Welcome to the concluding episode of our latest Tale for Our Time - one of the greatest short stories ever written. As Part Two of Jack London's To Build a Fire approaches its memorable climax, the cold of the Yukon seeps into every part of the man's body, and into every word of our tale:
After a time he was aware of the first faraway signals of sensation in his beaten fingers. The faint tingling grew stronger till it evolved into a stinging ache that was excruciating, but which the man hailed with satisfaction. He stripped the mitten from his right hand and fetched forth the birch-bark. The exposed fingers were quickly going numb again. Next he brought out his bunch of sulphur matches. But the tremendous cold had already driven the life out of his fingers. In his effort to separate one match from the others, the whole bunch fell in the snow. He tried to pick it out of the snow, but failed. The dead fingers could neither touch nor clutch. He was very careful. He drove the thought of his freezing feet, and nose, and cheeks, out of his mind, devoting his whole soul to the matches. He watched, using the sense of vision in place of that of touch, and when he saw his fingers on each side the bunch, he closed them -- that is, he willed to close them, for the wires were down, and the fingers did not obey. He pulled the mitten on the right hand, and beat it fiercely against his knee. Then, with both mittened hands, he scooped the bunch of matches, along with much snow, into his lap...
Members of The Mark Steyn Club can hear me read the conclusion of To Build a Fire simply by clicking here and logging-in. Part One can be found here. Steyn Club member Kate Smyth writes in praise of last night's intro to our tale:
Mark's introduction is fascinating (so too is the prelude for A Christmas Carol), and very much enhances his vivid retelling of the story. Just dusted-off Mary S Lovell's The Mitford Girls for rereading..! Looking forward to Part Two! I also listened to Plum Duff again, which is a modern masterpiece in storytelling.
Thank you, Kate. I always get questions about the music I've picked out for each story. Steyn Club First-Day Founding Member Michelle Dulak writes:
Mark, if I may ask, what's the music? Not your opening Elgar, but the bit that comes after. I'm living here in a house containing many thousands of classical CDs, but that snippet eludes me. OK, it's full orchestra, with choir (you can hear it coming in just at the end), and I imagine I could place it within a couple of decades, but ... really, what is it? Enquiring minds want to know!
Well, Michelle, it's from SĂ¸vnen, composed by Carl Nielsen and first performed in Copenhagen in 1905 - or the midway point between Jack London's first attempt at this story in 1902 and the final version published in 1908. "SĂ¸vnen" is Danish for "sleep".
We'll be back later this month with the second half of our wintry double-bill of frosty fiction - this time with another celebrated story from the other side of the Northern Hemisphere, Russia. Meanwhile, if you've yet to hear any of our Tales for Our Time, you can do so by joining The Mark Steyn Club. For details on membership, see here - and, if you're seeking the perfect present for a fellow fan of classic fiction, don't forget our limited-time Steyn Club Gift Membership, which includes a personally autographed book or CD set from yours truly.
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