Tag Archives: literature

Book Review: Ringworld

Book Name: Ringworld
Author: Larry Niven
First Published: 1970
Winner of Nebula Award 1970 , Hugo and Locus Award 1971

Larry Niven is a graduate of Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas where he gained an Bachelor of Arts in mathematics. He did a year of graduate work at the University of California at Los Angeles. He makes his home in Los Angeles and is a full-time writer of novels, movies and television series. He is married to Marilyn Wisowaty, and they make their home in the Los Angeles area. Niven is a full-time writer of novels, movies and television episodes going back to the 1960s and still producing new work today.

The story of Ringworld opens on planet Earth near 3000 A.D. when Louis Gridley Wu celebrates his 200th birthday by traveling across the Earth to the West to extend his birthday by hours. Although in good physical condition due to the science of the day, he is bored with life. All this changes when an alien known as a Pierson’s Puppeteer named Nessus offers him one of three positions on an exploration voyage beyond human known space. The other two crewmembers are an alien known as a Kzin named Speaker-to-Animals (Speaker) and a young human woman named Teela Brown.

Their first stop on the journey is on the Puppeteer homeworld. There the crew learns that they are on a mission to explore a ringworld. This is an artificial ring of around one million miles wide which encircles a star at around the distance of Earth’s orbit around our Sun. The ring rotates which produces gravity at around Earth normal. The ringworld’s inner surface is habitable, providing the area of three million Earths to explore. Night is created by an inner ring of shadow squares that are connected by thin wire.

Wu and the others travel to the ringworld where their ship is disabled by the world’s automated meteor defense system. They crash land into the ringworld near a huge mountain. The ship’s technology keeps much of it intact despite the crash, they keep their hyperdrive that allows them to travel between solar systems, but they lose their regular proposion system which is what they need to free themselves of the ringworld.

Wu, Speaker and Teela Brown set off on flycycles (a sort of flying jet bike) to explore the ringworld and see if they can find something or someone to help them repair their ship. They discover humanoid ringworld primitive natives that live in the crumbled ruins of a technological city. The natives believe that Wu and his team are ringworld engineers, and look on them as gods, until the crew misuse certain technologies and thus “commit blasphemy”.

As they continue their journey, Nessus reveals the reason why Teela Brown was included on the voyage. His people have performed indirect breeding experiments on humans to try and create the psonic ability of “luck”. Teela is the result of generations of humans that have won in a breeding lottery on Earth. Nessus concludes that it was thought that Teela Brown would bring good fortune to the voyage due to this ability. This confession angers the crew and Nessus is forced to separate from them, but he continues to follow them at a distance.

Eventually, the entire team meets up with a former crewmember of a spaceship that once traded between the ringworld and other inhabited planets. “Prill” tells them why the ringworld’s civilization fell. With Prill’s help, Teela Brown and her lover Seeker, the team makes plans to escape from the ringworld.

I read this book back in the 1980s when I was a teenager and forging for every science fiction novel that I could find. It is interesting to note that the original publication of this novel had a mistake that haunted the author for some time. When Wu travels around the earth to extend his birthday, Niven originally had his traveling Eastward. This would have shortened his birthday. In later editions, the author changed this section to show that Wu traveled westward, which would indeed make his natal day longer. In his dedication of The Ringworld Engineers, Niven wrote, “If you own a first paperback edition of Ringworld, it’s the one with the mistakes in it. It’s worth money.”

I remember being weirded out by the concept of Teela Brown. The idea that people could be bred for “luck” was a strange idea to me and it is a central concept of the Ringworld novels. Later, when Teela changes into a new stage of humanity in future novels of the series, I found her to be frightening. Compared to what goes on in today’s novels though, Teela Brown is rather tame.

Ringworld is considered hard science fiction. The science of the book is based on what might happen in the real world and while there are elements of detective novels and adventure in the book, science is the main draw of the story. One of the reasons why I enjoy classic science fiction is that it details how life might improve with new technology instead of being destroyed by it. Many of the concepts outlined in Ringworld are coming to fruition today. There are test runs being done to mice in which genetic engineers may extend human life by hundreds of years by switching out a few genes, proto-types for hyperdrive space ships are moving from the theorist’s drawing table into the realms of real life possibility, and who knows, perhaps luck might even now be a factor in our progeny. The stories are a precursor, or perhaps even a progenitor, of what is to come in our lifetimes.

