Book review: ‘The Call of the Wild’ by Jack London

By LARRY BALLWAHN | Wilton

As a young man of 21, Jack London was caught up in the gold fever that was the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896–1899. Time spent there didn’t result in finding gold, and contracting scurvy did permanent damage to his health, a fate suffered by many. Time spent in the north, however, proved to be a gold mine for his writing.

“The Call of the Wild” tells the story of Buck, a St. Bernard and Scotch Shepherd mix who is taken from his comfortable West Coast home to the wild north with its barely civilized (man and beast) society. Buck’s parentage made him both an unusually large dog and unusually intelligent.

The large size is what made him a target for the dog-nappers seeking to fill the gold-rush dog demand. The intelligence allowed him to survive the club and fang demands of the Klondike. Men enforced the rules with the club;dogs established their place with the fang. Survival meant negotiating within these boundaries, especially if you were a natural born leader.

By trial and error, Buck became first a good sled dog, and then the lead dog of the team. The job of Buck and the team was to deliver mail to the various outposts. With so many men far away from home, the job was unceasing, with inadequate time to rest.

Buck was becoming aware that he could not count on the people in his life, as circumstances beyond his control resulted in several different masters.

And then it happened. When the team was completely worn out fromtraveling too many miles in too little time, it was sold to a trio just new to the north. They soon proved how little they knew by underfeeding the dogsand asking them to pull a load that was far too heavy and ill packed.

When this proved to be impossible, they beat the dogs. Half-starved and worn out, Buck finally just refused to move any farther. The result was a beating that would have resulted in death if John Thornton has not intervened.

The dog remained with Thornton and slowly regained his former health and physique. The result of the rescue was a love of the man beyond anything Buck had known. All of this takes place in the wilderness; Buck was having visions of a generation of dogs that were not beholden to man. A restlessness was growing that led to Buck making night forays into the forest, always drawn back by his love for Thornton.

So great was the love that when asked byThornton, he once broke out a sled loaded with a ton of flour and frozen to the ground, and then pulled it 100 yards. This to settle a bet that had been made in haste as Thornton described his superb dog.

The question is, how to resolve the “call of the wild.”

With the recent Polar Vortex, we have a good sense of life in arctic climate. Jack London explored the challenges in his short story “To Build a Fire.” Put the title in Google and take the time to read it. You’ll respect the Vortex even more, especially if you must be out in it.

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