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John Griffith London was born in San Francisco in 1876 and died 40 years later, in 1916. He traveled to Canada’s Yukon Territory, California, Hawaii, and the South Pacific, which provided the settings for much of his best work. A prolific writer, he managed to produce novels (Call of the Wild, The Sea-Wolf), essays, and newspaper and magazine articles, but he was, above all, a master of the short story. “To Build a Fire” is probably his best-known short fiction. But “An Odyssey of the North,” published in The Atlantic Monthly in January of 1900, at the beginning of London’s career, established a recurring theme: the difference between the white man’s written law and morality.
Pulled from the archives, for Kindle, in “An Odyssey of the North,” Naass, a young Aleut man, wins a young woman of the tribe, Unga, only to have her stolen from him on the night of their marriage celebration by “three hundred pounds of bone and muscle,” a seven-foot-tall, yellow-haired white man, Axel Gunderson. “Men never talked of luck and pluck and five-hundred-dollar dirt,” London wrote, “without bringing in the name of Axel Gunderson; nor could tales of nerve or strength or daring pass up and down the camp fire without the summoning of his presence.” Naass spends years tracking his nemesis, determined to claim his bride and take vengeance. He has learned enough about the white man’s frenzied worship of gold to set the trap. For the final action, the Aleut is allowed to tell his own story, filled with the kind of hardship, daring, and determination for which London’s work would become known.
London’s parting shot: “The right and wrong of this we cannot say, and it is not for us to judge.”