Jack 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.