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The Sea-Wolf: 02/07/07

The Sea-Wolf

A young man of means becomes a castaway during foggy journey ferry from Sausalito to San Francisco. He is then the unwilling new cabin boy of the Sea-Wolf only to later be castaway again with a young woman and his demented but dying captain. That's the gist of The Sea-Wolf and the set up is so preposterous that I had trouble believing the story or even enjoying it. The circumstances of Humphrey Van Weyden's conscription on The Ghost were forced to the point of farce and yet The Sea-Wolf tries to be a serious examination of the human condition.

I'm not against reading stories of pampered individuals learning how hard life can be but I do require less strain on my suspension of disbelief. The story would have been so much more interesting if "Hump" had joined the crew of his own free will. The crashing ferries made for good drama but it was completely unbelievable that the ship wouldn't immediately put him to shore. Had they put him to shore and had to do repairs from the storm or even had some well needed R&R or perhaps gone to the docks to recruit new hands then "Hump" could have done some soul searching and decided to leave his comfortable life behind for a life at sea. As the book is, Hump's quick change in character from scared land lover to loyal deckhand makes no sense.

Clearly bored with his main character, London switches at about the third or forth chapter from concentrating on "Hump" to fleshing out Wolf Larsen. The captain is an uneducated book loving man suffering from frequent headaches and fits of rage. He seems to be the only character in the entire book who has more than one dimension. Sadly the others are only there for Wolf to rage against and for Hump to compare himself to.

Then there is Maud, the female castaway who comes out of the blue and makes no sense given the original premise of the book. She sort of drops in on the plot like Wendy Darling does to the pirates and like her younger counterpart ends up being like a long lost mother to the ailing sea-wolf.

As a Bay Area resident only minutes away from Jack London Square, I should be proud of this area's native son who had a successful career as a writer of 50 books. He made quite an impression on both San Francisco and Oakland and the two cities like to squabble over ownership of his memory but frankly, I don't like his books.

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