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Boys Who Will Never Grow Up

BLOG #32, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

BOYS WHO WILL NEVER GROW UP

OUR EPIDEMIC OF PETER PAN-ISM

August 9, 2017

Lead Illustration for Ben Sasse’s article, “Perpetual Adolescence.”

All around us we see boys mired in adolescence who are increasingly unlikely to ever grow up. In order to keep current as a historian of ideas, I read from a wide variety of books, magazines, and newspapers. But none of them provide the level of wisdom I find in the “Review” section of the Wall Street Journal weekend edition. Several months ago, the lead article was titled “Perpetual Adolescence: And What to Do About it” (May 6-7, 2017). It was taken from Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse’s new book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming of Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance.

Senator Sasse (a former college president), in his book, notes that “What’s new today is the drift toward perpetual adolescence. What’s new today is seeing so much less difference now between 10-year olds and young adults in their late teens and early 20s.

“As many parents can attest, independent adulthood is no longer the norm for their generation. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that we crossed a historic threshold last year: ‘For the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 years were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.’ Fully one-quarter of Americans between 25 and 29 live with a parent—compared with only 18% just over a decade ago.”

As for reasons, Sasse references the economy, our incredible wealth and the creature comforts we are so used to, parental reluctance to expose their children to real work, and the [in his words] “hostage-taking hold that computers and mobile devices have on adolescent attention.”

Sesse concludes that “Our nation is in the midst of a collective coming-of-age crisis. Too many of our children simply don’t know what an adult is anymore—or how to become one. Perhaps more problematic, older generations have forgotten that we need to teach them. It’s our fault more than it’s theirs.”

Truer words were never spoken. All around us I see confirmation of Sasse’s conclusions. Both nationally and in our Colorado communities, I see businesses closing because they can’t get able-bodied teens and young adults to accept work opportunities. Just two weeks ago, there was a story on evening TV news about the many Louisiana fishermen who are losing an entire fishing season because they can’t get enough people to work on their boats.

This situation so reminds me of Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), and his monumental work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (published during 1776-1788). In it, Gibbon famously postulated that Rome (one of the greatest nations in all history) began declining at the point when prolonged affluence and power resulted in its citizens paying foreigners, slaves, and down-and-outers to fight their wars for them, when faith in a Higher Power began to erode, when families began to collapse, when hedonistic pleasure replaced the work ethic, etc. By extension, if we wish to apply these reasons for Rome’s decline to America, it would be hard to deny that the generations that fought World War I, were savaged by the pandemic dubbed “The Spanish Flu” (killed, according to Time, 50 million to 100 million people at the end of World War I), and fought World War II, were indeed America’s “Greatest Generations.” And tragically, unless there are major course corrections in the very near future, according to Gibbon’s formulae, America’s greatest days are behind us.

Sobering indeed!

We will continue next week.

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C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”

BLOG #31, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #68

C. S. LEWIS’S MERE CHRISTIANITY

August 2, 2017

Macmillan Publishing Company

In order to understand the setting of Mere Christianity, and C. S. Lewis’s motivation to write such a book, it is necessary for me to first write a preamble.

PREAMBLE

THE EVE OF WORLD WAR II

Especially for Europeans, it was one of the darkest periods in modern history. On March 14 of 1938, Hitler’s troops marched into Vienna, and Austria was independent no longer. That was the lead domino. When Europeans did nothing about it, a now emboldened Hitler annexed the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. When England’s Prime Minister Chamberlain weakly objected but put no force behind his words, Hitler realized that no European power was going to stand in the way of his military juggernauts. As for the U.S., no one there wanted to get into another European conflagration. From this point on, the dominoes fell one after another. By November, Hitler stirred up hatred of all Germans of Jewish descent, and began implementing Germany’s monstrous plan to eradicate all people of Jewish descent from the earth.

By early 1939, Hitler shored up his eastern front by signing a pact with Russia, then joined forces with Italy’s Mussolini. Now, the dominoes really began to fall. On September 23, Hitler invaded Poland and split it with Russia. At this, since they had a mutual defense pact with Poland, Britain and France finally declared war against Germany and Italy. Next, Russia attacked Finland. In the Far East, by March of 1940, Japan forced China to accept a puppet regime. By May, Hitler’s irresistible blitzkrieg thundered into the Low Countries—now Denmark, Holland, and Belgium were independent no longer. Norway and Sweden were next. It was now clear that, other than Britain and France, there was no power on earth willing to stop Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich” from taking over the European continent.

