‘Deep in the forest a call was sounding, and . . . he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire, and to plunge into the forest.’
“Man and dog are here together put back into prehistory, one of the moments of metaphorical abutment in which the book abounds. The law of the club and the law of the fang are one and the same, which is to say that in this primeval life of nature man and dog are morally indistinguishable-the call of the wild calls us all. We are dealing in this instance with not a literal dog but a mythopoetic thesis.
It is perhaps his fatherless life of bitter self-reliance in late-nineteenth-century America that he transmutes here-though this is not the way it does us any good to read it. It seems more relevantly his mordant parable of the thinness of civilisation, the brutality ready to spring up through our institutions, the failure of the human race to evolve truly from its primeval beginnings. It derives from Jack London’s Marxism the idea of the material control of our natures, and from his Darwinism the convictions that life triumphant belongs to the most fit. This is not a sweet idea for a book, it is rather the kind of concept to justify tyrannies and the need of repressive social institutions to keep people from tearing themselves to bits. But London’s Nietzchean superdog has our admiration, if the truth be told. For as grim as its implications are, the tale never forgets its sources as a magazine frontier romance. It leaves us with satisfaction as its outcome, a story well and truly told. It is Jack London’s hack genius that makes us cheer for his Buck and want to lope with him in happy, savage honor back to the wild, running and howling with the pack.”
“Bucks first day on the Dyea beach was like a nightmare. Every hour was filled with shock and surprise. He had been suddenly jerked from the heart of civilisation and flung into the heart of things primordial. No lazy, sun-kissed life was this, with nothing to do but loaf and be bored. Here was neither peace, nor rest, nor a moment’s safety. All was confusion and action, and every moment life and limb was in peril. There was imperative need to be constantly alert; for these dogs and men were not town dogs and men. They were savages, all of them, who knew no law but the law of club and fang.”
“And not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead became alive again. The domesticated generations feel from him. In vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed, to the time the wild dogs ranged in packs through the primeval forest and killed their meat as they ran it down. It was no task for him to learn to fight with cut and slash and the quick wolf snap. In this manner had fought forgotten ancestors. They quickened the old life within him, and the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of the breed were his tricks. They came to him without effort or discovery, as though they had been his always. And when, on the still, cold nights, he pointed his nose at the star and howled long and wolf like, it was his ancestors, dead and dust, pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and through him. And his cadences were their cadences, the cadences which voiced their woe and what to them was the meaning of the stillness, and the cold, and dark.
Thus, as token of what a puppet thing life is, the ancient song surged through him and he came into his own again; and he came because men had found a yellow metal in the North…”
“The dominant primordial beast was strong in Buck, and under the fierce conditions of the trial life it grew and grew. Yet it was a secret growth. His newborn cunning gave him poise and control. He was too busy adjusting himself to the new life to feel at ease, and not only did he not pick fights, but he avoided them whenever possible. A certain deliberateness characterized his attitude. He was not prone to rashness and precipitate action; and in the bitter hatred between him and Spitz he betrayed no impatience, shunned all offensive acts.”
“All that stirring of old instincts which at stated periods drives men out from the surrounding cities to forest and plain to kill things by chemically propelled leaden pellets, the blood lust, the joy to kill-all this was Buck’s, only it was infinitely more intimate. He was ranging at the head of the pack, running the wild thing down, the living meat, to kill with his own teeth and wash his muzzle to the eyes in warm blood.
There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the solider, war-mad on a stricken field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding the old wolf cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time. He was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not move.”
“It was beautiful spring weather, but neither dogs nor humans were aware of it. Each day rose earlier and set later. It was dawn by three in the morning, and twilight lingered till nine at night. The whole long day was a blaze of sunshine. The ghostly winter silence had given way to the great spring murmur of awakening life. This murmur arose from al the land, fraught with the joy of living. It came from the things that lived and moved again, things which had been as dead and which had not moved during the long months of frost. The sap was rising in the pines. The willows and aspens were bursting out in young buds. Shrubs and vines were putting on fresh garbs of green. Crickets sang in the nights, and in the days all manner of creeping, crawling things rusted forth into the sun. Partridges and woodpeckers were booming and knocking in the forest. Squirrels were chattering, birds singing, and overhead honked the wild fowl driving up from the south in cunning wedges that split the air.”
“This man had saved his life, which was something; but, further, he was the ideal master. Other men saw to the welfare of their dogs from a sense of duty and business expediency; he was to the welfare of his as if they were his own children, because he could not help it. And he saw further. He never forgot kindly greeting or a cheering word, and to sit down for a long talk with them (gas he called it) was as much his delight as theirs. He had a way of taking Buck’s head roughly between his hands, and resting his own head upon Buck’s, of shaking him back and forth, the while calling him ill names that to Buck were love names. Buck knew no greater joy than that rough embrace and the sound of murmured oaths, and at each jerk back and forth it seemed that his heart would be shaken out of his body so great was its ecstasy. And when, released, he sprang to his feet, his mouth laughing, his eyes eloquent, his throat vibrant with unuttered sound, and in that fashion remained without movement, John Thornton would reverently exclaim, “God! You can all but speak!”
“The blood longing became stronger than ever before. He was a killer, a thing that preyed, living on the things that lived, unaided, alone, by virtue of his own strength and prowess, surviving triumphantly in a hostile environment where only the strong survived. Because all of this he became possessed of a great pride in himself, which communicated itself like a contagion to his physical being. It advertised itself in all his movements, was apparent in the play of very muscle, spoke plainly as speak in the way he carried himself, and made his glorious furry coat if anything more glorious. But for the stray brown on his muzzle and above his eyes, and for the splash of white hair that ran midmost down his chest, he might well have been mistaken for a gigantic wolf, larger than the largest of the breed. From his St. Bernard father he had inherited size and weight, but it was his shepherd mother who had given shape to that size and weight. His muzzle was the long wolf muzzle, save that it was larger than the muzzle of any wolf; and his head, somewhat broader, was the wolf head on a massive scale.”
“There is a patience of the wild-dogged, tireless, persistent as life itself-that holds motionless for endless hours the spider in its web, the snake in its coils, the panther in its ambuscade; this patience belong peculiarly to life when it hunts its living food; and it belonged to Buck as he clung to the flank of the herd….”