps encountering, each becoming more severe in consequences. But our hero remains confident and optimistic! This is well and good but what gave me, the reader, hope for our hero is that he has remained calm when things have gone wrong.
Again, drawing on personal experience, the very real danger Earth offers 24/7/365 requires a person to stay calm. When the Earth starts shaking or suddenly sounds like a freight train just ran over your neighbor’s house. Panic and fear are often as dangerous as what is happening, or at minimum will only make what is unbearable become impossible or deadly.
So we have hope for our hero because he remains calm in a crisis. Instead of panic, he thinks. “Ok, this is bad, how do get that fixed.”
The story reaches it’s readers on multiple levels. Of course we want to know what is going to happen in the story but as we move through the story we are being informed or educated about such things as, without the story, we may have no experience to draw upon should we suddenly find ourselves in extreme weather.
I think that’s sufficient information to encourage you to read this short story and I have a bag of tricks to help you on your way. First, if you’ll look at the beginning paragraphs there are a lot of links. The first link is to the “To Build a Fire” online followed by
Jack London’s bio at Wikipedia. Then there is the “short story” link to the free ebook with several short stories, one of them being “To Build a Fire”. The “Bob Neufeld” and “Betsie Bush” links go to the Librovox bios of the readers of the audiobook short stories and the linked minutes and seconds go to the respective audio-files read by each of these volunteer readers so you can listen yourself. Bob & Betsieversions.
Finally, I found a Comic representation of Jack London’s book done by Allie Doersh. Just go to the site and scroll down to seen the 8 pages of cartoon panels. Now how many reviewers are going to scour the Internet for you so you can easily get a cartoon idea of what the story is about? It’s my pleasure!
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