With such speed had Germany’s tanks and planes thundered through Holland and Belgium that over 400,000 British and French troops were bottled up in Dunkirk in France, near the Belgian border. The cream of British and French troops would now be forced to surrender or die. Inexplicably, Hitler temporarily halted the assault, giving Britain nine days to accomplish a miracle: safely evacuate 340,000. Truly a miracle that bought time for Britain—but not for France; on June 14, Germany entered Paris—now Britain was left alone, and it was no longer the world’s strongest power, as it was on the eve of World War I. Its male population had been bled dry during that war—so much so that post-war women had pitifully few marital options after the war. And even worse options after World War II. By 1946, there were only two global superpowers (the U.S. and the Soviet Union) left standing.

Now back to Britain’s precarious situation in 1940. Three days after Germans marched into Paris, Russia rolled over the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. On July 29, Germany launched a massive aerial attack on Britain. It was unrelenting. In only three weeks, over a thousand planes (German and Allied) were shot down. London was in flames. By September 30, two thousand planes had been shot out of the skies. By now, Japan, that now controlled China, joined forces with the AXIS powers. In the U.S., FDR ordered a national draft on October 29, the day after Italy had invaded Greece.

1941 dawned with Germany occupying Rumania. The first bit of good news for Allied forces came on March 13, when Hitler shocked the world by overriding the strong protests of his generals and invading his ally, Russia, thus bringing about the German generals’ worst nightmare: having to fight on two fronts at once.

Russia, unprepared for such treachery, was ill-prepared for the blitzkrieging Germans. Eventually, Russia would suffer through 20,000,000 deaths. But Germany suffered mightily too, losing over 3,000,000 men just in the siege of Moscow. Leningrad would lose half its population during seventeen months of bombardment.

On December 7, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. On the following day, the U.S. declared war on Japan. Once the U.S. entered the war, its military flooded into Britain in order to defend it, and join in with the attacks on the AXIS powers. Four long years of horrendous all-out-war followed.

A PIVOTAL LETTER

But back to C.S. Lewis (distinguished professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford – later, Cambridge as well). Early in 1941, he received a letter from James W. Welch, Director of Religious Broadcasting of BBC, asking him if he’d be willing to give four 15-minute lectures on BBC radio, subject: Christianity and the Christian faith. Though Lewis had little interest in radio, he agreed to give five lectures, to be aired on January 11, 18, and February 1, 8, and 15 of 1942.

It was a sober Britain that listened to those broadcasts, interspersed as they were with near constant bombings and aerial dog-fights between Royal Air Force and German fighters. When one never knows from one day to the next whether or not you’ll even be alive the next day, a God who is in control of the universe is about the only life raft left. But what if God is a mere construct—and is only a myth? That would mean that there was no life raft at all! So men, women, and children sat glued to their radio sets to see what Lewis had to say.

Those broadcasts had such an incredibly large listening audience that they (along with two other batches of related lectures) were re-aired again and again during the rest of the war. As untold thousands of American doughboys were shipped in, the numbers of listeners dramatically increased. Churches were full of soldiers making their peace with God. All these broadcasts would later be synthesized into a slim little book titled Mere [meant “essential” back then] Christianity. I submit that it is easily one of the greatest books of the Twentieth Century. For the first time in our modern world, an intellectual Christian dared to step out as attorney defending God’s existence, reality, power, and wisdom to a planet in desperate need of such reassurance. And, as BBC had requested, the lectures were delivered in layman’s language, not in academic gobbledygook.

In my adult lifetime, I have returned again and again to this inspirational treasure chest. Unthinkable that a Christian should fail to read it at least once in his/her lifetime!

Here are a few passages that have meant so much to me:

“You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built. Now, from this second bit of evidence we conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness” (p. 37).

“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: Just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it is dark. Dark would be without meaning” (p. 46).

“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery” (p. 51).

“…every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature, either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself” (p. 86).

“…There is a mark which each action leaves on that tiny central self which no one sees in this life but which each of us will have to endure—or enjoy forever” (p. 87).

“Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions or faith in Christ…. But it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary” (p. 129).

“Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along: and there is room for very little in each. That is what Time is like…. Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another…. God is not hurried along in the Time-stream of this universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel” (p. 146-7).

* * * * *

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) was born in Belfast, Ireland. He served in France during World War I, and was wounded at Arras. During his incredibly fruitful lifetime, he was responsible for some of the bestselling and most spiritually significant books of the century.

BOOKS BY C. S. LEWIS

Rehabilitations and Other Essays

A Preface to ‘Paradise Lost’

The Problem of Pain

The Pilgrim’s Regress

The Great Divorce

The Abolition of Man

Miracles

The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses

Mere Christianity

Surprised by Joy

Reflections on the Psalms

The Four Loves

The World’s Last Night and Other Essays

Letters to Malcolm

The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast

POETRY

Poems

Narrative Poems

FICTION

Out of the Silent Planet

Perelandra

That Hideous Strength

Till We Have Faces

FOR CHILDREN

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Prince Caspian

The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’

The Silver Chair

The Horse and His Boy

The Magician’s Nephew

The Last Battle

You can easily find good reading copies for it has never gone out of print since 1952.

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The Tour de France – Happy 104th Birthday!

BLOG #30, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

THE TOUR DE FRANCE

HAPPY 104TH BIRTHDAY

July 26, 2017

It’s over again and, as always, it’s sad to bid it adieu. Soccer, of course, is watched by more millions than for any other sport. But the Tour is watched by more people lining European roads than is true of any other sporting event in the world. And each year, the crowds seem to get bigger.

For Connie and me, it would be unthinkable to miss one. Fortunately, today it’s possible to pre-record so that we don’t have to miss even one stage. Indeed, for us, the Tour has become part of the very rhythm of our lives.

Every one of the 104 tours has had its own personality, its own uniqueness. This year has had more suspense than we’ve seen in recent years. First, because no one cyclist ever held a commanding lead at any point; even on the eve of the last time-trial, the top three cyclists remained only 27 seconds apart. And even after the time-trial, the still uncrowned yellow jersey, for the first time in history, rode into Paris with less than a 60-second leads over his competitors. It would be Froome’s fourth—an incredible achievement.

Fierce Competitors: Chris Froome, Romain Bardet, and Rigoberto Uran (Denver Post, July 20, 2017)

Second, the two fastest sprinters, Peter Sagan and Mark Cavendish, were dropped from the race after one controversial “push.” With that loss, some of the wattage of the race for stage victories dimmed. The compensation has to do with the competition between sprinters who now had a chance to shine and win stages.

In the end, Chris Froome won by only 54 seconds. 167 riders somehow endured almost 2,500 miles, in the three-week tour, all the way from Dusseldorf to Paris.

Now, I turn to two gentlemen who have become so special to millions of viewers around the world that they seem like personal friends: Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen. Incredibly, this has been Liggett’s 45th consecutive, and the 39th consecutive tour for Sherwen as commentators.

Paul and Phil: Tour’s Everlasting Pair

Wall Street Journal July 1-2, 2017

This year the duo was joined by a new commentator, Christian Vande Velde, who did a splendid job. Behind the scenes is the irrepressible German, Jens Voight, “whose droll takes on the race and racers add much fo the three weeks. “Voight,” who is wildly popular with American cycle fans, attributes much of his cycling notoriety to the way Liggett and Sherwen would rhapsodize about his efforts during races. Voight was well known as a daring breakaway artist who would often launch valiant if doomed attacks.”

Yes, it’s over for another year—but not really, because in our inner archives are stored memories that will never die. And scenes of European roads (especially France’s) that will forever sing in memory.

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First New List of our Books in Three Years

BLOG #29, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

FIRST NEW LIST OF OUR BOOKS IN THREE YEARS

July 19, 2017

Since even I sometimes find it difficult to keep up with all our books (now 96), here is a new listing. This should make it easier when you are looking to order titles you are missing from us.

BOOKS BY JOE WHEELER

BARNES & NOBLE

Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage (2014) [dust jacketed hardback] (a proprietary edition of Howard/Simon & Schuster’s book by the same title. It was stocked deep by all Barnes & Noble stores.

DAVID C. BOOK/RIVEROAK

The Twelve Stories of Christmas (2001) [dust jacketed hardback]. The first twelve Christmas stories I ever wrote, with story behind each story.

