Friday, November 29, 2013

The Call of the Wild ~ Jack London

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in the Classics Spin #4, in which I made a list of 20 books from my Classics Club list and then was supposed to read whatever book had the number that the challenge facilitators chose.  I was hoping for #1, Persuasion, but They chose #10, which for me meant The Call of the Wild, also known as the shortest book on my whole list (except, MAYBE, for The Giver).  So I finished it in no time and then read Persuasion as well (review to come), giving my completion rate a nice boost.

I had not initially realized this, but The Call of the Wild is about a dog.  Not a man and his dog, but the dog itself.  Which was initially confusing for me because the book starts off by saying how Buck, the main character, doesn't read the newspaper, a statement in itself that makes me think human.  But what do I know?  So Buck the dog is a German shepherd and St. Bernard mix (AKA giant and terrifying) who is dognapped from his California home after the Alaska gold rush (which I didn't know was a thing) and which he would have foreseen if he had read the newspaper like any other country gentleman.  Buck is quickly introduced to the "law of club and fang" as handlers try to break him to become a sled dog.  Buck becomes an excellent worker-dog who quickly leaves behind his privileged ways as he is drawn backwards through evolution to the wild ways of his ancestors.

Let me just get this out of the way - the writing here is pretty bad.  Laughably bad.  So bad that I kind of wanted to put it down even though it's only something like 125 pages.  I didn't though, because that would have been ridiculous and also, it has a decent story.

Once I got over Buck being described like a pompous gentleman, I grew to like a lot of aspects of this story - the the relationships between the different dogs, the differences in dog-handlers, and the Alaskan setting.  This is the same Alaska that I discovered in Into the Wild (which I think is where I first heard of Jack London) and The Snow Child.  I love that.  I don't think I've ever found that kind of consistency across literary descriptions before and while it could seem cheap and plagiarized, it doesn't. It's like there's something about Alaska, about it's wildness, that shines through despite being handled by such different writers at different times.  There's something about this place that can't be denied to fit a purpose or a style.  I'm sure that both Jon Krakauer and Eowyn Ivey drew in some way from Jack London's works but still.  That the spirit of Alaska can pervade all three texts in such a consistent, but not unoriginal way is something special.  I've never been there, but I feel like I have.

I also really enjoyed the characterizations of the dogs.  They are as real and distinguished as people, which their own traits and interests and vanities.  London must have really understood dogs and that shines through.  While at some times the anthropomorphism was over the top, particularly at the beginning, it gets easier to manage.  In fact, I think it happens less as the novel progresses and Buck becomes increasingly wild, which is actually pretty impressive of London, considering the general quality of the prose.

I probably won't be reading any more of London's work, but I liked this one well enough.  I'd recommend it for people who like dogs and/or Alaska.

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