Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Call of the Wild by Jack London

I was under the impression that my mom read this book to us when we were little kids, but after reading it I am certain that that was not the case. It would have scarred our little animal-loving minds for life. My brother and sister and I were into anything that anthropomorphized animals. Disney was at the top of our list.

I don't know this for sure, but I would guess that London did not intend this to be a work of young adult fiction. The Call of the Wild is infused with a gritty realism -- dogs tearing the throats out of other dogs and even humans, men beating dogs to death, people not bathing...need I go on? I imagine that over time his works fell into the young adult category because his stories appealed to the young, especially boys. I, for one, was obsessed with White Fang, another London novel, when I was little. Here again, I am not for sure that I ever actually read it.

The Call of the Wild is the story of Buck, a mix between a St. Bernard and a Scotch shepherd dog. During the height of the Klondike gold rush, Buck is taken away from his home in sunny California by an unscrupulous man who worked for Buck's owners. This man ships Buck up to Seattle, where he is bought by two French-Canadian men who run mail through the Yukon. This brings me to my main criticism of this work. London is horrible at vernacular. Take this bit of dialogue, "'Nevaire such a dog as dat Buck!' he cried. 'No, nevaire! Heem worth one t'ousan' dollair, by Gar! Eh? Wot you say, Perrault?'" This gets really annoying quite fast. And London is not even consistent, at times Francois can pronounce the "th" sounds and at other times he cannot, such as when "these" is rendered "t'ees".

Buck moves from owner to owner, as he treks back and forth across the Yukon and other northern territories. As you can pick up from the title, the story is basically the education, or perhaps the re-education, of Buck in the ways of his ancestors. However, this book could also be read as a hero story.

I picked up this edition at a used book store in New Orleans (it's not the one pictured at the top of this post). It came with B√Ętard, a story that was meant to be a companion piece to The Call of the Wild. This short story was unbelievably dark and gruesome, further solidifying my belief that London never intended his work to be read solely by kids. What was weird and annoying about this edition was that it had the most patronizing endnotes in the world. There was only ninteen of them and there was no rhyme or reason to what got an endnote. At one point London used the phrase "Alpine proportions" and there was an endnote to explained that this was London's way of saying that there was a lot.


Nihil Novum said...

Two words: To Build a Fire

Christopher said...

To Build a Fire is excruciatingly depressing, and also, four words.

I hope the phrase was "a woman of Alpine proportions"

Carlton said...

Actually, it was "breasts of Alpine proportions"

Carlton said...

...but it was in reference to a large, male Inuit hunter.