The Call of the Wild catapulted author Jack London to literary fame. The book follows a dog named Buck who’s forced from his cushy life in California to the Klondike Gold Rush, where he adapts and begins to thrive despite cruel conditions. The novel was one of the most popular books of the 20th century and made London the highest-paid writer of his time. Here are a few more facts about this 1903 bestseller.
1. Before writing The Call of the Wild, Jack London was rejected 664 times.
As a young man in the slums of Oakland, California, London threw himself into writing. He later said, “On occasion I composed steadily, day after day, for 15 hours a day. At times I forgot to eat, or refused to tear myself away from my passionate outpouring in order to eat.” At first, this deluge yielded nothing but rejection. London would impale every rejection slip on a spindle in his writing room and soon had a column of paper four feet high. In fact, he amassed 664 rejection letters in the first five years of writing.
2. Jack London went to the Klondike Gold Rush to escape poverty.
By age 21, London had yet to publish and was running out of money, so he joined the thousands of people going to the Klondike Gold Rush. In 1897, he staked eight claims along the Stewart River, but they yielded little gold. He suffered through an Yukon winter reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost and Darwin’s The Origin of Species—both influences on The Call of the Wild. Then, after almost a year of eating nothing but beans, bread, and bacon, he contracted scurvy and decided to return to California. He rafted 2000 miles down the Yukon River then hired himself on boats to get back to San Francisco. He was as penniless as the day he left, but he had a wealth of new material for a novel.
3. The Call of the Wild alludes to the animal cruelty Jack London witnessed in the Klondike.
London, a lifelong animal lover, was appalled by the cruelty he saw amid the gold rush. In one case, he wrote about “Dead Horse Trail,” a section of a mountain pass littered with the bodies of horses. “Men shot them, worked them to death, and when they were gone, went back to the beach and bought more,” London wrote. “Some did not bother to shoot them—stripping the saddles off and the shoes and leaving them where they fell. Their hearts turned to stone—those which did not break—and they became beasts, the men on Dead Horse Trail.” Though The Call of the Wild is about dogs, this same heartlessness is vividly depicted in the book.
4. The Call of the Wild’s narrator Buck was based on a dog named Jack.
While in the Yukon, London became friends with the brothers Marshall and Louis Whitford Bond. They owed a cabin near Dawson City and London was their tenant. Their dog, a St. Bernard-Collie mix also named Jack, must have made an impression on London. He later wrote to Marshall Bond, "Yes, Buck was based on your dog at Dawson."
5. Jack London also modeled the California ranch in The Call of the Wild on the Bond family’s home.
In 1901, London visited the Bond brothers at their ranch in Santa Clara, California, which was owned by their father, Judge Hiram Gilbert Bond. The home was the basis for Judge Miller’s ranch in the book, down to details like the “artesian well” and family involvement in a fruit growers' meeting and an athletic club.
6. At first, publishers didn’t care about the adventures that would form The Call of the Wild.
When London returned home, he promptly resumed being rejected by editors. The San Francisco Bulletin returned a 4000-word essay about Alaska with the note, "Interest in Alaska has subsided in an amazing degree." But London persisted. Finally, six months after his trip, The Overland Monthly took the story To The Men On The Trail. London began, slowly but surely, to publish.
7. The Call of the Wild started as a short story.
In 1902, London published a short story in Cosmopolitan called “Diablo—A Dog,” in which a dog named Bâtard kills his master. On December 1, London started a companion piece to the story, this time focusing on writing about a “good dog.” He intended it to be a short story of around 4000 words, but it started to grow. Soon he was working on it day and night. Three months later, he’d written 32,000 words, the size of a novella. He titled it The Call of the Wild.
8. The Call of the Wild was serialized by The Saturday Evening Post.
The story ran as a serial in The Saturday Evening Post during the summer of 1903. The magazine paid London $750. In July, the book was published by Macmillan. The first printing sold out in 24 hours. Critics championed London as a brave new voice. "His books are strong meat for the anemic generation that worships at the shrine of Henry James,” wrote the San Francisco Chronicle, “but they will delight all people with red blood in their veins.” The Atlantic Monthly implied that London was the American Kipling.
9. Jack London was accused of plagiarism.
In 1907, an article in The Independent suggested that London had plagiarized Egerton R. Young’s book My Dogs in Northland. The article placed passages of both books side by side so the reader could compare. Read it here. In an accompanying letter, London admits using Young’s book as a source for the novel, and had even told Young that himself. But because Young’s story was nonfiction, and since London didn’t use the same language, he didn’t consider it plagiarism.
10. The Call of the Wild made Jack London rich.
The Call of the Wild made London’s name. Although it was a bestseller, he didn’t see any of the royalties—he’d taken an upfront flat fee of $2000 for the novel. But when he followed up with White Fang, it wasn’t long before he was the highest-paid author in the United States. He continued to churn out work, writing over 50 books before his untimely death at age 40. The Call of the Wild is still widely read today, and is considered to be one of the books that shaped America.
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