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The sea-wolf by Jack London

The sea-wolf (original 1904; edition 1961)

by Jack London

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2,409322,579 (3.92)73
Title:The sea-wolf
Authors:Jack London
Info:Printed for the members of the Limited Editions Club by Connecticut Printers (1961), Hardcover, 354 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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The Sea Wolf by Jack London (1904)


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English (29)  German (2)  French (1)  All languages (32)
Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
A real page-turner. The Wolf Larson character was so evil ... on second thought, he was amoral, I suppose. The plot was a little uneven, but the style was fascinating. ( )
  AliceAnna | Oct 24, 2014 |
I've read quite a few of London's books although it was years ago for most. I've reread a few, but somehow never got to this one. I'm glad I remedied that. Wolf Larsen & Hump are certainly two of the most vivid & interesting characters I've had the pleasure to encounter. The story was all the more intriguing because it explores the meaning & purpose of life through a rousing adventure. London based much of it on a sailing voyage he took to Japan which explains the reality of the setting.

Wolf Larsen is the penultimate materialistic man. He believes life is nothing more than a seething vat of yeast where the stronger eat the weaker for no other reason than they can. He believes in no afterlife or gods. He holds to no law save that of the jungle, but he's completely rejected any sort of society. On top of that, he's the captain (last of the tyrants) of a seal hunting ship, so is the ultimate authority in a small, violent world peopled by fantastically hard & damaged men.

Humphrey (Sissy) van Weyden is so pitifully sheltered that it's amazing he took the ferry without an adult to accompany him, even though he's 35 years old. He quite believably winds up on the Ghost & under Wolf's rule. The story is mostly about the growth of Hump into a man under this harsh tutelage.

I didn't give it 5 stars simply because of the ridiculous Victorian love theme running through it. It was awful. I thought that Maud Brewster was well drawn especially for the times, though. She certainly wasn't the robust, kick-ass heroine of modern fiction, but she grew at least as much as Hump did.

My edition is an old rip from audio book cassettes I got from the library. It wasn't abridged & was read by Frank Muller or Mueller. He did a great job.

This novel is now 110 years old. You should have read it or at least be familiar with the overall story line through one of the movies. Edward G. Robinson (1941) or Charles Bronson (1993) were perfect picks for Wolf Larsen. Christopher Reeves as Humphrey van Weyden was perfect, too. (See update below.) If you haven't, then beware

************ Spoilers Below *************

As far as bad-asses go, Larsen could give lessons. While he completely lacks empathy, he's quite the practical psychologist. He out thinks all his opponents (that means everyone) or beats the crap out of them if that seems the reasonable or most expedient thing to do. He hurt Hump's arm for days simply by gripping it briefly. He killed men without a qualm, usually with enjoyment.

When he decided to poach his brother's hunters, he takes one down to his cabin alone for a 'discussion'.
He towered like a Goliath above Wolf Larsen. He must have measured six feet eight or nine inches in stature, and I subsequently learned his weight -- 240 pounds. And there was no fat about him. It was all bone and muscle.
A fight is heard & Larsen emerges a bit red faced from exertion, but otherwise unharmed. The giant is carried out.

In many ways, Larsen reminds me of one of [a:Ayn Rand|432|Ayn Rand|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1168729178p2/432.jpg]'s heroes, if he'd been raised as a savage. Larsen certainly acts as if he had to fight for every scrap since he was a babe, which makes his intellectual accomplishments the more amazing & his lack of any hint of empathy or society even worse. Larsen says it is simply a lack of opportunity that he didn't outdo "The Corsican" (Napoleon). I believe him.

Larsen's basic philosophy is described here.

'And the highest, finest right conduct,' I [Hump] interjected, 'is that act which benefits at the same time the man, his children, and his race.'

'I wouldn't stand for that,' he replied. 'Couldn't see the necessity for it, nor the common sense. I cut out the race and the children. I would sacrifice nothing for them. It's just so much slush and sentiment, and you must see it yourself, at least for one who does not believe in eternal life. With immortality before me, altruism would be a paying business proposition. I might elevate my soul to all kinds of altitudes. But with nothing eternal before me but death, given for a brief spell this yeasty crawling and squirming which is called life, why, it would be immoral for me to perform any act that was a sacrifice. Any sacrifice that makes me lose one crawl or squirm is foolish; and not only foolish, for it is a wrong against myself, and a wicked thing. I must not lose one crawl or squirm if I am to get the most out of the ferment. Nor will the eternal movelessness that is coming to me be made easier or harder by the sacrifices or selfishnesses of the time when I was yeasty and acrawl.'

Larsen is a noble creature, though. (Note, I did not write 'human'. He's more akin to a shark in his single-minded voracity than his namesake which is a social animal, although not thought so by London.) If nothing else, he's admirable simply because he's such a perfect bastard, much like Lucifer to whom he is likened.

While he has all his faculties about him, Larsen is almost god-like. When they fail, he becomes an object of pity to Hump & Maud, although he certainly asks for none & does his best to reject it. The hell he descends into is a fitting end, too. Nothing could be a worse punishment for him & he certainly deserves plenty.

