Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Man Who Persevered

Comment in another person’s blog reminded me of a writer I admired in my youth and hadn’t thought about in a long while.

Jim Kjelgaard was one of those many writers who influenced me, and it’s fitting to pay him a bit of tribute here. Though born in New York City, Kjelgaard grew up in Potter County, Pennsylvania, which is less than 85 miles as the crow flies from where I was raised and now live again.

Best remembered today as the author of stories for boys, he was also a prolific writer of outdoor articles and Western short stories.

I was already an avid fan of Jack London, Zane Grey and James Oliver Curwood when a friend loaned me a copy of “Big Red,” probably Kjelgaard’s most famous book and one of the best dog stories of all time. This story about a young trapper and a champion Irish setter blew me away. Obviously it inspired the same feelings in others because it won some prestigious awards and became the basis for a Disney film (which bears tenuous resemblance to the book).

Since I spent a lot of my time roaming in the woods, fishing, hunting and trapping (I liked animals too much to ever be much good at the latter two activities), I felt an immediate kinship with Kjelgaard who had been doing the same things most of his life. Like Zane Grey, he began his writing career with articles about the sports he loved. Impressed by those articles, an editor urged him to consider doing a book for boys.

“Forest Patrol,” that first novel, came out in 1941 and was about a ranger in Pennsylvania’s Black Forest, a job one of his brother’s had held.

Sometime after his first books appeared, Jim received a letter from a fan named “Eddie.” As it turned out, Eddie was the nickname of a young lady named Edna Dresen. After a period of correspondence, Kjelgaard went to Wisconsin to meet Eddie, who soon after became his wife.

As I said, I early felt a kinship with Kjelgaard and since some of my own first published articles appeared in outdoor magazines that alone would be sufficient reason to remember him with fondness.

There’s another aspect of Kjelgaard’s career which is less known. In his youth he had suffered episodes similar to epileptic seizures which were tentatively diagnosed as the result of a tumor. An operation provided temporary relief. But for the last 20 years of his life he suffered chronic pain which eventually led him to take his own life.

When you’re feeling put upon by problems in your writing life consider what it would be like to persevere under those conditions. Despite being in constant pain, Kjelgaard wrote some 40 books, numerous short stories and articles. In a 1960 tribute, Mrs. Kjelgaard said her husband gave family, friends and readers 20 years of inspiring wisdom and courage.

You can read some of his short stories and learn more about the writer at http://jimkjelgaard.com/ and http://home.sprintmail.com/~charterbus/kjelgaard.htm



16 comments:

  1. These moments of community are so important to writers. What a great tribute to the man who inspired you!

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  2. Despite my distaste for "stories for boys," which can be excused by being a different generation :) I love the writers and stories of that time period. It's something we're missing today--too much "Disney" and not enough real life inspiration.

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    1. I think it does Kjelgaard a disfavor to label his writing as strictly 'stories for boys.' He trod a wide road. I do agree about too much Disney, though.

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  3. It's a shame he took his own life...much more excellent writing we missed out on. Cool tribute to a very good writer. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. There might have been remedy for his constant pain today. Thanks for reading.

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  4. Thanks, John, for an inspiring story. Most writers have special authors who gave them the desire to create stories that might provide the same enjoyment we had been given. Very nice post.

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  5. Thank you for that well-written tribute to a writer whose work I know, but never knew his name or story.

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  6. Hi John,
    Wonderful blog. I haven't heard of this writer, but it sounds like I have missed some great reads. So sad that he took his own life.

    Regards

    Margaret

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  7. It's a good thing for us to read about someone like this man who persevered through so much and still wrote so many books. Probably, the writing is what kept him alive. It's sad in a way that he took his own life, but I never criticize when I hear that someone did. We can never know what is inside someone's head and heart. Bless him.

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    1. You're right, Celia. Depression over pain is a killer.

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  8. I probably read Fire Hunter four or five times when I was a kid.

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