Excursions Of A Bibliophile

What are u reading these days?

A One Way Ticket To Wilderness – Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild”

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on February 25, 2012

A thing of beauty is a joy forever – this observation is equally relevant in the context of beautiful prose as it is relevant anywhere else. Good writing lives and grips a generation or two and once the context of the setting wanes, the prose starts to lose its sheen. It will start to acquire the hue of a “has-been” similar to the well preserved ruins of a once great civilization. On the contrary, great writing effortlessly transcends multiple generations and yet continues to retain its grip and haunting charm on its readers. Readers, despite passage of time, find new meanings that continue to remain relevant to them. There is an element of permanence associated with it. One feels involuntarily impelled to introduce such writings to subsequent generations as something valuable and sacred with a fervent hope that they too will get to see the same signs of greatness that one has witnessed in it. Into this category of great writing, I would unhesitatingly include Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild”. This is a book that I have read at different stages in my life and every time I found it to have an undiminished freshness, vitality, vigour, energy and relevance

At its core, “The Call of the Wild”, is the story of a transformative journey of Buck, a domesticated dog from Santa Clara valley in California ending up in the northern wildernesses of Klondike region in Canada, with the cleverness, killing instinct and cunningness of an untamed wild beast. The transformation is educative in the ways of the wild not just for Buck but also for the reader. London endows Buck with convincing intellect of a human being and yet retains the true nature of its being in an atmosphere which is primal, harsh and punishing. There is an unfettered freedom and abandon with which this landscape is described by London.

 London’s narration of Buck’s change from a neophyte follower into a confident leader of his dog pack and gradually extending his leadership over the wild wolf packs is a joy to read. It is in describing this change that London’s prose bristles with energy and insight that is memorable and memorability is an essential mark of greatness. Here is a passage which demonstrates this:

 There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time. He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not move

London is said to have lived the life of his stories, traveling in harsh climes far and wide and mingling with men whose life was full of danger and adventure. He is an extraordinary observer of the landscape around him and to the brilliant descriptions of external beauty; he also effortlessly melds his own highly refined thoughts which make his prose remarkable. In writing fiction that is vigorous and virile, London can be counted among the greatest of the greats – a true master. But that to my mind is not where the greatness of London’s writing lies. The aspect that heightens the appeal of London’s writing is the underlying and unstated thought revolving around the enticing allure of the wilderness and the primal nature of the wild. He makes the atmospherics of the cold north come alive seeing beyond what is visible

 Given the burden of our day to day living in this increasingly complex world of technology, urbanization and strife, there are times – not infrequently – when one feels like escaping into something which is far more natural, original and pristine. It is in the escape of Buck from the constraints and mores of a human civilization into a state of unrestrained existence of wilderness lies a vicarious escape for all men and women which is viscerally liberating  and that to me is the greatness of this wonderful book

 An all-time classic !



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