Niven is easy to read, his concepts about science and people are sound. This is a great series to add to your collection to gain an understanding of what classic hard science fiction is all about.

Ringworld Book CoverRingworld Series

Ringworld (1970)
The Ringworld Engineers (1971)
The Ringworld Throne (1996)
Ringworld’s Children (2004)

UCLA Writers Faire

ucla signThere are a few people in my local writing group that are in MFA programs here in Southern California. I’ve heard about their classes and seen the relationship between them and their professors by the notes they diligently follow as they work on their stories. When UCLA announced a Writers Faire on campus featuring free panels of professors to talk about writing and the ability to sign up for any class in their writing program at a 10 percent discount, I put the date on my calendar and decided to give the event a perusal.

Traffic was with me. This is a semi-religious statement known to most dwellers of Los Angeles when you find open road on a Sunday. Any other day of the week, my trip to the university would have been over two hours. I arrived at Parking Structure Two, with ample time to spare, before the first panel would begin.

“Welcome to the Writers Faire, do you know the password?” The young woman in the reflective vest asked in a bored voice.

I stared at the parking attendant, not sure how to answer her question. I resisted the urge to tell her Open Sesame.

“If you don’t know the password, or have a badge, it will be $12 to park. Cash.” I frowned. No one had mentioned to me that I needed to bring a badge or the increase in parking fees. The last time I had been on campus, parking was $8. I opened my wallet, but balked. It was not so much the higher rate, but the situation I was put in. Password indeed! “Can I make a U-Turn out? I will find parking elsewhere.”

There was a shrug. “Sure. If you want.”

On my way through Westwood, I had passed a small parking garage which proclaimed a $5 flat rate. It would be a little bit of a walk from the bottom of the hill, but the savings to my pocket book would be worth it to me, and it would salvage my pride. I found the walk to campus to be delightful as I passed by a botanical garden and then proceed on cement pathways through buildings that were a mixture of design from traditional brick to modern cement.

Writers Faire Vendors

Ahead in one of the courtyards, I spotted a small grouping of white EZup tents and market umbrellas. Most of the tables were for writing classes at the university or the entertainment media program. On the pavilion an entire area was set aside for students to queue and enroll at a 10 percent discount. Several universities had information about their writing programs, including USC, UC Riverside, Chapman College, and Cal Arts.

Organization of Black ScreenwritersThe first table I stopped at was the Organization of Black Screenwriters. A lovely lady in yellow explained about her non-profit group. She assured me that the group was open to anyone with an interest in screenwriting and her organization would be an excellent networking opportunity.

The Independent Writers of Southern California or IWOSC were offering mini-writing panels at the faire. They are a large, friendly writing society with plenty of activities for members to attend. I understand that they offer writing webinars in addition to their Los Angeles based meetings.

A Room of Her Own or ARHO is dedicated to furthering the vision of Virginia Woolf and bridging the gap between a woman’s economic reality and her artistic creation. The ladies tending their table had a drawing for a writer’s retreat and photos about the last one that the organization hosted at a desert resort.

The Writer’s Junction is a workspace where you can find the quiet of a library, the society of a coffee house and the focus of an office. It is located in Santa Monica and the space is available for a low monthly stipend. I loved the idea, but traveling to Santa Monica is simply too far for me.

PEN Center USAThe final table I visited was shared by two literary magazines from PEN Center USA. The Rattling Wall is a year old and is looking for up and coming writers. The editor of the magazine was on hand to answer questions about his journal. The other literary magazine, The Los Angeles Review, was giving a free issue to interested readers. I found both the magazine representatives to be outgoing and genuinely interested in finding fresh talent for their publications. With hundreds of young aspiring writers underfoot at the Faire, I’m sure that they were successful.

