Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Best Friend

Jack London’s Call of the Wild (COTW) is the perfect counterpart to David Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle if only because its 86 pages are a welcome reprieve from the 562 pages of Wroblewski’s book. Although the latter had only 3 chapters from the point of view of the dog Almondine, COTW is all Buck. Buck is a cross between a St Bernard (his father) and shepherd (his mother). Though the first 4 years of his life were spent in the comfort of the Santa Clara Valley in California, Buck finds himself as part of a dogsled team in the Yukon in the gold rush days of the 1890s. The story takes us through a succession of 5 owners. They run the gamut from bad to good. As Buck learns to adapt to his new surroundings, we see him exercise the imagination so sought by the Sawtelle breeders.

As Charlotte described in her review of London’s story “To Build a Fire”, his language is so vivid that you feel that you are right there. You feel the frenzy of the miners and the personalities of the dogs. To write with such feeling about Buck and his fellow dogs, London must have had some very special canines in his own life. Maybe it was the dogs he encountered during the year that he spent prospecting for gold in the Klondike during the gold rush. When an author is writing from personal experience there seems to be a special quality, an immediacy to the writing that no amount of research can duplicate.

As an aside, I listened to COTW on a free recording that I downloaded from but I also have a printed copy. I went to the hard copy to check something only to discover that the recorded version had omitted the last two pages – pages which bring a significant closure to the story. Another example I guess of “you get what you pay for.” Like many of London’s other works, COTW was first published in sequential issues of The Saturday Evening Post which left the text open to editors’ space and formatting constraints which were not present in the subsequent book publication. Nevertheless I am sorry for the recording lapse.

We in the San Francisco Bay Area are fortunate to be close to Jack London State Historic Park where London is buried and a museum chronicles his life and adventures. I’m tempted to pay a return visit.

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