The Call of the Wild and White Fang (which I will be reviewing next) are always listed as children’s classics, and inevitably shunted onto those lists of 1001 books you must read before you die. Mostly this makes me very suspicious. I have read a lot of books on lists like these over the years, both as a literature student and in a futile desire to educate myself better by the ingestion of thousands of words. Generally I find myself disliking many of the books that are supposed to be great. The Call of the Wild is no exception, sadly.
I realised, about half way through reading this, that I had actually read it before, which should have told me everything I needed to know about it. I persevered however, and then wished I hadn’t, as it didn’t improve any on the second reading.
It tells the story of a dog called Buck, who is stolen from his comfortable, civilised life as a pet, and taken to the Klondike as a sledge dog during the gold rush years. The book is told through the eyes of Buck, although the authorial voice does shout all over it from time to time.
This is part of the problem for me. I read Jack London years ago at university when I did a course on writing and the working classes. His book The People of The Abyss, is about time he spent infiltrating the slums of London’s East End in the early years of the Twentieth Century and what he felt his findings told him about the state of mankind in general, particularly poor people. What London discovered was that he disliked them intensely, he thought them lower than animals, and that there was no hope for them. He actively propounded eugenics as a clean and humanitarian solution to clearing the slums and helping the fittest survive. I found this more than a little distasteful.
It also colours everything else I’ve ever read by him, and I found myself not entirely in sympathy with his views of the magnificent wildness of beasts and their wondrously noble yet savage natures.
It is, if you haven’t already been ruined for Jack London, a fairly exciting adventure story about a dog, and were it not for the fact that as much as I hate Jack London, I also hate adventure stories with anthropomorphised animals in them. I’d probably love it. As it is, I don’t.
If you’re a lover of Lassie and the like, this is definitely the book for you, and it has the merit of being readable and short.