I can’t believe it’s April already. I’m absolutely certain you’ll all be feeling fairly similar to me, that March lasted forever. However, like I said in my previous post, it’s getting lighter and the spring flowers are well and truly dazzling us. There are lots of positives – we just need to keep focused on the good rather than the bad.
Today I wanted to share with you the book I read for March for my Reading Challenge. You can remind yourself of the themes for each month here. The focus for last month was: Try a book with a non human narrator. Well, this was a tad more tricky than I thought because I wanted to read something I’ve not read before. I decided on the short story, The Call of the Wild by Jack London. Google seemed to think it was a good choice anyway! Also, the day I picked it I saw an advert for the new film version. It was a clear sign! I hope you enjoy!
What’s it all about?
This short story opens in 1897 with Buck, a very powerful and strong 140 pound At Bernard/Scotch Collie mix dog. He’s living happily in California’s Santa Clara Valley as the pampered pet of Judge Miller and his family. When the judge is out of time, assistant gardener Manuel, needing money to pay off his many gambling debts, steals Buck and sells him to a complete stranger.
Buck is then shipped to Seattle where he is mistreated and starved. He lives in a crate and is living a miserable life there. Upon his release, Buck attacks his handler, the man in the red sweater. The man shows Buck kindness as soon as Buck stops attacking.
Shortly after that, Buck is sold again but this time to French-Canadian dispatchers from the Canadian government. Francois and Perrault then game Buck to Alaska where he is trained as a sled dog for the Klondike region of Canada. Buck’s teammates help teach him how to survive the brutally cold winter nights and what pack society is really like.
‘The ghostly winter silence had given way to the great spring murmur of awakening life.’
A rivalry starts to develop between Buck and the pack’s lead dog, Spitz. He’s a gruesome and aggressive husky who enjoys being the alpha male. He’s none too happy to see Buck as the new arrival! Eventually, after quite a horrific fight, Buck kills Spitz. As a result, he then becomes the lead dog.
‘He was a killer, a thing that preyed, living on the things that lived, unaided, alone, by virtue of his own strength and prowess, surviving triumphantly in a hostile environment where only the strong survive.‘
When Francois and Perrault complete their round trip of the Yukon Trail (in record time!) and returns with their dispatches, they receive new orders from the government. They have to sell their sled team to a Scottish man who works in the mail service. The dogs have to make long journeys with lots of heavy loads that weigh them down. These deliveries are going to the mining communities.
It is whilst he is doing this that Buck seems to have memories of a canine ancestor who had a similar companion. He can’t quite put his finger on it. In the meantime, the animals become incredibly weary, exhausted and weak. The wheel dog, Dave, becomes terminally sick. Eventually, he is shot to end his misery and suffering.
‘They were not half living, or quarter living. They were simply so many bags of bones in which sparks of life fluttered faintly.‘
The mail carrier then has a problem – not enough dogs. He has to sell the remaining three, which include Buck to three stampeders from the American Southland. A vain and ignorant woman called Mercedes and her sheepish husband, Charles and her equally arrogant brother, Hal.
They lack any survival skills for the Northern wilderness and struggle to control the sled. The trio ignore helpful advice, their arrogance taking over, and ignore particular warnings about the dangerous spring melt. Mercedes gets told that her sled is much too heavy so she decides to remove crucial supplies for survival in favour of her fashion objects she treasures.
They foolishly create a team of fourteen dogs, believing that this will enable them to move faster. The dogs are over fed and overworked but then starved when the food runs low. Dogs start to die all around them leaving only five when they pull into White River.
From here, they meet John Thornton, a much more experienced outdoorsman who observes the dogs’ poor and weakened condition. The trio continue to ignore warnings, this time about crossing the ice. Exhausted, starving, and sensing continued danger ahead, Buck refuses. Hal beats him.
Thornton is completely disgusted by the treatment of Hal and cuts Buck free. The trio leave and cross the river with the four remaining dogs. Whilst they’re on it, the ice breaks and the dogs, humans, sled and items all fall into the river. Nothing and no one was saved.
Thornton takes the time to nurse Buck back to health. The relationship and bond that comes between the two is a beautiful thing. Buck saves him when he falls into a river. After Thornton takes him on trips to pan for gold, a bonanza king, named Mr Matthewson, wages Thornton on Bucks’s strength, health and devotion. Buck pulls a sled with a half ton load of flour, breaking it free form frozen ground and dragging it 100 yards, winning Thornton $1600 in gold dust. Naturally, he’s interested in buying Buck after he has seen what he can do, but Thornton refuses to sell him.
‘Love, genuine passionate love, was his for the first time.’
With his winnings, Thornton retires from debts but continues to search for gold with friends Pete and Hans – sledding Buck and six other dogs to search for a fabled Lost Cabin. Once they’ve located a suitcase gold find, the dogs have nothing left to do. Buck has more ancestor memories of being with the primitive man.
While Thornton and his two friends continue to pan for gold, Buck hears the call of the wild. He explored the wilderness and socialises with a Northwestern wolf from a nearby local pack. Buck does not join the wolves – he returns to the ever loyal, Thornton.
What he does do though, is repeatedly goes back and forth between Thornton and the pack in the wild. One day when he returns he finds that Hans, Pete and Thornton have all been murdered by Native American Yeehats. Buck is devastated and very, very angry. To avenge Thornton’s murder, Buck kills several natives. He realises he no longer has any human ties.
Buck goes off in search for his wild brother but stumbles across a rather angry and hostile wolf pack. He fights them and wins. It is then that he learns that the lone wolf he has socialised with is a pack member. Buck follows this pack into the forest and answers to the call of the wild.
As life goes on, the legend of Buck spreads among other Native Americans. Every year on the anniversary of the attack on the Yeehats, Buck returns to the former campsite where he was last with Thornton, Hans and Pete to mourn the loss of them. He leads the pack every winter to get vengeance on the Yeehats as he sings a song of the younger world.
‘There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.‘
I found this a really interesting little story. I found myself loving Thornton and really admiring the relationship between the two. There are some really moving moments in this for different reasons. For me, a good book will challenge all emotions and this short story did just that.
Take care everyone and stay safe. At least we have time to read plenty at the moment and lose ourselves in a good book.
Lastly, the theme for April’s book is: Focus on a story of nature and/or the spring season. I’m proud of my organisation skills because I’ve got this book already! I’ve decided on Wilding – Isabella Tree.
Take care all. Big love xx