‘The Call of the Wild’ follows the adventures of Buck, a St Bernard/Collie cross. Buck is stolen from his Californian home, and sold to fuel the need for sled dogs in the Yukon as part of the 1880s gold rush. Buck goes from being a relatively pampered pet to being a possession, to be used and treated as a commodity, beaten close to death, worked even closer. London was a socialist and had first hard experience of the privations of the Yukon and the brutal treatment of animals, but I couldn’t avoid thinking that the story is more than just about dogs.
Aren’t there clear parallels between the way Buck is broken and abused, and the treatment of slaves in America? I’m not suggesting the novel is a metaphor or parable – it could just be a story “about dogs” (I often check the Amazon reviews on books I am planning to write about, to get a feeling for the overall response, and see if there’s anything significant I have missed. One reviewer for ‘The Call of the Wild’ claims to have been disgusted upon finding out that the novel was “about dogs”, which I have to say I found wonderfully dumb) – but London’s political background suggests that his sympathy for the literal underdog extended beyond animals.
At just over 100 pages long this is a short adventure story that can be read in an afternoon or less. The Yukon is captured realistically through Buck’s eyes, and there is a wide cast of characters – I particularly enjoyed the stupid family who ignore the advice of experienced trappers and disappear through a hole in the ice, as we knew they would. The novel is carried forward at a frenetic pace, and the exercise of seeing the world through an animal’s eyes is well done. But at the end of the day this is just an adventure story, and I suspect London wrote books other than ‘Call’ more appropriate for adult readers. Whether I will seek them out is another matter.