THE SCARLET PLAGUE (1912) – Written by THE Jack London. Years ago Balladeer’s Blog reviewed London’s mad scientist horror tale A Thousand Deaths, now I’ll examine The Scarlet Plague, London’s post-apocalypse plague story set in the year 2073.
Jack London opens up this novella with a grim look at what life is like in the aftermath of the Scarlet Plague which swept the planet in the year 2013. Many recent reviews of this book focus purely on the disease angle because of the world’s ongoing Covid experience, but I think they overlook a lot of London’s political and class commentary.
I’ll take a look at the way in which London presented the pre-plague America of 2013 as a dystopia even before the first victim of the Scarlet Plague passed away. The elderly survivor recounting the tale to his grandchildren in 2073 doesn’t describe it that way because he was in a privileged class as an “educator”.
James Howard Smith is that elderly survivor in a world returned largely to hunting and gathering. He is cared for by his three grandsons, Edwin and two others whose absurd names probably contribute to keeping The Scarlet Plague so underappreciated – Hoo-Hoo and Harelip. (?) They get by as well as they can in northern California, raising dogs to help them herd the goats that they raise for meat and milk, and relying on the ocean for much of the rest of their food supply. Primitive weapons like bows and arrows are all they have on hand to use against wild bears and other menaces. Continue reading