Image Credit: Birdy
Just today I had mentioned to Soul and Vandy that Marley and Me by Josh Grogan is one of the best dog stories that I have read. After reading Jack London’s “The Call of the Wild” I have to revise that slightly. As the book’s jacket summarizes –
The Call of the Wild is the story of Buck, a dog stolen from his home and thrust into the merciless life of the Arctic north to endure hardship, bitter cold and the savage lawlessness of man and beast.
This well loved American classic is a nightmare for dog lovers and a gripping adventure tale for others. I unfortunately fall into the first category. Buck grows up well-loved, his evenings spent lazing by the fire at Judge Miller’s feet. His life changes when the Judge’s gardener slips him over to rough and tumble men traveling through the harsh climes of the Arctic as part of the Klondike gold rush. Its cold, white landscape with temperatures 50 below zero seems to encrust human hearts in ice. Buck’s owners frequently club him and the other dogs into submission and often Buck walks around with sore wounds and lacerations. I cringed with each of Buck’s whines and raged with his howls.
But turns out that Buck is made of sterner stuff. He endures a lot more before he is rescued by a kind man named John Thornton. Buck is nursed back to health and he becomes devoted to Thornton even saving the latter’s life a couple of times.
London explores themes of friendship, betrayal, trust and devotion through Buck’s point of view. When Manuel the gardener coils rope around his neck and hands him over to the gruff man Buck did not protest. “Buck had accepted the rope with quiet dignity. To be sure, it was an unwonted performance; but he had learned to trust in men he knew, and to give them credit for a wisdom that outreached his own.”
It’s not too late before Buck realizes that his trust has been shattered and it’s then that he sets about the business of survival. Buck’s undergoes exhaustion and pain with a certain dignity. But there is a wild side to him. He does not tolerate the aggressive advances of another dog named Spitz. London sketches some vivid fight scenes between Buck and Spitz, which almost took the breath out of me, the silent spectator.
After rivalry comes friendship and love when he meets Thornton. “Love, genuine passionate love was his for the first time. This he had never experienced at Judge Miller’s down in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. With the Judge’s sons, hunting and tramping, it had been a working partnership; with the Judge’s grandsons, a sort of pompous guardianship; and with the Judge himself, a stately and dignified friendship. But love that was feverish and burning, that was adoration, that was madness, it had taken John Thornton to arouse. 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 expedience; he saw to the welfare of his as if they were his own children…”
Buck’s adventures do not stop with just meeting Thornton. And here I will stop further descriptions so that you are tempted enough to read the book and follow Buck’s fascinating journey. London’s story is carved out of characters from his own life. He himself had been gripped by the gold rush and it was upon his return that he turned his experiences into novellas like this. My edition has London's White Fang too apart from The Call of the Wild as the book cover above shows. I will read that after a break of a couple of other books.
Though, at times the narrative tends to feel a bit like a documentary drama, I was taken in by Buck. I loved him. Such a gallant and loyal dog can win any heart. So go ahead, pick up this book and spend some time with this rare breed. And yes, Marley might be the world's cutest and naughtiest dog but Buck is perhaps the world's most dignified and heroic one.
Verdict: Dog lovers brace yourself for the ultimate dog! Others be prepared to be touched by a faith and devotion only an animal is capable of.