Over the winter, I got a box of books from my mother that she had been saving up for my classroom library. A few of those books didn’t quite make it to the library (yet) and instead have stayed home with me so I can read them first.
One of these books is The Call of the Wild – and selected stories by Jack London. I had always heard of these stories but had never read Jack London’s work until I read To Build a Fire with my students during a short-story unit (which I loved).
This collection has The Call of the Wild, Diable – a Dog, An Odyssey of the North, To the Man on Trail, To Build a Fire, and Love of Life. I decided to feature each of these short stories with a mini-review!
The Call of the Wild
Synopsis: Buck gets taken from his home in California to the harsh Alaskan gold rush. While working as a sled dog, Buck runs up and down the arctic landscape and becomes infamous among dogs and humans alike. He passes between a handful of owners before finding his peace with John Thorton.
Review: First, I love that this story was told from Buck’s perspective. I think it offered a unique look at what he might be going through. Buck changes throughout this story from a city, pampered pooch to a ghost dog that is charged and channeled by work and nature’s call. Being able to see that transition was exciting as the reader. The desire to be in nature was something I felt like I could connect to. There were many great aspects to this storyline and there was never a dull moment!
Diable — a Dog
Synopsis: Diable is anything but man’s best friend. Thought of as a devil, he is well matched with his owner Black Leclère – also thought to be a devilish man. They never become friends, yet never leave each other’s side.
Review: This short story was very different from The Call of the Wild and was the second in my collection of stories. I found it interesting how Jack London was able to create a different dog in such a malicious way. We were able to see the thoughts of both Diable and Black Leclère, understanding just how deep the hatred went. The struggle between the two characters was interesting to read and think about.
An Odyssey of the North
Synopsis: Malemute Kid comes across a stranger, a man known for wandering the woods. He frees him of his commitments and watches his sled away towards his own prospects for gold. Only to see him return later, spilling the history of his guarded past and to repay a debt.
Review: This story is so unlike the first two in this collection. The Call of the Wild and Diable were both centered on the dogs while this story was more focused on the man, Naass. London created a vivid description of a man from a native village and his quest to redeem his honor and win back his wife. Listening to the Naass’s story, I imagined that I was also in Malemute Kid’s cabin, huddled around the fire with open and eager ears. Definitely an interesting and gripping story.
To the Man on Trail
Synopsis: Malemute Kid is mixing up a brew in his cabin when a man, Jack Westondale, enters. Having heard of the man, Kid offers him food and a quick nap before helping him leave as quickly as he came.
Review: The phrase “to the man on trail” was used as a toast in this story for all the men away from the comforts of a cabin and fire. This story shows that in spite of being in a rough place, where corruption can be found easier than the gold, that it pays to have a decent heart and a good mind. Shorter than the first three, but a great read.
To Build a Fire
Synopsis: A man sets out to cross the Klondike alone, except for the companionship of a dog. He is eager to reach his friends in the cabin by six, but the temperature and the ice had other things in mind for him.
Review: This story is heartbreaking and does not have a happy ending. What I love about this story is that the man attempts to do everything right, but ends up being hit with a round of bad luck. It is written in such a profound way that even I felt the desperation of the man from the comfort of my couch. (This was also my first story from Jack London, so a reread was really fun!)
Love of Life
Synopsis: After being abandoned by his friend Bill, a man is determined to stay alive and is driven forward by his unending hunger. It leads him to visions, hallucinations, and finally a place of salvation.
Review: This tale, unlike To Build a Fire, has more of a happy ending. Just like the previous story, I could feel the desperation and hunger of the man as he is desperate to survive. Jack London dabbled in the side of the wild that can cause one to go crazy, and really pulled it off.
All of these stories were a treat to read. They are filled with profound writing, incredible suspense, and reminders of our innate survival instincts when faced with desperate situations.
Have you read any of these? Be sure to let me know what you thought of them!