Literary Fight Club – Jack London vs. John Irving

(4)  Jack London (Realistic Boxing) vs. (5) John Irving (Quirky Wrestling)

This here is the classic contrast of styles: wrestler versus boxer; 500 pages of quirky character development butting heads with 200 pages of terse adventure prose; Garp in battle with Fang (dual meaning, you shall soon see). These two scribes are likely to stir up the partisan juices in both literary and fight fans.

Jack London

Jack London

London was reputed to have an amateur boxing pedigree, but records being what they were over a hundred years ago, this is hard to document. In any case, he was an avid boxing fan who, much like Hemingway after him, was known to seek sparring matches with pretty much anyone fortunate enough to cross his besotted path. His main sparring partner was his pugnacious wife, which compelled the turn-of-the-century gentleman to develop a much better defense than offense. Also worthy of mention in things athletic, London waged a life-long war with John Barleycorn, eventually succumbing to alcoholism.

John Irving

John Irving

Irving, being a modern man, possesses a relatively well documented wrestling history, having nearly won a New England high school championship in the 133 pound weight division. While attending the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop, he frequently grappled with the fabled Dan Gable. There are photos extant that show Gable leg sweeping Irving some 15 feet into the air. This all proves at least three things: John Irving is a bad man on the ground, smaller than Jack London, and he got his ass beat on a regular basis by the baddest wrestler on the planet. His fighting moniker, me thinks, shall be “Garp.”

Keeping in mind that, due to their ubermenschen ability to cut weight, a 133 pound wrestler is really a 158 pound man, Garp probably gives up some 25 pounds (and considerable reach) to Fang. The larger knows enough to keep the smaller man at the end of his jab, and in the early going he does so successfully. Garp, however, has been trained to keep his weight low, and thus keeps his chin out of harm’s way, taking most of the punches on his forehead as he bends at the knees.

When Fang takes to stabbing his jab at the smaller man’s eyes, thus opening up a cut on his brow, Garp moves to close the gap. Having learned to box in an era when clinches were a normal activity, Fang welcomes the clinch as if it were a respite, thinking he’ll lean his greater weight on little Garp and target the body with body blows. Marquis of Queensbury be damned, Garp surprises his antiquated foe with a vicious foot sweep, subsequently landing on top of Fang in side control.

Garp’s plan is to maintain top control without taking unnecessary risks, but he finds Fang an unwilling partner in his sweaty-man-mat-dance. Having spent many an evening on the Barbary Coast, Jack has few qualms—make that no qualms—about barring no holds. Garp soon regrets having entered this fight with a healthy coif of bushy hair, two eyes, and a full set of testicles. Utilizing fingers, teeth, and a firm nut sack grip, London renders Garp’s occupancy of top position a surprisingly unappealing advantage. But perhaps he goes too far when he begins to nosh on Garp’s ear.

One should never underestimate the resiliency or conditioning of a wrestler, nor the lack of both traits in a lush. Aching in his lower regions though he is, Garp is especially offended (and motivated) by London’s foray into cannibalism, and offers a head-butt and two insistent forearms as rejoinder to the opposing author’s teeth. The more London fouls, the more Garp aggressively pursues his ground & pound techniques. Initially, London welcomes the gutter fighting, and he even regains his feet on several occasions. But every time London attempts to land his right hand, Garp shoots under for his legs and a takedown is the result.

Being tossed and dragged to the ground by a well conditioned wrestler is an arduous adventure best not taken on by one who prefers training in saloons. Fatigue, as the sages say, makes cowards out of all men. Observing the cause and effect relationship between his fouling and Garp’s retaliating, London eventually decides to acquiesce to his foe’s grappling superiority, noting that when he refrains from eye gouging, the other man is reflexively less insistent on the pounding and the choking. Quirkmaster Garp is thus satisfied in pinning the adventure hero to the ground, and gradually lays and prays his way to a unanimous decision, but not without alienating many fans, who find his fighting style decidedly less pleasing than his prose.

About Jeremy

I own a bookstore. I run. I fight. I family.
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2 Responses to Literary Fight Club – Jack London vs. John Irving

  1. peter daly says:

    I have read widely on Jack London’s life and I have to refute the statement that he was an alcoholic.He died of kidney disease, not related to any liver complaint and if anything was disappointingly ( in the context of drunken poets/writers) teetotal.

  2. Jeremy says:

    Thank you for your observation, Peter. Have you ever read London’s: John Barleycorn: “Alcoholic Memoirs”? The title is a little suggestive.

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