It was time for the first battery of panels to begin. I selected a panel called Writing for the Youth Market. As the panel of four writers began I found myself questioning if these professors took the Writers Faire seriously. One arrived late and then informed the crowd that she was more a dancer than a novelist, another kept repeating “I don’t know why I’m here.”, and still another told the crowd of aspiring YA authors that if they wanted to be published, then they should seek out AARP, a senior citizen newsletter and write articles for this corporate publication. Only one panelist made an honest effort to be on topic and talk about what sort of writing you should do to make your story into young adult or new adult stories. To say that I was disappointed at the end of this panel would be an understatement.

Panel  on Writing and Publishing Short Stories

My next panel was across the courtyard and was entitled The Art of Writing and Publishing Short Fiction. This time, the panelists were professors of the advanced writing program. Each gave a short mini-lecture that demonstrated examples of information you might learn in their class and a listing of their experience and writing credentials was given. I was impressed by this panel, each instructor had an interesting personal story to tell, and because their skill as storytellers was evident, I felt that I got to know them better. My favorite of the panel was an inspiring hispanic woman that told us how she started as a substitute teacher at Los Angeles Unified School District, but left to continue with her writing, earned a fellowship, and then became a writing teacher at UCLA. Afterward, I went to the panel to ask further questions about publishing. The answer I received should help me begin my next step in writing. Of all the panels I saw that day, this was the best group. I would be honored to take a writing class from any of these instructors.

Questions After A PanelThere was an hour break for lunch before I returned to the courtyard to attend two more panels. I found both of them to be less than desirable, but mainly because they were aimed at beginning writers who knew little about the market, publishing or how to organize and write their stories. The panels were more about selling the writing program to young students, than imparting writing information. What little information was provided was what you could easily find on the internet.

As I departed that afternoon, I pondered that the Writers Faire was more to look over the program and the professors that would be teaching you at UCLA than being an event to learn about writing. This is not an invaluable thing. Many times you sign up for a course with no idea what the teacher will be like. By having the opportunity to listen to the teachers speak, hear more about their classes and their backgrounds, it makes it easier to make an informed decision about which classes you might wish to take or about the entire program in general.

Writing is a personal experience and every teacher brings something different to the table. Make sure it is a meal that is worthy of your repast. I am glad that I took the day to go to UCLA and learn more about what the university has to offer.

Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

Book Name: A Wizard of Earthsea
Author: Ursula K. Le Guin
First Published: 1968

Born in 1929 in Berkeley, California of an anthropologist father and writer mother, Ursula K. Le Guin was exposed at an early age to the life of academia, the art of writing and to the concepts of anthropology. Her father established a department of anthropology at UC Berkeley and her mother wrote her husband’s biography. Le Guin attended Berkeley High School and went on to gain her B.A. from Radcliffe College in 1951. She went on to receive her M.A. from Columbia University.

In 1953, Ursula Kroeber married historian Charles A. Le Guin. They had three children together and four grandchildren. Currently, they reside in Oregon.

Le Guin became interested in literature as a child. She submitted her first short story to Astounding Science Fiction at the tender age of eleven years. It was rejected, but this did not deter her desire to become a writer. She moved to a new genre, that of stories set in imaginary countries, but without the fantastic elements of her early attempts. In time, she grew tired of this genre and returned to her first interest in science fiction and fantasy.

In 1967, Herman Schein, the publisher of Parnassus Press and husband to Ruth Robbins, the woman who would later illustrate the book, asked Le Guin if she would consider writing a book “for older kids”, leaving the concept and subject free of her own choosing. A Wizard of Earthsea followed the next year and was published by Parnassus Press. Le Guin based the novel on a pair of short stories she had published in 1964, The Rule of Names and The Word of Unbinding. In these short stories, she explored the concept that wizards were always portrayed as old and wise figures in literature. The author wondered where the wizards might have learned their magic before they gained their wisdom. These two stories served as the groundwork for the Earthsea trilogy that would follow.

