This reading group guide includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Paul Malmont. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. Introduction
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Set in the bygone tropical paradise of Hawaii where Jack London retreated from Hollywood in his 40th and final year, Jack London in Paradise
concerns the conflict between a writer besieged by demons and addiction, and his former friend, a Hollywood filmmaker, actor, and enthusiastic director of Jack London film adaptations, Hobart Bosworth.
Eager to disprove the slanderous accusations made by crooked Hollywood producers and desperate for a new property from London, Bosworth hunts him down in Hawaii to set things straight and offers Jack the chance to make more money than he can dream of—and all he has to do is write a book exclusively for the screen.
But what starts as business quickly unfolds into something much richer, as love, sex, mythology, art, and London’s deteriorating health find Hobart attempting to do more than simply preserve his friend’s career—he must save Jack London’s life.
A romantic novel of sweeping passions and raw adventure set against an unforgettable, sultry backdrop, Jack London in Paradise
vividly imagines the legend of a legendary man nearly everyone knows about, but few actually know.
Paul Malmont, with sharp prose and deep care for his characters, breathes life into this work of historical fiction, imagining the final days of the literary legend of Jack London. Questions for Discussion
1. The happenings in Paradise are expressed through shifting third person narration, moving from the indirect perspective of Hobart to Charmian to Jack and ultimately returning to Hobart. Whose view did you feel most connected to? Which character was easiest to relate to? Who demanded the most sympathy/pathos?
2. What did you make of Jack’s mythologizing his own life? Do you see parallels between his iconic literary status and the last ditch efforts of the betrayed King Kamehameha? Did Dr. Homer or Mano’s relayed mythologies help frame Jack’s life? (Consider Gjöll
, The Twilight of the Gods
, The Fenris Wolf
, and Dr. Homer’s explanations, especially on page 197, of mythology).
3. Discuss the relationships and love that appear in the book. From the highly emotional and unconditional (Jack and Charmian), to the purely physical (Hobart and Alice, Hobart and Charmian, Charmian and the stable hand), and the surprisingly spiritual (Jack and Leialoha), love takes on an expansive and non-exclusive form in Paradise. What did you think of each relationship? Are Charmian’s late-revealed methods and motivations justifiable by love? Was she his true Mate-Woman?
4. Discuss the nature of curses in the book. (Specifically, the superstitions surrounding Plume and Pele). Do you believe that Jack carried the curse of Plume? Or that Hobart subsumed the curse of Pele’s tear from the sailor? Were either of them free of these demons by the book’s end?
5. The incomparable Jack London is the nucleus of Paradise
. Most of the narrative drama can be attributed to people’s reactions and perceptions of the literary legend. Though holding an undeniable power over the cast, Jack is in a constant state of deterioration, weary and ailing from his various afflictions and poisonous medications. Did you find him to be a powerful being? Did you find him at all emasculated or robbed of his near-legendary tenacity?
6. Whose baby do you think Leialoha is carrying? Whose do you want her to be carrying?
7. Dr. Homer talks of the nature of myth, stating, “...all of mythology is rooted in the concept of transformation. Of moving from one thing to another, from one state to another, from one plane of existence to another” (237). What transformations do you see take place in the book? Who seems to evolve or change the most? Do any transcend their own status quo? (Consider Jack, Charmian, Hobart, Mano, Major Domo, Nakata, and Leialoha.)
8. Discuss the fires that devastate both Wolf House and the Before Eden
production. Consider the losses and surprising freedoms that come with both tragedies. Do you think the fires are disasters or disguised blessings?
9. Much of the book speaks to lost Hawaiian tradition and the vestiges of native participation in the old ways. (Especially through Mano and the echoing of his kahuna, and the pithy and graceful dialogue of Leialoha.) What have you learned of Hawaiian history and belief? Discuss the mostly-American characters’ participation and mimicking of these mores and customs. (Jack’s curative journey to Mano’s kahuna, Hobart and Jack’s swim to shore, and the purging of the tragedy of Joy by Jack and Charmian at the secluded birthing stones.)
10. At the end of the novel, with Jack succumbing to illness and Hobart’s feet wrapped in the bones of dead birds, what are your final views of Paradise
? What do you make of Jack entrusting The Liberation
to Hobart? Could you see Major Domo on the crest of a wave? Enhance Your Book Club
1. This piece of historical fiction involves one of the most venerated and prolific American writers of the early 20th century. Read any one of his masterpieces (such as The Sea Wolf
, White Fang
, or Call of the Wild
) and compare the narration and syntax to this imagined insight into London’s psychology and motivations.
2. Charmian London wound up writing a book on Jack’s life, which was eventually adapted into a film by Ernest Pascal (starring Susan Hayward and Michael O’Shea). Watch the film and juxtapose the cinematic portrayal of his life with this literary version. Consider the parallels and differences.
3. Refer to http://www.jack-london.org/02movielist.htm for a comprehensive list of Jack London novels and stories that have been interpreted theatrically. Watch any number of these films. Taking into consideration that much of Hobart’s motivations are to translate Jack’s masterpieces for the screen, see how the real-life adaptations stack up.
4. Paul Malmont received much acclaim for his debut novel, Chinatown Death Cloud Peril
. Read a review of it here: http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/reviews/2006-06-19-chinatown-death-cloud_x.htm and use his first foray into interpretive fiction/narrative history as a companion piece.
5. For those with the means, the time, or the enthusiasm, escape to Paradise (the Hawaiian Islands), and visit some of the Hawaiian sites traversed within the text. At the very least, find peace and enjoy the warm kiss of the sun! A Conversation with Paul Malmont1. Has Jack London always inspired you? How did your feelings about him change throughout the course of your research and writing this novel?
