The Call of the Wild while I was in elementary school. I remembered it being a story about a sled dog in the cold wilderness of Alaska. Beyond that, I had forgotten nearly all of the plot and most of the characters and so it was with fairly fresh eyes that I reproached this book.
The first thing I noticed that the book was told from a close 3rd person view of the DOG's perspective. I'm sure this point of view is one of the characteristics that made this book initially interesting to critics and educators. Fortunately there is a lot more to the book than a novel or quirky idea of telling the story from a dog's point of view. The perspective change didn't come off as cheesy or manipulative. Rather the narrative choice allowed us to see the story in a new mindset and brush away stereotypical thoughts and ideas. By stripping away our human perspective it leaves us open to seeing ideas and principles in a new light.
Even though we are tied very closely to the dog Buck and his cohorts, the story doesn't become an animated cartoon or other scenario where the animals are humanized and given thoughts or speech. This choice was surprising but as I thought about it I found myself really appreciating the fact that even though the story is being told "through" Buck, we don't find Buck as fully anthropomorphized as you might see in other stories. While we read some of his general thoughts we don't "hear" him thinking or speaking in a human sense. I really liked this distinction as it keeps his animal self a bit more distance and less invaded by human traits seen in something like Animal Farm or other animal fiction tales. Still I can see the argument that we really can't know what an animal is thinking or feeling and so it is still certain that London has placed some human thoughts and motivations onto Buck that may not be wholly natural.
As to the high level plot, we follow the life of Buck the dog from the time he is stolen from his warm, comfortable home in California and taken to the Yukon to be a sled dog during the gold rush. He is confused, angry and belligerent but he also quickly realizes the nature of the situation and the reliance on the humans for food, protection and care. Buck learns which humans to trust and how to behave around them and he also gets to know the other dogs on his team and in his camp. Over time Buck works in a variety of teams and for a variety of different people but the more and more he lives in the cold wilderness, the more he realizes there is something out there calling to him.
I really enjoyed seeing Buck learning to navigate the harsh new world he'd been thrown into. Not only did he have to learn how to manage the cold snow (which he'd never seen before) and the bitter environment but he also had to deal with men and dogs who didn't respect him or care for him in the same way he was used to. He had to learn the ins and outs of a whole new social structure. by dealing with the new pack mentality of fighting for food and learning which dogs were leaders, which were followers and which would stand by neutrally. It also showcases his struggle between domestication or subservience to humans and the fight to return to his primitive nature and animal instincts.
Overall I really enjoyed this story and can see why it's recommended reading for younger readers, especially younger boys. The story is fast paced and has some exciting action sequences. It deals with the life of dogs, adventurers and the unknown wilderness. Beyond its basic appeal to the readers, the book does a good job teaching about different aspects of the world. Even though it focuses on the life of a dog it can teach readers a lot about the nuances of social interaction, dealing with hardship, making difficult choices, loyalty, trust and love. There are some violent scenes that could trouble younger readers, especially animal lovers, but otherwise I see this as a great book for elementary kids or middle graders to read and I think adults can have a lot of fun with this as well.
4 out of 5 stars
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