Shocking, I know, but I’d never read anything by Jack London, except for the short story “To Build A Fire” which I think pops up in pretty much everyone’s high school English anthology sooner or later.
The Call of the Wild is the story of Buck, a huge dog of Saint Bernard mixed descent. When we first meet Buck, he’s literally the top dog on a farm in Santa Clara, California. But a deceitful farm hand out for money steals Buck and sells him one night, and Buck ends up passed from hand to hand until he ends up in the snowy north. With his size and strength, Buck is sought after as a sled dog by the adventurous men heading off to the Yukon during the gold rush. Buck’s domesticity is left far behind, as he learns to heed his instincts and allow his inner fearless predator to take over.
The use of language in The Call of the Wild is outstanding. The descriptions of the rugged land, the struggles of men to survive without resources, and their foolhearty, often fatal journeys are intensely vivid. Best of all is Buck’s inner life. It’s not at all cutesy, and it’s not presented as though Buck himself is telling his story.
Instead, the omniscient narrator takes us through the evolving thought processes and emerging instincts that transform Buck over time from a tame farm animal into a true beast of the wild.
The narration of the audiobook is slow and steady, giving the words a stately, dignified feeling. There’s not much dialogue, and yet the narrator’s use of tone and inflection keeps the narrative from sagging or bogging down.
I found The Call of the Wild to be an engaging, enjoyable listen, and would like to either read or listen to some of London’s other adventure tales in the future.
A final word: Those who find animals-in-peril stories too painful to read should be warned that you may have a hard time with this book. Bad things do happen to Buck and many of the other dogs in the story, and it’s not pretty. I’m glad to have read it, but it won’t be for everyone.
Title: The Call of the Wild
Author: Jack London
Narrator: John Lee
Publisher: Varied (many different editions in print)
Publication date: 1903
Audiobook length: 3 hours, 28 minutes
Printed book length: 208 pages