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H O W A R D L A C H T M A N University of the Pacific Man and Superwoman in Jack London’s “The Kanaka Surf” The far western frontier of Hawaii and the islands of the Pacific provided the master of the Snark many fertile sources for his story­ telling.1 In these exotic seas and fabled islands, Jack London found a new world to continue his exploration of the mysteries by which man becomes “a member of the kingly species that has mastered matter and the brutes and lorded it over creation.”2 One of the most memorable of these Pacific sources for London was the awe­ some spectable of Waikiki’s giant surf, called the Kanaka. He had already recorded his first impressions of the big wave in “A Royal Sport,” a superbly evocative essay notable as an example of his 1 London’s principal South Sea fictions are the novel Adventure (1911), and the short stories collected in South Sea Tales (1911), A Son of the Sun (1912, The House of Pride (1912), and On The Makaloa Mat (1919). A personal account of the richness of his Pacific phase is evident in his travel book The Cruise of The Snark (1911), and more than apparent in his letter of October 28, 1916, quoted by Chairman London in her Book of Jack London (New York, 1921), pp. 373-374: W hen I lie on the placid beach of Waikiki, in the Hawaiian Islands, as I did last year, and a stranger introduces himself as the person who settled the estate of Captain Keller; and when that stranger explains that Captain Keller came to his death by having his head chopped off and smoke-cured by the cannibal head-hunters of the Solomon Islands in the West South Pacific; and when I remember back through the several brief years, to when Captain Keller, a youth of twenty-two and master of the schooner Eugenie, wassailed deep with me on many a night, and played poker to the dawn, and took hasheesh with me for the entertainment of the wild crew of Pennduffryn ; and who, when I was wrecked on the outer reef of Malu, on the island of Malaita, with fifteen hundred naked bushmen head-hunters on the beach armed with horse-pistols, Snider rifles, tomahawks, spears, war-clubs, and bows and arrows, and w ith scores of war-canoes, filled with salt-water head-hunters and man-eaters holding their place on the fringe of the breaking surf alongside of us, only four whites of us including my wife on board—when Captain Keller burst through the rain-squallg to windward, in a whale-boat, with a crew of niggers, himself rushing to our rescue, bare-footed and bare-legged, clad in loin-cloth and sixpenny undershirt, a brace of guns strapped about his middle—I say, when I remember all this, that adventure and romance are not dead as I lie on the placid beach of Waikiki. a Jack London, “A Royal Sport: Surfing at W aikiki/' in Stories of Hawaii by Jack Lon­ don, Ed. A. Grove Day (New York, 1965), p. 266. Quotations from “T he Kanaka S urf/’ in­ dicated by parenthesis in the text, also refer to this edition. 102 Western American Literature power to render concretely the physics of a natural phenomenon and to perceive, in man’s response to its physical danger, a vivid metaphysical vision of his essential condition: One after another they come, a mile long, with smoking crests, the white battalions of the infinite army of the sea. And one sits and listens to the perpetual roar, and watches the unending procession, and feels tiny and fragile before this tremendous force expressing itself in fury and foam and sound. Indeed, one feels microscopically small, and the thought that one may wrestle with this sea raises in one’s imagination a thrill of apprehension, almost of fear... One had to have his wits about him, for it was a battle in which mighty blows were struck, on one side, and in which cunning was used on the other side—a struggle between insensate force and in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 101-110
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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