Book Reviews, Reviews

Call of the Wild by Jack London


I read this book for Literature this year.

The Story:

Something about Shep caught Elmo’s eye. Or maybe it was the other way around. Perhaps Elmo couldn’t help but notice Shep’s beautiful Scotch Shepherd coloring. Maybe Shep was drawn to Elmo’s St. Bernard stature. Maybe they just wanted pups. Jack London doesn’t tell us. Somehow, those two got together and Buck was the result.

Unknown-1When he was grown, Buck was a good 140 pounds, very likely towering over his mother. He lived at Judge Miller’s in the beautiful Santa Clara Valley; protected, fed, and out of touch with himself. Little did he know that it was all about to change.

“Buck did not read the newspapers”. (London 1) He did not know about the gold up North or the fact that dogs were in high demand. He did not know that Manuel loved to play Chinese lottery. He did not know that he had been sold for $100 to cover Manuel’s love.

After being sold, Buck travels in crates up north. His first introduction to his new world is being released. All the frustration and anger built up in him explodes with him out the crate door to face the Man in the Red Sweater. And here Buck learns about the club. His lesson is taught well. Men with clubs are to be feared, he is taught. And so he lives according to this rule. After a wait, Buck and Curly are sold to Perrault.

Perrault is an agent for the images-7government. Sledding from one town to another, he takes mail and packages further up north. Good sled dogs are important for the job. And Buck was “one in ten t’ousand” (London 15). 

Buck meets Spitz, their team leader, and the sparks fly. After Curly is killed and Buck sees Spitz ‘laughing’, Buck reserves a special hatred just for Spitz. Perrault and his partner, Francois, teach Buck how to pull by putting him between two experienced pullers. That night, Buck begins to learn of the wild. He learns how to sleep in the snow. He also learns to steal food.

Buck starts to remember his instincts. His muscles tighten and strengthen. He learns how to fight like a wolf. He remembers how to tell where the wind will blow. He howls at the moon.

Call_of_the_Wild_(Buck)Buck decides that Spitz has overstayed his welcome. It is time for him to go. They start picking little fights together and Spitz loses control of the team. Francois tries to back up Spitz but the rest of the team backs up Buck. Finally, they get away from Francois and Perrault.

They fight. They fight to the death. They fight for leadership. They fight from anger.

Buck wins.

The next day, Francois puts Sol-leks in lead position. Buck throws a fit. Buck fought Spitz. Buck killed Spitz. Buck deserves that lead position, not Sol-leks.

They threw clubs at him. He dodged. They cursed him, and his fathers and mothers before him, and all his seed to come after him down to the remotest generation, and every hair on his body and drop of blood in his veins; and he answered curse with snarl and kept out our their reach. (London 40)

They give up and give Buck lead position.

Buck, happy now, straightens everyone out. They go faster than ever before. Perrault is more convinced than ever that Buck is the best dog ever. Perrault and Francois must leave…without Buck and the team. Their job is over and the team is sent to another driver to make the runs.

The work is harder now. A new snow has fallen and the paths are hard to break. The going is slow. They get to town thoroughly exhausted. They are then sold to Americans.

Hal is nineteen or twenty, Jack London tells you, and likes to carry his big Colt revolver. Charles is middle-aged with lightish-colored skin. Mercedes is Charles’ wife and Hal’s sister. They are all totally unprepared for the wild and should not even own these dogs. They do, however, and there is nothing Buck or Sol-leks, or Billee, or any of the team, can do.

images-3The sled is overpacked and they leave too late in the season. They took 14 dogs, thinking that they were in style. There was a reason, though, why no one takes 14 dogs. The sled can’t hold that much food. At first, there is overfeeding and then, there is underfeeding.

Dogs start dying.

Hal and Charles are always arguing about something.

Starting from a dispute as to which should chop a few sticks for the fire (a dispute which concerned only Charles and Hal), presently would be lugged in the rest of the family, fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins, people thousands of miles away, and some of them dead. (London 54)

Finally they came to John Thornton’s camp. John clearly tells them not to go on. Yet what do they do?

