The Call of the Wild by Jack London

Thursday, January 27, 2011

I missed out on reading The Call of the Wild by Jack London with everyone else in the eighth grade because I was in an advanced class that replaced the literature requirement. (I also missed out on Lord of the Flies and The Outsiders). So when I signed up for Sarah's Back to the Classics Challenge, I knew I had to choose this for my young adult/children's classic.

The story chronicles the adventures of Buck, a big friendly dog used to spending his days running outside with his family. However, one day Buck is surreptitiously sold off to Alaska to pay a hired man's gambling debts. Once Buck is immersed in the wild, he slowly begins to recall his ancient role in the wild and begins to feel the call (get it?) to return to nature.

In recent years, I have acquired a distaste for animal books. More specifically, I don't love animal books that are trying to be realistic, or in other words, books where the animal is thinking or hoping or acting like a mute human. I do not deny that I loved Brian Jacques Redwall series and a few similar books growing up, but they were pure fantasy. The Call of the Wild is trying to tell us a realistic story from a dog's point of view, and that doesn't generally work for me. So I was feeling a bit sarcastic about the book from the beginning.

It was better than I expected. The writing was gorgeous. The descriptions of the stark Alaskan wilderness have a cold, alien beauty. London's descriptions of Buck's communion with "the call of the wild" are intriguing and lovely -
There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. [...] He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not move.
Not bad. And I did find the story interesting. I didn't connect with it that much, but it was well-executed and vaguely interesting. I probably won't read White Fang, but I enjoyed the little trip to the wilds.

Accessibility/readability - Quite.
Aesthetics/literary merit - 4
Plot - 3.5
Characters - 3
Personal response - 3
Overall: 3.5


  1. I've never read Call of the Wild (or any Jack London) either.

    But that passage you quoted reminded me a lot of the passages in L. M. Montomgery's The Blue Castle when Valancy reads those books about nature... now I can't remember the author's name. I always liked those descriptions.

  2. I haven't read this either but I can certainly appreciate some descriptive landscapes. How books have you polished off for this challenege so far?

  3. Interesting to hear your thoughts on this one. I, too, missed it in school and have never really felt like I needed to read it. I'm not a huge wilderness/animal book person either, but the writing certainly is lovely!

  4. This is one of those books I'm too scared to go back and reread. I used to love it when I was about 13 years old and I don't want to ruin the magic in that memory!

  5. Great review. This book has been sitting in my to-be-read pile for about eight years now, and I feel like it's mocking me every time I look at it. LOL. Luckily, we read Jack London's short story To Build a Fire in class last week. I liked it, and I felt a little encouraged to finally tackle The Call of the Wild this year. :)

  6. @A Mitton - I don't remember his name either! But I love The Blue Castle.

    @Beth - This is actually the only one I've read. I'm doing at least two this month with read-alongs though.

    @Erin - Yeah, I was kind of take-it-or-leave-it on the book, nice to read some quality writing but it didn't change my life.

    @Amanda - Sometimes that is the best thing to do, I think! I will probably read this if I have boys in the future, because everyone I know who loves it read it when they were younger.

    @Darlyn - How was the short story? I love reading short stories so I'm always looking for good ones to read. I hope you enjoy Call of the Wild when you get to it!

  7. This book is on my list of books that I wish I had read as a child. Like you, I don't really have a desire to read animal stories anymore, but it would have been right up my alley when I was younger. In any case, I've resolved to read some of those books that I missed in my youth, this one included. Sometimes these stories do lose a bit of their magic when we read them as adults, but it's still worthwhile, I think.


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