Goodreads: The Call of the Wild
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.
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.