The Klondike Echoes Down through the Literary Years

The Klondike has been the inspiration for a great deal of fiction since the Gold Rush, beginning with Jack London, who came with the Stampeders and left with a mother-lode of inspiration that would make him the wealthiest name-brand author of his generation.

A decade later, the same inspiration seized a quasi-hobo and reluctant bank clerk, making him one of the best selling writers of rhymes in the 20th Century.

Robert Service was well aware of the disdain in which he was held by the literary poets of the world, and so generally didn’t bother to claim kinship with them. He was to them as Robert Bateman is to the fine art establishment.

In 1998 Canadian novelist Robert Kroetsch, who spent some time in the North, celebrated the Gold Rush Centennial by publishing The Man From the Creeks, a fictional retelling of the “true story” behind one of Service’s most famous poems, “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.”

It’s a delightful novel, told from the viewpoint of a naive teenager who doesn’t quite understand what is going on.

Sticking with the Gold Rush period, let me recommend the Klondike Mystery series by Vicki Delany. Her heroine, Fiona MacGillivary, is co-owner of the Savoy Saloon and Dance at the height of the action.

Gold Digger, Gold Fever and Gold Mountain are the first three books, and they chronicle a summer of murder, theft and kidnapping, more major crimes than actually happened in Dawson during the boom years of 1898-1902. They have a good sense of the setting and are good light reading.

Talking at the Woodpile is a collection of loosely connected stories set in Dawson and Rock Creek, by Yukon author David Thompson. They are by turns amusing and nostalgic, depicting a place that isn’t really the Klondike, but feels like it could have been.

Thompson recently followed this book with a novel called Haines Junction in which Joshua Shackelton roams all over the Pacific coast before settling in the titular location. He eventually ends up in Dawson and Rock Creek, married to a member of the Halloo family, who had been at the core of Thompson’s first book.

Klondike references even influence science fiction. Robert J. Sawyer’s most recent novel is a hard-boiled detective story called Red Planet Blues, set in a Martian domed city called New Klondike. Sawyer, who was writer-in-residence at Berton House during the summer of 2007, was inspired to create his Martian boomtown after reading about the Gold Rush and deciding to apply for the residency.

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