on August 26, 2005
Jack London's letters about the publication of "The Call of the Wild" reveal an all-too-common story that would make any author and most sympathetic readers cringe. In 1903, Jack London was hard up for cash and had just completed the manuscript. He sold the serial rights to the Saturday Evening Post for $700 and, since the editors were not all that keen on his first choice, suggested the title "The Sleeping Wolf." (Interestingly enough, the magazine version did not even include what has probably become the book's most famous scene: when John Thornton blusteringly makes a wager that Buck can pull a sled weighing half a ton.)
Soon after, Macmillan agreed to take a chance on the unknown writer and offered to publish the book for $2,000, with no royalties. By this time, London had warmed to his initial title, "The Call of the Wild," but left the final choice up to his editor. Both the magazine and the book publisher reluctantly used London's now-famous title, and seven years later London wrote to his editor, reminding him of his tin ear: "I'll be damned if that very muchly-rejected title didn't become a phrase in the English language. This is only one of many experiences concerning titles, wherein editors, booksellers, and publishers absolutely missed."
But it still boggles the mind that London earned a grand total of $2,700 for a book that quickly sold more than two million copies.
And what a book! I must have read it three or four times as a youngster, but even now, over twenty years since I last picked it up, it still manages to electrify me. "The Call of the Wild" is often cited as the best work of fiction ever written about dogs, but the book is equally about men--and about London himself. As a puppy, Buck is like a human child--dependent on his benefactors and with few cares in the world. But soon he is wrenched from his first home, ending up in Alaska to perform the most menial tasks in appalling conditions for a series of contemptible owners--much like the impoverished London himself who, beginning at the age of 14, went from cannery employee to oyster pirate to jute mill laborer to vagrant to prisoner to laundry worker to would-be gold prospector. In such conditions, both dogs and humans resort to their most primitive, robotic instincts.
"The Call of the Wild," however, is not only about descent into feral survivalism. It's also about the irrepressible yearning for independence and even solitude, and it shares a good deal, thematically, with London's social writings. If you tend to think that London's masterpiece is little more than a work of children's literature, you might want to visit it again and see how it works as an allegory. While it's certainly a great novel about dogs, it's also a perceptive statement on the human condition.
on January 23, 2009
This is a little easier to read version of the original text written by Jack London. I was disappointed because I purchased the book for my classroom to read together with books I already had. The more difficult vocabulary words we were working on were not in this version, even though most of the text is the same. This version is good for someone to read if they are looking for an excellent story that has a simpler text.
on October 16, 2006
London is a tremendously talented writer and his understanding of life matches his tremendous knowledge of the snow-enshrouded world of the upper latitudes. His writing is beautiful, poignant, and powerful, yet also somber, morose, and infinitely real. This isn't a story to read when you are depressed. Although The Call of the Wild is a short novel and on the surface a dog's story, it contains as much truth and reality of man's own struggles as that which can be sifted from the life's work of many other respected authors. The story he tells is stark and real, and as such, it is not pretty picture he paints, nor an elevating story he writes.
As an animal lover, I found parts of this story heartbreaking from Buck's removal from the civilized Southland in which he reigned supreme among his animal kin to the brutal cold and even more brutal machinations of hard, weathered men who literally beat him and whipped him full of lashes. Even sadder are the stories of the dogs that fill the sled's traces around him. Good-spirited Curly never had a chance, while Dave's story is only made bearable because of his brave, undying spirit. Even Spitz, the harsh taskmaster, has to be pitied, despite his harsh nature, for the reader knows this harsh nature was forced upon him by man and his thirst for riches.
Buck's travails are long and hard, but it is his nobility of his spirit that makes of him a hero, despite the primitive animal instincts and urges that dominate him. Buck not only conquers the weather, the harshness of the men, the other dogs and the wolves he comes into contact with, he thrives. Hopes for redemption with John Thornton are dashed in the end, and that's when Buck finally gives in fully to "the call of the wild," becoming a creature of nature only. While this is a sad ending, the reader also feels joy and satisfaction at Buck's refusal to surrender and his ability to find his own kind of happiness in the harsh world in which he is placed.
Gold was found in Alaska, the rush to obtain it required a strong constitution and many dogs to do the work that horses usually did in the states. The environment bread harsh attitudes. Also in the testing of ones mettle one finds their true potential.