Locus has ranked A Wizard of Earthsea as the third choice among a list of thirty three titles as All-Time Best Fantasy Novels, based on a poll of their subscribers. The Earthsea Cycle has won many literary awards, including:

1968 Boston Globe-Horn Book award for A Wizard of Earthsea
1972 Newbery Silver Medal Award for The Tombs of Atuan
1972 National Book Award for Children’s Books for The Farthest Shore
1979 Lewis Carroll Shelf Award for A Wizard of Earthsea
2002 Locus Readers Awards: Tales from Earthsea, “The Finder”
2002 Locus Readers Awards: Tales from Earthsea, “The Bones of the Earth”
2003 Endeavor Award: Tales from Earthsea

Ursula K. Le Guin has won many more awards for her writing, and I do not doubt that more are due in her future. Her awards are simply too numerous to list in a simple blog post.

A Wizard of Earthsea is the first novel in the Earthsea Cycle series. It is a poetic fantasy that has the feeling of an epic, but is only around 200 pages in length. Earthsea is a series of island nations that exist on small archipelago islands in a vast ocean. The culture is agrarian and weapons are of the iron age, supplemented by the use of magic. Wizardry is the art of learning the true names of things and by knowing the name of a thing, you gain mastery over it. The people of Earthsea are careful to only reveal their true names to those that they can trust.

The novel follows the story of a young wizard, known as Ged. The boy is raised by a well meaning witch, who has recognized the magical power within him, and his father the blacksmith. When their island home is attacked by a marauding army, young Ged uses his limited training to control a mist to confound the army and saves his people. This action brings him to the attention of a powerful wizard named Ogion. The wizard tells Ged his true name, Sparrowhawk. He offers to apprentice the eager Ged in the arts of magic, but once they undertake the training, Ged is frustrated because Ogion is more concerned with teaching Ged wisdom instead of magic.

Ged is given the opportunity to attend the main wizard school on the island of Roke. Once Ged arrives, he learns quickly, but the young wizard is also arrogant and impatient, he gets into a pissing match with a rival young wizard named Jasper and thus makes the mistake of summoning the dead.

Thus begins a journey across Earthsea where Ged battles dragons, fights villagers and ultimately learns to switch from being the hunted to becoming the hunter. Just what is this shadow that he has unleashed? How can he learn its true name and gain control over it once and for all? For this young, impatient wizard, it is the ultimate challenge.

I have a great deal of nostalgia for the Earthsea Cycle. I was one of those kids that hung out at the public library instead of playing sports or joining in group activities. A Wizard of Earthsea was one of the books that I discovered in the YA section of the library. This novel was my first introduction to Ursula K. Le Guin as an author and I have gone on to read most of her novels. She has been an influence over me as an author.

Back then, there were only the first three books. Of the three, I believe that The Tombs of Atuan was my favorite of the original trilogy. To this day, I still can feel the character Tenar, a young priestess, exploring the underground tunnels of her people’s temple. It is a hidden place that only she is allow to go. She travels in the darkness, not aware of all the treasures that stud the tunnel walls because of her obedience to how the priestess’ taught her. It is only when Sparrowhawk bids her to question her existence that she sees all the wonder around her. He helps her find herself. Allegories like this is what makes Earthsea rich as a series.

Another aspect of the stories that I remember clearly is the moment when I figured out that Sparrowhawk was a young man of color, not a white man, as many heroes in fantasy novels are. As a teenager, I remember being flabbergasted by this fact, pausing to reread to make sure that what I saw on the page was actually there, and then I was delighted. This was not a common occurrence in fantasy books at the time. LeGuin was breaking new ground.

There seems to be a disconnect to Earthsea by the younger readers of today. Earthsea is not written as a novelized movie. It is not purely visual as we are growing used to in our novels today. It is a literary adventure with a depth of thought that requires the reader to ponder about the ethics of what the characters do and the price they pay for a moment of youthful folly. These are ideas that I feel are well worth exposing to young readers in our pop culture of instant gratification.

I hope you’ll give The Earthsea Cycle consideration in your reading list and that you check out Ursula K. LeGuin’s work in general. She is truly a national treasure.

