‘The Story Of Keesh’ by Jack London

The Story Of Keesh by Jack London, 1907

The magic trick:

Ancient storytelling

You knew we couldn’t do a week of Alaska stories without Jack London.

Not possible.

In this one, London almost assuredly swipes an overheard tale from the local indigenous population and slapped his own name on it.

Nefarious copyright questions aside, it certainly is a ripping tale.

Keesh’s father dies trying to save the village. But the boy is forgotten and disregarded. As he grows older, he seeks to assert his power – not for revenge or control. He only wants to help the village.

And he does just that, innovating a mysterious and remarkably effective form of hunting polar bears.

London does well to keep straight to the story. There are almost no bits of modern irony, point of view, or Chekhovian epiphany.

This is ancient storytelling.

And that’s quite a trick on London’s part.

The selection:

The hunters, grizzled and gray, and lusty and young, were aghast. The like had never been known before. A child, that talked like a grown man, and said harsh things to their very faces!

But steadily and with seriousness, Keesh went on. “For that I know my father, Bok, was a great hunter, I speak these words. It is said that Bok brought home more meat than any of the two best hunters, that with his own hands he attended to the division of it, that with his own eyes he saw to it that the least old woman and the last old man received fair share.”

“Na! Na!” the men cried. “Put the child out!” “Send him off to bed!” “He is no man that he should talk to men and graybeards!”

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