[(essay date 1976) In the following essay, Ward surveys several of London's short stories written specifically for children.]
Jack London is best known as the author of The Call of the Wild and The Sea-Wolf, a handful of short stories about the Yukon and the South Seas, and Martin Eden, the fictional "biography" of a struggling young writer. Yet London wrote children's stories as well as stories for adults. Between 1899 and 1907 he wrote twenty-one stories for the children's magazines; these stories make up the second largest group of works directed toward a single audience in the London canon.
London came to write stories for children because he was looking for a market early in his career and the children's magazines offered him one. In late 1898, when he was just beginning to send out work for publication, London sent a story to The Youth's Companion. The story was rejected, but in September of 1899 the Companion published his "The King of Mazy May," and London's career as a children's writer began. Over the next eight years, he wrote sixteen more stories for the Companion, two stories and a novel for St. Nicholas, and one short story for Holiday Magazine for Children. The children's stories form a cohesive unit in the midst of other literary activities. Because they occur early in his career and because they are the first of many efforts he made to write for specialized audiences, they are important to any study of Jack London's literary career.
London's correspondence indicates that between 1899 and 1907 he definitely tailored or shaped stories for the children's fiction market. In early 1900, he wrote to Anna Strunsky: "Shall now amend a boy's story for the Youth's Companion which they have accepted on condition that I change certain things."1 He changed them, and the story, "Dutch Courage," was published in the November 29 issue of the magazine. The same year, he wrote to Cloudsley Johns that he had "sold Youth's Companion a four thousand word story ["The Lost Poacher"] which they say is the best I have yet sent them."2 In 1902 in a letter to George Brett, his publisher at Macmillan, he mentioned both the Fish Patrol stories "which I had nearly completed for Youth's Companion before I went to England last summer" and a juvenile serial "written a good while before for St. Nicholas."3 These letters suggest that London was aware of the conventions which governed fiction and that he knew he had to conform to those rules if he wished his children's stories to be published. His own attitude toward his children's stories was less than flattering. As early as 1899, he wrote to Johns of his "luck" with the Companion stories. In the same letter he noted pragmatically: "Though such work won't live, it at least brings the ready cash."4
London's ability to appeal to different segments of the American reading public is one of the keys to his...