The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

Rating: ★★★★

Powerful. This is a story with mythic grip, which speaks more to the reader's heart than their head. Complexity of language and literary allusion are more hurdles than assets when writing something to stir the spirit. London doesn't need them. He writes of suffering, of pride and hard lessons, of kindness rewarded with love, and love demonstrated with fierce loyalty, and of the call to an older, more savage way of life. Having read the story, its popularity is entirely deserved.

David Vann's introduction to the Folio edition of this book highlights some correct details. It is true that the story is one of coronation, for Buck is a king, and the story is about his rise from domestic slumber, through hardship, to his rightful place. There is an obvious fantasy thread being pulled here, drawn in particular from the weave of the American unconscious and the patterned stories of the frontier. Vann identifies also the ambiguity with which the primaeval world is portrayed -- London does not try to represent this world as being peaceful and kind, and I imagine he would've found the idea rather silly.

However, there are aspects of Vann's introduction that smack of, frankly, a rather sick mind. Vann is manifestly horrified that Buck 'kills savages', seeing this as somehow a great flaw on Buck's (or London's) character. Ignoring for a moment how idiotic it is to denounce a dog as racist, the savages in question had just killed John Thornton, the man that saved Buck's life, and to whom he was entirely devoted. I feel sad for a man who cannot understand revenge for a loved one without reference to demographics. Vann also rather perversely reads some 'sexualised' nature into the love between Thornton and Buck -- he refers to Thornton's lovingly gruff nonsense-talk as 'dirty talk', and tries to spin the joy of Buck in being petted by his master as some sort of masturbatory allusion. This is wildly juvenile stuff to add to the introduction to a rather emotive classic.

Anyway, I advise people to skip the introduction of this edition and just read on. This is a good story, with many scenes that will stick with you. There are few gladiatorial battles as intense as the fight between Spitz and Buck, few people you'll hate as much as Hal, and few ill-conceived bets you'll be as invested in as Thornton's crazy boast.