DOUBLEDAY/RANDOM HOUSE

Christmas in My Heart Treasuries 1, 2, 3, 4 (1996-1999) [dust jacketed hardback] Rescrambles of stories in core series with different illustrations.

Christmas in My Soul 1, 2, 3 (2000-2002) [dust jacketed hardback]. Gift-size books.

ECHRISTIAN/MISSION

A Bluegrass Girl and Other Horse Stories for Girls (2012) [trade paper].

A Mother’s Face Is Her Child’s First Heaven (2014) [mother stories – trade paper].

Only God Can Make a Dad (2014) [father stories – trade paper].

The Secrets of the Creeping Desert and Other Mysteries for Boys (2014) [trade paper].

Showdown and Other Sports Stories for Boys (2012) [trade paper].

The Talleyman Ghost and Other Mystery Stories for Girls (2014) [trade paper].

FAITH HAPPENINGS

Lew Wallace and the Story of Ben-Hur (2016) [trade paper]. Same as Focus/Tyndale – bio.

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY/HARVEST HOUSE

Time for a Story (1999) [hardback].

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY/TYNDALE HOUSE

Christmas in My Heart 8 (1999) [trade paper].

Christmas in My Heart 9 – 15 (2000 – 2006) [dust jacketed hardback].

Great Stories Remembered I, II, III (1996, 1998, 2000) [hardback]. Great Stories Remembered I awarded Family Television’s highest honor: The Seal of Quality.

Great Stories Remembered Classic Books [Each contains a 50-70 page biography of the author, book introduction, vintage illustrations, and discussion questions at the back.]

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1999) [dust jacketed hardback]

Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace (1997) [hardback, dust jacketed hardback, trade paper].

The Christmas Angel by Abbie Farwell Brown (1999) [trade paper].

The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1997) [hardback and trade paper].

David Copperfield by Chartles Dickens (1999) [trade paper]

The Farther Adventures of Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1999) [trade paper].

Freckles by Gene Stratton Porter (2000) [trade paper].

Little Men by Louisa May Alcott (1999) [trade paper]

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1996) [hardback and trade paper].

Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz (2000) [trade paper]

Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1996) [hardback and trade paper].

The Twenty-Fourth of June by Grace Richmond (1999)

Heart to Heart Stories of Friendship (1999) [dust jacketed hardback].

Heart to Heart Stories of Love (2000) [dust jacketed hardback].

Heart to Heart Stories for Dads (2000) [dust jacketed hardback] – same as Dad in My Heart (1997) trade paper

Heart to Heart Stories for Moms (2001) [dust jacketed hardback] – same as Mom in My Heart (1997) trade paper.

Heart to Heart Stories for Grandparents (2002) [dust jacketed hardback]

Heart to Heart Stories for Sisters (2002) [dust jacketed hardback]

Heart to Heart Stories for Teachers (2003) [dust jacketed hardback]

GUIDEPOSTS

Christmas in My Heart 1, 2 (1996-7) [hardback] Same as Doubleday/Random House Treasuries 1, 2 (hardback).

Stories of Angels Seen and Unseen (1997) [dust jacketed hardback]

HOWARD/SIMON & SCHUSTER

Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage 2008) [biography – dust jacketed hardback]

Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories (2013) [dust jacketed hardback]

Best of Christmas in My Heart 1, 2 (2007, 2008) [hardback].

Candle in the Forest and Other Christmas Stories Children Love (2007) [hardback].

THOMAS NELSON

A Christmas Carol and The Christmas Angel (2005) [trade paper]. (same text as separate Focus/Tyndale classic books).

St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas [with James Rosenthal] (2005) dust jacketed hardback.

St. Nicholas [Christian Encounters biography (2010) [trade paper].

Soldier Stories (2006) [W Publishing House – trade paper].

Tears of Joy for Mothers (2006) [W Publishing House – trade paper].

PACIFIC PRESS PUBLISHING ASSOCIATION

Christmas in My Heart 17 – 25 (2008 – 2016) [trade paper – core series. It is today the longest-running Christmas story series in America].

