"Old longings nomadic leap, chafing at custom's chain; again from its brumal sleep wakens the ferine strain."
This line, taken from the poem "Atavism," by John Myers O'Hara, serves as the epigraph for Jack London's canonized novella "Call of the Wild."
Though this epigraph uses some eloquent vocabulary, it more or less means that even a domesticated animal still has instincts, and just as the winter will pass, instinct will prevail.
Two Alaskan Huskies helped Prendergast Library kick off the 2013 Big Read featuring Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” on Friday evening.
P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb
Those who have read "Call of the Wild" understand why it serves as the perfect epigraph for London's book.
All this month, the Prendergast Library will be paying tribute to London and The Big Read by celebrating his much loved novella, "Call of the Wild." On Friday night, the library opened its ceremonies by inviting in two Alaskan Huskies, which is a breed often used as sled dogs in London's novels.
Though Buck, the protagonist in "Call of the Wild" is not a Husky, several of the dogs on the sled team he finds himself on are, including Spitz, Buck's nemesis.
The narrative of "Call of the Wild" follows a half Saint Bernard from California named Buck, who was kidnapped and beaten into submission by "A man in a red sweater," then sold off to become a sled dog up north.
During Buck's tenure as a sled dog, he is forced to transform from a lazy dog who used to spend every pleasant day in the California sun, into a ferocious, sled-pulling machine, undaunted by the elements and lack of food.
Furthermore, he must learn to exist within a pack of trained sled dogs, who do not take kindly to laziness.
As the narrative progresses, things look bleak for Buck, even though he learns to master the elements and becomes alpha dog in his pack. Unfortunately for Buck, his masters are cruel and expect too much of him. Eventually, one of his masters comes close to beating him to death out of frustration.
In that moment, Buck is saved by a man named John Thornton, who scares away Buck's abusive master. Buck is thankful to Thornton for saving him, and devotes himself completely to Thornton.
Thornton is a loving and caring master to Buck, and after Buck has recovered from his wounds, he and Thornton set forth to the Klondike in search of gold.
On their way to the Klondike, Thornton allows Buck to wander freely, because he knows that Buck will always return. While Buck is wandering, he hears howls at night, and begins feeling emotions he has never felt before. Buck feels something pulling him toward the wild, but he does not know what it is.
One night, while Buck is wandering, a group of Yeehats murder Thornton and his partners. Buck returns to find Thornton dead, and kills the Yeehats that murdered his late master.
With Thornton dead, and nothing tying Buck to civilization, he follows his urge to be in the wild. For years to come, the Indians in the Klondike notice wolf cubs that appear as though they have some Saint Bernard in them.
The novella is an excellent adventure story, however it has an important set of motifs, as well. London intentionally contrasts civilization and the wild, as well as the transitions Buck has to make to survive in both. London shows that both civilization and the wild have rules which must be followed to survive, and following the rules that keep you alive in civilization may kill you in the wild.
The Prendergast Library will follow up its Big Read opening ceremony with a viewing of the film adaptation of "Call of the Wild," as well as several book discussions. For the library's full Big Read calendar, please visit www.prendergastlibrary.org.