Saturday, February 27, 2010

(Book #8) Jack London - Call of the Wild

Another week, another book, another write-up. Before I get to the actual content of this week's reading, there are a few semi-related points to address. The first being that Jack London's 'Call of the Wild', was not the book I started reading this week. The original book was a philosophy/design book that I actually had to put down after the first day. This was not due to lack of interest in the topic, but because of the inability to fully comprehend, process and retain what I was reading while my head continuously pounded from headaches. Riding the train is my peak reading time and I didn't want to waste it just staring blankly. I turned to my iPhone for material. Yes, there's an app for that too: a nifty little purchase called 'Classics' which has digital versions of a number of classic literary novels, complete with finger-flicking, page-turning action! Personally, I like the fact that I can carry around volumes of classic literature in my pocket and can read it anywhere or anytime I have a few minutes, without having to lug around a cumbersome wad of paper. But while the convenience of the content is great, it still feels somewhat sterile in the medium. This is why I don't think the Kindle or digital content in general will ever overtake tactile books, at least not anytime soon. The sensory elements that go with reading a book, the dusty old paper, the weight in your hands, the anticipation of the end slowly creeping up are all part of the experience, and people generally don't want to lose that.

That being said, I chose 'Call of the Wild' because I wanted a relatively easy read this week and realized that while I had read this book way back in 7th grade, I recalled the class being split into two groups, those that read the unabridged version and those that read an abridged version. I was in the latter group and felt like it was high time I read the full version (A side note: abridged versions of literature are abominations! I state this not out of some sort of latent inferiority complex precipitated by middle school English, but from a respect for the art of writing. An abridged novel, while hitting the plot points, might lack the flare or colorful descriptions and flow of the original that make the it noteworthy to begin with. They are bastardized versions that censor content and encourage ignorance in our youth. If your child is asked to read an abridged novel, I encourage you to raise hell).

Since it had been so long since reading this story the first time, I didn't exactly remember all that much about it. I knew it was about a sled dog during the Gold Rush in the Alaska Territory in the 1800's, and that the dog eventually went wild. I had completely forgotten that the story was entirely from the perspective of the dog, Buck, and that there were many metaphors and allegorical implications of the narrative. With the anthropomorphism of the dog, London applies human attributes and emotional qualities to facilitate the transformation from the civilized to the feral. From the perspective of the dog, all that matters is the actions surrounding the dog itself, the humans of the story come in and out of the dog's life and we seldom get a glimpse of their actions or the dramas surrounding them. In this sense it is strictly about the animals. When the story opens and Buck is stolen from his initial life of comfort and relative simplicity, the reader is implicitly aware of how the story is going to end. From the title itself, the Wild is posed as an inevitability, we know that it is coming and the Call, even when not identified as such, is an omnipresent theme looming in the natural environment.

The transformation is systematic and complete, beginning with the personality and emotions of Buck. He is thrust into the harshness of a new world and is forced to come to grips with his new surroundings or succumb to their severities. It is through the often violent encounters with humans, other dogs and the frigid North itself that we witness the change from a domesticated dog to a wild animal. Again, the phases of transition between these two states is allegorical of changes in man as well. Through London's projections we can compare these stages of being to any story where an alteration of the character is a central theme. Once more, London has tapped into the primal aspect of animals to adapt, although with any change there are always consequences to heeding the Call.

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