Thursday, 25 January 2018

The Call of the Wild - Jack London

What exactly is The Call of the Wild? Well, for a start it's not a novel. It's a novella, barely half the length of a full-length novel. Is it a book for a children like, say, Black Beauty? I don't believe so. The wild element is just too gruesome. Like Black Beauty, though, it is anthropomorphic - our protagonist is the dog Buck, who reacts to things as we think a dog might. That said, London goes much further than Sewell and Kipling. His dog hero is also aware of his ancient bloodline, all the way back to a common ancestor with the wolves and back to the first co-operation with man - startlingly, a sub-human primitive, probably a Neanderthal.

Then there is the actual call. To start off with Buck is a family pet in the Southland. Then he is stolen and sold because the Klondike Gold Rush at its frenzied height and there is serious money to be had for a dog as big and strong and buck. He is brutally broken by a man in a red shirt. Once above the snowline, it is the other sled dogs who teach him his craft. They too have personalities - the evil Spitz, lazy Pike, and so on. There comes a time when Buck knows it is kill or be killed with Spitz, so they fight a bloody battle and Buck becomes lead dog. He is sold on again and ends up with an ill-fated threesome who have no idea what they are doing. Fortune takes him into the camp of John Thornton, the perfect owner. Yet Buck cannot settle. He literally hears the call of the wild - a wolf howling at the moon - and before long he is the leader of the wolf pack, totally at home in the ancestral life of a wild dog.

I really loved The Call of the Wild. Handily this Vintage edition comes with White Fang, so I'll be onto that within a week or so. If it is half as good as The Call of the Wild it will be very good indeed.

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