Everyone loves monsters. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t.
And what better adventurer to tackle them than Jack London?
He died so young, but in that short life he lived more than most could fit in a dozen lifetimes. His life was traumatic at times, and tragic, troubling and frequently frightening, but also full of adventure and achievement. And because he left behind such classic tales as The Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolves, and White Fang, the incredible Jack London will never be forgotten.
But what if some of his stories held more than a hint of truth? And what if some of his experiences were so terrible––filled with such hardships, tragedies, and monsters––that he couldn’t bear tell those tales for real?
This is the basis of our new trilogy from Harper Collins, The Secret Journeys of Jack London. The first book, The Wild, follows a young Jack as he embarks on an adventure to the Yukon in search of gold. But he finds so much more besides.
The Yukon is the ultimate wild, and we wanted to populate it with creatures and monsters that would live up to that description. These monsters were both human and supernatural, and sometimes … well, aren’t the best monsters those that we don’t initially recognise as such?
It’s no secret for anyone reading the novel that one of our main monsters is the Wendigo (Mike Mignola’s lovely blurb mentions it, after all!). We couldn’t write a novel set in these locations without using the Wendigo, besides which it had been one of our favorite monsters for years (and subject of one of my favourite stories, Algernon Blackwood’s The Wendigo. If you haven’t read it, go check it out. Then watch Ravenous). It’s such a gruesome, horrible legend, because—like all the best monsters—it starts as a human. Godzilla isn’t scary. The Wendigo is. Its story is nasty and sad, terrifying and pathetic, and Jack just had to meet it.
(Can’t wait to see the Wendigo in the movie! Fox 2000 have bought rights to the trilogy, and we’ve already delivered the screenplay for The Wild).
One of our favorite scenes in the book (without giving too much away) is when Jack is alone in the forest, being chased by something … and he comes face to face with himself. A thinner, more gaunt Jack, still he recognizes himself in those eyes. The double is the Wendigo, of course––though it doesn’t remain Jack-like for very long. This actually comes from some recognized Wendigo folklore, and it was researching these aspects that was such great fun.
Research is always such a malleable thing. You use it however it works for you, however it makes the finished product better. This time around, research was important in so many ways, and much more pleasurable than usual. We had to reread Jack London novels, read biographies of the complex, intense, brilliant lunatic he was, teach ourselves about the gold rush and the Yukon, and, of course, delve into folklore and monsters.
The Wendigo is not the only monster in The Wild. Far from it. Without giving too much away, there are forest spirits, animal totems, and human monsters, as well. Add to that our discovery that Jack’s mother was a real life medium who tormented him as a child by telling him the spirits were going to come and get him…we didn’t know about that when we started our research, but what a gift to us as storytellers to find that nugget from his past.
Of course, in real life, Jack dealt with human monsters, but he also dealt with the challenges that nature placed in his path. He grabbed life by the horns and wrestled with it constantly. The old cliché about laughing in the face of danger applied to Jack London. Some of the most harrowing scenes in the novel don’t involve monsters—they involve the parts of his journey to the Yukon that we took from his REAL life, when winter and the elements—the ice and snow and rushing rapids and terrain—became enemies to be overcome.
The Secret Journeys of Jack London: The Wild may be marketed for younger readers, but anyone who loves action, monsters, and adventure can go along for the ride. We didn’t write the novel with age in mind. In fact, we were astonished at some of the things that the editors are allowing us to keep intact, both in The Wild, and in the second book, The Sea Wolves. There’s some gruesome, nasty stuff…and we wouldn’t have it any other way.