The Good Lord Made Them All 1 – 10 [trade paper]

Owney, the Post Office Dog and Other Great Dog Stories (2004)

Smoky, the Ugliest Cat in the World and Other Great Cat Stories (2005)

Wildfire, the Red Stallion and Other Great Horse Stories (2006)

Dick, the Babysitting Bear and Other Great Wild Animal Stories (2007)

Spot, the Dog That Broke the Rules and Other Heroic Animal Stories (2008)

Amelia, the Flying Squirrel and Other Stories of God’s Smallest Creatures (2009)

Togo, the Sled Dog and Other Great Stories of the North (2011)

Tawny, the Magnificent Jaguar and Other Great Jungle Stories (2012)

Stinky, the Skunk That Wouldn’t Leave and Other Strange and Wonderful Stories (2013)

Sooty, the Green-Eyed Kitten and Other Great Animal Stories, (2014)

My Favorite Stories

My Favorite Angel Stories (2014) [trade paper].

My Favorite Miracle Stories (2015) [trade paper]

My Favorite Prayer Stories (2016) [trade paper]

My Favorite Life-Changing Stories (2017) [trade paper]

PROQUEST/UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN

Zane Grey’s Impact on American Life and Letters (1975) [hardback and trade paper].

REVIEW AND HERALD PUBLISHING ASSOCIATION

Christmas in My Heart 1-16 (1992 – 2007) [trade paper. Christmas in My Heart 1-4 Finalist: Gold Medallion Award by Christian Booksellers Association].

Remote Controlled (1993) [trade paper]

WATERBROOK/RANDOM HOUSE – Forged in the Fire Series

Easter in My Heart (2000) [dust jacketed hardback]

Everyday Heroes (2002) [dust jacketed hardback]

What’s So Good About Tough Times? (2001) [dust jacketed hardback]

The Wings of God (2000) [dust jacketed hardback – much the same as Guidepost’s Stories of Angels Seen and Unseen].

ZANE GREY’S WEST SOCIETY

Zane Grey Master Character Index (2017) [trade paper]

IN TRANSLATION

ASOCIACIÓN CASA EDITORA SUDAMERICANA [Spanish]

Historias con Angeles [My Favorite Angel Stories] [2017) [trade paper]

ASOCIACIÓN PUBLICADORA INTERAMERICANA [Spanish]

La Tirania del Control Remoto [Remote Controlled] (1997) [trade paper]

CIPTA OLAH PUSHTAKA [FOCUS ON THE FAMILY] Malay/Indonesia (2001)Four books in the Heart to Heart series: Friendship, Love, Moms, Dads

And Quo Vadis from the Classic Book series.

INSTYTUT WYDAWNICZY PAX [Polish]

Œwiety Mikotaj (2010) [trade paper – translation of St. Nicholas]

NORSK BOKFORLAG A/W [Norwegian]

Jul I Vare Hjerter 1, 2 (1997, 2003)

Translation of Christmas in My Heart 1 – 8 (stories) [Rescrambles of stories in Core series].

PACIFIC PRESS PUBLISHING ASSOCIATION – Spanish

Navidad en Mi Corazón (1995) [trade paper]

(Translation of Christmas in My Heart 1)

A U D I O S

FOCUS ON THE FAMILY/TYNDALE HOUSE

Great Stories Remembered I, II, III (Each contains 3 hours of stories) [II and III read by Joe Wheeler].

MISSION BOOKS

Great Stories Remembered (contains 3 hours in 3 CDs)

OASIS AUDIO

Abraham Lincoln: A Man of Faith and Courage [Complete text].

REVIEW AND HERALD PUBLISHING

Christmas in My Heart 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 (each is 3 hours of stories; all are read by Joe Wheeler).

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The Western: An Epic in Art and Film

BLOG #28, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

THE WESTERN: AN EPIC IN ART AND FILM

DENVER ART MUSEUM

July 12, 2017

“Emigrants Crossing the Plains,” by Bierstadt

What an exhibition! It was totally unlike any other such exhibition of western art I’ve ever experienced. Never before had I seen western art, western films, western photographs, pieces of sculpture, off-the-wall artifacts, etc., thrown together in one exhibition.

,”Breaking Through the Line,” by Schreyvogel

According to Denver Post reviewer Ray Mark Rinaldi, “The question the show raises is: Was Western art ever honest? Or was it always propaganda? Was Western life and history ever captured for anything other than its exotic qualities or to sell commercial and political ideas? The stuff could be beautiful, technically amazing and journalistic, but was it ever really art?”

