I read this book before. I must have, right?
Jack London’s The Call of the Wild is the almost timeless story of Buck, a St. Bernard/Scotch collie mix breed that is dognapped from his domestic life in California and sold as a sled dog in the rough, brutal emptiness of the Yukon wilderness during the gold Rush. I mean, who hasn’t read this? We all know the story.
For the life of me I can’t ever remember reading this. I’m 46 years old now and it baffles me that I never read this. When a free e-book of The Call of the Wild popped up in an email from Early Bird Books, I quickly download it to read later. (Don’t know about Early Bird Books??! Click here. Get great deals and free classic e-books. Every day.)
I’ve been heavily into books that take place on Mars this year; no less than seven novels dealt in some way with the Red Planet. I needed to cleanse my reading palate and getting back down to old terra firma was just the fix. The Call of the Wild seemed like the obvious choice and the time was right to revisit an old classic.
As I dove into the pages, I realized that I didn’t have any recollection of reading this before. But I knew the story: Domesticated dog gets thrown into the wilderness, overcomes hazardous obstacles to finally embrace the “wildness” in itself and learns how to be free. So it was either amnesia or the simple truth that I never read it. In either case, how great it was to be surprised by the timeless writing of Jack London! Sure, the novel is set in the Yukon during the 1890’s Gold Rush, yet the simplicity of the story lets it age well. So many novels nowadays talk about heading into the wild, renouncing our wi-fi, smart phones and electronic gadgets. I will wager that many of the “wild” areas of the Yukon still lack these everyday amenities we take for granted.
Clocking in at about 120 pages or so it won’t take long to read, but you will find yourself savoring every sentence. London’s imagery of the Northwest Territories is so breathtaking that you can feel the cold of the snow , smell the pines of the forest, and hear the howls of the wolves. While London’s magnificent writing ability transports you to the harsh wilderness of the Yukon, he masterfully does so without wasting many words.
The novel is a classic example of the pastoralism of the day (or even today it seems) and the desire to get back to nature and our ancient roots. As Buck endures his tribulations- learning the Law of Club and Fang, battling for the Alpha dog position- he slowly reverts back to his primordial instincts. In the end, Man, his former master and the secondary character of the novel, is unable to adequately tame the wilderness. In fact, the only man Buck feels any kinship with is James Thorton, who lives “close to the earth”. Only by shedding his civilized nature does Buck adapt and survive.
What I did not like about the novel: Very little actually. Some of the descriptions and actions of characters fell into common literary tropes of the day. The only female in the novel is a hapless, nagging fool that relies on men to rescue or take care of her. I’ll give London a pass here though, because the men she relies on are no better than her. Many of the humans are simple caricatures. They serve the purpose of moving the story along.
If you are like me and you “Think” you’ve read the Call of the Wild, but you aren’t really sure, do yourself a favor and (re)read this classic. And if you have read it, pick it up again. Head the Call.
Five Stars Out of Five. Classic.