Jack London (1876–1916)
From American Christmas Stories
In November 1898, just before he turned 22, Jack London wrote two stories within about a week of each other and submitted them to magazines. Both stories were set on a Christmas Day during the Klondike gold rush. The second piece he wrote, “To the Man on Trail,” became London’s first-ever published short story, and it appeared the following month with the subtitle “A Klondike Christmas,” which was added by the editors. The first story, written for young readers, was rejected by one publication and then accepted by another magazine, which ended up not using it. London had titled this other story “A Klondike Christmas” as well, and it remained unpublished during his lifetime.
For decades the existence of these two stories perplexed scholars and biographers, many of whom assumed that the two selections were one and the same. The matter was finally resolved in the 1970s when the manuscript of the “lost” version was located in Jack London’s files and published in Boys’ Life, the official magazine of the Boy Scouts, but the confusion persists in some reference works and online sources to this day.
Christmas 1898 was, London confessed, the loneliest of his life. “And to-day is Christmas,” he wrote to the woman he had been dating. “It is at such periods that the vagabondage of my nature succumbs to a latent taste for domesticity. I am deaf to the call of the East and West, the North and South.” Dirt-poor (he was often mistaken for a tramp) and surrounded by a growing collection of rejection slips, he dreamed of “an assured, though quiet and monotonous, future in prospect; a satisfied knowledge of the many little amenities of civilized life which are mine and shall be mine; a genial optimistical contemplation.” He would soon have all the comforts of civilization available to him, but not even the prospect of future Christmases by the fireside would quell his taste for vagabondage and travels to every corner of the world.
We present “A Klondike Christmas,” with an introduction further explaining how both stories came to be, as our Story of the Week selection.