This week I took a detour from the usual weird short fiction and went back to a classic. I think the last time I read “To Build a Fire” was in middle school English—I have distinct memories of some of the kids in class thinking the expression “like a chicken with its head cut off” was just hilarious. You can read the short story for free here…
I really enjoyed this short story! If you’ve never read it, the premise is that a man and his dog are traveling through the Yukon in temperatures of seventy-five below. The MC is quite arrogant, and his actions lead him to have problems starting a fire. It’s a classic man versus nature tale, where you’re just waiting for the foolhardy MC to get his comeuppance. I already knew what was going to happen, so basically just spent the first bit waiting for everything to go to pieces.
Really I read this because I’ve been working on my WIP, and the MC confronts a dangerous blizzard early on in the book. It’s nice to see how a master storyteller like London tackles a similar topic, in terms of the observations and details. It was also just a nostalgic read; this story may be more than a hundred years old, but it definitely holds up, despite one instance of racial language that would never fly in the here and now. Just as I’m not going to dismiss Lovecraft for the infamously named cat in “The Rats in the Walls,” so too am I not going to dismiss London. Hope that makes sense, though others might feel differently.
Anyway, I recommend this short story and had a fun time reading it, even though it’s very different from the other short fiction I’ve been reading lately. It’s the kind of short story that really sticks with you once you’ve read it, so for that I can only give it five stars. 🙂