A Wizard of Earthsea Book CoverThe Earthsea Cycle:

A Wizard of Earthsea, 1968 (named to the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award list in 1979)
The Tombs of Atuan, 1971 (Newbery runner-up)
The Farthest Shore, 1972 (National Book Award)
Tehanu: The Last Book of Earthsea, 1990 (Nebula Award and Locus Fantasy Award)
Tales from Earthsea, 2001 (short stories)
The Other Wind, 2001 (World Fantasy Award, 2002)

Book Review: The Great Gatsby

Book Name: The Great Gatsby
Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
First Published: 1925

F. “Scott” Fitzgerald was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota to an upper middle class, Irish Catholic family. He was named after his famous second cousin, Francis Scott Key who wrote The Star Spangled Banner.

The young Scott Fitzgerald lived his early years in New York attending catholic private schools. He showed an early affinity for literature which was encouraged by his doting parents. In 1908, when his father lost his job, the family returned to Minnesota where Fitzgerald was transferred to another catholic private school. His first story to publish was a detective tale in the school newspaper when he was thirteen years old.

Eventually, Fitzgerald was admitted to Princeton University and there he continued to practice the craft of writing. He became friends with future critics and writers and wrote for the Princeton Triangle Club, Nassau Literary Magazine, and the Princeton Tiger. The connections he gained in the Triangle Club, a sort of musical/comedy society, prompted him to submit a novel to Charles Scribner’s Sons where the editor rejected his book, but encouraged him to continue with his writing. To this day, the Princeton University Cottage Club, where he was also a member, still displays Fitzgerald’s desk and writing materials in its library.

Fitzgerald’s writing and socializing interfered with his general studies at Princeton. First he was placed on academic probation, and then later he dropped out of university altogether in 1917 to enlist in the U.S. Army. “The Great War” was at hand and young Fitzgerald feared that he would go to war and die on the battlefield without fulfilling his dreams of publishing a novel. In the weeks before reporting to duty, Fitzgerald quickly wrote a novel called The Romantic Egotist. Once again, he sent the novel to Charles Scribner’s Sons and while the publisher made a point to note the novel’s originality and encouraged Fitzgerald to continue writing, they did not publish his work.

Young second lieutenant Fitzgerald was assigned to Camp Sheridan in Montgomery, Alabama as he awaited deployment to the front. Enjoying an evening at a local country club, he spotted his “golden girl”, Zelda Sayre, the daughter of an Alabama Supreme Court judge. Later, Scott proposed marriage to Zelda, but he could not convince her that he was able to support a wife and family. In those days, a married woman did not work or have a career of her own, she depended upon the success of her husband. Zelda decided to break their engagement due to financial reasons, but not because she did not love Scott.

Fitzgerald was eventually discharged from the Army, never being sent to Europe at all due to World War I ending in 1918 before he could be deployed. Instead, he moved to New York City. He hoped to develop a career in advertising that would be secure enough to convince Zelda to marry him. He worked for an ad agency in New York for a time, but never found the money he needed to survive in the Big Apple. His dream of enticing Zelda vanished along with his money.

As his pockets became depleted, Fitzgerald moved back to the home of his parents in Minnesota. He was poor enough that he was forced to take on a job repairing car roofs while he attempted to put his life back together. In desperation, he returned to his old novel, The Romantic Egotist. Heavily revising the novel, Fitzgerald renamed it This Side of Paradise. He sent the novel to Scribner’s in the fall of 1919. At last, the publisher bought his book. This Side of Paradise went on to be one of the most popular novels of 1920 and became the financial success that Fitzgerald needed to win his “golden girl”. Scott and Zelda were married that year in New York and one year later their only child, a daughter, was born.

Scott and Zelda began to live the life of celebrities due to the success of This Side of Paradise. They moved to Paris where Scott became friends with author Ernest Hemingway. His friend did not get along with Zelda. Hemingway accused her of being insane and driving her husband to drink instead of working on the novels that he loved. Fitzgerald turned to making a living writing short stories for magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Collier’s Weekly, or Esquire instead of working on longer fiction. He would also turn his short stories into scripts to be produced in Hollywood by major studios. This was considered “whoring” his talents and both he and his friend despised themselves for making money in this manner instead of remaining focused on writing their beloved novels.

