‘To Build A Fire’ by Jack LondonPosted: February 6, 2015
To Build A Fire by Jack London, 1908
The magic trick:
Inclusion of the dog
Evidently, London did not include the dog in the version of this story that was published in 1902. Big mistake. The dog is the key. The dog is the baseline of instinctive wisdom against which the man is judged. The man is brash, bold, and foolish; undone by his own hubris. The dog, meanwhile, is in tune with nature. The dog knows when to bow to the cold and stay resting by a good fire. Without the dog, the story becomes a mere adventure story. With the dog, it’s an adventure story with a memorable moral compass. And that’s quite a trick on London’s part.
The dog was disappointed and yearned back toward the fire. This man did not know cold. Possibly all the generations of his ancestry had been ignorant of cold, of real cold, of cold one hundred and seven degrees below freezing-point. But the dog knew; all its ancestry knew, and it had inherited the knowledge. And it knew that it was not good to walk abroad in such fearful cold. It was the time to lie snug in a hole in the snow and wait for a curtain of cloud to be drawn across the face of outer space whence this cold came. On the other hand, there was no keen intimacy between the dog and the man. The one was the toil-slave of the other, and the only caresses it had ever received were the caresses of the whiplash and of harsh and menacing throat-sounds that threatened the whip-lash. So the dog made no effort to communicate its apprehension to the man. It was not concerned in the welfare of the man; it was for its own sake that it yearned back toward the fire.