Hump & Maud certainly found themselves under Larsen's tutelage. I'd say they owe him a great debt, but one doesn't owe anything to the predator or the natural forces of the world. One survives them or is eaten. At the end of the novel, I can imagine both going on to doing great things. Both were wasted in their previous lives, mere drones that were awakened into their full powers by the adversity they faced & overcame. I doubt much in the way of physical or mental hardship will ever daunt them. They also found their moral limits. Stupid as they were, they owned them well. Like their teacher, they were comfortable with themselves, an awesome state of being.

Update 9Jan2014: I watched the 1993 version of this movie with Charles Bronson & Christopher Reeves. Both were perfect for their parts as I suspected they would be. The movie wasn't entirely faithful to the book, but it did stick to the theme pretty well. The romance was done far better, but Bronson didn't directly give the philosophical speech I quoted above. That was a shame, but it was still well worth watching. ( )
  jimmaclachlan | Aug 18, 2014 |
From one of my favorite authors. An intriguing tale of good vs. evil, embodied in a sea voyage and pitting a ruthless animal of a sea captain against a soft, weak, untested gentleman. Their battle of wits and will makes for powerful reading and the sailing descriptions and terms are well presented and believable.

A definite must read for Jack London fans. ( )
  ChrisNorbury | Apr 17, 2014 |
Shear genius! This is one of my new all-time favorites. Who knew London could write like this after laboring through "White Fang," which was good but not great. But this, this is as captivating as Wolf Larsen's eyes and behavior! Only through London's imaginative descriptions could I marvel at an entire page about a man's eyes.
“The eyes—and it was my destiny to know them well—were large and handsome, wide apart as the true artist’s are wide, sheltering under a heavy brow and arched over by thick black eyebrows. The eyes themselves were of that baffling protean grey which is never twice the same; which runs through many shades and colourings like intershot silk in sunshine; which is grey, dark and light, and greenish-grey, and sometimes of the clear azure of the deep sea. They were eyes that masked the soul with a thousand guises, and that sometimes opened, at rare moments, and allowed it to rush up as though it were about to fare forth nakedly into the world on some wonderful adventure,—eyes that could brood with the hopeless sombreness of leaden skies; that could snap and crackle points of fire like those which sparkle from a whirling sword; that could grow chill as an arctic landscape, and yet again, that could warm and soften and be all a-dance with love-lights, intense and masculine, luring and compelling, which at the same time fascinate and dominate women till they surrender in a gladness of joy and of relief and sacrifice.”

Excerpt From: London, Jack. “The Sea Wolf.” iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

Most of the book was like this. I was glad to be on my iPad so I could look up a lot of words to get the full expression of his writing. Fun read. I devoured it faster than usual. I could actually read it again to absorb the dialogue better. The many discussions about the ferment of humanity are awesome and there's even a bit of Ayne Rand philosophy in Wolf Larsen's attitude about altruism. Love this book!
( )
  KikiUnhinged | Feb 9, 2014 |
A classic tale of adventure at sea, The Sea-Wolf tells the story of the naïve young Humphrey van Weyden, whose ship is wrecked in a terrible storm. He is rescued by the mysterious Captain Wolf Larsen of the ship Ghost. Humphrey’s new life aboard Ghost will test him to the limits of his endurance but also bring him the greatest happiness he has ever known. Captain Wolf Larsen is a powerful, brutal man with a razor sharp intelligence. When there is an attempted mutiny on board he shows no mercy to the would-be mutineers, and when his brother Death Larsen attempts to take over the Ghost by force, there is no love lost between them in their vicious battle. Wolf’s cruel manner is thrown into sharp relief by the gentle spirit of the beautiful poetess also rescued, Maud Brewster, who charms both Wolf and Humphrey. As Humphrey falls in love with Maud, he must contend not only with the dangers of being at sea but with competition from his cruel and scheming captain. The Sea-Wolf is a dramatic tale of mutiny and shipwreck, but at its heart is the story of a love that flourishes in the unlikeliest of places. Jack London’s thrilling narrative of the seven seas remains just as gripping today as it was a hundred years ago. ( )
  BambambooTC | Aug 20, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Jack Londonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gannett, LewisIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martin, FletcherIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sutherland, JohnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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I scarcely know where to begin, though I sometimes facetiously place the cause of it all to Charley Furuseth’s credit. He kept a summer cottage in Mill Valley, under the shadow of Mount Tamalpais, and never occupied it except when he loafed through the winter mouths and read Nietzsche and Schopenhauer to rest his brain.
“One kiss, dear love,” I whispered. “One kiss more before they come.”

“And rescue us from ourselves,” she completed, with a most adorable smile, whimsical as I had never seen it, for it was whimsical with love.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0895773384, Hardcover)

In The Sea-Wolf, London's most gripping novel, Humphrey Van Weyden is rescued from the freezing waters of San Francisco Bay by a demonic sea captain and introduced to fates far worse that death. Through this story London recalls his own adventures on a sealing vessel at the age of seventeen. John Sutherland's notes include a history of pelagic seal hunting and an account of the many cinematic versions of this novel.

About the Series: For over 100 years Oxford World's Classics has made available the broadest spectrum of literature from around the globe. Each affordable volume reflects Oxford's commitment to scholarship, providing the most accurate text plus a wealth of other valuable features, including expert introductions by leading authorities, voluminous notes to clarify the text, up-to-date bibliographies for further study, and much more.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:49 -0400)

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A young art critic is forced to endure the wrath of Wolf Larsen, captain of the sealing schooner which rescues him after a shipwreck.

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