I’m way behind on my Classics Reading Challenge, I think. It’s just that my stereotyping the classics as stiff, boring books is so strong that whenever I think of reading a book commonly referred to as a classic, I get turned off and run to the comfort of a fantasy novel. At the beginning of April I treated myself to a trip to Philadelphia and read Jack London’s The Call of the Wild on the way there. I did not expect to enjoy it as much as I did (I do believe this sentence pops up in all my reviews of classic novels). As soon as I read the first sentence, I was hooked and knew I would have to pause reading Mary Norris Between You & Me until I was done.
The Call of the Wild is about Buck, a half St. Bernard and half Scottish shepherd dog, who is abducted from his sheltered life in Santa Clara Valley, California, and traded into the toils of the unforgiving North to repay a debt. Though taken from the comfort and surroundings he knew, Buck proves to be intelligent and resourceful, quickly learning how to maneuver his surroundings and adapting to the changes and strangers he encounters. His adaptability, instincts, observant nature, and large size help to keep him alive and prevent other dogs from picking on him. He is owned by several masters but never loses his independence. After the loss of John Thornton, his master and friend who loved him dearly, Buck loses all vestiges of civilization and returns to the wild as a leader of a pack of wolves.
I decided against a long summary since this story is popular.
The Call of the Wild was quick reading: the novel is short and the story is so interesting that it’ll have you racing along to its end. Who knew that a story about a dog would be so entertaining? The story is told through an omniscient narrator from the perspective of Buck, which was new for me because I can’t recall having read a story told from the perspective of an animal. Actually, I’m not an animal-friendly person so it was interesting to read of how dogs relate to each other, and how London thinks they consider humans.
It is a graphic story about survival and regression to the wild so I wouldn’t recommend it to the faint at heart. There are some scenes that will make some people squeamish since the way of the unforgiving North is that you die if you can’t keep up. Even if a person or animal is able to survive the natural elements, there are still other humans and animals to contend with. And the narrator relays it all so coolly and detachedly that the graphic scenes – like when a single wounded dog is set upon by a pack – are immensely shocking. I had to reread such scenes a few times because I couldn’t believe what had occurred. Indeed I often whispered “What the fuck?!” while I read, which was on buses and trains hence the whispering otherwise I would have shouted it because seriously, What the hell, man! The dogs in this story are badly abused – Buck was almost clobbered to death a few times – so some animal lovers might find this story highly unsettling. Even I was troubled by how the dogs are treated and I’m not so sensitive to animal mistreatment (I don’t like it but I’m not squeamish about it).
Despite that, I liked that London did not hold back or tried to spare his readers the reality of the conditions in the Klondike region back in the late 1890s during the Gold Rush. I prefer to know what happens even if I won’t like it. With that said, I was a teensy nettled at how females are portrayed in the text. The females – dog and human – are quickly written out as soon as they appear. (Skeet, another of John Thornton’s dogs, is the exception.)
Females don’t figure prominently in the story, except for Mercedes, a human, who pops with her brother, Hal, and husband, Charles, to take over Bucks team after their last mail run. Mercedes is so spoilt I was happy when she was written out. Of course, with her and her group London presents a contrast to the other masters Buck has had in the North. Where his former masters are disciplined and prepared for the conditions they will face, Mercedes and her group are simply chasing after gold and are ill prepared for survival in the wild. They are so reliant on the comforts that civilization provides that they have no idea what to do when thrust into the wild. They made me wonder if I would be able to survive in the wild myself with no Google. I would surely die.
The whole time I read I hoped for a ferocious female dog that would make it to the end but that wasn’t to be had in this story. Regardless, I enjoyed the story and I highly recommend it.
Note on the photo: The photo above of the Siberian Husky is by Fox Grom, a photographer who lives in Russia. He took the photos while out walking his dogs, Alaska and Blizzard (awesome names!). Grom’s photographs are beautiful and breathtaking (especially those where the ice and the sky become one). Click on the photo or the links below to see more pictures.
- Reflections on Jack London and The Call of the Wild (bookheathen.wordpress.com)
- Courage and Will Power (thereadingeagles.com)
- A Closer Look at Jack London (mjkeevil.wordpress.com)