Rinaldi then posed a key question: “Does all of the western art from the last 50 years exist simply to make fun of the western art in the 100 years that preceded it? The answer, according to this exhibit, appears to be a yes—because it skipped a meaningful incorporation of later Western artists who work with the same vistas without dwelling in full parody.”

“A Dash Through the Timber,” by Remington

As for me, I saw much to admire. It is the finest western show I have seen here in Colorado—it must have been extremely expensive to pull off. But the viewer gets a totally different concept of the Old West than would be true in great western art galleries such as the Amon Carter in Fort Worth, the Thomas Gilcrease in Tulsa, Oklahoma City Hall of Fame, the Gene Autry in Southern California, etc.

“The Holdup,” by Russell

The modern tendency to mock the past and its novelists, painters, photographers, sculptors, movie producers and actors, etc., is not a pretty thing to observe. Deconstructionism tears down and discredits but leaves little that is positive after its carnage.

There was some great art. Seeing

“The Night Stagecoach,”
by Remington

Remington’s magnificent 1889 “A Dash Through the Timber;” Bierstadt’s stunning 1867 oil painting, “Emigrants Crossing the Plains;” Russell’s action-packed robbery scene, “The Hold Up;” Charles Schreyvogel’s jolting “Breaking Through the Line” (where the viewer stares straight into the business end of a pistol); and the painting I had long heard about but never before seen, Koerner’s 1921 “Madonna of the Prairies,” was riveting. I could have stood there for hours drinking in its absolute perfection (a young woman crossing the prairie in a covered wagon with an opening in the canvas that transforms the woman into a madonna halo-ed)—it alone would have been worth a transcontinental fight to gaze on it once in a lifetime.

“Madonna of the Prairies,” by Koerner

Kudos to curators Thomas Brent Smith and Mary Dail Desmarais, and the staff of the Denver Art Museum.

The John Ford and High Noon movie exhibits were unlike any other such exhibits I have ever seen as well.’

If you are in Colorado between now and September 10, drop everything, pay your $15, and prepare to spend a day you will not soon forget.

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Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild”

BLOG #27, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #67

JACK LONDON’S THE CALL OF THE WILD

July 5, 2017

Reader’s Library – British Edition, n.d.

The Call of the Wild is the greatest dog story ever written.” –Carl Sandburg

* * * * *

It was a most unlikely beginning for one of the world’s most beloved writers: “It was wedding day for Flora Wellman Chaney and John London on September 7, 1876; Flora’s eight-month-old son, John Griffith Chaney, was present. From that moment on he knew real father love, but never knew who his real father was. Despite the close and warm relationship with John London, Jack always lived under a cloud of doubt as to the identity of his real father.”

–Russ Kingman, A Pictorial Life of Jack London

(New York: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1979), p. 15

Today, with such a high percentage of children born out of wedlock, it may be difficult to relate to earlier generations where, to be born illegitimate was to be saddled with a stigma that never went away.

When W. H. Chaney (an astrologer) was told by his wife Flora that she was pregnant, he demanded that she destroy the baby. When she refused, he walked out on her and left her destitute. Twice, the despairing woman attempted suicide (once with laudanum and once with a pistol). Friends intervened just in time to save her and that of her unborn child.

In later life, even when he became world famous, two clouds would always remain: abandonment by his birth father and a month-long incarceration in the Erie County Penitentiary near Buffalo, New York. Signs were everywhere that tough times were ahead: the financial panic of 1893 would be the worst financial depression until the stock market crash of 1929. London was on foot, admiring Niagara Falls when he was arrested for “vagrancy,” condemned without a hearing, and hauled off to prison. The terrible things he witnessed during that horrendous month would never leave him.

Pocket Book Edition 1959/1949

When he returned to California, London read himself through four years of high school in the Oakland Public Library, a kindly librarian having taken him under her wing. He then enrolled in the University of California in mBerkeley but had to drop out because he ran out of money.

Then gold was discovered in the Klondike in 1897. Within a few days, the Klondike Gold Rush became a madness. Those who could, dropped their jobs and headed north; those who were unable to go, grubstaked those who could. Jack’s brother-in-law, Captain Shepherd, caught Klondicitis too, and offered to grubstake Jack if he’d go along and do the heavy work. It wouldn’t be easy, as Territory officials refused to permit anyone to join the gold-seekers unless each man brought with him a year’s supplies (hence 2,000 pounds for Jack and his brother-in-law).

