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Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A Book and a Movie: The Unexpected (1906) and By the Law (1926)

McClure's Magazine, August 1906
where The Unexpected was originally published
(Chanticleer Books)
no copyright infringement intended


There are those that make toward survival, the fit individuals who escape from the rule of the obvious and the expected and adjust their lives to no matter what strange grooves they may stray into, or into which they may be forced.

The Unexpected was firstly published in 1906, in the August issue of McClure's Magazine. One year later Jack London included it in his collection Love of Life and Other Stories.

The story is based on a real case reported by San Francisco Examiner in October 1900 (double murder and subsequent revenge on the murderer by a married couple). Jack London made from it some unforgettable pages of great literature.

A small group of gold diggers are on the borders of Yukon and get trapped by the bad season. No ship is coming till next spring to take them back to the city. They are five and among them there is a married couple. Suddenly one of the diggers kills two of his comrades and is about to kill also the husband and wife, who succeed to immobilize the murderer. The husband wants to kill him on the spot, but the wife disagrees: justice must be done strictly according to the law, otherwise it would be just another murder. It comes that the two have to guard the killer for several months, risking their lives, till the ship arrives. What follows is an intense psychological drama, told by Jack London in his usual straightforward manner, keeping it down to the fact though the facts are minimal: only a continuous flow of inner thoughts. Thinking about the situation: how to keep control while keeping to the law. Thinking about your own thoughts: how to keep control while your mind is spiraling dangerously. Facts of mind told by Jack London strictly down to the fact.

You can read the story here:



In 1926 film director Lev Kuleshov associated with cinematographer: Konstantin Kuznetsov made a movie based on the story of London: the silent По закону (By the Law). It is a great work of art in its own right, and I would dare to say, a timeless gem. London was keeping a distance to the subject, giving a cool account. In the movie, the camera and the montage scissors become part of the play: the hut where husband and wife are guarding the murderer becomes a claustrophobic universe surrounded by the unleashed universe of the big river outside, at times frozen, at times flooding everywhere, always menacing, always ready to destroy everything around. At any moment the two risk to be murdered by their prisoner, their tiny space risk to be swallowed by the caprices of nature, their inner thoughts risk to be swallowed by madness. Space, guardians, thoughts, like tiny elements at the mercy of much bigger unknowns: an ultimate cinematic expression of the unexpected.





(Jack London)

(Lev Kuleshov)

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