To Build a Fire

It certainly was cold, he thought”   To Build a Fire is the title of two short stories by Jack London published in 1902 and 1908. The 1908 story is the one which I have read. The story follows an unnamed man walking along the main trail in the Yukon, Alaska on an extremely cold, grey morning. His only companion on this journey is a husky wolf-dog.  The man estimates he has about nine hours of hiking ahead until he will reach camp with his men. The story follows the man’s futile attempt to travel across ten miles of Yukon wilderness in temperatures dropping to seventy-five degrees below zero.

This is my second experience of Jack London novels, the first being “The Call of the Wild” and as with that I found myself immediately absorbed in the story.  Jack describes the world with a precise elegance that is a complete joy for the reader.  He does not only describe the abyss of arctic snow and surrounding Alaskan landscapes but also captures the atmosphere in the surroundings.  I pulled the sheets up around me that little bit tighter for warmth when reading this one.  The appeal of this story for me comes in how alien the settings is, having never experienced cold like that Jack was able to convey the absolute bitterness and vastness of the Yukon.  I have always wanted to be somewhere like this but I must admit I would much rather be tucked up in a warm log cabin with the dog at my feet than freezing in the open planes of the frozen Alaskan wilderness.


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