The Call of the Wild Critical Book Review
A Dog Named Buck
The Call of the Wild by Jack London, published in 1903, is about a dog, Buck, who is forced to transition from being domesticated to pulling a sled in the Arctic. As sled dogs were in high demand by northern gold miners, Buck was captured from his home and brought to the cold northern regions.
By experience, the dog quickly learns the harsh new ways of man and beast, where you either fight to dominate or submit. Buck was taken from some inexperienced masters who were mistreating him by a man named John Thornton, and the dog loved his new master. But abruptly, tragedy struck and Indians killed his master and fellow dogs while Buck was away.
Now free from his ties to his master, Buck finally decides to heed the call of the wild and joins up with a wolf pack, becoming the terror of Indians all around. While this storyline could be very exciting, Jack London uses so many detailed descriptions that the thrill of it wanes. It was also packed with false evolutionary concepts, strange dog dreams, and some immoral ideas.
And to sum it up, all the main characters but Buck are forgotten or die.
London appears to have been heavily influenced by Darwin’s theories. For example, Buck would lie down by the fire and have dreams about an ancient “half-man.” Consider this quote: “…Buck spent long hours musing by the fire. The vision of the short-legged hairy man came 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.” (London, 1996, p. 104)
Not only does this seem strange to me, but since I do not believe the theory of evolution (for numerous reasons better discussed elsewhere), I disagree with this too. Also, Buck would “remember” things that his wild ancestors knew, and was able to adjust to his new life better because of that.
It seems unrealistic that a dog, which was domesticated for all his previous life (and so were his recent ancestors), should be able to just “know” how to survive in the wild. “It was no task for him [Buck] to learn to fight with cut and slash and the quick wolf snap. In this manner had fought forgotten ancestors. They quickened the old life within him, and the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of the breed were his tricks.” (London, 1996, p. 38)
The author wrote a strong “survival of the fittest” theme into the book. Morals are all but forgotten, it is fine for Buck to steal, and you have to be violent to become the leader. In addition, all other characters are easily forgotten or killed. After Buck killed his rival, Spitz, he “stood and looked on, the successful champion, the dominant primordial beast who had made his kill and found it good.” (London, 1996, p. 56)
The Call of the Wild is satisfactory in the way of providing historical information about sledding and the Arctic. However, it would have been better with more action and dialogue, and less descriptions. And the moral concepts are not ones we should copy. Especially if you do not believe in evolution, be watchful of the Darwinian ideas. To conclude, this book is more “historical fantasy” than fiction, with dogs that can think, dream, and learn things from long dead ancestors.
Note: This is the my personal view, and other BrightHub writers may not share these opinions. If you want to discuss the article with me, leave a comment.