Best 1904 Adventures (10)

By: Joshua Glenn
February 14, 2019

One in a series of 10 posts identifying Josh Glenn’s favorite 1904 adventure novels. Happy 115th anniversary!

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Jack London’s philosophical sea-going adventure The Sea-Wolf.

In this grown-up version of Kipling’s Captains Courageous, an effete young intellectual — Humphrey van Weyden, whose favorite philosophers are Nietzsche and Schopenhauer — is rescued from a shipwreck in the San Francisco Bay by a brutal schooner captain, Wolf Larsen, who takes his unwilling passenger along on a seal-hunting voyage. Larsen is a quasi-Nietzschean cynic who believes in nothing but the pursuit of pleasure and the triumph of strength over weakness; he thoroughly enjoys browbeating “Hump” while forcing him to do menial work and learn how to defend himself. There are a few thrills: a mutiny attempt, during which Larsen singlehandedly fights half a dozen mutineers; a survival ordeal on an uninhabited island; a violent storm. And there is an unsatisfactory, distracting romance plot — which begins when Larsen also rescues a beautiful woman. But primarily, this is a novel of ideas in which London stress-tests such un-Nietzschean notions as the eternal soul and inherent good.

Fun facts: Ambrose Bierce wrote, “The great thing [about The Sea-Wolf] is that tremendous creation, Wolf Larsen… the hewing out and setting up of such a figure is enough for a man to do in one lifetime.” Rugged actors who have portrayed Larsen in film adaptations include: Noah Beery (1920), Edward G. Robinson (1941), Barry Sullivan (1958), Chuck Connors (1975), Charles Bronson (1993), Stacy Keach (1997), and Sebastian Koch (2009).

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JOSH GLENN’S *BEST ADVENTURES* LISTS: BEST 250 ADVENTURES OF THE 20TH CENTURY | 100 BEST OUGHTS ADVENTURES | 100 BEST RADIUM AGE (PROTO-)SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST TEENS ADVENTURES | 100 BEST TWENTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST THIRTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST GOLDEN AGE SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST FORTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST FIFTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST SIXTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST NEW WAVE SCI FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST SEVENTIES ADVENTURES | 100 BEST EIGHTIES ADVENTURES | 75 BEST DIAMOND AGE SCI-FI ADVENTURES | 100 BEST NINETIES ADVENTURES (in progress) | 1994 | 1995 | 1996 | 1997 | 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | NOTES ON 21st-CENTURY ADVENTURES.

Categories

Adventure, Lit Lists

What do you think?

  1. I read this in a course on Naturalism in college. It was fun to see what London could do with an Ubermensch and then contrast it with its arguable opposite in McTeague.

    It was also the least boring book we read in that class by a wide margin. Anyone want to read Lord Jim? Anyone?

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