Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Book review: "The Call of the Wild"

It is ridiculous, really, to write a review of a book like "The Call of the Wild"
a book that has been read and enjoyed by millions, and is considered a classic by many.

What would happen if I gave it a negative review?  Is that really going to hurt sales? Oooh, I'm sure Jack London is scared.

So let's not call this a review. Instead, let me just put down a few "thoughts" after my reading of Jack London's 1903 book.

First, this is a remarkable book; I've never read anything like it. How many books, outside of those for little kids, are told from the perspective of a dog? Not many.

What I found so amazing is how well London gets inside the head of Buck. You really feel as if you're looking at the world through Buck's eyes.

It may seem like a weak compliment to call a book "educational," but there is a lot to be learned from "The Call of the Wild."  Though I've read about the Yukon Gold Rush in other places, and even visited some of the actual historical sites, Jack London provides a grittier, more personal view that brings that period alive.

For the dogs, London shows, life pulling sleds in Alaska and the Yukon was harsh and the rivalries among dogs sometimes vicious. It didn't take long for Buck to learn it was survival of the fittest.

"Buck was merciless," London writes. "He had learned well the law of club and fang, and he never forewent an advantage or drew back from a foe he had started on the way to Death. ... He must master or be  mastered; while to show mercy was a weakness. Mercy did not exist in the primordial life. It was misunderstood for fear, and such misunderstandings made for death. Kill of be killed, eat or be eaten, was the law."

London also has a nice way of portraying people, as in this description of an incompetent trio of prospectors:

"The wonderful patience of the trail which comes to men who toil hard and suffer sore, and remain sweet of speech and kindly, did not come to these two men and the woman. They had no inkling of such patience. They were stiff and in pain; their muscles ached, their bones ached, their very hearts ached; and because of this they became sharp of speech, and hard words were first on their lips in the morning and last at night."

The weakest part of the book is the last chapter, where London does less showing, and too much telling. That is, rather showing us what Buck is experiencing, he does more just telling us how Buck has grown into a powerful animal of the wild.

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