Will the real Jack London please stand up?
Remember Russ and Winnie Kingman who ran the bookstore at Jack London Village, just south of Glen Ellen's center? Back in the day, Russ offered gems of advice to all visitors, claiming, " ... Jack London is one of the most popular authors in the world today because his life is as interesting as his works."
While Russ was right, the many twisted tales of London's life beg unraveling.
When I taught middle school, two of London's compelling tales were included in the curriculum. Early semester came "Call of the Wild," the story of a California farm dog joining his wild compatriots in the Yukon. Next they read "White Fang," the mirror tale of a wild canine who cautiously accepts love and domestication. Both tales offer a glimpse into London's life, though not the whole story.
In the spirit of Russ' conviction, I told my students that it was unlikely that London was a raging alcoholic, one enduring myth. I even elicited a round of raucous laughter once in claiming that no writer could be as prolific as London and drink every day. "I know that personally," I claimed to my students.
Confession wasn't my intention. Besides it was not true then, or now. But sharing the students' laughter at my contextual error led to further discussions about the author's life and what may or may not be the truth.
My erroneous proclamation provided insight into how easily rumors take on an air of truth.
The story of Jack's alcoholism probably originated with his own "John Barleycorn," but Irving Stone was where I first learned it, long before moving to Glen Ellen. While Stone's "Sailor on Horseback" perpetrated many London myths, it also introduced me to London and his works when I was just a teen. It was Russ who, many years later, directed my interest to other biographies and other views.
This weekend, all of us will have the opportunity to explore more views of the life of our town's most illustrious resident.
The board of Glen Ellen Historical Society has invited three London experts to discuss the Jack London's fascinating life.
The presentation takes place this Saturday, Aug. 20, at 2 p.m. at Mayflower Hall on the corner of Henno Road and O'Donnell Lane.
Jonah Raskin is a professor at Sonoma State University teaching law and literature. Several of my Long Island friends remember him from Stony Brook University, one of the renowned campuses of the University of New York. I wonder if it was an interest in Jack London that drew him to California?
Clarice Stasz, former history professor at Sonoma State University and another member of the panel, is well-regarded for her efforts to demythologize London, and in particular his beloved "Mate-Woman" Charmian London.
The third panel member is Lou Leal, a docent at the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association and author of the intriguingly titled, scholarly paper, "Finding the Real Jack London." Following the panel, audience questions and comments are welcomed.
Admission is free, though I imagine donations to our excellent Glen Ellen Historical Society are appreciated.
Every week at our Glen Ellen farmers market I watch and truly admire the energy, town loyalty and enthusiasm shown by Jim Shere and Steve Lee as they sit at the booth sharing the good news of our town. Of course I'll be there.
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