The Star Rover
by Jack London
Category: Fiction / General
329 pages; ISBN: 1573926957
Rating: 9/10 (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: Paul Lappen
This is the story of former college professor Darrell Standing, serving a life sentence in San Quentin for murdering a colleague. Another prisoner, Cecil Winwood, convinces forty other convicts to join him in a jailbreak. At the appropriate time, the guards capture everyone and throw them into solitary (little better than a dungeon). They knew about the jailbreak ahead of time, because Winwood had turned stool pigeon in hopes of reducing his sentence for forgery. All of the “conspirators” are beaten by the guards, including Standing, some to the point of becoming permanent physical or mental cripples. Winwood then tells the warden that a supply of dynamite to be used in the jailbreak is hidden somewhere in the prison and only Standing knows the location. He then finds himself the subject of torture by the warden and guards, including, among other things, being left in a strait jacket for days at a time. Of course, there is no dynamite.
He escapes the pain and torment by astral travel, withdrawing into dreams of his past lives during his “eternal recurrence on earth.” At one time, he is a nobleman in medieval France. Another time, he spends years shipwrecked on an outcropping of rock barely one-half mile square in the middle of the ocean; his only possession was an oar on which he wrote his tale. While in prison, he got word to a famous museum that just happened to have that oar in storage. Still another time, he is an Englishman living in 1600s Korea. For a time, he is a trusted friend and confidante of the Emperor. When the political winds change, he and his Korean wife are made outcasts by the new Emperor. For twenty years, they are forbidden to leave Korea, and they are also not to receive any assistance from the local population.
Back in the real world, during one of his periodic beatings by the guards, Standing, having wasted away to a bag of bones, is able to defend himself just enough to give one of the guards a nosebleed. For this “assault,” he is sentenced to hang, not for killing his college colleague.
Having spent time in prison for vagrancy (today it’s called “being homeless”), this is London’s attempt to expose the horrors of prison. It’s not his most famous novel, But it’s still very poignant and thought-provoking, and is well worth reading.