Top positive review
Beautiful but savage –4-1/2 stars
Reviewed in the United States on February 27, 2020
I loved this book as a kid, and I can remember reading it repeatedly when I was about twelve. Revisiting it as an adult decades later, I appreciated it more, but this time I also wrestled with it—the only reason I didn’t give it 5 stars. The writing is beautiful and Buck is a great character, but the brutality in the story can be hard to take.
Buck is a big domesticated dog who’s stolen from his owner and sold as a sled dog during the Alaskan gold rush. He’s toughened by the harshness of the humans around him, the arduous work of being on a sled team, and most of all by the dogs who are now his peers. He quickly learns to fight back for self-preservation; he eventually learns to kill for dominance. This is the part of the story I remembered clearly.
Oddly, what I didn’t remember was his one bonding relationship with a human. (Until I re-read the novel, I thought the John Thornton character was created for the movies.) Reading as an adult, this part of the story resonated with me much more. Buck is torn between his fierce love for Thornton and the instincts awakened by his experiences in the wild. He even has ancestral memories about life with a primitive man, which I loved. By the end, Buck answers the call of the wild and becomes the legendary leader of a wolf pack, feared and revered by canines and humans alike.
The book has a mythic, almost poetic, feel, and it probably deserves five stars for succeeding at what it sets out to do. But I had trouble with the way violence and cruelty is shown as a rite of passage—arguably, it’s even glorified. That part of my “take” may just be me, or it may be the fact that the book was written in a different time from a different perspective. But “The Call of the Wild” is a classic for a reason, and I’m glad I rediscovered it.