Although we may not be homeless in the streets yet (in many cases saved by our parents), many people in my "Millennium" generation have been stung by the scorpion of this fierce and rigged economy. (In one dramatic example, A Yelp! [$1.37 billion company] employee was forced to live off of brown rice and with no heat, thanks to low pay and high rent in San Fransisco. When she shared the truth on her blog, they fired her.) Maybe that's why we are willing to consider progressive reforms from a true visionary. Today, we have a socialist candidate with a chance of winning the Democratic nomination! Bernie Sanders has gone from protest candidate to real candidate with amazing rapidity. Although Bernie calls himself a Democratic Socialist, Noam Chomsky describes him as a decent and honest New Deal Democrat. Many of the programs Sanders proposes, such as universal health care and tuition-free college, already exist in much of the developed world. Only the highly conservative political atmosphere of the United States (where Republicans are far right and Democrats are right-of-center) are his plans perceived as extreme left.
Like many kids, I thrilled to Jack's Klondike stories. I began to discover his broader scope of work when I was sixteen, and saw The Star Rover on the shelf at the public library of Morgantown, West Virginia. I read the tome, and was awestruck. From there, I started trying to read all of Jack's books. (Maybe someday, I will complete that project.)
After his prison stint, Jack returned home to Oakland, crammed the contents of four years of high school into one-and-a-half years of intensive study, did well on standardized tests and was accepted into the University of California at Berkeley, did not graduate, and went on more adventures such as gold-prospecting the Yukon. He submitted many manuscripts to literary magazine, taking artistic and philosophic inspiration from Rudyard Kipling, Edgar Allan Poe, Karl Marx, Charles Darwin, Friedrich Nietzsche, and above all his own life experience. His first pro sale was the science fiction short story "One Thousand Deaths" to The Black Cat. His big breakthrough was his second novel, the overnight bestseller The Call of the Wild, published in 1903. This work catapulted Jack from obscure scribe to international celebrity. From then until his untimely death in 1916, he received pay and fame for his writing comparable to today's Hollywood actors.
Inevitably, readers of The Iron Heel will see parallels with their own contemporary times, whether its the 1980s or 2010s. The connections are as obvious today as ever, as a Democratic Socialist (Sanders) faces off against an opponent who is basically a Fascist (Trump) for the office of president. Movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Fight for Fifteen are reminiscent of the worker's revolution which Jack London hoped and fought for.
By my senior year of high school, Jack London had become much more than the topic of my final project in English class. He was a literary hero of mine. I too hoped to be an adventurer and storyteller (through both words and pictures--comics--in my case), and to fight for marginalized beings (in my case, I was especially concerned with animals and plants, Mother Earth's world.) And I am not the only Studlar upon whom Jack's work had a profound effect. My big brother Carl was attending Wittenberg University when I was still at Morgantown High School, and when he came home for Christmas Break, he caught hold of my library copy of The Star Rover. He too was left in awe, and he too was soon reading more of Jack's work. This fueled a yearning he had been developing to go out and experience true adventure. To escape the sanitized and protected world that privileged people inhabit, and not just to climb rocks with the high tech gear. Eventually, he found the adventure he sought by joining the Peace Corps, and served for two and a half years in rural El Salvador. He survived amoebas and parasites, and left his village El Matazano with many improvements, including a computer lab at the public school, to prepare students for work and life in a high-tech world.
Today, our world evolves rapidly. I too can be affrighted by new online worlds and forms of virtual reality, and how they will change the direction of ourselves and our society. However, one thing is clear. Older forms of virtual realty--in this case, prose--continue to affect and direct what we do in the real world!
"Jack London and Science Fiction" by Clarice Stasz
Review of The Iron Heel by Ben Granger, Spike Magazine
Because Jack London has been deceased for over 70 years, his entire body of work is in the public domain and can be freely copied and shared. Some of his works can be found here. Or if you're like me and you like paper, visit a public library.
The photos and book covers are also in the public domain, with the trains image in the Library of Congress collection and boxing image from the Imperial War Museum.