The Call of the Wild

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The Call of the Wild
Call Of The Wild 1903.jpg
Author Jack London
Year Published 1903
Language English

The Call of the Wild is a 1903 novel by Jack London which depicts the struggles of Buck, formerly a domestic dog, to adapt to the harsh, unforgiving environment and life of a sled dog in Alaska. The story-line is employed as a mechanism for examining the interplay between nature and nurture as Buck's primitive, instinctual nature reasserts itself and gradually comes to the fore.

The book proved extremely popular at the time and, together with the companion work White Fang, issued a few years later, helped cement author Jack London's reputation as a master adventure storyteller. The work has retained its popularity over the years and is considered among the best works of 20th century American fiction literature. The deeper meaning of the story as a classic quest tale belies its reputation in some quarters as a mere adventure tale for adolescent boys.

In writing the book, the author drew upon his own experiences during his quest for gold in Alaska at the time of the gold rush of 1897-98.

Plot summary

Buck is a big, strong dog living comfortably, but vigorously, in a loving and carefree domestic situation in the mild climate of California. One day, he is taken by his owner's hired gardener and sold to pay off a gambling debt. He is then turned over to a dog trainer who beats the angry Buck into submission, after which he is taken by train northwards to await deployment to a dog team pulling sleds during the Alaska gold rush of 1897-98.

Buck is acquired by a pair of French-Canadian mail couriers who are assembling a dog team for a run to Dawson. Once in the traces, Buck undergoes a period of mental and physical adjustment to his radically changed environment. Buck has been suddenly and cruelly ripped out of the only home he has ever known, in a mild environment characterized by love and friendship, and delivered to a harsh, hostile, world where the only law is that of the "club and fang". He is aided in this transition by the first stirrings of the primitive instincts of his distant ancestors which are still coursing in his blood.

During the exhausting and dangerous journey to Dawson, tension develops between Buck and the bullying and treacherous lead dog Spitz, who sees Buck as a potential rival. On several occasions, they squabble and it becomes evident that they are headed for an all-out showdown. Meanwhile, the ancient primeval yearnings continue to well up within Buck while, simultaneously, the niceties of his former civilised life and ethics fade into memory. Then one day, on the return trip from Dawson, the final showdown between Buck and Spitz takes place, with Buck emerging victorious.

Upon returning to camp, Buck refuses to take a place in the traces until he is given the lead posiiton, which he feels he has won by right of combat. Once this is done, the team is whipped into shape, and led by Buck, they complete the return run from Dawson in record time. Parting company with their drivers, the team turns around and, with a new driver, makes another round trip to Dawson and back.

The team arrives at their destination completely worn out and badly in need of rest. Within a few days, they are sold once again. The new owners are greenhorns, inexperienced in the ways of either the Northlands or the dogs. They leave immediately, without allotting to the dogs sufficient time for recovery and, as a result, make poor time, run short of rations and drive the dogs into a deplorable state, losing most of the team on the way. Halfway through their journey, they arrive at John Thornton's wilderness camp and are advised not to proceed due to poor ice conditions. They decide to leave anyway, and when Buck refuses to take his place in the traces, he is savagely beaten to the very point of death until he is rescued by Thornton. The rest of the team is whipped into proceeding, but the ice gives way and all - the remaining dogs, the sled, and the drivers - are lost.

Buck's wounds heal and he recovers his strength. He develops a deep affection for Thornton, the man who saved him. Still, the call of the wild persists and gains in intensity with his feelings for Thornton being the only thing which continue to tie him to the civilized life. Later, on a trip with Thornton's partners carrying a load of logs to Dawson, Buck saves Thornton's life after the latter falls into the river. Once in Dawson, Buck wins a sled-pulling bet and a considerable sum of money for Thornton.

With the winnings from the bet, Thornton and his partners go in search of a fabled lost mine. Buck, feelling the pull of the wild and primitive as never before, begins to spend time and even sleep away from camp, sometimes for days at a time. One day, upon returning to camp, Buck finds the camp occupied by Yeehat Indians who have despoiled the camp and killed all the occupants. Buck, in a wild rage, attacks them and drives them off. But now all ties holding Buck to the settled life are broken and he reurns to the forest, taking up the leadership of a pack of timber wolves. Stories about him abound, and he has finally become transformed into the legendary "Ghost Dog of the North".

Characters

Dogs

Buck: Buck is the main protagonist of the novel, a Saint Bernard/Scotch shepherd mix. He is stolen from his comfortable life in California to become a sled dog in the brutal Yukon. Over the course of the book, he experiences the behavior of different masters as well as slowly embracing his wild instincts.

