The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Odd that I lived in Oakland for 5 years, a city that celebrates the fabled Jack London Square, yet it took five more additional years of living in San Francisco before I ever picked up any of London’s work. A copy of The Call of the Wild had been sitting on my shelf for at least 4 or 5 years, a gift of a friend, but it took another Jack’s wilderness wanderings chronicled in the The Dharma Bums to spark my interest in the adventuring London.
London definitely knows nature and can use the craft of word to transport me, the reader from my city apartment to the distant northern wilds as depicted by this passage:
“With the aurora borealis flaming coldly overhead, or the stars leaping in the frost dance, and the land numb and frozen under its pall of snow, this song of the huskies might have been defiance of life, only it was pitched in minor key with long drawn out wailings and half sobs, and was more the pleading of life, the articulate travail of existence.” (36)
The strength of the novel lies in these earlier passages, from the chapters titled The Law of Club and Fang and The Dominant Primordial Beast. In these chapters, Buck, the stolen domesticated pet, undergoes his transformation into the dominant alpha of the dogsled pack. He does so through trial and tribulation, facing starvation and a relentless fight for survival. London’s mastery works well here, and I feel that the strength of the novel lies in the mysterious descriptions of nature’s allure set apart from the domesticated world coupled with Buck’s struggle to defend his dominance. However, the later chapters are weaker and less convincing because the mystery is lost as London moves us from the fable of transformative dominance of self over nature toward a mythical reincarnation of super beast capable of killing bears, fighting off a horde of armed natives, becoming the leader of pack of wolves, and ultimately transcending life into a fabled image of spirit of the wild.