Book Review: Call of the Wild by Jack London

the call of the wildThe Call of the Wild by Jack London

Goodreads Description: First published in 1903, The Call of the Wild is regarded as Jack London’s masterpiece. Based on London’s experiences as a gold prospector in the Canadian wilderness and his ideas about nature and the struggle for existence, The Call of the Wild is a tale about unbreakable spirit and the fight for survival in the frozen Alaskan Klondike.

Book Description: “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.” THE CALL OF THE WILD is a novel by American author Jack London published in 1903. The story is set in the Yukon during the 19th-century Klondike Gold Rush—a period when strong sled dogs were in high demand. The novel’s central character is a dog named Buck, a domesticated dog living at a ranch in California as the story opens. Stolen from his home and sold into the brutal existence of an Alaskan sled dog, he reverts to atavistic traits. Buck is forced to adjust and survive cruel treatments, fight to dominate other dogs, and survive in a harsh climate. Eventually he sheds the veneer of civilization, relying on primordial instincts through lessons he learns, to emerge as a leader in the wild.

My Review:

The novel opens with the following epigraph:

“Old longings nomadic leap,

Chafing at custom’s chain;

Again from its brumal sleep

Wakens the ferine strain.”

After some digging, I discovered it was taken from the poem Atavism by John Myers O’Hara. For those that may not know (I didn’t), atavism means to revert to characteristics typical of an ancestral form.

The reader is given many clues (the title of the book, the epigraph, the name of the poem) as to the theme of the novel, and it’s one we can relate to. We all have a calling inside us, something that awakens the soul, and makes us feel alive.

The epigraph is followed by the sentence:

“Buck did not read the newspapers or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.”

We immediately know the protagonist will go on a journey, literally and figuratively, that will cause him to return to the wild.

At the beginning of the book, Buck is enjoying a comfortable life with a wealthy family. He could easily have “lived the life of a sated aristocrat,” but “saved himself by not becoming a mere pampered house-dog”—a hint at the wild streak within. He was subservient to none. “And over this great demesne Buck ruled…king over all creeping, crawling, flying things of Judge Miller’s place, humans included.” While there are only a few pages dedicated to his relationship with the Miller family, you get the sense his attachment is superficial, his loyalty changeable based on those who care for him.

As the opening sentence suggests, “trouble is brewing” and Buck is plucked from a life of luxury and forced to work as a sled dog, suffering and witnessing cruelty from man and beast. He is no longer master of all, but must become subservient simply to survive. He eventually rises as the leader of the pack but still suffers man’s cruelty. He is rescued by a man and finally learns true love and loyalty. Eventually he learns to awaken the “ferine strain” and emerges as king of the beasts once again, but this time in the wild instead of civilization.

I liked this book better than I expected to. I wasn’t sure I would be able to connect with a dog as the main protagonist. Not that I don’t love dogs. I have two loyal companions sitting at my feet that would prove otherwise. I just wasn’t sure how genuine the character would feel to me. Would the main character, Buck, create the emotional attachment needed to propel me, the reader, through an entire novel? Surprisingly, he did and I even felt my eyes sting a little at the end.

4 out of 5 stars


I’ve been reading, or rereading, books on the Modern Library’s Top 100 list to see what I could learn from these highly praised works. The Call of the Wild is # 88 on the list. So what did I learn from reading this book? Here are a few writing “rules” that came to mind:

·         State the theme.

Masterfully done in the title, the epigraph, and the title of the poem the epigraph is quoted from.

·         Establish normal before you violate normal.

Buck was living an idyllic existence where he was doted on as the beloved pet of a wealthy family before he was plucked from his home and sold into a world of servitude and cruelty where he had to struggle to survive.  

·         Don’t use phonetics to emphasize dialogue.

At first I had difficulty reading the phonetic spelling of the dialogue given to the book’s human characters, but I adjusted to it fairly quickly. It provided a sharp contrast between the civilized world Buck had been stolen from and the savagery of the cruel world in which he had been placed.

·         The protagonist should be transformed over the course of the story (character arc).

London sends Buck on quite a journey, physically and emotionally, and he proves you can have a character arc when the main protagonist is an animal.

·         The final image should be the opposite of the opening image to show how much has changed.

The opening scene describes one where Buck is the master of his domain, a civilized animal among civilized people. The closing scene shows Buck as master once again but in a very different environment.