The tale told in Jack London’s 1904 adventure romance novel The Sea-Wolf actually begins three years earlier on a foggy night in San Francisco Bay. It was on the last day of November in 1901 that two ferries played starring roles in the worst collision of that type of sea ship in the history of the city to date. Three passengers, a baggage horse and the career of the captain of the Sausalito all went down with the ship that night, but from that disaster was also born one of London’s most beloved and sustained successes.
Inspired by the true life story, the Sausalito in London’s work is transformed into the Martinez and it is the sinking of that vessel that kicks off a novel notable for its working a solid sense of reality out of a story that would seem to be all but impossible in the real world. Originally appearing in serial form once a month throughout most of 1904 in Century magazine, The Sea-Wolf followed hard upon the success of London’s The Call of the Wild to enjoy a sustained sense of popularity that as witnessed its movement from serial to novel to film. In fact, The Sea-Wolf has been adapted into feature films, made-for-TV movies and even a television mini-series with great success.
Part of the reason for the novel’s popularity with producers and viewers is that almost reads like an action movie screenplay. Divided roughly equally between dialogue and descriptive prose and peopled with memorable characters—especially the almost impossibly brutal and nearly satanic title figure, Captain Wolf Larsen—The Sea-Wolf moves relentlessly through a series of memorably delineated sequences toward a conclusion that is both strangely romantic and unforgettably satisfying.