The real stories behind famous works of literature are sometimes more interesting than the works themselves. Jack London's 1903 novella The Call of the Wild is a tale that packs a lot of drama into its 80 pages – and there's even more action behind the scenes of its creation.
Esteemed cultural critics have even regarded The Call of the Wild as the "Breaking Bad of animal literature." Alright, no they haven't – yet, thematically, the comparison checks out. The novel’s canine protagonist, Buck, takes a journey from a mundane – but socially acceptable – life of domesticity to ascendancy over the limitations of human (and canine) morality in the kill-or-be-killed wild of the Klondike Gold Rush. Not unlike the New Mexico crystal meth trade, eh?
That's enough of the Breaking Bad comparisons. In reality, Buck’s character arc can be compared to most classic heroes' journeys. Buck is kidnapped from his comfy California ranch pad and taken to the primitive dangers of the Alaskan gold rush where, in order to survive, he utilizes internal strength he never knew he had. In doing so, Buck becomes the wild and dangerous animal he was always meant to be.
London wrote the novel from the perspective of a non-human animal with human emotions and perspectives. This narrative point of view allows the novel to become an exercise for London to work through the philosophies and experiences that inspired his deeply personal book. So what was Jack London's inspiration for writing the text? They ranged from the literal to the philosophical to the existential. In a peculiar stroke of irony, the hugely successful The Call of the Wild would see London plucked from his wild, ragtag origins and reared into a tortured domesticity.
Buck Was Based On A Real Dog Named Jack
While many of the things that the protagonist pooch of The Call of the Wild experiences are based on some of the philosophies London was grappling with at the time he was writing, Buck himself was based on a real dog. When London first arrived in Alaska in 1897, he became the tenant of two brothers, Marshall and Louis Whitford Bond. Their dog made an impression on London immediately, for they shared a name – Jack. Dog Jack was a St. Bernard-Collie mix just like Buck. The connection between the fictional dog and the pet of London’s former landlords is not just wishful thinking on the part of historians, either.
In a letter London wrote to Marshall Bond in 1903, he explicitly states it: “Yes, Buck was based on your dog.”
Like Buck, London Almost Wasted Away In The Canadian Wilderness
London died young – at 40 – after a life plagued with health problems. These problems began during his time in the harsh Klondike wilderness. Like Buck, London battled malnutrition and starvation. He developed a very serious case of scurvy, which led to swollen gums, tooth loss, and marks that would remain on his face for the rest of his life. He also developed hip and leg muscle pain, that affected his movements. Buck is able to overcome the threats to his health, but, like some of the unlucky sled dogs, London could never really escape his time in the Yukon.
London Was Inspired By A Nonfiction Book He Was Later Accused Of Plagiarizing
London’s experiences in the Klondike Gold Rush were not his only inspiration for The Call of the Wild. He also was "influenced" by the nonfiction book My Dogs in Northland by Egerton R. Young. Young was a priest in Canada and traveled around by dog sled. In his book, Young provides a detailed account of a variety of dog breeds replete with adorable chapter titles like “Cassar, The Clever Rascal” and “Cuppy, The Beautiful Newfoundland.” An article in The Independent, written by one L.A.M. Bosworth, claimed that London had stolen Young’s experiences for The Call of the Wild. London said that the text was merely inspiration, and the two were not comparable as his was a fictional story. He also claimed to have written Young a letter "thanking him" for the source material.
This was not the only well-founded charge of plagiarism that London faced during his writing career.
London Was A Gold Prospector In The Yukon – And He Used That To Write The Book
London dropped out of school twice. The first time he was a young lad of 14. He left school in order to both travel and help his family earn an income. He returned in time to graduate from high school and managed to nab admission to UC Berkeley. One year, however, was all that he needed of that. London dropped out after his freshman year to go “find himself.”
And, in July of 1897, after receiving a devastating letter from his biological father, London left California for Canada’s harsh Klondike territory where a new gold rush had begun. This phase of his life became the setting for The Call of the Wild. London lugged heavy gear through narrow mountain passes; he made beds in snow banks; and he witnessed the dangers that resulted from his fellow men's reliance on the rules that governed the rest of the world. The only rule in the wilderness was survival. This existential lesson became a driving theme in The Call of the Wild.