They decide to go on. However, Buck refuses. He will not continue like this—frozen, exhausted, overworked, underfed—on ice that will very soon break on them. Hal was upset, to say the least, and started beating Buck. Still, Buck refused. John steps in and takes Buck. After a huff, Hal, Charles, Mercedes, and the rest of the team continues. Quarter mile away, they fall through the ice, never to be heard of again.

John Thornton had froze his feet and his friends left him behind to heal. They would be back, they said. And he trusted them. So there he stayed, waiting, with Skeet, a little Irish Settler who took it upon herself to wash Buck’s wounds everyday; and Nig, a half bloodhound, half deerhound, who was just as friendly as Skeet.

Buck begins to love John Thornton like no one else. Not even Judge Miller was loved by Buck that much. At first, Buck would not let John out of his sight, scared that John would leave him like Perrault, Francois, and the many other owners he had. Yet John never left.

His friends came back and they started up the river.

Buck would do anything for John. Once, just to see what would happen, John told Buck as they sat on the edge of a cliff—one that dropped down three hundred feet to a rock bed—to jump. The next second, he was holding down Buck so that Buck wouldn’t jump to his death.

Another time, John tried to stop a fight between Black Burton and another fellow. Black Burton didn’t really like that. He punched and knocked down John. And if he wanted to do anything else, he didn’t really get a chance. Buck rose from the ground in a snarling leap. The only reason the guy survived that was because he threw his hand up in front of his throat. Buck tore up his arm and was trying again before he was drug off. A hurried counsel was called and they decided that Buck had reason and should not be punished.

Once, while on the river, the boat flipped and John was stranded on a slippery rock in the middle of a swollen and treacherous river. Buck goes out after him two times unsuccessfully and almost drowns. Yet still he goes out a third time, and this time, he makes it. Once again, he is almost drowned, but he brings John to safety. That is when they realize that Buck has three broken ribs. They camp there till he recovers.

One day, John is bragging and says that Buck can break out, start, and walk 100 yards with 1,000 pounds. His bluff is taken, because it was a bluff. He hitches up Buck. If he loses, he loses $1,000 that he just borrowed. Bets go up and down on the sidewalks around. Buck does it. He earns $1,600 for John and John’s friends.

John and his friends head out into the unknown, looking for the ‘Lost Cabin’. Buck, however, can care less. What does it matter where he goes if he’s with John? They find a place and camp, John and his friends backing bags of gold.

Buck starts wandering around in the woods. The call is more pronounced. As soon as he is out of John’s sight, he becomes one with the wild. Yet he always returns to John.

imagesOne day, he meets a wolf. He chases him around until the wolf discovers that Buck means no harm. They become friends. Buck follows the wolf almost to the pack before he remembers John. Then Buck goes him and doesn’t let John out of his sight for the next two days.

But the call was strong. Buck went out again. This time, he chased down a moose bull. It takes four days and then Buck goes home.

Something is different. The woods tell Buck of it. No birds sing. No squirrels chatter. There is a new scent trail. Buck follows. The first thing he finds is Nig. Dead. Then he finds another sled dog. Dead also. His ears prick up. There are sounds from camp.

He goes up and sees John’s friends. Dead. That’s when Buck knows. The Yeehat Indians dancing in the middle of the camp are his enemies. Buck smashes into the middle of them and starts a killing frenzy. He is furious. He kills and scatters. The Indians rush away, convinced the Evil Spirit has come to that valley.

After they’ve run away, Buck looks for John. And he finds him. Also dead, with Skeet dead at his feet.

Buck has no more ties to mankind.

images-4The wolf pack comes to the camp and Buck joins after a fight to prove Buck is worthy. It’s not long before the Yeehats begin to notice differences in the wolfs. They are bigger, and sometimes have splotches of brown and white. When there is a dead animal, the normal-sized prints can be seen…along with the huge prints of Buck.

He leaves terror in the Yeehats. They never come back to that valley. The widows of the Indians tell tales of the ‘Evil Spirit’ which chose to dwell there. Buck, however, doesn’t know about it and certainly doesn’t care. He is living with his wild brothers, living free and in the wild.

