The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Call of the WildInformation

Goodreads: The Call of the Wild
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1903

Official Summary

Buck, a sturdy crossbreed canine (half St. Bernard, half Shepard), is a dog born to luxury and raised in a sheltered Californian home. But then he is kidnapped and sold to be a sled dog in the harsh and frozen Yukon Territory. Passed from master to master, Buck embarks on an extraordinary journey, proving his unbreakable spirit…

First published in 1903, The Call of the Wild is regarded as Jack London’s masterpiece. Based on London’s experiences as a gold prospector in the Canadian wilderness and his ideas about nature and the struggle for existence, The Call of the Wild is a tale about unbreakable spirit and the fight for survival in the frozen Alaskan Klondike.


See Krysta’s review of this book here.

I’m going to make myself immensely unpopular and admit that “animal books” have never really been my thing, so, since I had never been assigned The Call of the Wild in school, I made a point of ignoring it.  I couldn’t even have told you what it was about besides, generally, it’s about a sled dog in Alaska.  I’m now regretting that it has taken me so long to get to reading it because its portrayal of sledding and animal/human relations is incredibly thoughtful (and not nearly as boring as I suspected it to be).

I know little of Jack London academically, but it’s true that he’s slightly controversial–perhaps in the way many authors of his time now are–for his portrayals of women, Native Americans, etc.  While I’m not really going to address those things in the review because I enjoyed the story in spite of them, and I think a lot of interesting things have already been said on these topics for those who are interested in pursuing them, I do want to note that the story is not without its problems.  (You know, the only female character is a completely worthless ditz who ends up dying from her stupidity–and good riddance, really.)

However, the portrayal of Buck and his “return” to the wild is immensely fascinating.  Though Buck does hover somewhere between being animal and being human, I think it’s safe enough to take this as an “animal story,” at least as one valid reading.  And it succeeds pretty well at that.  London brings us fully into Buck’s world as he goes from being the pet of a judge’s family in the south to being trained as a sled dog in the north.  The journey is long and arduous, and Buck suffers until various masters, yet he excels.  He takes pride in his dogginess and his ability to whip other dogs into shape.  He adapts to the new laws of the wild quickly because fighting and stealing and sneaking are just what one does to survive.  I don’t think I’ve ever felt so attuned to a dog’s mindset, even if Buck is presented as an exceptional dog.

I’m going to group this one with Ivanhoe and wonder why it has been pegged as a child’s story.  The themes are certainly not childish, and the fact that it’s a dog protagonist exploring important questions shouldn’t make the questions or the answers any less “serious.”  This is a thoughtful and thought-provoking book, and I’m definitely interested in reading more of London in the future.

4 stars Briana


10 thoughts on “The Call of the Wild by Jack London

  1. Ellen @ Quest Reviews says:

    It’s so interesting about animal-narrated books and reading level. About a year ago, I was putting together a big post on the subject, but then I realized that I didn’t have the research resources to really construct a satisfying thesis. I miss the days when I had access to JSTOR!

    A year ago, I tried to read White Fang, but gave up because I was bored. I’m not proud of it, but there it is. I’m impressed that you read such high-caliber books so frequently! Are you still in school, Briana?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Briana says:

      I love access to the school library databases! I wish it were more affordable for individuals to subscribe. I guess sometime’s it’s possible to pay for membership at a local university library, and that sometimes gets you access to the databases.

      I’m in grad school right now. The only weird dynamic is that when I’m in school I tend to read mostly the classics assigned because I don’t want to read more in my free time. So I’m going to have to wait for summer for read all the classics I have on my personal TBR list. :p Also, I’m in English literature, so we mostly read American and English stuff, and I want to get to the Russians!


  2. La La in the Library says:

    I was not assigned this book in school either, but as a preteen devourer of all stories horse and dog related this was one I read, and for some reason hated. I think it is the only dog story I have ever not liked. Maybe I should read it now as an adult an try to figure it out. Have you read Where the Red Fern Grows?


    • Briana says:

      Yeah…I was the exact opposite. No interest in dogs or horses. I think I was better off waiting for this one, though. While I don’t have much to compare it to in terms of other dogs stories, I do think the themes are more interesting than the plot, and that would have probably gone over my head if I read this as a kid.

      I have not read Where the Red Fern Grows! Another childhood classic I have missed out on.


  3. Lily says:

    I’ll admit this – I’m not an ‘animal book’ person either. But after reading this review, I think that I’ll try this out!


  4. suzannedavis11 says:

    I taught this book to 8th graders for years. We read it on the level of character development, setting, point of view, and narrative, but did not address the social commentary Jack London was also exploring(although we acknowledged it was there). Within Buck’s story of survival London was commenting on the essential– primitive– nature of humanity. Adult readers should complete some contextual analysis in order to appreciate all levels of London’s novel. Buck’s triumph in the wild portrays the author’s assertions about civilization, not simply a dog’s rise to power among wolves in the Yukon.


    • Krysta says:

      Yes, that’s quite true. We don’t often offer literary analysis like this on the blog because our readers are primarily YA book bloggers, many of whom are hesitant to approach classics because they are afraid they aren’t qualified to speak on them. I find that offering a personal reaction to a classic is often a good way to connect with readers who are blogging because they love reading and talking about books. A post like this is accessible to those types of readers and reinforces the idea that anyone can approach a classic work and have an opinion on the characters, the story, etc without so much fear of being told that they are wrong or misunderstood the book. Perhaps reading literary criticism will be the next step for readers who are hooked by the story!


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