The Call of the Wild - Jack London (1903)

London tells us a yarn in the good ol’ fashioned Boys Own style with The Call of the Wild. We follow the interior life of a dog named Buck, from an unduly civilized Lord of his Domain dog, into a near-mythical creature of the wild, a kind of spirit animal. And there’s more to it if we want to listen.

‘Deep in the forest a call was sounding.’

He’s a plucky, very human hound to begin. He has a sense of morality, the narrator tells us, and he can be ‘taken aback’. He learns the difference between his previous life and the life of club and fang slowly, at first. London is coy (also, at first) in whether or not this is actually development or regression.

‘And his cadences were their cadences, the cadences which voiced their woe and what to them was the meaning of the stillness, and the cold, and dark.’

But the survival is always a subject-survival in relation to how Buck is related to the human beings around him that are the functional point of his universe. From the Eden-esque life with ‘the Judge’ (God?) he is cast out into the functional service to competent but demanding masters, and he learns the pleasure of doing good work, good service, and pride. But he soon discovers the dependence upon the human other when faced with Charles and Hal and Mercedez: two incompetent men entrapped by a woman through sexual and filial bondage. Is this the metaphor for the direction our over-stuffed social-political sled is headed? Straight into Death?

‘...this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.’

Even once Buck finds true love in John Thornton, it’s pushed to a dangerous level through pride and greed; and it’s this pride and greed then that allows Buck to eventually answer the Call to becoming his true nature, a trinity of wolf and saint (Bernard) and shepherd. The Way the Truth and the Life? The creature the Yeehats will deify as the Ghost Dog.

Jeremy Davies (North Melbourne Chapter)