Retrospective stories can touch people on an emotional level, because they provide a level of intimacy that a conventional narrative can’t. It’s as though the narrator is taking the reader aside, perhaps to a place with a cozy fireplace and (if the story is geared towards adults) a nice side table where a few drinks await, to let them in on a secret that no one else knows. If that secret involves adventure, all the better. The challenge when writing a story in this way is that we know the narrator overcame (or at least survived) whatever challenges they faced; the only mystery is what happened to them on their journey – and that journey had better be interesting.
Jack and the Jungle Lion is a retrospective story set during the pre-war golden age of Hollywood, focusing on how Jack Hunter, a dashing movie star reminiscent of Errol Flynn, met the woman who would become his partner. Although on-screen Jack is the sort of man every woman wants to be with, in his personal life he’s a complete cad, unhappily married to Theda Lomond, a former star from the Silent Film era who refuses to admit that her career is on the downward spiral. They live in separate worlds, seemingly married in name only.
Jack’s life changes forever when he is cast as the leading man in a new production to be filmed in South America. On the way, he meets Maxine (“Max”) Daniels, who will be working with him as an animal trainer, and her two children. Jack makes a less than stellar first impression with the practical, no-nonsense woman, but her strong spirit intrigues him in a way that no other woman has. Before he can act on these impressions, disaster strikes in the form of a plane crash. At this point, the story’s tempo switches to something more in line with Jack’s adventure movies, as Jack, Max, her two children, and Clancy (the co-pilot of the plane) must band together to face the dangers of the Ecuadorian jungle. Jack learns just how strong, but vulnerable, Max really is, while he demonstrates to her that he can, in fact, do more than act the part of the hero.
Jack and the Jungle Lion is written in the often-melodramatic style of films from the 1930s and 40s, with obstacles that sometimes seem to come out of nowhere and present the heroes with life-or-death situations, and which are sometimes resolved by luck. “Only in Hollywood,” you might say, but given that one of the main characters is a star from that era, this style works for the story. On the whole, I felt as though I was watching one of those old Flash Gordon or Ray “Crash” Corrigan serial dramas that keep you tuning in to find out what happens next.
Jack’s story also faithfully captures the feel of the Golden Age of Cinema, a time when the fantasy-land aspect of Hollywood had an especially strong pull on the American psyche, which was still reeling from the hardships of the Great Depression and unknowingly standing on the brink of the Second World War. This was a time when dreams were literally being made, and some of the glitz of old Hollywood is captured by the descriptions of the people and places in Jack’s world. Likewise, the descriptions of the jungle, and the natives who inhabit it, are equally evocative. I could picture what Jack and his companions were seeing and doing very easily; although the immersive quality of the story would have been even more powerful if there had been equally strong detail for the other senses.
Overall, Jack and the Jungle Lion is an entertaining read that has a “feel good” ending, but you have a few jumps and bumps along the way in true Hollywood style. If you want a story of classic romantic adventure, I suggest you give this one a look – and check out Stephen Jared’s other works, too.
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