Sunday, November 8, 2009

Book Review ~ Call of the Wild

I'm into Month Five of the Great Canadian Book Challenge. Participants are to read and review 13 Canadian books over the course of a year, and since this is a dog blog, all 13 of my books will be about dogs. John Mutford, organizer of the Challenge, suggested I give Jack London's The Call of the Wild a go. I remember having this book as a child. I never did read it, though, and it's probably good that I didn't. I would have been scarred for life. I have no idea why it is marketed as a children's book.

The Call of the Wild lays claim to its Canadian-ness through its geography. London himself, of course, was American, and the book's main character, a Shepherd/St. Bernard cross named Buck, is also American. However, except for the opening pages, the book is set in the Canadian Yukon, during the Klondike Gold Rush. Although I have my master's degree in history, most of my knowledge of the gold rush comes from a history reality program, called "Klondike: Quest for the Gold" which aired on History TV and PBS in 2003. Having some background knowledge is helpful as London doesn't spend a lot time describing the the gold rush itself. Buck's journey is absolutely heartbreaking, but without the background, it seems as though this story is being told because it is exceptional - "a remarkable journey of courage" or some such hackneyed Disneyfied expression. But the sad truth is that most sled dogs probably experienced the same hardships as Buck during this era.

The book opens with Buck being dognapped from his comfortable home in California. He is sold to work as a sled dog in the far north. Buck is a quick learner, and adapts quickly to life on the trail. However, he experiences much hardship, including the frigid northern cold, vicious dog fights, brutal beatings from humans, starvation, overwork, and the loss of his comrades. It is above all an adventure story, a tale of adapting in order to survive harsh experiences.

Although the narration is in the omniscient third person, the bulk of the story is about Buck and his relationships with other dogs and a few humans. Because of this, there is very little dialogue. I appreciated reading a "dog book" that actually focussed on dogs for once!

My final analysis: I can understand why this is considered London's masterpiece. But that doesn't mean I have to like it. I'll probably keep my copy because it is a classic, but I won't be reading it again. It's just too harsh.

I've googled without success to find out how many copies of this book have been sold over the past century. The best I can do is assure you that it is in the "millions." The full text is also available online, if you are comfortable reading at your computer screen. I read the TOR edition pictured above (4 Canadian dollars, new).


John Mutford said...

I think I read this about 7 years ago. Clearly it didn't leave much of an impression.

I read another dog book recently called "Jack London's Dog" based on his inspiration for "Call of the Wild." I haven't reviewed it yet...