Literature / The Call of the Wild

Thornton grabbed the man's arm before the lash could land on Buck's back. "If you strike that dog again," Thornton said flatly, "I'll kill you."
The Call of The Wild

The Call of the Wild is a 1903 novel by Jack London. The plot revolves around a dog named Buck and how his primal instincts return as he serves as a sled dog in the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush. It's usually considered his best novel, and he followed it with a Spiritual Successor called White Fang, a longer and even darker story about a wolf being domesticated and eventually sent to live in San Francisco. Because the protagonist is a dog, it is often mistaken for a kid's book. The dark tone and gritty violence make it decidedly not. The novel has had a lot of adaptations over the years, usually focusing on the human characters more than the dogs.

Adaptions include:
  • A 1935 version starring Clark Gable and Loretta Young.
  • The 1972 film starring Charles Heston and Mick Steele
  • An anime film adaptation in the 1980s by Toei Animation
  • A different anime adaptation called Anime Yasei no Sakebi (English Anime Cry of Wildness)
  • A 1997 adaptation, The Call of the Wild: Dog of the Yukon starring Rutger Hauer, which was actually fairly faithful to the book.
  • A television series broadcast in 2000.
  • A family-friendly PG-rated film called Call of the Wild in Digital Real-D 3D, which failed at the box office

The Call of the Wild provides examples of the following tropes:

  • The Ace: Buck is strong, intelligent, bold, clever, patient and just about whatever else he needs to be. By the end of the story he's a legend in Alaska.
  • Anyone Can Die: The death toll in dogs and men grows quite high throughout the story.
  • Berserk Button:
    • The book has a grizzled older sledding dog named Sol-Leks, with one blind eye. Buck, the mutt protagonist of the novel, takes a nasty bite when he approaches Sol-leks from his blind side and is careful never to do it again. Animals that are partially blind really will lash out of things that approach from their blind side.
    • God have mercy on your soul if you hurt John Thornton in front of Buck. He will tear you to pieces!
  • Big Damn Heroes: John Thornton saves Buck from certain death by beating up the guy who was whipping him.
    • Buck in turn saves him twice in return. Black Burton punches John once...and is rewarded by a torn throat from Buck. And John falls into a fast-moving river...and Buck jumps into the water to save him.
  • Bittersweet Ending: John Thornton, the only man Buck was truly devoted to, is dead. But Buck is able to find a new pack in the forests of the Yukon.
  • Bookends: When published with White Fang. Amusingly, it works no matter which order you read them in — if you start with Call of the Wild (written & published first), the book ends are set in human homes, while starting with White Fang has the book ends in the forest.
  • Comic Trio: Hal, Charles, and Mercedes. At least, they're comic until their inexperience starts to endanger their lives and those of their dogs. Eventually they drive their sled onto thin ice despite a warning, killing themselves and all their remaining dogs.
  • Crapsack World: Just surviving in Alaska means you have to be a bastard, whether you're a dog or a man.
  • Death by Newbery Medal: John Thornton dies.
  • Death World: Alaska is a frozen wasteland where just daily survival is a horrible struggle for both humans and animals, beset at all sides by hostile wildlife, savage natives and dangerous climate.
  • Eaten Alive: All dogs that lose a fight.
  • Everyone Is Armed: Set in the Klondike gold rush, a nearly lawless wilderness where hunting for game and defending against predators (animal and human) means virtually everyone goes armed.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: All over the place.
  • Grim Up North
  • Handicapped Badass: Sol-Leks may be blind in one eye, but that doesn't make him any weaker. Buck learns this the hard way.
  • Injun Country: John Thornton wanders into it while mining for gold. Sure enough, he and his partner are killed by a passing band of Yeehats.
  • Insult of Endearment: A borderline example, for whenever John Thornton pets Buck and cuddles with him, he lavishes him with curse words and insults. But Buck enjoys this and sees this as a loving (yet strange) gesture.
  • Kick the Dog: Starve the dog, shun the dog, bite the dog...
  • Klingon Promotion: Subverted, Buck expects to be made lead dog after killing Spitz, but Pierre tries to put the more experienced Sol-Leks in front instead. Buck eventually gets his wish after making it clear that he won't accept any other position. And at the end Buck takes over a wolf pack by killing a few of the wolves.
  • The Leader: Buck becomes the alpha of a wolf pack.
  • Lemony Narrator
  • Mercy Kill: Dogs which are too tired or hurt to work get this treatment.
  • Might Makes Right: The "law of club and fang".
  • Noble Savage: Buck becomes the canine equivalent of this at the end of the book.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Buck slaughters almost every Indian in the village after they kill John Thornton and his companions. In fact, he was so angry that he dodged every arrow and made the hunter kill each other by accident.
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Billee and Joe. Billee is a good-natured fellow, while Joe is vicious and ruthless.
  • The Power of Love: Buck's relationship with John Thornton.
  • Rated M for Manly: Rated D for Dogly ?
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Buck goes on one after John Thornton is killed by the Yeehats.
  • Sacrificial Lamb: Curly is killed by a pack of huskies early on, providing Buck with a harsh lesson in survival. Also an example of Kill the Cutie.
  • The Savage Indian: The Yeehats.
  • This Is My Human: Buck thinks of himself as the Judge's "steward", if nothing else, and thinks of the Judge's children as the Judge's property (and thus beneath himself). He realizes the error in his thinking after he's stolen and beaten into submission as a sled dog.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Hal, Charles, and Mercedes. Though they are completely inexperienced and unsuited for the icy wilds of the North, they refuse to take the advice of more experienced explorers and try to make it their way. This gets them killed.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: We only knew Curly for a bit, and she's killed off rather quickly.
  • White Hair, Black Heart: Spitz is the canine equivalent of this. He is described as having snow-white fur, and has a rather cruel temperament.
  • World of Badass
  • Xenofiction