Buck (a dog that is half St Bernard and half Shepherd) goes through many lives, trials, and tribulations finally realizing his potential. On the way he learns many concepts from surprise, to deceit, and cunning; he also learns loyalty, devotion, and love. As he is growing he feels the call of the wild.
This book is well written. There is not a wasted word or thought and the story while building on its self has purpose and direction. The descriptions may be a tad graphic for the squeamish and a tad sentimental for the romantic. You see the world through Buck's eyes and understand it through his perspective until you also feel the call of the wild.
The Call of the Wild - Dog of the Yukon (1997)
on May 22, 2013
I remember reading London's "The Call of the Wild" in elementary school, solely upon the recommendation of my teacher. I can't recall my reaction to the book then, but my current position is that this is NOT a kid's book, no matter what my teacher thought! London's human characters are not the rugged role models that a young boy can look up to; they are cruel, ruthless men with little concern for other men, nature, or even the dogs that pull their sleds. His graphic descriptions of the battles between dogs, between dogs and men, between dogs and wolves, are as vivid as any motion picture depiction. Yet, as an adult, there is a certain "rightness" about the entire story. You get caught up in Buck's experiences in Alaska, sometimes forgetting that he is a dog. Despite all the wrong that is done to him, Buck is more than a survivor; he overcomes all odds, lives through dangers that would topple many a man, and ultimately answers the call that has beckoned him for ages - his "Call of the Wild!"
on July 1, 2003
Jack London is amazing. Most writers use adjectives to describe a setting, but London's words ARE Alaska. They ARE the bitter struggles a domesticated dog must face in the snowy land. There's a scene in Call of the Wild in which the team of dogs must cover 3000 miles over the virgin terrain without rest. Jack London conveys the bone-tiredness of these dogs down to their heart. It's wonderful how his words bring the characters (I almost don't want to call them characters) fully to life.
The story sounds like just a dog tale at first--a dog, Buck, is kidnapped from his comfortable life in California and sold as a sled dog for the Alaskan gold rush. While he endures the wilderness and the other dogs, Buck learns that survival comes only with tooth and fang. This lesson brings him very close to his forbears, the wolves.
If you look deeper, Call of the Wild is as much a story of humans as it is a dog tale. Buck encounters various incompetent masters who try to break his spirit. Are we like this? But Buck also learns to trust a master who is gentle and gives love. We can be like this, too.
Call of the Wild is not a story for the squeamish or very young. By involving us in the characters' lives, Jack London tells the truth. It is a life-and-death war between the harsh land and the soul every day. There is blood, death, cruelty--but it's the truth.
I have to admit that I have not really given Jack London his proper due up to now. Perhaps it is because I don't by my nature like outdoor adventure type stories, or perhaps it is because I associate White Fang and "To Build a Fire" with my youth. The fact is that Jack London is a tremendously talented writer. His understanding of the basics of life matches his great knowledge of the snow-enshrouded world of the upper latitudes. The Call of the Wild, despite its relative brevity and the fact that it is (at least on its surface) a dog's story, contains as much truth and reality of man's own struggles as that which can be sifted from the life's work of many another respected author. The story London tells is starkly real; as such, it is not pretty, and it is not elevating. As an animal lover, I found parts of this story heartbreaking: Buck's removal from the civilized Southland in which he reigned supreme among his animal kindred to the brutal cold and even more brutal machinations of hard, weathered men who literally beat him and whipped him full of lashes is supremely sad and bothersome. Even sadder are the stories of the dogs that fill the sled's traces around him. Poor good-spirited Curly never has a chance, while Dave's story is made the more unbearable by his brave, undying spirit. Even the harsh taskmaster Spitz has to be pitied, despite his harsh nature, for the reader knows full well that this harsh nature was forced upon him by man and his thirst for gold. Buck's travails are long and hard, but the nobility of his spirit makes of him a hero--this despite the fact that his primitive animal instincts and urges continually come to dominate him, pushing away the memory and reality of his younger, softer days among civilized man. Buck not only conquers all--the weather, the harshness of the men who harness his powers in turn, the other dogs and wolves he comes into contact with--he thrives. This isn't a story to read when you are depressed. London's writing is beautiful, poignant, and powerful, but it is also somber, sometimes morose, infinitely real, and at times gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.
on February 21, 2012
I evaluated three series of abridged/paraphrased classics: Great Illustrated Classics, Stepping Stones, and Classic Starts. I specifically read Treasure Island in all three versions, but also evaluated other stories in at least two of the versions. I finished reading the Call of the Wild to my children, 4 and 5.
