Reading "The Call of the Wild" in my Thirties

I reserved the book from the library and when I picked it up I noticed that it had been shelved in the “Juvenile” section. I was surprised at how well-suited the book is for young readers. I had remembered it as a “very adult” sort of book, but that was not my experience as a reader at 33. I shouldn’t have been surprised that a book considered appropriate for 6th graders at the time that I read it wouldn’t be as adult as I remembered it, but I was surprised nonetheless.

What London calls the “The Law of Club and Fang” reminds me of my time in the Army. Exhaustion, stress, and necessity chip away at the trappings and niceties that are built into our lives so we can ignore the fact that we are little more than bald, feeble chimps playing dress-up. In the end, Call of the Wild is a love note to savagery. Buck descends from perfectly tame, through cruel hands to a life of hard work, and finally into being untamed, and is all the happier for it. Humans pass through Buck’s life as casually as he passes through theirs. Buck respects most humans, but only grows to love one. It is the loss of this last man that cuts the final tie keeping Buck in the civilized world.

Brutality is a consistent theme throughout the book. Men are cruel with one another, and with their animals. Paradoxically, the book presents the humane treatment of animals both as a luxury and as essential to survival. Treating the dogs roughly is presented as a requirement for life. The sled has to cross the North, and stopping could mean death. At the same time, treating them so badly they can no longer work becomes a hazard as well. Overloading the sled and under-rationing the dogs can also leave you stranded. In the end, the book distinguishes between roughness and cruelty in a way that I think is useful while also being interesting.

I was bothered at the way that the book ended. Apart from the minor foreshadowing from the arrow, there was no real treatment of natives at all. It’s unsurprising that they are entirely ignored in the novel until they become useful for the narrative, then they swarm in, deus ex machina, to bring on the denouement of the story.

London’s novel is an example of a time period that held a strong fascination for the “noble savage.” Even now we idolize nature. I am reminded how, in the Biblical narrative, God creates the world then gives mankind dominion over the world, entrusting his creation to Adam. Modern society has ceased to view humanity as a caretaker which lives as a part of the natural world, replacing this view with the view that nature is innately good and entirely separate from humanity. This view believes that removing humanity entirely from ecosystems is the best option. They are wrong. It isn’t best (or even possible, really) to remove humanity from nature. It would be best to recognize yet again our place as a part of a natural world. Humans change ecosystems, which can be bad, but we certainly aren’t the only animal that do so and these changes are not negative by necessity.

In my Twenties

In my twenties my re-reading focused on books that I had read in High School only, so I did not re-read this book. In fact, I didn’t even remember reading this book at that age, or that The Call of the Wild and White Fang were even different books. I added this book to my list for The Decades Project after my first pass through the list, so I didn’t read the book in my Twenties.

In my Teens

I first read The Call of the Wild in my very early teens. I can’t remember the exact year, but I believe it was around the age of thirteen. Honestly, it may have even been a few years before that first year of my teens. I remember the book fondly. In fact, my memories of the book blend together with White Fang a book with similar subjects by the same author which I read shortly after.

I greatly enjoyed the book. It was perfectly situated to capture the attention of a middle school kid just graduating from Hardy Boys mysteries. I read the book quickly, primarily focusing on the story. I don’t think I took much from the book’s themes, but did enjoy it. As an early reader, the story was definitely the most compelling part of the novel for me, and the story was engaging for a boy around my age who had grown up with dogs in the country.

This book was probably my first significant encounter with character dialogue written in dialect. It must have been a good introduction because I didn’t remember the dialogue being written in dialect at all. I’m glad I had it as an introduction for the more difficult to decipher dialect writing used by Twain and other authors that I read later in my teens.