AN INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL DYER, Ph.D.
Educator and Author
Please trace the origin of your interest in Jack London.
Back in the 1950s I read The Call of the Wild — over and over — in its Classics Illustrated comic book form, and in high school — for a reason I cannot remember — I read Martin Eden in my free time in study hall. I loved that novel and believe that it was the first "serious" book I ever read on my own. Later, when I was teaching middle school, Call was in our 8th grade literature book, and I taught it with great pleasure for fifteen years or so. The more I taught it, the more interested I became in its historical background, and when I learned that my own great–grandfather had gone to the Klondike (and kept a diary), well, I was firmly hooked.
In higher education American literature studies, does London have a high "standing"?
I've not been in that world for some years, but I have no reason to believe that London has any greater presence that he ever did — i.e., a minor one. I'm not sure this will improve anytime soon, principally because he is, in many of his works, not PC — to say the least.
In teaching London's works, what do you emphasize and hope your students understand?
When I'm teaching writing, I like students to recognize the various ways they can incorporate their own experiences into fiction and nonfiction. London was a master of this. When we're reading London, I want students to explore the themes and conflicts in his stories. What do these characters want? How do they go about acquiring it? (Pretty fundamental things.)
Aside from the "He was a writer of dog stories" canard what are some of the misunderstandings about London and his works?"
I think most people are unaware of his South Seas stories. I think most people are unaware of the impressive range of his interests.
Jack London's real-life world, from the turn of the century to the First World War, seems "dated" to young readers who know nothing of the Klondike or socialism. What is there in his work to appeal to a new generation of readers?
London's best stories deal with themes and situations that will never become irrelevant. Buck's struggle to survive, to realize his destiny, to become what he must become — how can any young person not identify with that? Martin Eden's fierce struggle to achieve his own dream — and then his discovery of the emptiness of fame. . . who could not sympathize?
Are there untapped areas of London scholarship? Please give some examples of research that needs to be done.
I think a wonderful research project would be for some enterprising scholar(s) to head to the South Pacific to visit the sites of the stories and to see what is there now. Re-tracing the Snark voyage would be another great piece of research.
What are your own current areas of London research?
I've not done much since 1997. At that time I researched and wrote a young adult biography of Mary Shelley (still a-lookin' for a home with a publisher) and have begun work on Edgar Poe. I still teach London — still stay in touch with a number of scholars — still monitor the Listserv, but that's about it. Oh, and I did do some work on W. H. Chaney, discovering that his grave in Chicago is no longer marked.