EARL J. WILCOX
The Great Jack Complex
Jack London spoke now and then about suicide to his friends and wife, Charmian.
He wrote about it in some letters. A few of his fictional characters commit suicide.
Why is it difficult to imagine that America's first best-selling author did himself in?
Is it a case of his many admirers wanting Jack London to be the hero of his own life?
In his vigorous youth, Jack had wowed the world with his famous fiction about the
Klondike gold rush, the naturalistic world of man and dog, the odyssey of the North
wolves (especially wolves), Eskimos, Mexicans, Socialists, pirating, sailing on the high
seas, courage, alcoholism, Hawaii, mental illness, prison reform, horticulture, and the
San Francisco earthquake. Given the range of his creative world, the heroic stance of his
biography, and the unusually swift time he used to conquer fictional territories never seen
by writers or readers before, what other templates did London have to forge? He may
have been the first American with an ego big enough to be called an Alexander the Great
complex. He was the hero in his bout with alcohol, the Socialists and growing grapes and
peanuts, and pigs, and in lifting himself up from having nothing to having everything.
What a guy! And when the time came for his exit, when the heroics were done, the
stage was ready made for him to leave in a splendid, frenetic fashion. The way out was made
easy by his treatment of his body during his last years. He raced from newspapers
and pulp magazine assignments back to his ranch in California as he ground out novels and
short stories. Jack's friends and doctors warned of dire effects. His kidneys were
failing from uremic infections. He had dysentery, vomiting, stomach and colon pains for some
months before he became very seriously ill. Even while sick his heroics continued
he made a trip to Hawaii, where he attended banquets, movies, engaged in local luaus, tried
his hand at playing polo and was entertained by magnificent Queen Lilioukalaluni of
Hawaii, a treat even the dying London could not resist. But the end was inevitable as he
became increasingly pale and irritable, showing unmistakable signs of advanced
kidney diseases. Morphine was the only medicine to assuage these physical ailments, as his
mind dashed into the future by reading Jung and other avant-garde writers. The drug
was both his savior and his slippery slope to death. The night prior to his death, he retired
with an ominous remark to Charmian: "Thank God, you're not afraid of anything."
Jack London died as the result of an overdose of morphine. Did he plan the overdose? Did he
mistakenly take too much to relieve the pain of leaving a world he had wooed and won
while writing a small portion of stories he had to give? By design or accident, Jack left.
Bio: Earl J Wilcox is a retired university professor after teaching for more
than 40 years. He has published widely on Frost, London, and many other
American writers. He was founding editor of the Robert Frost Review. His
poetry appears in SOUTHERN GOTHIC, ARABESQUES REVIEW, THIRD LUNG REVIEW,
STRANGE HORIZONS, and elsewhere. His favorite pastime when he's not writing
is baseball, about which he also writes poetry.
© 2005 Underground Voices