Welcome to the thirty-third Mark Steyn Tale for Our Time, our series of monthly audio adventures - which in this particular instance is also partly a video adventure.
On our annual Mark Steyn Cruise we do a lot of what we do here each week at SteynOnline, but live and on water. So sailing up Alaska's beautiful inside passage seemed an appropriate occasion to revisit a favorite author of Tales for Our Time listeners: Jack London. No writer - other than, of course, Robert W Service - is more associated with this continent's far north. In my introduction, filmed live before an audience of Mark Steyn Club members from America, Canada, the British Isles, India, Australia, New Zealand and continental Europe, I discuss young Jack and the wild land he captured so brilliantly.
This particular tale was first published in the February 1899 issue of The Overland Monthly. Its essentials are simple - two men, one woman, some dogs, all trying to make it back over the Northland Trail to civilization. But in a hard vastness a cruel man's mastery over the beasts is an uncertain thing, and it can be transformed in a moment. And the empty endless wilderness can be crueler than man and rear up more viciously than a dog:
Of all deadening labors, that of the Northland trail is the worst. Happy is the man who can weather a day's travel at the price of silence, and that on a beaten track. And of all heartbreaking labors, that of breaking trail is the worst. At every step the great webbed shoe sinks till the snow is level with the knee. Then up, straight up, the deviation of a fraction of an inch being a certain precursor of disaster, the snowshoe must be lifted till the surface is cleared; then forward, down, and the other foot is raised perpendicularly for the matter of half a yard...
The afternoon wore on, and with the awe, born of the White Silence, the voiceless travelers bent to their work. Nature has many tricks wherewith she convinces man of his finity--the ceaseless flow of the tides, the fury of the storm, the shock of the earthquake, the long roll of heaven's artillery--but the most tremendous, the most stupefying of all, is the passive phase of the White Silence. All movement ceases, the sky clears, the heavens are as brass; the slightest whisper seems sacrilege, and man becomes timid, affrighted at the sound of his own voice. Sole speck of life journeying across the ghostly wastes of a dead world, he trembles at his audacity, realizes that his is a maggot's life, nothing more.
Strange thoughts arise unsummoned, and the mystery of all things strives for utterance.
And the fear of death, of God, of the universe, comes over him--the hope of the Resurrection and the Life, the yearning for immortality, the vain striving of the imprisoned essence--it is then, if ever, man walks alone with God.
To hear (and see me read) Part One of The White Silence, prefaced by my introduction, please click here and log-in. Alternatively, if you prefer our Tales in their traditional audio-only format, please click here.
We now have over two years' worth of my audio adaptations of classic fiction starting with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's cracking tale of an early conflict between jihadists and westerners in The Tragedy of the Korosko. To access them all, please see our easy-to-navigate Netflix-style Tales for Our Time home page. We've introduced a similar tile format for my Sunday Poems and also for our audio and video music specials.
We launched The Mark Steyn Club over two years ago, and I'm overwhelmed by all those members across the globe who've signed up to be a part of it - from Fargo to Fiji, Vancouver to Vanuatu, Cook County to the Cook Islands, West Virginia to the West Midlands. As I said at the time, membership isn't for everyone, but it is a way of ensuring that all our content remains available for everyone.
That said, we are offering our Club members a few extras, including our monthly audio yarns by Dickens, Conrad, Kafka, H G Wells, Baroness Orczy, L M Montgomery, Scott Fitzgerald, John Buchan, Robert Louis Stevenson - plus a piece of non-classic fiction by yours truly. You can find them all here. We're very pleased by the response to our Tales - and that's why do them live on our annual Mark Steyn Club Cruise (and occasionally with special guests). We'll be presenting another Tale for Our Time along with live editions of The Mark Steyn Show and much more on our third annual cruise.
So I'm truly thrilled that one of the most popular of our Steyn Club extras has been these monthly audio capers. If you've enjoyed them and you're looking for a present for a fellow fan of classic fiction, I hope you'll consider our special Club Gift Membership. Aside from Tales for Our Time, The Mark Steyn Club does come with other benefits:
~Exclusive Steyn Store member pricing on over 40 books, mugs, T-shirts, and other products;
~The chance to engage in live Clubland Q&A sessions with yours truly;
~Transcript and audio versions of The Mark Steyn Show, Mark's Mailbox, and our other video content;
~My video series of classic poetry;
~Booking for special members-only events such as last month's Christmas show;
~Priority booking for the above-mentioned Annual Mark Steyn Cruise, this year sailing from Rome to Gibraltar, Barcelona and Monte Carlo with Michele Bachmann, Conrad Black and my other guests;
~Advance booking for my live appearances around the world;
~Customized email alerts for new content in your areas of interest;
~and the opportunity to support our print, audio and video ventures as they wing their way around the planet.
To become a member of The Mark Steyn Club, please click here - and don't forget that special Gift Membership. As soon as you join, you'll get access not only to The White Silence but to all the other yarns gathered together at the Tales for Our Time home page.
One other benefit to membership is our Comment Club privileges. So, whether you think I've done Jack London proud or that eerie stillness is not in fact the White Silence but merely crickets chirping, then feel free to comment away below. And do join us tomorrow for the (audio-only) conclusion of our tale.