Manage episode 342272547 series 2317005
Note: My guest in this episode, Dr. Earle Labor, died on September 15 at the age of 94. Earle was the world's foremost authority on one of the Art of Manliness' guiding inspirations and lights: Jack London. Earle dedicated his career to London scholarship and his work was pivotal in turning London's literature into a subject of serious study. Earle taught the very first undergraduate and graduate courses devoted to London and penned a hundred articles and ten books about him.
Earle not only admired London's devotion to what the author called "the true spirit of romance and adventure," he sought that spirit in his own life. As an undergraduate, Earle started the first weightlifting course at Southern Methodist University and he coached and lifted the SMU team to victory in the 1948 Dallas Open Championships. After college, he and a buddy took an epic road trip, where they did farm work and entered boxing matches to work their way from Texas to Canada. And he served in the U.S. Navy and spent time on a destroyer.
I had the privilege of interviewing Earle three times for the AoM podcast. The last time in January 2020, my son and I drove to Earle's home in Shreveport, LA to speak with him in person. To mark Earle's passing, please enjoy this rebroadcast of that conversation.
The literature of Jack London has long been given the short shrift by scholars. They say he wrote some good dog stories for boys, but beyond that didn't showcase any literary genius or high-level craftsmanship. Well, my guest today begs to differ with this assessment.
His name is Earle Labor. He's the preeminent Jack London scholar and 91 years young. I've had Earle on the podcast two previous times: the first to discuss his landmark Jack London biography, and the second to discuss his own memoir, The Far Music. For this episode, I drove down to Earle's home in Shreveport, Louisiana to talk to Earle about the overlooked literary genius of Jack London and the big themes that London wrote about in his novels and short stories. We begin our discussion with Earle's story of how he became a Jack London scholar and why London's work was historically neglected by academics. We then dig into London's literary themes by first discussing how he used the Klondike as a symbolic proving ground for men and how success in this wilderness depended on one's ability to mold oneself to Jack's "Northland Code." Earle uses excerpts from my favorite London story, "In A Far Country," as well as "To Build a Fire" and The Call of the Wild, to showcase the tenets of this code, and well as London's literary artistry.
Earle then explains how London shifted his themes later in his career with his agrarian writing, how his wife Charmian changed his perception of real women and his female characters, and the influence that psychiatrist Carl Jung had on London's last works.
Consider this episode a masterclass on the literature of Jack London.
Resources Related to the Episode
- Earl's biography of Jack London
- My first interview with Earle about Jack's epic life
- My second interview with Earle about "The Era of Bright Expectations"
- Martin Eden
- The Libraries of Famous Men: Jack London
- Jack London's Wisdom on Living a Life of Thumos
- "The Symbolic Wilderness" by Gordon Mills
- "To Build a Fire"
- "In a Far Country"
- Descriptions of Manliness: Jack London
- AoM series on Jack London's life
- "The Sentinel" by Arthur C. Clarke