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Kiln People
Beth Meacham, David Brin

The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild - Jack London Novels narrated from a dog’s point of view are rarities. I distinctly remember reading two, [b:Fluke|459822|Fluke|James Herbert|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1406784508s/459822.jpg|448311] by the late great James Herbert, and [b:Cujo|10603|Cujo|Stephen King|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1394208144s/10603.jpg|996156] by Stephen King (only partly from the dog’s POV). If the author’s talent is up to the task, it is quite a nice change in perspective (though I am sure you wouldn't want to read fiction from a canine perspective all the time unless you are a dog, even actual dogs don't want to do that, I have asked a few).

Set in the Yukon during the 1890s Klondike Gold Rush, The Call of the Wild is narrated in the third person but almost entirely from the dog’s point of view. The protagonist is Buck, a huge St. Bernard-Scotch Collie. (half St. Bernard and half sheepdog). At the beginning of the book he is living a happy life as a pet of a judge but is soon stolen by the judge’s gardener and sold to dog traders, one of whom beat the stuffing out of him to teach him his place in the world (as the trader sees it). After this traumatic and transformative experience he is soon sold off to Canadian mail dispatchers. The story of his life as a sled dog is quite harrowing, featuring a fight for supremacy among his teammates, being sold off again to inhumane ignoramus and almost starving to death. Buck goes through the wringer and survives admirably thanks to his tenacity, cunning, fortitude and general badassery. The title of the book The Call of the Wild only becomes a theme toward the end of the book, but I won’t spoil the book by elaborating on this.

The book is generally very well written though but there is very little dialog, as the dogs are not Disneyfied / anthromorphosised talking animals. The hardship and abuse endured by the sled dogs is quite harrowing. If you think you’ve got it bad try being a sled dog (though if you are reading this the contingency is an unlikely one). The author Jack London clearly has a lot of affinity for dogs and feels a moral outrage at the abusive treatment they often receive from human beings. He also has an insight into dogs’ mentality as this passage demonstrates:

“But the club of the man in the red sweater had beaten into him a more fundamental and primitive code. Civilized, he could have died for a moral consideration, say the defence of Judge Miller's riding-whip; but the completeness of his decivilization was now evidenced by his ability to flee from the defence of a moral consideration and so save his hide.”

“In short, the things he did were done because it was easier to do them than not to do them.”

Ah! I wish my dog was so eloquent! The process of “decivilization” of Buck is a fascinating one, in order to survive he has to turn feral and it later transpires that Buck has some kind of primordial instinct for turning wild. That said he also has an almost conflicting desire to be loved by a human master, and for doing the best job he can as a sled dog, and later as a bodyguard and companion. What he also has above all other characters in this book is an indomitable will to live, and eventually to be free.

If you love dogs this is a novel not to be missed. It is quite short, only about 170 pages, and there is an excellent free audiobook version from Librivox, very well read by Mark F. Smith (thank you sir!).