Call of the Wild by Jack London

1852Jack London has been on my TBR list ever since I watched the movie White Fang. I was in middle school and had a crush on Ethan Hawke. I outgrew the crush, but Jack London popped up every now and then while I studied North American literature, and so he remained on my list. Having had to watch far too many Disney movies that feature animals recently, I was hesitant to start reading. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the story. It might not be high literature, but I think it is quintessential of the time and place it was written in. (The book was published in 1903.)

The main character, Buck, is a St. Bernard/Collie crossbread, living a comfortable life in California. With the gold rush in Alaska in full swing, the demand is high for strong dogs that can be turned into sled dogs. Buck is kidnapped, or rather dognapped, and sent to Alaska. He receives several painful lessons in the law of the land, but he is a quick learner and adapts relatively quickly. He has several owners—some better than others. Eventually, he ends up with Jake Thornton—a good man who appreciates a good dog. Their relationship is touching. However, Buck is more and more drawn to the wilderness. As the memories of his domesticated life fade, the call of the wildnerness that surrounds him becomes stronger and stronger.

Jack London is a skilled storyteller. In Buck he has created a believable animal character, and his personal knowledge of Alaska shines through the entire tale. At times, the story is brutal, but it is told without exaggeration and without being overly dramatic. It felt authentic, which I found refreshing, considering how many stories are created simply for their shock value.

While I will probably not rush to read any of London’s other stories, I will certainly recommend this to the kids in a few years.

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11 comments

  1. Yay for Ethan Hawke crushes! I’ve wanted to read this book for a long time, but have been afraid of the violence and that kind of thing makes me cry. But your review makes me think I should just get over it and read the book. What age do you think this would be okay to read with kids?

    • There are two scenes in the book that might be a bit hard to take, but the fact that they are not dramatized makes them easier to swallow. And there are other scenes that definitely make up for the sadder ones. I think a child would need to understand that Nature is not always nice, in order to appreciate the story. So maybe at an age of 12, maybe even a mature 10, but I would probably not go younger than that.

  2. I read this book a couple of years ago and I think my feelings on it were more or less in line with yours. I thought that it was definitely a compelling story with some great moments and an engaging plot. It certainly isn’t the pinnacle of literature, but just because a book doesn’t have a perceived literary merit it doesn’t stop me from giving it a go and enjoying it. Great review!

  3. I read this…sometime as a child, I’d guess around 10-12. I enjoyed it, but eh…12 y.o. what did I know. I have it coming up a bit later this year, so I’m interested to see how I feel this time. Looking back, I have to admire London’s unusual technique, to write from the perspective of an animal. I remember him pulling it off very well. Nice review.

    • I am curious to hear how you might like a re-read. In the past, I’ve been disappointed when I re-read books that I’ve liked as a teenager, but I think this one would hold up well.

  4. I remember liking this book when I read it so many years ago. And, I have thought it would be good to re-read it sometime, along with Lost in the Barrons by Farley Mowat that I read around the same time. Your review is encouraging. I love a good animal story.

    • I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. So a re-read might be a good idea, and it wouldn’t take you long either. I zipped right through it. (And now I will look up Farley Mowat…)

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