The Call of the Wild, by Jack London

The Call of the WildWell here I am, plod, plod, plodding my way backwards through the Modern Library’s Top 100. I decided to work backwards on the premise that surely the books could only improve as I went along. So far, I’m currently at number 88, which means I’ve only read 13 titles in the past three years: too many distractions along the way, I guess. Either that, or the list is crap. The Reader’s list is a bit more inspiring than the Board’s list, but considering some of the titles that made it on, I’m thinking that a few people may have voted more than once to get their favourite on. It’s a bit like the Seven Wonders of Canada competition held in 2007. Local radio stations were telling us to vote, vote, vote, a mantra that  we in Thunder Bay obviously adopted, because The Sleeping Giant received the highest number – 177, 305 in total. The judges were onto us, though, and we were discounted entirely, favouring the canoe (can you believe it) and the igloo (can you still believe it) over our indisputable wonder. At least the Montreal Bagel and Poutine (actual candidates), didn’t make the top seven.

My point is, however, that Top 100 lists are a farce. I will finish what I started with the Modern Library, but after that it’s back to reading what I actually want to. I really enjoyed The Magus, though, and Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, which I’ve just finished, is an absolute gem. Deceptively simple and only 113 pages in length, including the illustrations, I couldn’t read it fast enough.

Published in 1903 and set during the Klondike Gold Rush in the Yukon, London tells the tale of Buck, a 40lb Saint Bernard and Scotch Shepherd mix, who enjoys the good and easy life he has with Judge Miller and his family in California until he is stolen and sold to join a dog sled team in the Yukon. He passes through many hands along the way, learning the threat of club and fang, as it calls it. He is beaten brutally into submission by his first owner and witnesses dogs having their throats torn out by other dogs. He soon learns what is needed to survive, and over time his character changes.

Gradually we see genetic memory awakening within Buck as ancient, ancestral urges and behaviours beckon and mould him into the most remarkable dog known to man. My favourite scene is of Buck warming himself by the fire, slipping into a trance, and being drawn back to a primordial time with autochthonous man and his wolf companion, the first dog.

Buck’s destiny lies in the call of the wild, that most primeval of states: the original dog at the dawn of time. He is an inspiration to every reader. You’ll find yourself barracking for him all the way.

Rosemary

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