Once the two of them reached Juneau, they hired space on seventy-foot-long canoes and paddled 100 miles north, up the Lynn Canal to Dyea. Then, at 85-150 pounds at a time (depending on terrain, they’d travel one mile at a time, then return for another load. It would take a solid month to move each person’s outfit 29 miles! Providing the weather held, that is.

Washington Square Edition
1964/1962

 

Captain Shepherd only lasted two days before he gave up and turned back. Another took his place.

I’ll let Russ Kingman pick up here: “There is no way to adequately describe the Chilcoot Pass. Any miner who crossed it would agree that it was literal torture. It took hours to bring each load to the top. The climb up was a nightmare and the scramble back down empty-handed was nearly as bad. Jack tried every way possible to make the packing easier. . . . Each load weighed from 75 to 150 pounds and sat like a demon on his broad shoulders. From the summit to Happy Camp to Long Lake, and from Deep Lake up over the enormous hogback and down to Linderman, the man-killing race against winter kept on. Men broke their hearts and backs and wept beside the trail. But winter never faltered; the fall gales blew colder and colder, and amid bitter soaking rains and ever increasing snow flurries,” . . . they finally reached the beach of Lake Linderman on September 8 (Kingman, 73).

Here they began building boats, and by hand sawed spruce trunks into lumber. By then, the wind had shifted into the north and blew in an unending gale. The boats finally completed, they rowed through a fall blizzard to the other side of the lake. The following morning, they loaded up again and began their perilous traverse of 500 miles of lakes, rivers, box canyons, and rapids.

By early October, they heard that Dawson City was due for a terrific famine because of its mushrooming population and lack of supplies—and furthermore, there were no claims left to stake. Once Jack discovered that Henderson Creek was the only unstaked area left in the Yukon Territory, they staked claims there. On October 18, they camped three miles from Dawson City. It would be during the several weeks that Jack’s party remained in the vicinity that he would meet Marshall and Louis Bond of Santa Clara, California, and their magnificent St. Bernard dog, Jack, that would later become Buck in London’s greatest book.

Then winter hit with a vengeance, and the long bitterly cold nights seemed endless. Most of the time was spent in bunks because the floors were too cold to stand on. Later in the winter the dog-pulled sleds would leave a hard surface to travel on. It would be during this fierce winter that London learned to love and respect the intrepid dogs that pulled the sleds Canadians so needed in order to live and function in the Arctic. By May, Jack had a continually worsening case of scurvy, from lack of vegetables or fruit (their diet being bread, beans, and bacon). It was called “the Klondike Plague.” As his condition worsened, he could no longer walk or work in the mines—if he didn’t leave soon, he’d die there in the Yukon.

Early in May, the ice flow began on the Yukon River—but it was not until June 8, 1898 that London, John Thorson, and Charles M. Taylor left, floating down the mighty Yukon for over 1,500 miles! Twenty days later, they arrived at St. Michael. Since they were out of money, Jack and John stoked coal on a steamer from St. Michael to San Francisco to pay for their passage home (Kingman, 73-83, this section).

Thus London made it back to California dead broke, but with a fortune in his journals and in his head. He’d write bestsellers like The People of the Abyss, The Sea Wolf, White Fang, Martin Eden, and The Cruise of the Snark, but it was the story he brought back with him from the Yukon, The Call of the Wild, in 1903, that catapulted him to instant world-wide fame and fortune, immortalized the great St. Bernard, Jack, as Buck; and, in so doing, spawned the Age of Realism in literature.

No one should get through life without reading it at least once. At only 27,000 words, it is a quick read.

* * * * *

In a cruise to Alaska, Connie and I took the train trip from Skagway to the summit of Chilcoot Pass, and marveled at the almost vertical trail to the top those gold-seekers of ‘97 were forced to climb, over and over and over until they’d each hauled up all 1,000 pounds to the top. And in Juneau, we took a ride pulled by sled dogs. Only, not being winter, it was in a cart with wheels rather than runners. We couldn’t help but notice how excited each dog became as it was harnessed, and how disconsolate the unchosen dogs were.

To us, every sentence of The Call of the Wild rings true. Every year, as we follow the annual dog-sled ritual of the Iditarod, Buck’s story lives again.