The Classic Starts version of the Call of the Wild and other stories is the most complex in language and sentence structure. It's not as easy for a beginning reader to read as Stepping Stones or Great Illustrated Classics, but offers a much better story by virtue of more adjectives, adverbs and clauses in the sentence structure.
With these paraphrased versions, there is always the dilemma one faces: whether to wait until the genuine, original story is accessible or risk turning the reader off with a poor paraphrase that lacks the vibrancy of the real thing, but possibly gain the enjoyment of a classic gem much earlier than the original text would afford.
Personally, I bought the books intending to read to my kingergarten age children, rather than have them read. We found the Classic Starts to have by far the best versions of the stories, notwithstanding the originals which are just too long for us, in language that is hard to be understood. Since I am reading them aloud, we've forgone the simplest versions which are perhaps a bit too butchered to really stand out as the excellent stories the originals gained a reputation for. I feel that the Classic Starts are rich enough that they easily match original versions of simpler tales like The Little House on the Prarie or Charlotte's Web.
It is true that they're sanitized. The version of the Call of the Wild passes over death scenes and treats the heavier dramas quite lightly. I agree this would be a grave shortfall for the older reader/listener. It cheats them by failing to present the weightiness of the story's theme. For a mature eight year old, I would just read the ~94 pages of London's original. I heard it and White Fang when I was that age. On the other hand, my four and five year olds might be deeply disturbed by a story like "To Start a Fire." That would take some wrestling with in our consciences that we're not quite ready for. Buck getting clubbed by the man in the red sweater, the lesson he learned, and how he applied it to a dog that wanted to fight and kill him... that kind of thing is enough for now, hence the paraphrase rather than the original.
So far, with the children, we finished Call of the Wild, are half-way through the Jungle Book, and started Treasure Island. Then we're on to The Odyssey, Moby Dick and Tom Sawyer. Move over Pippi Longstockings and Amelia Bedelia! Previously we've read books like those of Beverly Cleary, the Little House series, Milne's Pooh, and Horrible Harry, besides hundreds of basically picture books (think Virginia Lee Burton, H. A. Rey etc.) The classics have a little bolder story lines, and these abridged series make them more accessible.
on October 31, 2009
The Call of the Wild is a moving book written by Jack London in 1903. It is a wonderfully written piece based on the historical facts about the Alaskan gold rush. The characters are lively and interesting. It is very entertaining to follow the dramatic, sad, adventurous, fun, and loving lives of the characters.
The story is about a prideful and well respected dog named Buck that is kidnapped, sold as a mush dog to the Canadian government, and mistreated. When he was being beaten so badly that he was about to die, a man named John Thornton saved him. Buck stayed faithful to his new master until the man died while searching for gold. In the end, Buck left mankind to join a pack of wolves.
Jack London builds beautiful characters- dogs and men that are just like real dogs and humans. Buck begins in his story as a proud and faithful dog, so the readers do not expect him to change or grow at all. However, as he learns more about being a dog for an unfair master, his wild side grew and he became untamed. John Thornton, the man who saved Buck's life, is described by London as a kind, gentle, and soft hearted man that is adventurous and sets off to find a legendary gold mine from which no one has returned. London was very skilled at making his characters just like real humans and animals. He made them come to life with the way that they acted and the things that that they believed and stood up for. They all had faults and failures, but they also had good things that made them special.
The book is packed full with action and adventure. The book is only 62 pages and the action starts on the first ones when Buck is kidnapped and it ends when he joins a pack of wolves and haunts Indian people whose ancestors killed his favorite master.
Jack London wrote an unsatisfying ending in which one of our favorite characters, John Thornton, dies tragically and Buck, another favorite, becomes discontented and wild.
The book is dramatic and many loved characters die. The mush dogs find themselves in the hardest situations. Only half way through the book, the most loved dogs are limping and struggling to survive along with their masters who they defend and remain faithful to.
