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ClassicsOnline Home » LONDON, J.: Call of the Wild (The) (Abridged)
Buck is living the good life in the soft South, when he is snatched and transported to the savagery of the Northland, where the Klondike gold rush has brought out rough basic instincts of survival in men—and dogs. He adjusts to the gruelling regime of a sled dog, which almost kills him, but he survives to find a new and fulfilling way of life. The Call of the Wild is not only a classic ‘ripping yarn’, but also an enduring masterpiece of the inescapable laws of nature.
The Call of the Wild
Jack London was born on January 12, 1876 in San Francisco.
His mother was Flora Wellman, a spiritualist, and his father – her common-law
husband, William Henry Chaney
– was a traveling
astrologer. In September 1876, Flora married John London and Jack took his
Jack London grew up in poverty. The family moved to Oakland
in 1878, traveling on to Alameda in 1881, and two farms, before ending up back
in Oakland in 1886. Here, London’s mother ran a boarding house and he himself
helped out by working as a newspaper boy, in a bowling alley and on an
At this time, thanks to the Oakland Public Library, he
became an avid reader.
After leaving school, London worked in a cannery, as an
oyster pirate in
San Francisco Bay, as a deputy patrolman for the California
Fish Patrol, and
as an able-bodied seaman on a ship to Hawaii, Japan and the
Bering Sea. Following this voyage, he worked in a jute mill for 10 cents an
In 1893 London’s story, Story of a Typhoon off the Coast of
Japan won first prize in a competition for young writers sponsored by the ‘San
Francisco Morning Call’.
In 1894 London joined ‘Kelly’s Army’, (the Western part of
‘Coxey’s Industrial Army of the Unemployed’) which was marching on Washington
D.C. After this, London was arrested in Buffalo, New York, for vagrancy and
spent 30 days in jail. On his release, he returned to Oakland via Canada.
In 1896, London joined the Socialist Labor Party. Later that
year he entered the University of California at Berkeley, but in 1897 he joined
the Klondike Gold Rush. He married in 1900.
When The Call of the Wild was published in 1903 it was an
immediate success, and it has been translated into nearly 90 languages.
Unlike the eponymous hero of White Fang (1906), which shows
the brute under control, Buck, the dog hero of The Call of the Wild shows
retrogression to a state in which all the qualities of the noble savage are
realized. Buck goes from civilization to wildness. He leaves his easy
Californian life behind and becomes a sledge dog. When rescued by Thornton,
rather than going back to being pampered, he sets about proving his physical,
canine qualities by saving his master from drowning. But he cannot ignore a
deep-felt “call of the wild”.
Jack London’s fiction was clearly the product of the life he
led - his upbringing and his beliefs are apparent in his all his works.
As a boy, he bought a sloop and, with some friends, raided
the oyster beds around San Francisco bay, as he later described in The Cruise
of the Dazzler (1902) and Tales of the Fish Patrol (1905).
Then, having lived in the East End of London in 1902, he
wrote The People of the Abyss (1903), based on his experiences there.
Besides several collections of short stories, including Love
of Life (1907) and On the Makaloa Mat (1919), giving a sense of rugged life
close to nature, his longer fiction also showed a deep concern with physical
energy, and an abiding fascination with a breed of Nietzschean supermen engaged
in violent struggles of all sorts. These include The Sea Wolf (1904), about a
powerful, ruthless captain of a sailing ship; The Game (1905), the story of a
prizefighter; Before Adam (1906), concerned with the life of prehistoric
savages; Martin Eden (1909), a semi-autobiographical novel about a writer’s
struggles; Burning Daylight (1910), the story of Daylight, a man of tremendous
energy who wrests a fortune from the Klondike, then idealistically renounces
his hard-won wealth; Smoke Bellew (1912), about a journalist’s strenuous
adventures in the Yukon; John Barleycorn (1913), a memoir written as temperance
propaganda; and Jerry of the Islands (1917), the story of an Irish setter pup
in the South Seas.
London also wrote novels dealing with the class struggle,
such as The Iron Heel (1908), prophesying a fascist revolution to be followed
by an egalitarian golden age and The Valley of the Moon (1913), in which the
problem is solved by a return to the land.
Jack London’s personal life was as colorful as his writing:
he left his wife
in 1903 and had a passionate affair with the author, Anna
Strunsky, before marrying Charmain Kittredge in 1905. His success and fame grew
over the years and he became very wealthy. Yet in spite of it all, Jack London
was an unhappy man, whose experiences of the world, at times so cruel, had
touched him forever and left him unable to come to terms with his success. He
died at the age of forty in 1916 – many suspected suicide.
Notes by Lesley Young
Jeff Harding is one of the most active American actors based
in Britain. He is regularly seen in film and TV but he maintains an interest in
fringe theatre. He is particularly active in voice-over and radio. Having
competed in rowing for many years, he still lives by the Thames and rows regularly
– an appropriate sport for the reader of Ben Hur.
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LONDON, J.: Call of the Wild (The) (Abridged)