The Sea-Wolf

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The Sea-Wolf is a novel written in 1904 by American author Jack London. Of it, Ambrose Bierce wrote: "the great thing—and it is among the greatest of things—is that tremendous creation, Wolf Larsen... the hewing out and setting up of such a figure is enough for a man to do in one lifetime." An immediate bestseller, the first printing of forty thousand copies was sold out before publication.

Like The Call of the Wild, The Sea-Wolf tells the story of a soft, domesticated creature forced to become tough and self-reliant by exposure to cruelty and brutality. In this case, the creature is human: a literary intellectual named Humphrey van Weyden. Onboard a San Francisco ferry which collides with a ship in the fog and sinks, he is picked up ("rescued" is not the word) by Wolf Larsen. Larsen is the captain of the seal-hunting schooner Ghost, bound for Japan. Larsen forces van Weyden to become a cabin boy, do menial work, and learn to fight to protect himself from a brutal crew.

The name "Wolf Larsen" was that of a real sailor Jack had known. Nevertheless, Jack was called "Wolf" by his close friends, used a picture of a wolf on his bookplate, and named his mansion "Wolf House." One may be excused for imagining that the autodidact sailor Wolf Larsen bears some resemblance to the autodidact sailor Jack London. (Hump's experiences also doubtless bear some resemblance to experiences Jack had, or heard told about, when he sailed on the Sophia Sutherland). Jack London insisted that The Sea-Wolf was "an attack on Nietzsche's super-man philosophy." But somehow Wolf Larsen gets all the good lines, and he, not Hump, is the hero of the book. (Star billing is given to the actor playing Wolf Larsen in seven motion pictures adapted from the book).

In the last quarter of the book, Wolf Larsen has left the stage and we are left only with Humphrey and Maud. Ambrose Bierce is alone in judging that

The love element, with its absurd suppressions, and impossible proprieties, is awful. I confess to an overwhelming contempt for both the sexless lovers.

Hump and Maud, acknowledged lovers, quite literally cast away on an island, go to enormous effort to build two separate huts!. The prudery may have been influenced by commercial considerations. Biographer Russ Kingman believed that "the decision to save the blush from young maidens' cheeks kept The Sea-Wolf from being one of the greatest of American classics."

Motion Pictures

Jack London's novel has been adapted for motion pictures many times:




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