Smoke Bellew, written by Jack London in 1912
I was looking for reading material on E2 and found The Call of the Wild and White Fang - apparently both in the public domain. I found them in several other places out on the net as well - and that's when I noted the repeated absence of Smoke Bellew. This seemed odd, since due to some freakish Eastern European publishing policy it somehow got pushed into the forefront of my early teen years. In fact, I haven't even heard of Sea Wolf (apparently the unanimously more famed novel) until I started looking into Jack London for this node...
So. Yukon. Gold Rush. Men were men, bear meat was tasty, gold was everywhere, fortune and death could be found equally fast, and high adventure was to be found. I didn't want to be an astronaut, pilot, or fireman as a kid - I wanted to be an "old timer", live in the outlaw (or as near as) town of Dawson and suffer through the bear meat, preferably raw and bloody. And it's all thanks to this book, which still reads at a thunderous pace.
Christopher Bellew is a young good-for-nothing, living on the edge of high society by his wit, his uncle's grudging charity and the occasional odd-jobs his friends will throw him. This lifestyle suits him most of the time, but a combination of workplace misfortune and his uncle's goading finally adds up to a decision - Bellew will prove to himself that he is good for something.
short hauls and short rests
As soon as he arrives at Dyea beach, he receives more goads to pull him along the path from being a Chechaquo - his uncle's brawn and a woman's scorn are enough at this point. He embarks on the Chilkoot Trail determined not to fail.
After the first chapter which chronicles the rise from tender-foot to bear meat devourer (in a blitzkrieg, almost soundbyte-like fashion), the book continues with several more stories (and it really is a collection of "gold rush stories" that happen to share a protagonist) in which the newly-rechristened Smoke establishes his place in gold rush society, locates his gold, makes his fortune, and gets the girl through feats of unparalleled derring-do. It's a rip-roaring yarn of high adventure (and occasional dubious morality) that doesn't let up until the conclusion - the pace is such that you can read through the entire book in an hour or so.
bite sized goodness
The only criticism of the book is that Kit's transformation from nothing to arctic superman is just a wee bit too fast - but then this is an adventure story, and the accelerated pace of storytelling makes the book a page turner. The few conversations in the story sparkle with wit that is just a bit too glib as well - but I guess if Kit's to be a physical paragon, he might as well be a mental one too. Overall, if you take the book to be a standard from-zero-to-hero fare, the shortcomings are all in the right places.
Since the book is short, stop wasting time here and go read it - it's a great read for an adolescent, or anyone whose inner kid is clamoring for adventure.