Call of the Wild

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.

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About hardlyregistered

The meandering observations of a 30 something guy.
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2 Responses to Call of the Wild

  1. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for 23 years and have never been to Jack London Square, or read anything by the author. I did see the last half of the film adaptation of White Fang, but I don’t think that counts…

    Call of the Wild sounds like it has quite a cluttered ending but great character development. Do we see the world through human eyes at all, or is it all told through the evolution of Buck?

    • hardlyregistered says:

      The narration is third person with Buck being the main protagonist, however there are details about other dogs and background into some of the human characters as well. The humans talk and their dialogue is noted in English, while the dogs whimper, bark, growl, and snap. So, it is pretty balanced in the caricature of most the characters with a few being flatter than others.

      You’re not missing much by skipping Jack London square. There are few restauraunts, and a lot of empty storefronts, including the Barnes & Noble that vanished years ago as the herald of B&N’s current demise. It may have been interesting in the late 90’s but no so much now.

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