I’m a relatively recent convert to Jack London, having rediscovered him only about a dozen years ago. Like many people I’d only read him when I was younger and even then only what I call the “dog stories.” Once I read John Barleycorn
, though, I was totally hooked by the incredible life this man had lived, and how he had poured all his adventures into his writing. Throughout the work my admiration and respect for him as a writer only grew.2. This novel obviously required an extensive amount of research and submersion into the life and literature of a legend. How familiar are you with Jack’s catalogue? What was the research process like for an undertaking of such breadth?
Well, now I’m an expert, but I certainly wasn’t when I started. I began by reading some of Jack’s more well-known works that I wasn’t familiar with (The Iron Heel, Martin Eden, The Star Rover
), then some biographies, then Charmian’s writings, and by that time I had a pretty good impression about who Jack was and what the story was going to be. At a certain point I had to stop reading and start writing but there was still a tremendous amount of Jack’s writing to go through. So as I was writing I began listening to audiobooks.
In addition to the reading research I also got materials from the Huntingon Library which has a collection of London papers and some helpful curators. I visited San Francisco, Oakland, Glendale, and Hawaii for on-location research (I’ve been to Alaska a couple of times so I didn’t need to go back). All of it came together on the page. 3. Though a work of fiction, one might walk away from the book feeling as though they’ve acquired a certain understanding of the literary master’s psychology. What advice would you give readers in terms of taking this book at face value? How did you negotiate between staying true to your research and interpreting Jack’s personal conflicts?
I would love for readers to come away with an appreciation for the life of Jack London but I don’t want anyone to think for a minute that this is a definitive biography of the man. The way I think of it is that I’ve created a fictional character who happens to be named Jack London, who shares certain biographical and character traits with a real man named Jack London. I’ve explored London’s life through fiction in order to address some of the controversies, paradoxes, and mysteries of that life.
In order to negotiate between fact and fiction I have to look at what’s known about London’s life and look for gaps where plausible events could take place. I know where he ends up, so I’ve got to plot characters and events that move him toward that ending and make it seem like destiny.4. Have you been to Hawaii? Do you consider it Paradise?
I spent a month on Oahu with my family doing research for this book. It is certainly a Paradise. An expensive Paradise. But honestly, Paradise really is wherever I am with my family and we’re laughing. 5. There is a certain sense of emasculation and infantilism with Jack, from his medical afflictions to his impotence to his nearly unbreakable obstinacy towards his own whims and desires. How do you perceive his masculinity and power? Do you consider Jack more of a Wolf or a cub?
I think Jack’s a wolf in captivity of his own making. I thought that the idea of taking someone who was known for being such a manly writer, then deconstructing his machismo and then rebuilding it again was interesting as a character arc. 6. Again on the notion of vast research, what was the process for amassing information and eventually relaying traditional and “native” Hawaiian lore?
Much of my Hawaiian material had to be gleaned from academic books written over the past century. I took a less is more approach which is to say that though the book may appear to be steeped in ancient lore, there really are only a few instances, occurring at the perfect moment, which create the illusion of a wealth of information. It’s important to note that I never try to let the esoteric information get in the way of a great story! 7. What is your favorite Jack London book? What is your favorite instance of a cinematic interpretation of any of his stories?
I was really surprised by how great Martin Eden
was. It was full of passion and fear and ambition – really great. I got to see Hobart Bosworth’s silent production of it at the Library of Congress where the last print exists.
The version of White Fang
starring Ethan Hawke is a pretty exciting film that captures a lot of the best qualities of the story.8. What is your view on love throughout the text? As a reader, one might be inclined to question the relationship between Jack and Charmian and Hobart and Mano and Leialoha. Do you consider Mate-Man and Mate-Woman’s love to be unshakable? Do you intend for the reader to walk away with a definitive answer as to the identity of the father of Leialoha's baby and the nature of Jack’s death?
I think understanding love is one of the great challenges of life and exploring it through art is one of the many ways we come to know about it. The rap on Jack and Charmian was that they had a love for the ages but the truth was that the marriage wasn’t perfect and did have its difficulties, which was interesting to write about it.
As for the mysteries as to whether Jack ever fathered a son outside of his marriage, and how he died, I only wanted to put out some character-based plausible theories. What the reader decides is up to them. 9. What inspired you to delve into the life of “The Wolf Hunter”? From where was the idea for this story born?
I needed to create a story that was at once something that was plausible that London could have written himself and could serve as a not-too-heavy-handed metaphor for London’s life. I don’t draw too much attention to it but the idea of someone who runs with the wolves is a creative analogy to Jack and his work.
At the same time the idea of an America Mowgli who becomes the leader of a pack of wolves is one that I’ve been thinking of in the back of my head for a decade or so now. I decided to donate it to this cause because it felt right. 10. Do you apply Jungian ideas or various mythologies to your own writing? Do you use it as a lens for books that you read/write?
I came to Jung and his theories, as many current writers probably did, through the works of Joseph Campbell who applies a lot of Jung’s theories to mythology. I find that I constantly return to The Hero with a Thousand Faces
to find inspiration or solve a problem. My first two books have been about exploring the creative process and having Jung and Campbell by my side to help me navigate the symbols, archetypes and various states of mind and soul has been essential. 11. Are you working on another novel? If so, is it also grounded in historical fiction?
My next book will be The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown.
It’s a sequel of sorts (though not in the way people might expect) to The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril.
It is also the conclusion to the end of what I call my Imagination Trilogy. If the first book, The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril
was about the redemptive power of the imagination, and Jack London in Paradise
is about the destructive power of imagination, then The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown
will be about testing the ultimate limits of imagination.