The Call of the Wild is action packed, has realistic characters, is historically accurate, does not have too much or too little description, is dramatic, and the characters have qualities that make you love them. These are all traits that a good book should have. It demonstrates the irresistible call of the wild that dogs have and the persistence of a faithful dog that loves its work and will not fail his master if he is treated right. It demonstrates the love between dogs and their masters.
on March 27, 2000
The two rivals circle the ring, probing for any point of weakness. The duel has lasted longer than either competitor had anticipated. Weakened by fatigue, the challenger feints high and goes for a crippling blow. No, this is not a boxing title match in Las Vegas. This is a life-and-death struggle of one domestic dog for survival in the cold, icy, barren regions of the Alaskan plains. This is a clash between the civilized and the primordial. This is the conflict between domestication and liberation. This is the Call of the Wild.
Jack London centers his story on a dog by the name of Buck. Buck is a big, strong dog, his father being a St. Bernard and his mother being a Scottish shepherd dog. At one hundred and forty pounds, Buck was no mere house pet. Kept physically strong with a love of rigorous swimming and constant outdoor exercise, Buck was a lean, formidable dog. Undoubtedly, his great condition was part of the reason that the gardener's helper dog-napped and sold him to dog traders, who in turn sold him to Canadian government mail couriers. The gold rush in Alaska had created a huge demand for good dogs, which eventually led to the "disappearances" of many dogs on the West Coast. Buck was no exception. He was sold into a hostile environment, which was unforgiving and harsh. Although civilization domesticated him from birth, Buck soon begins almost involuntarily to rediscover himself, revealing a "primordial urge", a natural instinct, which London refers to as the Call of the Wild.
This book is set in the Klondike, a region in Alaska that was literally stormed by thousands of men looking to get rich quick via the gold rush. Transportation was increasingly important, but horses were near useless in winter, prone to slip and fall on snow and ice. Dogs were by far the best means of transportation in Alaska at the time, somewhere near the end of the 19th century. As the demand for dogs grew, the prices for good dogs skyrocketed. This price hike inevitably created a black-market- style selling of dogs, and the gardener's helper Manuel did what many men did; they sold the dogs for a good price.
A recurring theme in London's novel is the clash between natural instinct and domesticated obedience. Soon after the dog traders captured Buck, a man broke him with a club. Buck is thoroughly humiliated, but learned an all-important truth of the wild: The law of club and fang. Kill or be killed. Survival is above all. Buck resolved to himself to give way to men with clubs. In the beginning, Buck had problems with this new restriction, but learned that when his masters' hands hold whips or clubs, he must concede. However, that did not keep Buck from doing little deeds like stealing a chunk of bacon behind his masters' backs. However, as London says, "He did not steal for joy of it, but because of the clamor of his stomach . In short, the things he did were done because it was easier to do them than not to do them." In this way Buck learns the way of the wild but also acknowledges his inferiority to men with clubs or whips. Eventually in this novel, Buck throws away his old life completely and replaces it with his natural urge, the primordial version of himself, the Call of the Wild.
Another underlying theme is the relationship between dog and master. In the beginning, Buck is acquainted with the Judge with a dignified friendship, his sons with hunting partnership, his grandsons with protective guardianship, the mail couriers Francois and Perrault with a mutual respect. Against the man with a club he despised but gave respect. However, when Buck met John Thornton, he loved his master for the first time ever. There wasn't anything Buck wouldn't do for his master. Twice Buck saved Thornton's life, and pulled a thousand pounds of weight for Thornton's sake. Even after Buck routinely left his master's camp to flirt with nature, Buck always came back to appreciate his kind master. However, even after Thornton was gone and Buck had released all memories of his former life, Buck never forgot the kind hands of his master, even after answering the Call of the Wild.
Jack London truly brings Buck to life. Using a limited 3rd person view, the reader is told of Buck's thoughts and actions. Obviously, London gave several ideal human qualities to Buck, including a sharp wit, rational reasoning, quick thinking, and grounded common sense. However, he does not over-exaggerate the humanity in Buck, which would have given an almost cartoon-like feeling for a reader. Rather, being a good observer, London saw how dogs acted and worked backwards, trying to infer what the dogs think. The result is a masterful blend of human qualities and animal instinct that is entirely believable. It is obvious that Buck's experience was similar to many other dogs' experiences.