I kept reading this book by Jack London thinking that I’d read it before in grade school, and that any minute now some guy would need to start a fire to stay alive while his dog just sat there thinking he was an idiot for coming out in the cold like this. But apparently, that was a different story. Part of the confusion probably comes from the fact that The Call of the Wild also features a dog and the perils of the frozen North, but this book is much more focussed on the canine part of the cast.
It is, in fact, a fine old adventure story where Buck, a big ole’ dog, is yanked out of his life of relative comfort and sold into the harsh world of sled dogs caught up in the frenzy of a gold rush to the fridged Yukon. The story traces Buck’s arc from bewildered newcomer to his battle to become the alpha male of a sled dog team and finally the leader of a wild wolf pack. Buck triumphs over many obstacles, stares down many dangers, and endures many hardships in his journey, and it’s all pretty entertaining.
It is, in fact, the kind of adventure story that many young boys would be interested in, even in this day and age. There’s some cruelty and violence, but none of it is gratuitous, and let’s face it: having a badass dog as the main hero is an effective hook for boys (and some girls). The only thing that I found kind of distracting is that having Buck be the main hero necessitated humanizing him, to the point of giving him intelligence nearly on par with that of the humans around him. For example, the furry hero routinely uses reason or displays emotions not typically found in animals. It’s the kind of thing that nudges the story from straight-up adventure story into the territory of fable or fantasy, but if you can suspend that bit of disbelief it’s not a bad ride.