Spitz: Spitz is one of the antagonists of the novel, as well as the main antagonistic dog. He is the head of the sled team that first arrived in the Yukon, a proud and aristocratic dog. His fur may be white, but he has a black heart, shown when he laughs at Curly being mauled to death. Ever since then, he and Buck become rivals, seeking to overthrow the other.

Curly: Curly is a Newfoundland that Buck befriends before they reach the Yukon. She is a friendly dog, which sadly gets her killed by a pack of huskies.

Dave: Dave is a morose dog whom Buck befriends before they reach the Yukon. He is grumpy, yet he works his job as wheel dog with pride, a reason why he gets along with the elder Sol-leks. Later in the story, Dave suffers from a sickness and is thus left behind in the wilderness, where he dies.

Billie and Joe: Billie and Joe are two brothers whom Francois and Perrault buy after the death of Curly. These brothers are as different as day and night in personality. Billie is very friendly and playful yet cries easily, while Joe is aggressive and grouchy; even Joe was able to keep the bullying Spitz at bay.

Sol-leks: Sol-leks is an old dog bought shortly after Billie and Joe join the team. His name means "the angry one", and he hates being approached by his blind side - literally so, since he's blind in one eye. The one dog he gets along with the most is Dave, whom he shares the duty of pulling the sled from the front, and thus doesn't care that Buck gets to be leader instead of him.

Dub: Dub is an awkward dog who often gets caught and framed at the wrong time. Once, when Buck slyly steals some bacon from Francois and Perrault, they assume that Dub had stolen the bacon and discipline him.

Pike: Pike is one of the more recent dogs to be added to Perrault and Francois's team. He's known to be a clever thief and a late riser, and he later resists Spitz's attempts to discipline him under the watchful eyes of Buck.

Dolly: Dolly is the second-to-last female dog added to the team after Curly. She becomes rabid one day and lunges at Buck - the closest dog to her - but is mercy-killed by Francois.

Humans

Judge Miller: Judge Miller is Buck's first owner, all the way from a sunny vista in California. Buck's father - a Saint Bernard named Elmo - had been the Judge's first companion before Buck.

Perrault and Francois: Perrault and Francois are the two French-Canadian men who bought Buck and Curly for their sledding team. They are shown to be fair but stern with their dogs, disciplining Buck for his earlier mishaps but also disciplining Spitz for his bullying ways.

Hal, Mercedes, and Charles: These three are an inexperienced trio who buy Buck and his team from the mail delivery. Charles and Mercedes are a married couple, and Hal is Mercedes's brother. Having experience with neither sledding nor dogs, they tire the already worn-down team down even more. Not helping matters is Mercedes loading the others down with tantrums due to having lived a pampered life. They also ignore the advice of John Thorton and other expert explorers, the former warning them about the thinning ice at a river. When Buck doesn't rise, Hal starts beating him only to be punched in return by Thorton as the latter takes Buck under his care, and the greenhorns and what remains of the original team by Perrault and Francois drown in the river.

John Thorton: John Thorton is Buck's final master, a man exploring the Yukon for gold. He rescues Buck when the latter is being savagely beaten by Hal (threatening to kill him if he struck Buck again) and nurses the dog back to health. Buck and Thorton display a strange way of affection: Buck would bite his hand, and Thorton would lavish him with curses and insults in a loving way. He also places good faith in Buck, believing that he could pull a thousand pounds on a sled over a hundred yards (which he does and is praised for). The 2020 film has Thorton played by Harrison Ford of Star Wars fame, as well as a backstory of having moved to the Yukon after he and his wife split up following the death of their son.

The Yeehats: The Yeehats are a fictional Native American tribe known for their violent ways. Near the end of the novel, they kill John Thorton and his companions (as well as his two dogs, Skeet and Nig), but they end up getting massacred left and right by an extremely vengeful Buck.

Film adaptations

In 1980, an anime film in Japan was released, called Howl, Buck! The film also changes Buck's breed from a Saint Bernard/Scotch shepherd mix to a German shepherd.

In 1996, there is a film adaptation called Call of the Wild: Dog of the Yukon which portrays Buck as a Leonberger. This version of Buck also has a son named White Fang (the name of the protagonist in White Fang).

The most recent adaptation was released in 2020, distributed by Disney and 20th Century Fox. This adaptation has the dogs and other animals be entirely CGI while the human actors stayed in live-action. Story changes include Hal becoming the main antagonist of the film, the fate of Spitz (he was killed in the book but lives to limp away in this film), and Buck being guided by a black wolf spirit representing his wild instincts.

External links