Literary Hub

The Call of the Wild: Confronting Nature and Existential Terror

This week on Literary Disco, Julia, Rider, and Tod get wild as they discuss Jack London’s classic portrait of the unforgiving and brutal life of a dog during the Klondike Gold Rush. Additionally, the trio discusses their personal relationships with wolves (and dogs), Jack London’s ties to Northern California, and why works like London’s are not seen as literary canon.

Rider Strong: As a seven-year-old or a ten-year-old reading The Call of the Wild, I would love the more overwrought writing, but also, philosophically when you think of nature writing, you think of Thoreau. The dude was in a cabin ten miles from civilization, and he’s writing all these deep thoughts. You’re not really confronting nature; you’re simplifying your life. Something like this, the world presented here feels brutal and hard and is reflective of how it actually was.

The kind of thinking that inspires, my experiences being alone in the wilderness is terrifying. There are all these terrifying moments when you think, “If I lose my knife right now or my shoes, I’d be screwed.” Those terrifying moments are also really wonderful and profound, and I cherish them as some of the best moments of my life. Reading this book made me think I need to go camping and get out there. So much of our lives are Disney-fied tracks of existence.

What we can see about Jack London now is that he was operating on this civilization and un-civilization spectrum that we can now easily dismantle. It’s such a white European male perspective on how the world is. There is this whole tradition of frontier mentality and wilderness. I have to say, whether you buy into civilization versus un-civilization, whatever that dichotomy is, there is something about the fact that our lives are so safe and controlled and predictable, and this book made me yearn for something less predictable and scary and physical.

We spend so much of our lives avoiding physical realities. How often does weather in California intrude in our plans and lives? There is an existential shift that occurs the less you experience reality and physical nature. I yearn for that. It’s bad that we don’t get to live in the real world. We’re less off for it.

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