Since I started reading again recently I have been reading shorter books that are easier to concentrate on, given the difficulties with memory and concentration that come with depression. I was motivated to read The Call of the Wild by Jack London partly because of it’s length, and partly because I saw Sean Penn’s moving film Into the Wild, the story of Christopher McCandless’ ill-fated adventures. London was apparently one of McCandless’ favorite authors.
London, along so many others, went to the Klondike gold rush of the 1890s. He came away with empty pockets, but a rich store of memory and experience to use in his writing.
"The Call of the Wild" tells the story of Buck, a Saint Bernard-Border Collie cross who is stolen from a comfortable life in California, to be sold into servitude as a sled dog. He is strong and intelligent, and manages to become a superb sled dog, before eventually becoming totally wild, eventually joining a wolf pack. The contrast of the harsh purity of the wild with the corrupt and troubled world of men, and the call of the wild that Buck eventually follows, obviously resonated with McCandless, a man in search of liberation from what he saw as a hopelessly compromised society.
But perhaps McCandless should have noted more carefully that as well as this veneration of nature and struggle that runs through the book, London is also clear that nature is Darwinian. Not everyone is going to make it. Buck is strong in body and spirit and manages to endure, but the other characters in the book, whether man or dog, usually don’t survive the wilderness or their own weaknesses. This is not written emotionally, just stated as a fact.
The wild is beautiful and where we are most alive, because success means to live more intensely than is possible elsewhere. But failure means death. And those who journey there will be tried and tested. Some will make it, and many will not.
As someone who struggles daily wondering if I will make it or not, it is a harsh message. But it rings of the truth. We are all tried and tested, and many of us are found wanting. I am no Buck. I can’t see myself leading the pack. But I hope I have the strength within me to endure.