The lifestyle that Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald lived was expensive and eventually it drained them of all their funds. Fitzgerald was forced several times to ask for advances from his publisher or his literary agent to not only pay for their bills, but for Zelda’s growing medical expenses. When The Great Gatsby came out in 1925, it was not a financial success and the couple moved deeper into debt. Although this novel would later be accounted as Fitzgerald’s greatest work, it was not helpful to him at the time.

In the end, Zelda would be diagnosed with schizophrenia and be put away in an asylum. Fitzgerald, who had been an alcoholic since his early twenties, would suffer from a pair of heart attacks in the late 1930s that would claim his life at the tender age of 44. He would publish five novels and numerous short stories.

The Great Gatsby follows the lives of four wealthy people as they are observed by the narrator, Nick Carraway, a man that studied in an ivy-league university and yet was not born to wealth. He settles in West Egg, Long Island, an effluent neighborhood, and finds himself surrounded by the nouveau rich, exemplified by his neighbor, Jay Gatsby.

Gatsby is a young man with a mysterious past. Many rumors surround his identity, and he fascinates the guests that attend the many lavish parties that he throws at his lakeside estate. The purpose of these parties is to woo the beautiful Daisy Buchanan who lives across the bay. From the lawn of Gatsby’s mansion, it is possible to see the green light at the end of Daisy’s boat dock on the other side of the lake. The light becomes a symbol of unobtainable treasure as Gatsby continues in his quest to win Daisy. Gatsby and Daisy had met years before when he was a young military officer and she had pledged to wait for him while he went to war. Instead, she married Tom Buchanan, who is a friend of the narrator, moving on with her life. The fact that Daisy is a married woman with a child, does not deter Jay Gatsby in his desire. He has earned a great fortune during the years he was away and with money on his side, he is determined to win Daisy back again, whatever the cost.

The Great Gatsby is a tragic love story, a mystery, and a social commentary on American life. It is regarded as Fitzgerald’s best work and is known as a literary classic, capturing the essence of the roaring twenties. Yet, The Great Gatsby was not a commercial success for the author during his lifetime. It was not until many years had passed that this novel became an acclaimed masterpiece that is read throughout the world and is part of the curriculum of schools all over the world.

The Great Gatsby Book CoverI was assigned to read The Great Gatsby in high school, as I believe many students are. I did not enjoy the book at that time because I was too young to understand the undercurrents about this elite society and the reasons for the destruction that occurred to the characters in the end. As I have grown older, I have gained a new appreciation for the novel. In a way, this novel is like a deception to the reader. Fitzgerald writes with glorious prose that tantalizes you with its elegance. With such poetic words, you expect greatness of deeds from the characters, rather like how we might view the rich and powerful around as being larger than life. As all the characters crumble into the chaos that they have created via money and greed, the American Dream that they live becomes a nightmare. Nothing is quite what it seems as the layers of the mystery surrounding Gatsby unfolds. Our dream of the good life evaporates along with them. Perhaps this is part of the power of this story and why it has remained a fixture in American literature to this day.

Book Review: The Call of the Wild

Book Name: The Call of the Wild
Author: Jack London
First Published: 1903

Jack London (John Griffith) was born in 1876. An illegitimate child, Jack lived his early years in the slums of Oakland, California. He was forced to leave school at an early age to help support his mother and step-father. His early jobs were in pickle factories on Cannery Row, as an “Oyster Pirate” stealing oysters in the night and selling them early in the Bay Area markets, shoveling coal and later working on a seal hunter schooner as an able-bodied seaman. Through all of his labors, Jack held on to the dream of being a writer. He was self-educated for the most part, reading books at the local library in Oakland, California instead of enjoying a formal education. London was mentored by one of the librarians, Ina Coolbrith, who later became California’s first poet laureate and an important figure in the San Francisco literary community in her own right. London’s years in the Klondike searching for gold proved to be fodder for his novels, The Call of the Wild and White Fang.