When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger old, which is the song of the pack. (London 89)

My Thoughts:

I had a ton of fun reading this book. Jack London is one of my favorite authors. One thing I noticed, being a White Fang fan, was how closely the stories went together. Judge Miller is there. The Santa Clara Valley is there. They both learn the same lessons from humans. However, that is about as close as it gets. White Fang was written three years after Call of the Wild and London actually did say that he wanted to write a book that was the opposite of Call of the Wild. I just thought that was pretty cool.

I love the way London starts off the book. “Buck did not read the newspapers…” It makes your mind ask so many question! Why didn’t he? Did he not like them? Could he not read? Is he blind??? Why didn’t Buck read the newspapers??

The ending was perfect too.

When the long winter nights come on and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger old, which is the song of the pack. (London 89)

It gives you such a sense of completion. Like the entire story has been told. The ending shows quite well that there is no need for another story—short or long—to finish it.

London was criticized quite a bit over these books, accused of being a ‘nature faker’, saying that he had given his animals ‘thoughts’ that they never have. However, I don’t believe that to be true, for this book at least. I have yet to see where Buck thought something that was not within the power of a dog to think. He missed Judge Miller and his family at first, but dogs have been known to do that. Ok. Maybe being afraid that John was going to leave, is that reasonable or not? If that’s what everyone else did, then I guess he would assume that John would leave too. But can a dog assume like that? I don’t know. I guess that’s the only questionable part.

London said, in answer to these accusations, though:

I have been guilty of writing two animal—two books about dogs. The writing of these two stories, on my part, was in truth a protest against the “humanizing” of animals, of which it seemed to me several “animal writers” had been profoundly guilty. Time and again, and many times, in my narratives, I wrote, speaking of my dog-heroes: “He did not think these things; he merely did them,” etc. And I did this repeatedly, to the clogging of my narrative and in violation of my artistic canons; and I did it in order to hammer into the average human understanding that these dog-heroes of mine were not directed by abstract reasoning, but by instinct, sensation, and emotion, and by simple reasoning. Also, I endeavored to make my stories in line with the facts of evolution; I hewed them to the mark set by scientific research, and awoke, one day, to find myself bundled neck and crop into the camp of the nature-fakers. (White Fang)

One downside is that it was based a lot of Darwin’s evolution. ‘Survival of the fittest,’ was the name of the game. If you weren’t smart, strong, or vicious, you weren’t alive. However, that is true in the wild. I can see how that is evolution yet also wildness. Several times as well, London made references to the ‘ape man’ and Buck’s wild ancestors protecting them.

The vision of the short-legged hairy man cam to him more frequently, now that there was little work to be done; and often, blinking by the fire, Buck wandered with him in that other world which he remembered.

The salient [most noticeable or important] thing of this other world seem fear. When he watched the hairy man sleeping by the fire, head between his knees and hands clasped above, Buck saw that he slept restlessly, with many starts and awakenings, at which times when would peer fearfully into the darkness and fling more wood upon the fire…Through the forest they crept noiselessly, Buck at the hairy man’s heels; and they were alert and vigilant, the pair of them, ears twitching and moving and nostrils quivering, for the man heard and smelled as keenly as Buck. The hairy man could spring up into the trees and travel ahead as fast as on the ground, swinging by the arms from limb to limb, sometimes a dozen feet apart, letting go and catching, never falling, never missing his grip. In fact, he seemed as much at home among the trees as on the ground; and Buck had memories of nights of vigil spent beneath trees wherein the hairy man roosted, holding on tightly as he slept. (London 76)

Kinda sounds like Mr. Ape Man, ya know? And London did read Dawson’s The Origin of the Species.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Jack London, winner of longest sentences ever, has written a very interesting, captivating, energetic story here that I definitely be reading again. As Buck loves John, as White Fang loves Scott, so I love this story. Ok. Maybe not that much. But since I used symbols, similes, and examples in my writing, do I get extra credit??


London, Jack. Call of the Wild. Max Bollinger. World Classics. The Ohio Digital Library. 29 May 2012. Web. 22 Apr 2015

“The Call of the Wild.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.

“White Fang.” Wikipedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 Apr. 2015.

Have you ever read this book? What did you think of it? Please tell me in the comments!!


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