I come late to this classic, which I gather is intended as a children’s story. Mind you, I suspect a few of the modern generation might have difficulty with some of the language and sentence structure. Be that as it may, the story is rightly a classic: the language is beautiful, the ideas, which are wide-ranging, are wonderfully expressed with little sign of authorial intrusion.
The central theme, of the reversion of the civilised into the primitive, is cleverly illustrated as Buck slowly learns from experience that, when it comes to simple survival, many of the trappings of civilisation are just that. There is no room for sentimentality in the extremes of the wild.
I don’t generally enjoy books that rely on anthropomorphism (the obvious exception is Orwell’s Animal Farm) but this is a story that works in spite of the humanisation of the central canine character. It says something about the writing skills of the author that the presentation of the dog as a creature capable of human reasoning is barely noticeable for most of the story. The tale itself dashes along at a pace that matches that of the husky teams it follows. There is nothing wasted, everything we are told is germane to the story.
One of my quibbles relates to the characters. This is a male-centred story and several archetypal males are represented, giving a sense of balance to the way men are depicted. Unfortunately, only one woman finds a place in the tale and she is stereotypical, insubstantial and without any real personality. A story intended for children needs to express the positive and negative aspects of both genders in equal measure. Any child reading this book will glean an impression of women as feeble, insecure, troublesome and hysterical. No examples of strong women, no honour or nobility here for the female of the species. It is, of course, of its time. But I do wonder to what extent it has been responsible for imposing a general prejudice against women in the psyche of some American males.
One other negative aspect that troubles me relates to the depiction of killing (albeit as a method of obtaining food) as something both desirable and admirable, rather than as a necessary evil. I suspect this may have had some effect on the hunting fraternity in the States, giving them permission to enter the wild and shoot animals for trophies. For Buck, the act of killing is an essential for survival. For the modern hunter, it is reduced to the element of ‘sport’; though how any rational being can associate the use of a gun against a wild animal with sport I cannot comprehend.
All that said, I enjoyed this book. I’d certainly recommend it to any adult reader who has not had the pleasure. But I’d caution against the exposure of children to the story.