a-thousand-deathsA THOUSAND DEATHS (1899) – This story was the first published work by Jack London and it definitely shows, but it still has certain merits. The protagonist – who is never named – is the scion of a wealthy British family. Feeling stifled by his rigid upbringing he ran off in his teens to roam the world. He’s fallen into various shady professions over the years and now at age 30 he’s begun having regrets.   

His latest misadventure involved diving off a ship he regretted signing onto as soon as he sobered up and as soon as the vessel left San Francisco Harbor. Our hero miscalculated the distance back to shore, however, and now faces the prospect of drowning.

a-thousand-deaths-2He seems to feel himself going under but then wakes up after an indeterminate time on board a luxurious yacht. The man has various tubes and wires connected to his body and soon learns that he has been saved from drowning by the crew of … his estranged father. That father (who also goes unnamed – it’s early Jack London all right) fails to recognize his son because of the changes the younger man’s rough life has inflicted on him.     

Our protagonist (If that IS his real name – I’m kidding.) uses a phony name to hide his identity from his father. And Jack London apparently felt that even that alias was none of our damn business so don’t ask. The undercover son learns from his oblivious father that he really HAD died from drowning, but his father – a mad scientist – used the machines he’s strapped to, to literally bring him back from the dead.  

In the following weeks the mad scientist teaches the rescued man enough information about his advanced science to serve as his technical aide. When the ship at last arrives at the uncharted South Seas island owned by the wealthy madman our anonymous protagonist learns the dark purpose behind their journey.    

The hero is far from civilization and is completely in the power of his deranged father and his hired guards. The mad scientist coldly explains to his captive that – since he would have died anyway if not for him – the scientist will have no qualms about using him as a human guinea pig in his further experiments. 

The island’s laboratory is appointed with all of the madman’s futuristic science and he intends to test the limits of his resurrecting devices by killing the younger man over and over again and then bringing him back to life. When or if he happens to die permanently from the experiments the doctor will simply move on to another human subject. 

As the preparations begin our now-paniced hero desperately tries to convince his estranged father that he is his long-lost son. At first the father refuses to believe it, but then is at last convinced. After false feelings of relief our protagonist learns his father has decided that his relation to his experimental subject is irrelevant.

He already has biometric data from his victim’s FIRST resurrection and it would waste too much time to start over with a new subject so early in the experimental stage. The nightmare continues for our main character as he gets subjected to death by different poisons and gasses, by strangling, by electrical shocks of varying voltages, by assorted diseases and by drug overdoses.   

Our protagonist’s ghoulish descriptions of his many deaths and resurrections don’t go far enough to set a proper mood but the tastes of the times may not have permitted any deeper exploration. Eventually his father’s experiments on him move into an even darker stage. Prompted by desperation our main character uses his father’s own twisted science to assemble a high-tech weapon right under his tormentor’s nose.  

London fails to exploit the potential tension of not knowing if our protagonist’s wild plan will succeed in saving him or not. The ending is satisfactory and violent enough for lovers of horror but overall the story is underdeveloped to the point that the ONLY figure who is named is the mad scientist’s dog, Dan. The 1939 film Torture Ship is loosely based on this tale. ++


FOR MORE HALLOWEEN ITEMS CLICK HERE:  https://glitternight.com/category/halloween-season/

© Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Edward Wozniak and Balladeer’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 


Filed under Halloween Season


  1. Hi! That is one messed up father and son relationship!

  2. Oh my how awful that would be! Dying over and over again!

  3. Creepy story like that one movie.

  4. When I first read this story a few years ago, I knew I wanted to adapt it as my senior thesis project for film school. Initially, I had wanted to adapt London’s “Odyssey of the North” for my thesis. That was before I learned there were no professional Native American actors working in the Midwest.

    What intrigued me about “A Thousand Deaths” is that it obviously came out of a very personal place for London. I did my research and found out that it might have been inspired by London’s brief correspondence with the man who may have been his biological father, William Chaney. I think London was upset that he never got to know this man, and was struggling with deep Freudian issues at this time — hence, why he dropped out of Berkeley and decided to become a full-time writer.

    Before I made my film, I made sure to watch “Torture Ship”, and boy, is it awful. Those filmmakers in the 1930’s just ruined the story. They took out all the great father/son tension and replaced it with some vague uncle/nephew plot, and an overabundance of obnoxious and pointless supporting characters.

    So, when we made our film, we went back to the basics. We kept the brutality and the core father/son relationship of the story. We also tried to make it more emotional, and give it a more cathartic ending. For our efforts, we won awards for Best Actor, Best Sound Design and Best Up-and-Coming Filmmaker. Not everything about the adaptation was faithful, but in the end, I was satisfied that we did London justice. Someone had to, all these decades after his death.

  5. Pingback: A THOUSAND DEATHS (2014) | Balladeer's Blog

  6. Would you be excited by exchanging hyperlinks?

  7. Roscoe C

    Rough way to get it – killed over and over again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s