“There are strange things done in the midnight sun / By the men who moil for gold,” begins Robert Service’s 1907 gold-rush poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” But even the unusual doings of Service’s poem didn’t foreshadow the eerie forces at work in Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon’s new book, The Secret Journeys of Jack London: Book One—The Wild, a classic adventure tale set during the days of the gold rush in the Yukon wilderness —a wilderness steeped in ancient magic and terrifying monsters.
The story focuses on the young writer Jack London as he leaves the safety of San Francisco and heads north, along with hundreds of other men and women, to seek his fortune. But the promise of wealth, for Jack, pales next to the chance the north offers to pit himself against the wilderness—to test his ingenuity and ability to survive in some of the harshest conditions on Earth. Before long, Jack finds himself battling not only extreme cold and the threat of starvation, but one of the most ferocious monsters known to humans: the cannibal spirit known as the Wendigo that possesses a violent hunger for human flesh.
Golden and Lebbon’s story is, in part, a quest narrative in which London battles to balance his relationship with the wilderness around him and the wildness that lies within him. It’s a theme that’s increasingly important in these days of environmental concern, as we, as human beings, try to negotiate our relationship with nature under the increasing realization that a force we believed we had mastered is turning out to be more powerful that we could ever have imagined—and also, the realization that we are never quite as disconnected from nature as we might like to believe. But Golden and Lebbon’s focus is on the cracking adventure tale: it’s a well-crafted yarn that balances atmospheric horror with some truly disturbing moments of terror and gore. Jack is a complex and compelling character, intelligent, resourceful, and likeable, and since this is Book One of the Secret Journeys, the reader can live in the hope that there will be more of Jack’s paranormal adventures to come.