Jan. 31st, 2017

dragoness_e: Living Dead Girl (Living Dead Girl)
Finished reading The Sea Wolf by Jack London, one of his slightly lesser-known novels. (Lesser known than Call of the Wild, probably better known than White Fang). My first impression was that it was a debate on ethics framed as an adventure novel, in the same way that The Picture of Dorian Grey is a debate on ethics framed as a horror novella. In this case, the villain, Wolf Larsen, spends quite a bit of the story debating ethics and morality with the protagonist--like Lord Henry in Dorian Grey, his ethics are a deliberate refutation of the prevailing conventional morality and ethics. While Lord Henry was more a "Do What Thou Wilt is the Only Law" sort of guy who likes to hang out in the smoking lounge and corrupt young minds, Wolf Larsen is a hardcore social Darwinist, nihilist, and sociopath. "Might makes right, and everything dies, so nothing matters except myself". He's also completely terrifying to be stuck on a small schooner in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with. A schooner that he's the Captain-Owner of, and thus has pretty much absolute power of life and death over all aboard. He's also a vindictive bastard. (Wikipedia tells me that London intended this story to be an attack on Nietzsche's "superman" ideal; I can believe that, as Wolf Larsen is a classic Nietzschean "superman").

The rest of the story is a variant on the classic coming-of-age plot: middle-aged nerd (or as they called it in those days, "scrawny bookworm") turns into a manly man and finds the girl. Unlike the way C.S. Lewis treated Eustace in Narnia, Jack London did not take away from Humphrey van Weyden his love of books and literary criticism--he just had the guy put on muscle, toughen up physically and mentally, learn to rub shoulders with the less privileged, and learn a bunch of new skills like cooking, sailing, shiphandling, ship's carpentry, seal-hunting, navigation, etc. Oh, and fall in love. The damsel in distress, his lady-love, the poetess, turns out to be a tough woman in spite of appearing to be a delicate flower. She survives the same harsh conditions that our hero does, and helps him to the limits of her strength. In fact, she continually proves to be tougher than our hero expects.

I think the difference (between C.S. Lewis's depiction of Eustace on the Dawn Treader and Jack London's depiction of 'Hump') is that Jack London actually did everything he writes about his characters doing, and knew all those types of people. He actually knew what it was like to be a Yukon prospector or a sealing schooner crewmen. He was a journalist, and I've noticed that journalists turned fiction writers are some of the most observant writers of characters--in a period when class and race stereotypes were prevalent, late 19th C/early 20th-C journalist-writers such as Jack London, Earl Derr Biggers and Wilkie Collins wrote lower-class, non-white people as real people instead of walking stereotypes. (Compare non-journalist writer Sax Rohmer's truly awful "Oriental" stereotype characters, or non-journalist writer Agatha Christie's walking stereotypes of the servant classes).

Watched another episode of "The Clone Wars" for the first time in a while--while nominally it was an Ahsoka episode, the blue dudes (Patronians?) were the brains and most of the heroes of this episode. I wonder if they will be recurring characters?

July 2017

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