The Call of the Wild was extremely popular from the moment it was in print. The first 10,000 copies sold out immediately and it is still one of the best known stories written by an American author. The book was London’s first success and it secured him his place in American literature. The book has been published in 47 languages and has been made into several movies one starring Clark Gable and the other starring Charleton Heston.

Jack London was married twice. He had two children with his first wife, Elizabeth “Bessie” Maddern, but they separated due to irreconcilable differences. He found his soul mate in his second wife, Charmian Kittredge, but while they traveled the world together and lived happily, they were unable to have children together. Jack London retired to his ranch near Sonoma, California, where he died at the age of forty of complications related to kidney stones and a morphine overdose. It is unknown if his death was an accident or suicide.

The Call of the Wild begins when a St. Bernard-Scotch Collie mix named Buck is stolen from his comfortable life as the pet of Judge Miller of California’s Santa Clara Valley. Manuel, the judge’s gardener, steals Buck and sells him in order to pay his gambling debts. Buck is crated and shipped to Seattle. There he is purchased by a pair of French-Canadian dispatchers who transport him to the Klondike and train him to be a sled dog. Buck learns to survive by observing his teammates and develops a rivalry with the vicious lead dog Spitz. Buck and Spitz have a fight to the death and Buck emerges victorious and takes his place as the leader of the sled dog team.

The sled dog team is sold to a Scottish mail carrier and the dogs are forced to haul heavy loads for their new master. Over time, the dogs are abused and become tired. When they can no longer work, they are either shot by the Scotsman or eaten by wolves.

Buck is next sold to a trio of greenhorns known as stampeders. They know little about survival in the Northern wilderness and struggle not only to control the sled that Buck and his team pulls, but provide poor care to the dogs in general. As they attempt travel during the dangerous spring melt, they are met on the trail by experienced outdoorsman John Thornton. Thornton warns the three greenhorns against crossing a frozen river, but they refuse his advice and order Buck forward. Exhausted and starving, Buck refuses their orders and lies unmoving in the snow. As Buck is beaten by his owners, Thornton becomes disgusted and cuts Buck free from his harness. Thornton tells the trio that he is keeping the dog, much to the trio’s displeasure. Buck’s previous owners continue across the frozen river. True to Thornton’s warnings, the ice gives way and they fall into the icy river along with the neglected dogs and sled.

Thornton nurses Buck back to health and the sled dog comes to love him. Buck saves Thornton when he falls into a river and the bond of love and devotion between them grows. Thornton takes Buck with him into the Yukon gold fields. Buck begins to roam and socialize with the wild wolves in the area. After returning from one such trip, the dog discovers that Thornton and his miner friends have all been killed by a group of Yeehat Indians. Buck avenges Thornton’s death by killing the Indians, before following the wolf into the forest to answer the call of the wild.

The Call of the Wild is often a favorite of young readers because it belongs to the genre of fiction where an animal, in this case a dog, is anthropomorphized with human emotions and traits. In the novel, London give Buck human thoughts and insights as the dog shifts from a civilized pet into a wild animal running with the wolves. While we see many examples of similar stories today, when this novel was written the concept was not as commonplace.

I am a late comer to the work of Jack London. I had heard of his books and had come close to reading them as a child, but because they were not required reading in my public school curriculum, I passed over these stories. It was not until I decided to make an effort to read more of the classics, after I had graduated from college, that I picked up a few of London’s novels. I also was intrigued by London because of what I learned about him, as I visited Cannery Row in the California Bay Area, and saw all the plaques dedicated to him. I discovered a wonderful author who has lived a life as interesting as the characters he developed. I can understand why The Call of the Wild has remained popular a hundred years after its creation.

You can find The Call of the Wild at your local library or download it for free at Project Gutenberg.

Call_of_the_Wild_(Saturday_Evening_Post)Jack London’s Credo:

I would rather be ashes than dust!
I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot.
I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet.
The function of man is to live, not to exist.
I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them.
I shall use my time.