Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Call of the Wild (1903)

Have to say that I have really come to appreciate this Yukon by way of West Coast tale of the big dog Buck and his destiny—or make that "destiny," as some little use of scare quotes is appropriate under the circumstances. There's some wrong-ways understanding of evolution and a whole lotta anthropomorphizin'  goin' on. And though it is a story about a dog, and thus emotion bait for a certain strain of animal lover that includes me, it is also much more than a story about a dog. All human frailties are on display—greed, lust, cruelty, gluttony, etc., etc.—and the animals don't always come off looking so good either. Events unfold in this short novel with the feel of raw life, and are often vividly felt. But until the very end, after all the humans have left, and only after they have left, it's the humans' world and the dogs just live in it. That's a reasonable point of view. Yet even as the softening humanizing goes on, there is also a very effective kneecap-high point of view of the necessarily subservient dog, surviving. All the people who cross Buck's path, essentially random names and voices and behavior, come to define themselves within view of him. Buck is also an interesting case because he is a bit of a superhero and yet remains sympathetic. The noble beast and all that of course open to clichéd familiarity, but Jack London somehow makes it work. In many ways the huffing guff about ancient memories awaked and whatnot actually works for the sake of the dog—who, one senses, wants it made clear that he's not the one going on in such veins, it's rather the author of the tome. Thus we are put so far into the dog's head. Another thing London is good at is animalness, as when he describes Buck enjoying the sensation of warm blood on his gums from fresh kill. Yeah, must say—sounds like animal stuff to me!

In case it's not at the library.

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