To Build a Fire

When in doubt, have a campfire.  It has straightened my bent condition many times.

Balsamea Campfire 200512

Yours truly tending a winter campfire at Balsamea in 2005

My favorite passage from the 1908 short story, To Build a Fire by Jack London (1876-1916):

“Working carefully from a small beginning, he soon had a roaring fire, over which he thawed the ice from his face and in the protection of which he ate his biscuits. For the moment the cold of space was outwitted. The dog took satisfaction in the fire, stretching out close enough for warmth and far enough away to escape being singed. When the man was finished, he filled his pipe and took his comfortable time over a smoke. Then he pulled on his mittens, settled the ear flaps of his cap firmly about his ears, and took the creek trail up the left fork.”    


Jack London, 1903, 27 years old

Visit The World of Jack London to read his most read story, as it originally appeared in The Century Magazine, August 1908, when London was 32 years old.

Also get “everything London” at the Sonoma State University (Rohnert Park, CA) The Jack London Online Collection.

Below, you can watch a 6-minute clip of the 1969 screen adaptation of the story.  Or watch the entire 50-minute movie, starring Ian Hogg, narrated by Orson Welles, produced and directed by David Cobham.

In several moments in this clip, I found myself grinning and thinking, “Been there, did that.”  Including post-holing through snow into water — repeatedly, many times over the course of a half mile — and building a fire at my destination to dry clothes drenched from snow and perspiration.  But it wasn’t 75 degrees below zero.

The story shows that in one critical aspect building a fire is like buying real estate or starting a business.  It’s about location, location, location …

Recommended reading:

  • In the blog, What I’d Like My Son To Know, Christine Severn offers a comprehensive review and analysis of To Build a Fire.  Her thoughts are engaging and impeccably written.  This blog is a bountiful legacy to leave her son.  Sadly, as of today, its last post was in November 2012.  I’ve clicked “follow” on it anyway.  She may pick up the pen again.