Tuesday, 26 July 2011

The Jacket

A slight curiosity of literature: Jack London's 1915 The Jacket (a.k.a. The Star Rover), which is online in various imprints at the Internet Archive (such as ID starrover01londgoog) and Project Gutenberg (Etext 1162). It tells of a university professor, Darrell Standing, wrongly imprisoned in San Quentin State Prison, who is subjected to torture by straitjacket when he is suspected of concealing information about stolen dynamite. He finds he can relieve the torment by astral travel, going through space and time to past lives.

I read it a while back, and it's an odd mix. The framing narrative of Standing's imprisonment is harrowing social realism, based on Jack London's conversations with ex-convict Ed Morrell.  As told later in the latter's 1924 autobiography The Twenty-Fifth Man (see Providentia or The Encyclopedia of American Prisons for an an overview), California's San Quentin was notorious for its treatment of prisoners in the early 20th century.  One form of punishment/coercion was the 'San Quentin Overcoat', a form of torture introduced in 1900 and only eradicated after multiple boards of enquiry and public debate over more than a decade.  But Standing's astral travels are a series of historical fantasy vignettes of varying literary quality; if the Wikipedia article is correct, at least part of the historical material comprised out-takes from a Western historical novel Jack London planned to write.

It was adapted to film twice: in 1923, and in 2005 as psychological / time travel thriller The Jacket.  I saw the latter last night, and it wasn't at all bad.  Structurally it's more coherent than the novel, taking the hero (a Gulf War veteran subjected to experimental treatment in an institution for the criminally insane in 1992) fifteen years into the future, a future in which he finds he died of an explained head injury in 1993. His attempts to elucidate how he died allow him to take information back into 1992 and become an agent of redemption in the lives of others who suffered through wrong decisions in the original timeline.

- Ray

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