Published on 1903
Genres: 20th Century, Historical, United States
Source: my home library
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First published in 1903, The Call of the Wild is regarded as Jack London's masterpiece. Based on London's experiences as a gold prospector in the Canadian wilderness and his ideas about nature and the struggle for existence, The Call of the Wild is a tale about unbreakable spirit and the fight for survival in the frozen Alaskan Klondike.
Please note that this review spoils both the book and the 2020 Disney film adaptation.
I have always loved this book. I first read it in high school after I discovered it was written by the same author who wrote White Fang. Now, keep in mind I was at school over the millennium, so this was before Google, before Goodreads, before Facebook and iPhones and everything social media that today we take for granted. Finding other books by the same author was a chore. White Fang was hugely popular when I was a child. There was an animated Saturday morning cartoon, and every little girl wanted an amazing three-quarter wolf dog if she didn’t want a horse (and often, like me, she wanted both).
So Call of the Wild called to me, and being the animal nut I was, I loved it deeply, though I must confess, the first time I read it, I didn’t quite understand the ending. I was under the impression that Buck would return to his first home somehow. This is purely because I’d be devastated if my darling pet decided to stay in the wild rather than come home, and I read a lot of those ‘we’re domesticated animals lost in the wild here’s how we get home’ kind of middle grade books, too. I didn’t realise that the entire novel was detailing Buck’s ascension to king of the wild.
Recently, Disney released their latest live action/CGI film version starring Harrison Ford, so of course, I had to watch it. Suffice to say, I was a little disappointed with the result. The book is exceptional, holding up particularly well for something published in 1903. The film adaptation Disney-fied the story to the point where I was confused and disappointed, because I was expecting (and mentally preparing for) certain characters to die, but they either a) wandered off in a storm, never to be heard from again b) were never seen again on screen but were still alive or c) survived when they should have died, only to die later.
Some of the aspects of the Dinseyfication makes sense. I can understand why Disney as a company changed the story. Buck’s final master and his two gold prospector companions are murdered by Native Americans. You absolutely cannot put that in a Disney film, especially after what they did to the First People in Peter Pan, which was released in 1975 in a time when offensive racial stereotypes didn’t get the kind of backlash they do now. The murder of Buck’s team member, Curly, is also cut out. I can even understand when Spitz, beaten in a fight for dominance by Buck, walks into a snowstorm rather than is torn apart by a pack of hungry huskies.
But the film did get quite dark when it was detailing Buck’s physical abuse at the hands of the people who enslaved him as a sled dog. I was at least expecting to see Hal and Mercedes die when Charles forces the overburdened team (minus Buck, whom John Thonrton has just saved) to cross a melting river and everyone falls in and drowns/freezes to death. Even then, I understood Charles somehow survive, track down John Thornton literally in the middle of nowhere in some illogical twisted form of revenge. They had to make Thornton die somehow, and I guess being shot by some madman who blames you for his sled dogs running off (not drowning) is a Disneyfied way to add a recurring villain and a final climax, and is better than Buck coming across his master murdered at the hands of First People that he then slaughters. I get that part. But Disney has gone dark before – Inside Out was dark as hell, with a little girl suffering from depression. Bambi’s mother got shot. Clayton in Tarzan. Mufasa and Scar in The Lion King. Up is literally banned in my house, and plenty of Disney films have villains who die – mostly from falling.
While I don’t necessarily think that the book is always better (Lord of the Rings, The Silence of the Lambs, and 2003’s live action Peter Pan are a few films I think were better than the books), in this case, it is. Call of the Wild is a great book for anyone to read, just don’t expect the film adaptation to be as faithful as Buck was to John Thornton. Also, the CGI was totally weird.
This book is also in the public domain and therefore free on Amazon Kindle. Due to the recent film adaptation, there are plenty of versions to choose from. I downloaded mine in 2014.