The Call of the Wild | Study Guide

Jack London

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The Call of the Wild | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Jack London's 1903 classic wilderness adventure novel The Call of the Wild follows the adventures of Buck, a dog taken from California to Alaska to serve as a sled dog. As the story progresses, Buck becomes more in tune with his instincts and feral ways, learning to exist in the harsh environment. Realizing he must fight to survive in this brutal world, Buck becomes a strong leader despite his humble origins. The Call of the Wild can be read both as a simple, enjoyable adventure tale and as a thought-provoking meditation on the natural order of the world and the ways in which strength of body and mind are essential to survival.

1. London spent a year in the Yukon doing research for The Call of the Wild.

In 1897–98 Jack London tried living in Alaska to prospect for gold. He took a boat north through a series of lakes and often found himself negotiating difficult rapids. Although he became extremely sick with scurvy during the winter due to a lack of available vitamin C, he became fascinated by the wilderness and lifestyle of the Far North. His captivation with the landscape would inspire him to set The Call of the Wild in this unforgiving environment. He noted that two books that he brought with him, Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species and John Milton's Paradise Lost, provided the intellectual backdrop for his expedition.

2. London originally planned The Call of the Wild to be much shorter.

The Call of the Wild is classified as a short novel, but London originally intended it to be a short story. The author stated, "It got away from me and instead of 4,000 words it ran 32,000 before I could call a halt."

3. Before writing The Call of the Wild, London wrote a much darker story about a dog.

"Diable—A Dog," later retitled "Bâtard," was London's first work featuring a canine protagonist. In his story, the dog acts as an antihero, eventually rising up and killing his master. London noted that he wrote The Call of the Wild, in part, to "redeem the species" from the image he portrayed in "Bâtard."

4. Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book was London's inspiration for The Call of the Wild.

London credited The Jungle Book, which was published only a few years earlier, as his primary influence for The Call of the Wild. Despite the vastly different settings, both works feature anthropomorphized animals given complex human emotions. London acknowledged Kipling's influence on his own work and praised the author, saying, "As for myself, there is no end of Kipling in my work...I would never have possibly written anywhere near the way I did had Kipling never been."

5. Buck in The Call of the Wild was modeled after a dog owned by London's friend.

When visiting Dawson City in the Yukon, London met his friend Marshall Bond's dog, a St. Bernard-Scotch collie. London was very fond of the dog and, in a letter to his friend London admitted, "Yes, Buck is based on your dog at Dawson."

6. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt accused London of being a "nature faker" for his depiction of Buck in The Call of the Wild.

The term nature faker was an insult used against authors of nature fiction featuring personified animal characters. Along with various critics who accused London of misrepresenting animals as "men in fur," the renowned naturalist and President Theodore Roosevelt weighed in and used the term "nature faker" to describe the author.

7. London was accused of plagiarism for The Call of the Wild.

London faced many accusations of plagiarism, particularly for ripping off the 1902 story My Dogs in the Northland by Egerton R. Young. Critics agree that this, as well as other claims of plagiarism against London, have merit. London has admitted that Young's novel was a source for him and that he wrote Young a letter of thanks for providing inspiration.

8. Scholars have called Buck in The Call of the Wild a "Nietzschean hound" after the famous philosopher.

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, most famous for his thoughts on nihilism, may have been an inspiration for London's canine protagonist. In addition to being influenced by Darwin's concept of survival of the fittest, the story shows elements of the Nietzschean "superman" theory, in which the concept of the most powerful life form is the goal humanity has set for itself.

9. Before becoming an author, London traveled the United States as a hobo.

As a young man during a devastating economic downturn between 1893 and 1896, London's job prospects were slim. As a result, he spent several years panhandling and traveling around the country by freight rail, each day a struggle to scrape by and make ends meet.

10. London had his writing rejected more than 650 times before finding success.

Over the course of his career, London received a mountain of rejection letters. Many were very brief, with such statements as, "Much too long for what it tells," and "Too tragic. We're open to little love stories of 1,600 words." Although he was constantly discouraged by rejections, he once noted, optimistically, "If I die, I shall die hard, fighting until the last."

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